When I am asked to improve my clients’ business processes in the travel industry, there are a few key things that I always look for. Asking these questions can help you identify the weak points in the way your staff work.
What are you trying to achieve?
It sounds like an obvious point, but establishing the purpose of processes at the start of your review will make it much easier to identify which ones are inefficient or unnecessary. In most businesses you can find people working hard on tasks that lead to no benefit. It can be interesting to ask staff why they are doing a particular task – surprisingly often they do not know why.
If you were starting a new company, how would you do it?
If your company has been around a while, the processes you have probably reflect a series of organic developments that have been made over the years as your product or operating environment has changed. Start-ups benefit from not having all that clutter, and it can be helpful to think about what your processes would be if you started with a blank page.
Are all of your team working in a consistent way?
Do you actually have consistent business processes at the moment? Consistent processes allow transparency of what your team are doing and governance over it. Consistency also enables scalability, and means you can increase resource at busy times without extensive handovers.
Are you storing the same data or content in more than one place?
Double handling must be the biggest cause of inefficiency in business processes. Often it is caused by having multiple systems that do not talk to each other. Obviously getting someone to type the same data into two different systems is inefficient in itself, but you then waste a load more time dealing with inaccuracies or inconsistencies between the systems, checking and matching data and trying to keep the two systems up-to-date with each other on an ongoing basis.
Are you sure you are not storing the same data or content in more than one place?
You may have a single computer system holding your data, but what about all those Word documents and spreadsheets that you work on and keep up-to-date? Maybe you even have filing cabinets full of paper documents.
Do you spend more time inputting data or outputting it?
correctly, once, into a system that is dynamic enough to automatically produce the outputs you need. Too many times I have seen people working away adding additional data or content to a document that has been exported from their main system. Take this hit – load all the data and content you need into your system at the beginning and keep it up to date, then you can make your outputs right on the first click.
Are your staff in the right place, with the right skills?
As you start to change processes, you may find that you have the ‘wrong staff’ for your new business processes. Maybe because your new process automates outputs but requires more inputting effort, you have found that your product team is over-stretched and your sales and admin teams are twiddling their thumbs. The sooner you identify likely impacts, the sooner you can start retraining and redeploying staff to where they are needed.
Is your new process scalable?
Finally, make sure your processes will still work when you are handling half the volume, twice the volume and ten times the volume. If not, your new way of working will not be sustainable and you will find yourself reviewing your processes again in the future.
Ian Showell is Consultant Business Analyst and Project Manager for 2 Aardvarks Ltd working with a number of clients on travel industry system development and process improvement projects