When making the decision to invest in software designed to improve operational efficiencies or reduce costs, learn how to start with an audit of your current processes to identify and reduce risks.
5 minute read
When businesses contemplate investing in custom software solutions to automate or improve business processes, the ultimate goal is usually to increase efficiency. But many leaders tend to overlook a key step in the process: a visualized audit of the process itself. It’s incredibly important to grasp the full scope of the processes you’re looking to codify with software. Skipping this step can leave the project susceptible to bloat or missing critical components that’ll impact the functionality of the software.
To combat this problem, businesses often develop extensive requirements documents to frame business processes and clarify strategic objectives from the start. Even the most extensive and detailed requirements documents, however, won’t create a shared understanding. Two people can read the same words and take away entirely different meanings, especially when those words span dozens of pages. A process map informed by a thorough business process audit, on the other hand, is a much more effective tool for ensuring no solution perpetuates the problems you were hoping to solve in the first place.
How to Conduct a Business Process Audit
Generally speaking, there are seven steps we’ve identified and adapted from to properly conducting a business process audit prior to building software. Each should be done collaboratively, with all relevant stakeholders providing input and varying perspectives as you explore the options for a solution.
Here is a business process audit checklist to guide you through the endeavor. We’ll use a simple example of a software project designed to facilitate the flow of sales orders through a company to help illustrate how to best make use of this framework.
1. Frame the hypothesis. All software development is a guess until we’ve built something and measured the results. Every software development process starts with an idea, but you have to get at the root of the idea by starting with a clear understanding of the problem. No matter how clever or innovative, this idea should always serve a purpose or solve a problem for the business. Take the time to visualize the situation at hand and clarify the requirements of the solution and the expected outcomes. What are the intended benefits to the business of the business process software? Who will be using the software? How will we get to the outcome we expect? How will we know we've solved this problem? For example, a business hypothesis might be that we think moving to digital ordering through a mobile app will lead to an increased volume of orders and higher order values and we'll know we've achieved this outcome if we can increase order volume by 10% each month and average order value by 15%.
2. Develop user personas. Identify the exact needs of the end user by developing user personas. Review or gather data to support your assumptions and include any stakeholders in the business process audit to add even more context to your findings. If you’re building software without the end users’ direct input, then you must rely on the data as well as your own empathy to fully appreciate their preferences and uncover their behaviors to arrive at the best solution. In our example, user personas could include data from customer support tickets, sales representatives’ feedback, customer service reps, warehouse managers, shipping managers, etc. All relevant user personas should be represented and prioritized by importance in the workflow.
3. Map out process blocks. Process mapping provides a general understanding of the sequential order of how value or services flow through the system. The process also helps set expectations for outcomes. Workshop your process map by discussing and naming the high-level activities that need to occur in order to arrive at a solution for the end user. Go a mile wide and an inch deep as you build a narrative for the business process software’s use. In our working example, these process blocks might be creating orders, submitting orders, processing orders, shipping orders, and supporting customers.
At this stage, it's important to take the time to ensure current state and future state are sufficiently analyzed for basic performance measures before code is written. If current ordering processes have significant delays or bottlenecks, following the same process blocks for new services at the company will only codify and amplify existing issues. Key metrics to evaluate include time spent in each process block, error rates that send the work item back to a previous step, and total time it currently takes for the process to be completed start to finish.
4. Break down process blocks into tasks. After establishing the backbone of your process map, outline the details of each process block to determine how exactly it can be accomplished by the end user. If, for example, your project involves automation software to move customer orders into a review and approval system, a block may be needed for a sales rep to create an order. In breaking this down further, the rep would then require access to an account, the ability to attach a customer to an order, add items to an order form, calculate the price, obtain the customer’s signature, and collect a payment method — all culminating in the “creation” of an order. For example, in the "creating orders" process, tasks might be downloading the app, finding the website, locating products, viewing product information, adding products to an order, seeing tax calculations, and seeing shipping rates.
5. Consider alternatives to each task. Next, consider how you might be able to make each task better or more efficient. In the case of an order creation as in the previous example, this could look like accepting a photo scan of a customer’s card for more efficient input or allowing a customer to e-sign an order.
6. Prioritize tasks. There will always be more to build than resources available at one time. Organize the process map by priority to bring the most important tasks to the top and leave the nice-to-have future optimizations or basic tasks at the bottom. Adding this step to your business process audit framework can help you inform a development strategy that will provide value to end users as soon as possible. In the order example, a photo scan of a card would likely be a lower priority than the entry of the card’s number manually because manual entry would be usable by all people, not just those who grant camera access to the app.
7. Slice and dice your process map to create development phases. Slicing and dicing basically involves transitioning the process map into a development strategy. Slice your map horizontally and vertically to create phases and releases that deliver value to the end user. Just make sure these phases can be tracked, quantified, and measured based on the product’s goals. With the order creation product, a goal might be to process 50% more orders. You’d try to find a slice of work that would likely improve efficiencies to increase order processing — and then measure the impact of whatever improvement was implemented.
Once you’ve gone through the business process audit, continue to use your process map to inform future releases and iterations of the product. Update it accordingly as new learnings come to light or the business environment changes, and it will help you continue visualizing the software as a whole.
At Synapse Studios, we’ve gone through this process time and time again to help our clients visualize current or future processes and develop workflow solutions. To learn how we can do it for you, contact us to get in touch with an expert today.