Posted in Workflow Automation

6 Easy Steps to Streamlining Processes to Improve Efficiency

Every company is built on processes — a series of steps you follow to accomplish an objective. Examples include onboarding new hires, preparing goods for delivery, and reconciling invoices.

When processes are efficient, they run smoothly and create predictable outcomes. But when they aren’t, they lead to inconsistent results and missed deadlines.

This is why streamlining processes is so important. 

Improving how work gets done helps your company increase operational efficiency, reduce errors, and deliver more value to your customers.

So how can you streamline your business processes?

Read on to learn more. In this article, we’ll look at how streamlining processes can help your company achieve its goals. We’ll also cover the steps you can follow to improve overall efficiency.

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What Does Streamlining Processes Mean?

Streamlining processes is the practice of taking an existing process and making it more efficient. It allows you to increase output, eliminate waste, and lower costs.

Business processes are made up of a series of steps.

For example, the invoice approval process involves: 

  • Filling out paperwork 
  • Routing forms to the right managers 
  • Checking for any irregularities 
  • Releasing payments 
  • Updating accounts

Each activity in this process constitutes a task. Any inefficiencies in how those tasks are performed can slow down approvals and increase processing costs.

Companies that rely on manual data entry and document routing take 45 days on average to process invoices. In contrast, companies with streamlined and fully automated processes take just five days — an improvement of almost 90%. 

Companies that handle invoices manually take 45 days to process

These figures illustrate the impact that efficient processes have on productivity. Streamlining other aspects of your company can lead to similar improvements.

Ways to improve a process typically include:

  • Redesigning a process
  • Removing unnecessary steps
  • Adding additional resources
  • Creating documentation
  • Adopting process methodologies

Adopting technology like workflow automation software is another way to streamline a process since it replaces manual, labor-intensive processes with fully electronic, labor-saving ones. That’s exactly what Initial Saudi Group did.

Prefer to see and hear it rather than read about it? See a live demo of how easy it is.

Initial Saudi Group was manually processing new contracts. Physical documents had to pass through multiple departments before a senior executive approved them. However, this led to lengthy approval times and misplaced documents.

By setting up digital signatures and dynamic routing, Initial Saudi Group was able to automate contract approvals. What initially took seven to ten days now takes just a couple of days.

Learn how Initial Saudi Group used frevvo to streamline its processes.

Why Is Streamlining Processes Important?

Inefficient processes manifest themselves in different ways — long wait times, continuous errors, increased costs, stressed employees, and unhappy customers are just a few.

Streamlining business processes can help you get to the root cause of these issues and work toward resolving them. Doing so requires an ongoing effort from everyone, but it offers the following benefits.

Benefits of streamlining business processes

Increase Productivity 

94% of employees say they perform mechanical, time-consuming tasks in their roles. 

When you use automation software to improve business operations, employees can spend less time on repetitive tasks like manual data entry and more time on strategic initiatives.

Eliminate Redundancies

Employees spend six hours a week duplicating work that someone else has already done. 

Redundancies are more likely to occur when processes aren’t clearly defined. Streamlining processes increases transparency and keeps everyone on the same page.

Reduce Errors

Errors are more likely to occur when tasks are performed manually — employees fill out the wrong data, make a calculation mistake, or forget to enter data entirely. These errors can lead to poor outcomes and even compliance issues.

Streamlining business processes can help reduce errors. Examples include integrating forms with a database to pre-populate data and implementing rules to perform calculations automatically.

Improve Compliance

Companies in practically every industry are subject to regulations. 

If employees don’t follow the right procedures, they could put the company at risk of non-compliance. Using software can enforce compliance, so processes can’t move forward without all the necessary information.

Lower Operating Costs

When employees manually process paperwork and update internal systems, administration costs increase. By using automation to streamline processes, companies can reduce time spent on repetitive tasks and lower overall costs.

Examples include digitizing paper-based processes and automatically routing forms to the right department. It’s no surprise that 70% of organizations are doing process work to reduce costs.

6 Steps to Streamline Your Business Processes

Every organization relies on numerous processes. While some are efficient, there’s a good chance that others aren’t.

Streamlining operations may take some time and require multiple iterations. But it’ll allow you to speed up approvals, reduce labor costs, and deliver more value to your customers.

Follow these steps to get started.

1. Determine Your Goals

Start by defining your goals before you start streamlining your processes. This will help set expectations and establish priorities for your team. 

Some goals you can set include:

  • Shortening cycle times (how long it takes to complete a task)
  • Reducing processing errors
  • Eliminating or reducing redundancies
  • Automating repetitive tasks
  • Integrating two or more systems
  • Increasing employee engagement
  • Improving customer experiences

Setting goals will help you keep tabs on how your efforts are progressing.

For example, if your purchase order process is causing procurement delays, you might set a goal to speed up approvals from two weeks to five days. As you implement new changes, you can track cycle times and make further refinements.

2. Map an Existing Process

62% of organizations have modeled less than a quarter of their processes. This means most companies are operating with processes that aren’t even documented.

Before you can streamline a process, you need to understand exactly how it works. Create a process flow diagram — a flowchart that breaks down and visualizes each step of a process.

Here’s an example of a process flow diagram for a purchase order:

Example of a purchase order business process diagram

These diagrams give you a top-level view of a process, making it easier to identify any inefficiencies and areas of improvement.

The easiest way to create a process flow diagram is to draw it on a piece of paper. But that’s not a resource that you can easily share with others.

Then, while you can use flowchart software to map a process, these tools frequently lack automation features. They’re useful for creating flowcharts, but not much else.

Instead, using a tool like frevvo will allow you to create process flow diagrams and leverage automation technologies to streamline their efficiency.

Select a process that you want to focus on. 

Look for signs of any discontent to help with this step. For example, if the expense approval process makes it difficult for employees to submit an expense claim, then streamlining this process is a good place to start.

With your tool of choice, map a process in its current state (not how you’d like it to be). The idea is to get a clear picture of how a process operates before you make any changes.

Get feedback from your team and even observe it in action. Then benchmark its current performance so that you can measure your efforts.

3. Analyze the Process

Unless the process you’re focusing on has obvious flaws, you’ll need to dig deep to get to the root cause of an issue before you can address it.

Analyzing a business process

Common process analysis tools include:

  • 5 Whys: 5 Whys is a method that involves asking “why” five times to get to the root cause of a problem. Digging into an issue can often reveal unexpected causes.
  • Fishbone diagram: A fishbone diagram attempts to explain the possible causes of a problem by analyzing the Six Ms of manufacturing: Manpower, Machine, Measurement, Method, Material, Mother Nature. If an issue stems from staffing issues (Manpower), a solution could be to hire more people.
  • Mistake Proofing: Mistake Proofing (also called Poka-Yoke or Error Proofing) involves identifying steps where mistakes are likely to occur due to human error and replacing them with error-proof ones. 

Be sure to seek input from your own team. Those who are directly involved in a process often have more insight into its inner workings and can offer suggestions.

4. Update the Process

Once you’ve uncovered the root cause of a problem, you can get to work on implementing a solution. Let’s say you want to streamline purchase order approvals. 

Your analysis has revealed that purchase orders are frequently delayed because employees are manually routing documents and managers are sending forms back to correct mistakes.

To update this process, you might use workflow automation software to automate document routing and incorporate rules to reduce common errors.

With frevvo, you can implement dynamic routing into your workflows. An employee submits a purchase order, and it automatically routes to their manager for approval — no need to manually route documents.

Here’s an example of a purchase order workflow in frevvo:

Example of a purchase order workflow

You can also use the system to implement business rules into your forms and workflows. 

For example, you can use the visual rule builder to create rules to pre-populate fields, perform calculations, specify custom formats, and more.

Using frevvo's Visual Rule Builder to add business rules

By implementing these changes, you can speed up approvals and reduce common errors that occur because of manual data entry.

5. Implement and Communicate New Changes

Streamlining an operational process means making changes to steps or adopting new technology. However, if employees are used to doing things a certain way, it can be difficult for them to adjust.

Roll out any changes slowly before implementing it across the organization. Make sure to provide adequate training to help your employees make the transition.

6. Measure and Refine the Process

20% of organizations don’t know if their process practices and technologies are helping to improve their efficiency.

20% of companies don’t know if their process practices are working

Monitor key metrics like cycle time to measure your efforts and continue to make improvements to your processes.

frevvo’s analytics dashboards let you track key metrics across all your processes, so you can measure your efforts.

Analyzing processes with frevvo's analytics dashboards

Continuous monitoring will ensure that your processes are working as intended. It’ll also help identify bottlenecks and uncover further areas for improvement. 

Streamlining a Business Process Using frevvo

frevvo makes it easy to streamline and automate your processes. With the drag-and-drop interface, anyone can create custom forms and set up dynamic routing without writing a single line of code.

Follow these steps to streamline a process using frevvo.

1. Install a Template

frevvo offers a library of templates that you can install to start automating your processes right away.

Workflow templates in frevvo

Each template includes a basic form, workflow with dynamic routing, and business logic. Of course, you can also use the visual interface to create workflows from scratch.

2. Customize the Workflow

Even if your processes have specific requirements, you can easily customize the forms and workflows to fit your needs.

With the visual form designer, you can add text fields, picklists, checkboxes, signature fields, and more. You can also use the visual rule builder to add business logic to your forms and workflows. 

For example, you can create a rule that routes invoices to a senior executive above a certain amount for further review.

Here’s an example of a workflow with conditional routing:

Example of a purchase order with conditional routing

Using conditional routing in this manner can help make your processes more efficient.

3. Integrate Your Systems

frevvo enables you to extend the functionality of your forms and workflows even further with integrations.

For example, you can pre-populate fields like vendor information with data from your database or Google Sheets. This helps to reduce manual data entry and errors.

Pre-populating a form with vendor information

Once you finish customizing your forms and workflows, make sure to test them to ensure everything works.

Start Streamlining Your Business Processes

Processes become outdated over time. What may have been the best way to complete a task before may not be the most efficient today.

This is why streamlining processes is so important. It helps you get to the root cause of an issue and implement solutions to address those problems.

Performing process work may sound intimidating. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be that complicated when you use software like frevvo.

The software features a fully visual interface, so there’s no coding required. You don’t need to hire a team of IT developers or spend months on development time to start improving your processes.

You also get access to other features like hardened security, built-in mobility, audit trails, ADA and WCAG compliance, multi-language support, and more.

Ready to start streamlining your processes? Get started with a free 30-day trial today to improve your processes.

Author:

Ashish Deshpande has worked in the process automation space for over 20 years. He has been instrumental in successfully deploying frevvo’s software at hundreds of organizations such as HBO, New York University, and Boston Public Schools. Ashish has contributed to leading publications such as Forbes, business.com and readwrite.com. Ashish received a PhD in Computer Science from Yale University, and a Bachelor of Technology in Computer Science and Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, India.