Eight steps to slicker SME processes

 I’ve just returned from a long trip to Mario’s deli. You see, Mario and his team haven’t yet perfected the fastest, simplest way to serve their long queue of lunchtime customers. And, rather than focus on their inefficiencies, they’re now putting their efforts into expanding their lunchtime menu and opening a new wine bar. Surely that’s a recipe for disaster – isn’t it?


Walk before you run 

In the words of business consultant and author, Mark Sanborn, it’s “better to be consistently good than occasionally great” ( www.randygage.com/getting-and-keeping-more-business/ ). It’s a mantra that applies across the business world and it all boils down to processes.

Good business processes lead to great rewards. They can help you to improve the quality of your products and services, deliver consistently, and increase customer satisfaction. They can equip you to cope with the unknown and adapt quickly to change. They can help you identify strengths, weaknesses, and skills gaps. And, they can highlight new opportunities and help you capitalize on them quickly. They can save you money – and help you make it.  So, why do so many small businesses and midsize enterprises (SMEs) undervalue processes?


Get the basics right

According to a recent survey by Circle Research, which questioned 800 global SMEs, only 19% want to achieve business improvement. What’s more, less than half want to streamline their business processes, reduce their cost base, or create supply chain efficiencies. On the contrary, 47% of businesses are focused on achieving growth. My advice? Focus on what you’re doing now and get that right before branching out. To help you, here’s my quick step-by-step guide to process improvement.

Step 1: Identify which processes you can improve – focus on ones that use up a lot of resources, without generating a lot of value.

Step 2: Break it down – examine each step of the process in detail and ask the relevant people how they carry their part of the process out.

Step 3: Analyze it – investigate the problems within the process. For example, are there bottlenecks? Where does the cost go up and the quality go down? Are there certain stages which frustrate customers or employees?

Step 4: Redesign the process – now you’ve identified the problems, it’s time to get rid of them. Again, get ideas from people involved in the processes and engage them early in the change. Brainstorm all suggestions, then start thinking about how they’d translate in real life. Tools like Impact Analysis and Risk Analysis can help with this.

Step 5: Plan your resources – once you’ve agreed on the changes, map out the resources you’ll need to achieve them. Consider IT support, more supervisors, or technology investment.

Step 6: Put it in writing – when your plan’s in place, document the new processes clearly so that everybody can see and understand them.

Step 7: Implement and communicate change – improving your process might mean changing your systems, teams, or other processes, so make sure you provide the right training and support. Be prepared for teething problems, resistance, and a slow start.

Step 8: Review the process – monitor how things are going and ask those involved about their experiences with the new process.

Remember, change takes time and it should be viewed as a long-term initiative – and an investment. So, perfect your paninis before your try to take over the world of wine – because nobody likes a half-cooked product.

You can read the report, “Ambition: why being ambitious matters and how SMEs are achieving their goals”, sponsored by SAP, at http://bit.ly/1IdJH77


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