Managing Processes is Easier Than You Think!
In any organization, regardless of size, the flow of information is fundamental. Focusing on the most important processes allows you to quickly gain organizational benefits and gain valuable knowledge that will be useful when implementing subsequent processes. Nowadays, information is a very valuable asset, and in many cases it can be directly converted into cash. For this reason, it is very important to ensure that your flow of information and documents is as efficient as possible. The goal is to have access to the information and knowledge you need in the shortest time possible. At the same time, the amount of information processed is constantly growing and each employee is literally inundated with information. It is therefore essential to systematize and organize information in order to separate important and unimportant information. For this reason, sooner or later, every organization faces the challenge of improving process management, the challenge of managing information and document workflows.
As with any challenge, along with the rewards for success come the risks of failure. Let’s take a look at four common mistakes that can have a significant negative impact on your project outcome.
Often, after a decision is made to implement a process management and document workflow system, there is a desire to use it for everything everywhere in the organization. However, in practice this turns out to be at best ineffective, and at worst catastrophic. So, our first priority is to prioritize: we should define which processes we want to improve and automate, and in what order. The most common are:
- Invoice workflow (acceptance of cost documents)
- Leave requests
- Settlement of advances and business trips
- Other personnel matters (HR)
Depending on the industry, there could be very different processes to prioritize. Every organization is different and each one carries out similar processes in different ways. Effective process management is an element of competitive advantage. Of course, in addition to the typical processes listed above, there may be other less typical or even very specific processes in a given industry or organization. Examples of such processes include:
- Modifying restaurant menus
- Opening new bank branches
- Approving acceptance protocols
- Changing credit card interest rates
- Registering new customers
- Quality testing in laboratories
- Submitting applications for subsidies
- Audit control
- And many others
The number of processes in each organization can vary greatly. Usually, a few main and several, or several dozen, auxiliary processes can be distinguished. For this reason, it is important to define priorities, i.e. to select those processes which will most effectively benefit from automation. Depending on your criteria you might select those that bring the most noticeable benefits to employees and management for everyday activities, or those that will have the greatest impact on reducing losses or wastage of resources. Good practices show that the implementation of 3 to 5 processes of this type at the beginning gives the best results from the point of view of changing the organization’s management. In some cases, it can be best to select only one process and focus on that. Focusing on the most important processes allows you to quickly gain organizational benefits and gain valuable knowledge that will be useful when implementing subsequent processes.
The need to improve process management in organizations seems intuitive and obvious. However, it is worth considering what our or objectives are. We should start by determining what we really want to get, and most importantly, how we will measure it.
For example, if we want to implement an invoice workflow, some objectives might be:
- Shortening the time to deliver invoices to accounting
- Shortening the time needed to describe and accept invoices
- Reducing the effort involved in annotating or posting invoices
- Reducing the number of mistakes when describing invoices
- Gaining the ability to quickly find invoices from previous periods
- Making reports and controlling statements
As you can see, your objective can be defined in many ways, and sometimes we can set several objectives. However, it is certainly not good practice to try to achieve all of these objectives at once. This is another point where you should think about priorities. It may turn out that in your case the time to deliver invoices to accounting is crucial and you want to shorten it, while the workload for describing invoices is not important, because it takes little time for employees anyway. But it could also be the other way around.
A similar analysis should also be performed for other processes that you want to manage, regardless of whether they are business trips, vacation requests, contracts, offers, or correspondence. Conscious selection of objectives and priorities will allow you to save time and money, as well as avoid negative reactions from employees, which may be crucial for the success of the entire project of changing your organization. Clear communication of your organization’s objectives to employees will help in the smooth implementation of changes and will recruit employees into the effort to make the changes.
Attempts to Completely Automate
If we decide to implement process management tools in an organization, there is a natural temptation to automate as many activities as possible, preferably everything. We imagine that the system will do everything, check everyone at every step, and take care of every matter at every stage of its process. It is a very attractive vision, but it proves overambitious in practice, especially as a first step. This can expose us to additional costs and lead to disappointment and doubts about our objectives and priorities.
To understand this threat, let’s consider what is needed to achieve complete automation. First, you need to define in great detail how the processes are handled, with all the possible exceptions, complexities, and interactions. This in itself is problematic, as we are not able to anticipate all exceptional situations, and if something is not anticipated, it may be difficult, or even impossible, to handle later. IT systems are characterized by the fact that they are usually much less flexible, and cope worse in unusual situations, than people who use them.
What’s worse, even if we manage to accurately describe the way the processes work, it will still have to be developed and deployed. This can extend project times and increase costs. This delays achieving our organization’s objectives and a ROI. Additionally, a synthetic ‘complete plan’ is difficult to modify in response to your organizations changing needs, which results to higher hidden future costs when attempting this approach.
At this point, it is necessary to return to your organization’s priorities and objectives. This will allow us to better define the balance between processes which require automation and those which should remain manual.
For example, if our organizational objective is to deliver described invoices to accounting as quickly as possible, it may turn out that integration with an ERP system is not immediately necessary and that accounting can continue to enter invoices manually for the time being. The problems of slow delivery and inaccurate descriptions of invoices should be solved first. After this problem is solved we could consider further steps to such as integration with an ERP system, which could allow you to reduce the amount of manual work in accounting, if that is one of your priorities.
Choosing the Wrong Tools
Another thing that is very important in process management and document workflow automation is choosing the right workflow tool. This tool should allow you to model processes as quickly as possible and provide maximum flexibility when modifying them in the future. Ideally, it should be possible to run processes before they are fully defined in order to be able to test whether our vision of the processes agrees with the practice. Usually, only the first use of the tool on real data and documents allows us to fully visualize how to work with the tool and refine the final version.
Features worth paying attention to include:
- Graphical editor for information flow diagrams.
- Convenient definition of forms and metadata.
- Event logs which record the use of processes.
- The ability to define rules and conditions in order to eliminate sources of error, while empowering users to make decisions based on verified information.
- Low technical requirements to modify or create processes.
- Data reporting and exporting.
- Automatic archiving of documents.
- Device independence via a web browser access.
- The ability to integrate with other systems.
Of course, this list does not exhaust all the features that a good workflow system should meet. However, it is a good introduction to defining our own requirements.
To sum up, deploying a process management and document workflow system is associated with many challenges that must be met by consciously defining your organization’s priorities and objectives, and by choosing the right IT tools. Dividing the development process into smaller stages and steps allows you to reduce costs and reduce the risk of failure. It is also very important to choose both the right IT solutions and a partner who can provide not only technical support, but also share their practical experience in the field of process management and document workflows.
What are your priorities and objectives, and what would you like to automate? As for the tool, try out our Free AMODIT Demo, and get started!