Home > The Monday Musings Column > How well thought out are your processes?

How well thought out are your processes?

Having a process is pretty fundamental for any business transaction. Even at a very basic level, say you’ve cleared out your garage and set up stall at a car boot sale, you have to have some sort of process for taking money and giving change. It made seem obvious, but members of my family have managed to forget to take the cash or not put the money away safely. That may not be a big issue for the family holiday fund, but it’s no way to run a business, and so you should have processes in place: You’ll have to have some to meet your statutory obligations anyway.

So having processes is a given, but one of the biggest dangers to your business is not competition, recession or rising prices; it is in your processes.

How do you design your processes? Do you just record what seems like the best way of doing something? Do you think about the steps you need to get to a desired outcome? Do you come up with a series of actions and then eliminate all of the waste? You’re probably doing some of these or a variation of them, but have you actually thought about what the desired outcome is in any detail, because where things can often go wrong is that what you’re doing isn’t delivering what you need and you’re missing out on opportunities to be better.

Recently I was asked to help an on-line retailer with customer complaints. They had a well documented process for their helpdesk operators and good scripts for them to follow, but their complaints were growing at the same rate as their business. There were two problems; the first was that the process was well designed to meet the stated aim; to deal with the customer. The second problem was that the process didn’t do anything else.

Because they had a complaints process, they could tell how much they refunded and how many complaints that they had, but they didn’t know anything else and so it was hard for them to know where to start in eradicating the problems causing the complaints. The solution was to look at the overall problem; instead of stopping when the refund was issued, to add in all of the rest of the activity through the item coming back into the warehouse, being inspected and then disposed of in whatever fashion was appropriate.

All of the activity was being captured on computer, but because the objective hadn’t been fully thought through several aspects were not joined up. With the addition of half a dozen complaint category tick boxes on the helpdesk screen and a slight revision to the script it was possible to analyse the nature of the complaints with a weekly report. By analysing the items concerned against the newly added categories it was easy to see where the main problems were. The system could already tell them where the items had been bought in from, and so a complaints by supplier by item analysis enabled the buyer to  tackle the suppliers concerned armed with realistic data. The last step was that it was possible to show how much the returned products had been sold off for so that figure could be deducted from the refund to show a truer loss picture. Apart from about an extra 5 seconds added to the helpdesk task all of the rest of the benefit came with no additional work.

Having a process can be a trap. It will only be a benefit if you have thought it all the way through

  1. January 30, 2012 at 6:58 am

    Great post, John.Processes are a means to an end and not the end to the means. The problem happens when people get stuck to the process so much that they forget what it was originally meant for – it becomes increasingly difficult then to adapt or tweak the process when the needs change.


  2. January 30, 2012 at 9:14 am

    This account shows how with a little more thought and gathering a little more detail what is a large problem can be solved.

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