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4 Ways to Streamline Your Business Processes

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Given all the talk about lean management and focusing on your core competency, we forget that it is possible to streamline your business operations by taking a few basic steps instead of hiring an expensive consultant. In this article, we’re going to give you 4 ways to streamline your business processes. We’ll give specific examples for each method of streamlining business operations and discuss how you can find ways to make your business run more smoothly.

Model Your Business Processes

You need to model your business processes from start to finish to truly understand how they work. This should include both a flowchart on how the process goes and a physical map on how things are handled. Once they’ve been mapped, you can often clearly see the convoluted workflows like something being reviewed, approved and transferred three times when it could be done just once.

Or you may see production assemblies carried across the shop floor or transferred all the way to the warehouse and back between operations, whereas moving a single work cell could dramatically reduce the distance and time associated with material movement.

As you review your processes, look for steps and actions that are not value added. A truly lean organization has no waste, and that means having no steps in the workflow that are not value added. A value chain analysis will tell you which steps add the most value to the process, whereas low-value steps might be combined with other steps or eliminated altogether.

Fix Your Bottlenecks

Ask your employees where bottlenecks occur. Bottlenecks are the business equivalent to a traffic jam. You may be able to relieve bottlenecks by devoting more resources to that particular operation, or you could solve it by simplifying the processing step.

For example, if you have a bottleneck with a drawing checker or purchasing approval step, adding a second person to the role could solve the issue. Streamlining the process could consist of letting the engineering manager approve minor drawing changes. Another case would be letting someone’s immediate manager approve small purchases up to some amount without requiring a higher manager’s approval; this could reduce the volume of work that passes through the bottleneck. In other cases, the root cause is poorly trained employees not knowing how to do the job as efficiently as possible or they don’t give the right tasks the highest priority.

Another possibility is asking why something takes as long as it does. Could you change suppliers so that your subassemblies arrive preassembled? Or change supplies and equipment to eliminate time consuming tasks. You could order boxes that snuggly fit around the item instead of using standard boxes that require extra time to pack or buy boxes that already have warning labels and product information printed on them.

Have Standard Approved Forms

Why reinvent the wheel when you could have a single mass-produced model available when required? In business, this means having standard approved forms for common actions. You should have a standard set of forms, printed or digital, for purchase orders, purchase requests, requests for quote and bills of lading. You can download a free printable purchase order template online as a starting point.

And one shouldn’t underestimate the value of checklists. Checklists formalize business procedures in an easy-to-follow format. A standard checklist when onboarding a new employee ensures that they have a working workstation ready when they arrive, and that HR has collected everything they need if someone is being separated from the company. Checklists also ensure that quality control checks everything that needs to be tested and reviewed before an item is sent on your shipment.

Automate Where Possible

You could look for ways to automate label printing instead of requiring someone to create a new one each time and then manually print it. You could put barcodes on automatically generated labels and forms so that someone tracking an order as it is processed only requires scanning it instead of manual checks.

You can combine automation with workflow management to streamline handoffs. For example, your employees could scan incoming paperwork like signed purchase requests, while your material requirements planning system automatically sends the information to a buyer to buy it. The same system could generate a standard purchase order based off templates you’ve already set up, minimizing how much the buyer has to re-type, though they have the ability to make changes. Or you could use software to let people record maintenance requests, breakdowns and shortages; the software will route the request to a manager who then assigns the work to a qualified person as soon as they become available.

The benefits of streamlining your business include faster processing of transaction and faster completion of critical work from start to finish. There’s a good chance you could increase production without increased costs simply by eliminating non-value-added tasks or relieving bottlenecks. It may mean fewer opportunities for defects and mistakes.

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