How to Identify and Improve Your Inefficient Business Processes

May 30, 2024
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Key Takeaways

  • Reviewing business processes is essential to reducing waste and increasing efficiency.
  • A comprehensive, 360-degree assessment of your organization — people, processes, applications, IT operations and infrastructure, security, and data — can help you identify areas of improvement.
  • Change management is a vital component of improving process efficiency.

As your organization scales and evolves, managing business processes becomes increasingly complex. Organizational leaders are often so busy keeping things running that there’s little time left to review processes. This oversight institutionalizes inefficiency and leads to a continuous cycle of wasting time and resources.

Whether your processes started out inefficient or you’ve just outgrown the old way of doing things, process improvement is vital to the continued growth and success of your organization.

Process improvement isn’t just for internal optimization — it’s also about making sure you are providing quality products, customer experiences, and vendor relations.

Identifying Inefficient Business Processes

The first (and simplest) way to evaluate your processes is through communication. Gathering a cross-functional group of people in a room provides an opportunity to identify how processes really work and outline inefficiencies that you can immediately improve.

For example, your operations department may not realize that the finance department uses inventory reports to make strategic business decisions. It’s natural for information to become siloed, as teams are often so focused on keeping their pieces moving that they lose sight of how interconnected business processes really are. An open conversation can help form a big-picture view and allow teams to deliver shared information in a faster, more cohesive way.

Another way to weed out inefficiencies is to visualize your processes with a strategic process map, like a swim lane diagram. This can help you identify bottlenecks and redundancies.

Conduct a Comprehensive Business Assessment

There is a misconception that technology and automation are quick fixes for streamlining processes. However, your digital processes can be just as inefficient as your people-driven processes. People and technology cannot stand alone; you can’t talk about one without talking about the other. 

360 assessment graphicIt’s important to analyze how technology is used to support your key business processes and whether your organization’s IT environment is meeting strategic needs. Start thinking from an improvement mindset by focusing on these key areas:

  • People
  • Business Processes
  • Business Applications
  • IT Ops & Infrastructure
  • Data & AI
  • Security
  • We’ve created an in-depth guide that details the components of a comprehensive assessment and highlights assessment outcomes from one of our clients. You can download it here.

Once you’ve completed a business and technology evaluation, you can dive even deeper by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do you use multiple systems to track your projects, accounting, inventory, and financial reports? Do these systems talk to one another?
  • Are there manual processes performed outside of those systems for tracking or reporting? How are they managed, how often are they updated, and how many team members are involved?
  • Is there an overlap of efforts to track these processes across roles, teams, departments, or locations?
  • Are you able to see the data you need in real-time?
  • How often do you use your financial reporting? How long does it take to get the final product? Can you trust the numbers being reported?
  • Is your technology able to scale as your business changes?

Improving Business Processes: A Case Study

It’s tempting to review processes on a department-by-department basis, but true organizational improvement requires a holistic approach. Choose a department to start with and work your way outward, examining how each department functions individually as well as how each department interacts and shares information with others.

For example, in an examination of the accounting and finance function of one of our clients, we found inefficiencies in the AP invoice processes, including:

  • Invoices needing investigation
  • Item receipts not completed prior to invoice receipt
  • Missing information on purchase orders/receiving
  • Methods of recording freight
  • Challenges with staggered shipping

These problems were a result of inefficiencies in other departments.

This led to a review of the purchasing and receiving processes, aiming to identify efficiencies and reduce the workload for the accounting and finance team.

We determined that it would be beneficial for the organization to move toward more centralized purchasing. With over 50 employees having purchasing cards, a large number of invoice-approvers, and a very decentralized purchasing philosophy, a more centralized approach to purchasing would simplify purchasing functions, streamline invoice workflow and approvals, and provide for better vendor management — as well as leverage the organization’s buying power and any volume pricing benefits.

We also discovered that the client could utilize functions in their business management software to streamline their processes. By implementing an added module to their existing ERP, the client would be able to easily onboard vendors and track their performance, automate tedious tasks, improve collaboration and, overall, make their jobs easier.

  • Once you’ve identified your inefficiencies, the first step to process improvement is change management. Whether you’re restructuring your teams, replacing outdated systems, upgrading your IT environment to stay compliant, or even implementing a whole new technology stack, the digital demand on your business is felt most acutely by your people.

People + Processes + Technology = Success

Your people, processes, and technology each play a vital role in your success. Remove one and your project no longer captures the full scope of your business.

Employee buy-in of organizational changes can make or break your project. Follow these four guidelines for a successful change management plan in your business:

  1. Listen to Concerns: Acknowledge those who loudly (and quietly) oppose change and hear out their concerns. It’s also important to pay attention to your frontline staff during times of change. Organizations often look to management to represent the interests of their teams, but your frontline is the face of your organization. The morale and input of this group make them essential to your change management plans.
  2. Promote Optimism: Listen to and amplify the excitement of your project’s biggest fans. Welcome their enthusiasm and encourage them to be your “on-the-ground” promotional squad. By empowering this unofficial group of early adopters to use their voices, you are presenting the naysayer and neutral team members of your organization with genuine, unsolicited opinions to help reshape their perspectives.
  3. Actively Engage: Some leaders like to let the organization chart its own path with change. But actively partaking in the change management process allows you to influence the outcome — and steer the ship when needed. A great way to guide the project’s path is by doing an activity with your team. Whether it’s a walkthrough of a process in which each team member represents a step in the workflow, or a simple, collaborative whiteboarding session, the activity should show the action, the direction, and the vision. The goal is to foster a cohesive team that is on the same page about what the problem is, how you are addressing it, and why the change is necessary and positive.
  4. Keep Moving Forward: There will be bumps along the way. Acknowledge them and talk about them, and then get back to work. Always keep an open mind to the varying perspectives, differing opinions, and many learning styles that exist. But even more importantly, stick to your defined goal. Do not falter on the core objective. Of the change management plans that fail, 48% were because of lack of follow-through. Fully embrace the change — and everything that comes with it — and engage your team along the way.

Take the Next Steps in Your Digital Journey

If you don’t have the time to devote to a process improvement analysis, we can help. Eide Bailly has a specialized team devoted to providing solutions to your business challenges. We can help you identify areas in your organization that need attention, prioritize business and technology initiatives, and create a digital roadmap that supports your business objectives.

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About the Author(s)

Shelley Earsley

Shelley L. Earsley, CPA, PMP

Partner/Technology Consulting Practice Leader
Shelley provides leadership for organizations working through their digital transformations, business and technology initiatives, strategic planning, organizational design assessments and implementation projects. She leads a group of talented professionals focused on providing solutions to business challenges.