A process is a series of repeatable steps that lead to some sort of goal. Each successful business is based on many different kinds of processes, including business processes, design processes, service processes, internal processes, and many more.
Process design aims to improve and optimize these processes and consequently enhance business performance and satisfy strategic business needs. Every one of these processes strives to improve something in its specific field. Not just that, each process is also an experience for anyone going through it.
That’s what makes process design so intriguing: it’s involved with so many other fields and people. It’s comparable to a social butterfly mingling with everyone at the party.
If done well, it can really make a difference – just take a look at McDonald’s (not the last time we’ll mention it today). Their whole model basically revolves around innovative and super-efficient process design. While you may have an opinion about their food, the whole process of preparing a meal is a huge success.
Alright then, let’s dive a bit deeper!
Implicit processes won’t cut it
First things first, most businesses use at least some implicit processes. But that’s not really process design. The processes are not planned, analyzed, structured or mapped out. They are simply something that the business is used to doing.
However, if you’re serious about stepping up your process game, it’s just not enough.
With an implicit process, you’re losing out on:
- Structure and consistency, especially if you work for a big organization where different people are using the same process. If the right way of doing things isn’t clear, you’ll get inconsistent results.
- Productivity, as designed processes aim to be as efficient as possible.
When you think about it, it’s kind of like designing without a design system. Sure, you can still do it, but it won’t be consistent and you’ll spend more of your time on it.
You should approach process design as you would any other design – start with your challenge and do some research.
How to kick off process design
Before you design a process, you need to know what its goal is and what problems or challenges you are trying to solve.
So, the first thing that you need to consider is what you want the output of the process to be. Define and document what needs to be delivered.
When you’ve got that covered, move on to process analysis. Process analysis is a thorough review of a certain process and all of its steps and components, which allows you to completely understand it.
You can analyze your existing processes if you want to improve them, or study industry-standard models and best practices from similar businesses if you’re designing a new process.
Work through each of the desired outcomes that you defined earlier and break them down into steps. Make it a habit to ask the question “Does this step add value?” to avoid unnecessary costs, processes, and wasted resources as you make your way through each step.
Be as rigorous as possible. Break down business functions and activities until you reach the most basic steps along the process chain. This will help you to identify opportunities for improvement and isolate the root causes.
User research, analysis of your business model and target market, as well as any other kind of relevant knowledge, can all come in handy during this phase.
Map out your process
Once you understand what the goal of your process is and the steps you need to take in order to reach it, you should start with business process mapping.
Business process mapping was introduced in 1921 by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. They described it with a quote that still holds true today:
“Every detail of a process is more or less affected by every other detail; therefore the entire process must be presented in such form that it can be visualized all at once before any changes are made in any of its subdivisions.”
A mapped-out process flow clearly illustrates how the process works and makes it easier to improve it.
You can begin process mapping with a simple brainstorming session using a pen, post-it notes, and a whiteboard.
- Write down the steps needed to achieve the business goal, each one on a separate note.
- Use your post-its to create the process on a whiteboard.
- Draw lines between steps that need to be connected and sketch out how the process should flow from one step to the next.
- Leave the process on the whiteboard for a while to identify gaps and enhance it once you have run tests and obtained feedback.
An example of a mapped-out McDonald’s burger bun creation process.
While analyzing and mapping a process, think about the following:
- What best practices across your organization can serve as a benchmark?
- Which meaningful KPIs will help you to identify bottlenecks, errors, slow cycle times and other areas of improvement in the future?
- Which repetitive tasks can you automate to save time for your employees?
You should also develop a RACI chart for each process task. RACI means:
- Responsibility – who is responsible for performing the task?
- Accountability – who checks and approves that the task has been done correctly?
- Consulted – who else is involved with the task and should be consulted at some point?
- Informed – who needs to know when the task is completed?
Having quality processes in place is crucial for efficiency, scalability, and competitiveness, so let’s see what you should aim for.
Validate and simplify your process
Once you’ve designed and mapped out your new or improved process, it’s time to validate it. Without validation, it’s doomed to fail unless you’re very lucky.
The best way to validate your process is by using a process prototype. Why?
Because people aren’t great at imagining a new process just from observing detailed diagrams and reading notes. There might be a misunderstanding or, even worse, an unwillingness to admit that they don’t understand a certain step, which can impact their feedback. You don’t want that – you want a relevant and thorough evaluation from people who are going to be involved. This can only be achieved through the use of a prototype.
Take a look at the clip from the movie The Founder to see a simple process prototype in action (and yes, it’s McDonald’s again :)):
As you can see, you should assign roles and run through several iterations of the process as it was initially mapped out. You can also create different scenarios of the process and observe what works best.
You should then collect feedback from people executing the process and note down what they see as inefficiencies and where you noticed mistakes. If customers are an important part of your process, you should get their feedback too.
By doing this, you can identify any missing pieces of the puzzle and refine the process design before you implement it. It’s also a good way to decide which tasks and steps you could automate.
Which brings us to another thing: simplification.
It’s all too common to fall into the trap of complexity. A complex process may seem very smart and it can be necessary, but it often results in unnecessary expenses, errors, low productivity, and delays. Just think about your average bureaucratic process. Ugh.
A quality process design job is one that, after hours and hours of work, results in a process that contains only what is necessary to achieve the expected outcome.
The ability to simplify means eliminating the unnecessary so that the necessary can manifest itself and do its job without obstructions.
Plan for handoffs
If your process involves more than one department, or even more than one person, you get ‘a handoff’ – a moment when there is an exchange of responsibility between departments or people.
This moment can be critical, as failures, errors and delays often occur during handoffs. Try to mitigate this problem by automating the handoff step or by automating the documentation that goes with it.
A good workflow that takes handoffs into account will ensure a smooth and secure transition from one department or person to another, bringing with it all of the data that’s required to perform the next step in the process.
Handoffs can also be bottlenecks, so make sure to test them when you’re validating your process.
Standardize your processes
Each business has an extensive series of processes, and many of them are interconnected.
Standardizing these processes so that they can be reused by anyone at any time (and yield the same results!) improves the speed and agility of your business.
Once again, think about McDonald’s: their meals are very similar across the globe, anyone can work at any kitchen station after a very quick onboarding, and their speed revolutionized the fast-food industry. That’s how impactful standardization can be.
- Standardized processes facilitate the operation and are easy to learn and memorize.
- Standardization increases productivity, as the people and departments experience fewer issues and make fewer mistakes.
- Standardization rationalizes cost because it means that less staff time and fewer resources are used on a certain task.
- Standardization is all about the consistent quality of your products and services. It can even be perceived as a concept of quality by your customers, which is important for our next point…
Improve moments of truth
For us, moments of truth concern all interactions between clients and the company.
They are referred to as the moments of truth because the customer might be experiencing your products or services for the first time. Why is this important?
You only get to make the first impression once, so this moment should be as great as you can make it. The customer should feel that their wants and needs have been fully met.
Your process should enhance the value of your product or your service. Think about restaurants – it’s not just about the taste of the food, it’s also about the process of ordering, delivering, choosing, preparing, and more.
In the case of McDonald’s, its initial customers were amazed by its unprecedented speed and consistent taste, which were both made possible by their process design.
Processes are a part of every business and every department. Carefully designed goal-oriented processes can significantly improve how people work and the results that they achieve.
Even if you’re not a process designer, you can use what you’ve just learned to enhance design (or any other) processes that you find to be lacking.
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Design strategy consultant. Founder of DesignStrategy.guide and NUEVA / design studio. Wife. Mother.
I am a Design Strategist who holds a Master of Business Administration. I have 15+ years of career experience in design work and consulting across both tech startups and several marquee tech unicorns such as Stellar.org, Outfit7, Databox, Xamarin, Chipolo, Singularity.NET, etc. I currently advise, coach and consult with companies on design strategy & management, visual design and user experience. My work has been published on Forbes, Hackernoon, Blockgeeks, Newsbtc, Bizjournals, and featured on Apple iTunes Store.