Issues and Best Practise Solutions
Part one will outline some of the core challenges companies can face managing their processes when experiencing periods of significant growth.
Positive Supported Growth VS Unsupported Growth
Business growth is almost universally perceived as a good thing. Many business Guru’s promote business growth but unsupported and unstructured growth can cause long-term issues for businesses.
Businesses should prepare a proper plan of how it is expected to grow and the additional tasks and liabilities a larger version of the current business will inherit as a result of growth. There is a risk that the maintenance costs (both in time and financial cost) of the larger business will increase significantly and be difficult to control, if systems and processes are not reviewed prior to a period of growth.
If processes and infrastructure are not future proofed for growth alongside business growth, there can be a disconnect between what a company presents as its offering and actual delivery and efficiency of services it provides to customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. Not to mention the risk of confused, disillusioned staff, missed invoices and incorrect reporting all due to the burden of an incapably IT infrastructure or ambiguous processes.
Unsupported Growth can cause strain on internal processes and have a negative impact on customers and stakeholders impression of the service provided.
With unsupported growth, processes have a tendency to warp if not designed to withstand change. This can lead to convoluted, inefficient processes that hinder quality delivery of products and services and cause frustration amongst employees. Technology that previously worked fine when supporting a small business now feels to meet the technical requirements of a larger enterprise.
Using a tree analogy, companies have to use joists and quick fixes to keep supporting braches of their business from falling down.
Supported Growth ensures processes are not ‘left behind’, and optimise organisations for what they plan to become, not just what they are today.
With supported growth the company ensures that systems and processes are built to withstand the additional administrative requirements. Central processes are robust, well documented and reinforced to support additional strain. There are also Guidelines put in place to ensure that employee interaction with the designed solutions are well informed and behaviours that compromise the core processes are negatively enforced.
Issues with Unsupported Growth
When systems are adjusted with a sense of urgency to maintain the ability of the business to fulfil its obligations to internal and external stakeholders there is a chance that a lack of planning, testing and impact analysis are carried out due to time restraint. This can lead to various issues with data security. These can range from vulnerabilities from external cyber-attacks to internal users being able to access confidential employee information.
This can occur when employees are put under pressure due to underperforming systems improvise to get the job done. This is an example of short-term benefit that can negatively impact long-term efficiency and accuracy. An example of this would be an employee making manual adjustments to data on their personal desktop to an excel file, instead of using a centralised tool to do conversions.
This can lead to multiple versions of the truth across an organisation, and a lack of management visibility to what is actually being reported. Multiple versions of financial figures can be a nightmare to reconcile, especially when comparing transactional data with massive complex calculations in an excel sheet, that can be accidentally changed with no log of that change. Also if the employee leaves, or fall ill there is a risk that the entire reporting process can fall over as no one can access the component of the process that is stored locally.
Inability to complete a process can lead to numerous operational mistakes. Incorrect reporting of financial figures, incorrect billing, overpaying/charging of invoices, poor quality management of overheads and profitability analysis are all potential risks of unsupported growth.
If processes are not future proofed there is a likelihood that during periods of high growth employees will be under significant pressure to perform a large volume of business as usual activities, whilst being required to develop and update company processes. This increased strain can lead to mistakes in implementation of new processes, costing both time and money. Not to mention the impact on the quality of service that customers perceive.
How to avoid these Issues
Invest early in robust enterprise level infrastructure
There is now a mass of cloud based technologies available these days that not only avoid that upfront cost of an on premise system that is not suitable for smaller businesses, but offer monthly subscription plans that offer scalability with growth. Despite these benefits, an on premise model may still be a preferred solution for some entities due to increased influence on customisation and implementation. It also provides the opportunity to implement their own data security measures and procedures.
Review the quality of out of box features to minimise unnecessary project cost
Review the pre-built elements of a solution before going bespoke, there is much content available to customers out of the box that manages regular, repeatable business functions. A good consultant will highlight these features and have the ability to tweak and customise these functions to specific business needs if possible. There is a place for specific bespoke elements of a system, but there is no point re-designing the wheel (albeit a rather complicated wheel).
Build with long-term flexibility in mind
There is a benefit to efficiency when standardising processes, but there is a fine balance between automation and manual input. The more automated a process the less flexibility the end user has to make ad-hoc queries outside of the standard reporting stack.
Make Core Processes Known and Accessible
When on boarding staff it is essential that they have access to documentation and training that explains with clarity, the core standardised business processes and the consequences to not following proper procedure.
Changes and adjustments to core processes must be publicised and pushed to core users to ensure they know what they are supposed to be doing.
It should be ok for staff to query processes if they do not understand the reason for a task within a process, and suggest optimisations and changes to the process as long as this is documented, analysed and properly implemented with the influence of management and the wider team.
Be Prepared for Increased Regulation
Regulatory bodies are becoming increasingly aware of the amount and sensitivity of the data that companies are storing. As such they are beginning to crack down on firms not adhering to best data management practises. Ensure that systems are up to date, supported and built to withstand the volume of data you are likely to process going forward.
This includes the upcoming GDPR regulations as well as the risks associated with submitting flawed accounts to financial regulatory bodies.
Part 2: Visualising Process Management & Summary
Part 2 of this blog contains some of the theoretic visualisations companies can use to understand the extent of their process automation and use to plan and benchmark against for the future.