Process Standardization and Process Documentation
What is Process Standardization?
Standardization is the act of bringing uniformity and consistency to how we do something. It could be a one-time event or a repetitive activity. But every time it is carried out, the same set of procedures are followed. It brings certainty to our intended course of action. In other words, we could also say that via standardization, we turn something undefined into a known category. Take the example of driving. Once we learn the standard lessons of driving, we not only learn driving; we also bring the certainty that we could travel or commute from one place to another.
Process standardization is about bringing uniformity and consistency in the execution of business processes and operations. In simple words, process standardization is ‘only way to do one thing’. For example, the payroll process of a company should not differ every month or how services are delivered to customers should not differ across different stores of the same brand. This is made possible with process standardization. Employees follow the same set of procedures to carry out a particular process with or without the use of automation.
A commonly-observed example of process standardization is the customer support mechanism. When customers call for any support or assistance, the executives start with a few basic questions. Those questions are almost always in a predictable sequence. The objective of doing so is to first establish authenticity. Then they move to the area where the customer needs assistance. And this is true every time for every customer irrespective of where they are calling from or what the nature of their grievances is. This is one of the positive outcomes of SOP writing.
Benefits of Process Standardization
Customer experience and loyalty get a major boost when customers keep getting what they want and expect from a brand. If competitive discounts are what make your customers keep coming back to your store, you too should keep doing what you are doing right. Keep serving the expected value package. But to be able to achieve this, you have to be consistent with your business operations. If you are able to price your products competitively, you must keep tight control over the areas of business operations that enable you to do so. Standardization can help you ensure that your business processes remain consistently under control.
Operational planning is a crucial component of any growth and expansion strategy. Smart businesses save a lot of their time and effort when it comes to operational planning for new locations. With standardised processes, they simply replicate the processes in new locations with necessary improvisations. The likelihood of success is enhanced when tested and proven ways of working are applied. But if there are no standardised processes, no business could tell for sure if their existing operational framework has the agility and consistency to be replicated elsewhere.
Process standardization provides a window to improve operations. Improvement cannot take place in an undefined working system. A pre-existing state of planned and organised working must exist for a simple exercise called measurement. If you can measure, you can compare between what is and what was intended to be or what could be. And when standardised processes are in action, insights are available from multiple quarters for improving the operational planning at the enterprise-wide level.
Control is an important management function. We often tend to comprehend it in a more people-inclined fashion. Control is also about operational governance. Process standardization provides an opportunity for better operational governance. For example, if anything has gone wrong anywhere, it is possible that the same deviation could take place again at the same workplace or at any other business location where the same process is carried out.
Whenever any big enterprise-wide change has to be incorporated, it could shake the routine business operations to varying degrees. Having standardised processes provides a big advantage in enterprise-wide change implementation. For instance, during major economic slowdowns, companies shift gears towards reducing their workforce. This cannot be done merely by looking at the financial statements and assessments. The impact on business processes and operations has to be factored in. That is possible only when the companies know the workforce strength required for every process at the company level. Such assessments are not possible without having standardised processes.
Challenges in Process Standardization
Many businesses do not take process management seriously until not doing so begins to hurt their business. Not having structured processes is the first barrier to process standardization. Businesses that realise the significance of being process-oriented do not take much longer to move to process standardization.
The lack of centralised operational planning and control is another major big roadblock to achieving process standardization. In retail, this becomes apparent when two stores of the same brand handle their operations with drastic differences without any compulsion or constraint.
Process standardization is a big exercise. It involves developing and tailoring processes for an entire organisation. These processes would be carried out at multiple locations in multiple offices by different people in varied business environments. Crafting that common thread that fits everywhere with minimal customization requirements is a sheer planning challenge.
Standardization of processes is often touted as a creativity killer. It is true to some extent. When every procedure is laid out in black and white, there is little scope to incorporate inventiveness, especially at the execution levels. On one hand, if processes and process standardization bring certainty; it could also mean boredom for many.
Process standardization cannot come without the standardization of technologies. With the use of IT and automation becoming commonplace, a company cannot run the same processes using different tools and applications at different places. For instance, if you are providing more popular digital payment options in some stores and keeping the same restricted in others, it will create inconsistencies in customer experience delivered by your business across stores.
Process Documentation: Meaning, Benefits, and Challenges
In our routine lives, we do not write down the ways we do different activities. But when it comes to any complex task, we struggle if we do not have access to some kind of external assistance. Something similar happens in business too. Most of the processes are long and complicated. There also, assistance to the person executing the process becomes necessary. One of the most fundamental ways to provide this assistance is process documents. Process documents contain the procedures for executing processes and operations. These procedures are developed using relevant combinations of text, graphics, screenshots, etc. Process documents essentially cover:
- Flow of work, sequence of activities from start to end
- Work to be done at every step/stage
- Input and output requirements
- Standards of performance
- Place of work
- Process owners, decision-makers, authority
- Reporting and supervising criteria
- Scope of providing feedback, etc.
Few Benefits of Process Documentation
The biggest benefit of documenting processes is that these documents serve as operational roadmaps for employees in the execution of business processes and operations. This is most helpful for new employees and complex processes.
Having process documents reduces the burden of supervision. Employees’ need for assistance reduces when they have access to process documents. The need for supervision is reduced to the most challenging aspects of processes.
Process documents provide an indirect leverage in securing the deliverables. Knowing something in mind is one thing and to be able to see it in an explicit form is quite another. Process documents are explicit and specific about the deliverables.
Documenting processes provide a ready-made platform for process improvisation. It eliminates the need to collect information from scratch. Deviations could be assessed directly in the light of the established procedures as they exist on the process documents.
Few Challenges in Process Documentation
Not being process-oriented is the first major impediment to documenting processes. If there are no established ways of working, what will you document? A business not having processes in well-established formats is one thing. But not being process-oriented puts them on a far disadvantageous side.
Process documentation can be a mammoth and time-consuming exercise. This especially holds true for mid to large businesses. It involves the collection of enormous amounts of information on the actual practices. Differences and deviations have to be eliminated to form a common ground. Every aspect of every process has to be considered and aligned with the bigger business goals and objectives. All these can take up to weeks or even a couple of months with a dedicated team working throughout the project that would also cover many pilot projects and trial runs.
Process documentation calls for a certain degree of expertise and experience in it. Businesses usually do not retain any in-house team for such one-off exercises.
What BPX Delivers
We are a business process management consultancy brand with a budding international presence offering expert assistance to organisations in the areas of SOP development, process automation, business process management, and quality management systems. Here’s how BPX can help your business in achieving and making the best out of process standardization and documentation.
Process Design and SOP Development
We help businesses become process-driven enterprises. We design and develop business processes. Every process and operation is defined using Standard Operating Procedures carried out by a team of expert SOP writing consultants. Extensive assessments are made to collect information and gain insights into the as-is operational practices. The unique business and functional requirements are duly taken into consideration. Documented, SOP-bound processes provide the foundation for enterprise-wide implementation of process standardization.
In designing process standardization solutions, one of our key prerogatives is to open the window for robust operational governance. Every process is aligned with the business objectives. Every operation is benchmarked with standards. Nothing is left to unplanned ways of working or random decision-making. An in-built reporting system works through the SOPs enabling routine information-sharing on operational statuses from every department.
The service design and delivery are carried out by experienced process consultants. This team is carefully assigned factoring relevant industry awareness and exposure. Each project is executed under the guidance of a principal consultant. Every solution is worked at in a planned and systematic manner with due adherence to the established processes.
Becoming a process-oriented enterprise and accomplishing process standardization is easier when software applications are used. We help organisations identify the best-fit IT solutions for executing their business processes and operations. We also help them in vendor search and selection, customising the selected software application, and implementing it. We incorporate the utility of process documentation into the IT solutions.
Training and Implementation Assistance
The leap forward from no SOPs or AS-IS SOPs to TO-BE SOPs can be a big change for employees. In other words, a change in the working systems can be alien to employees on many terms. This includes the use of a new software application. BPX develops and imparts the necessary training programs to employees to familiarise them with the new workflows and the new software environment. We also provide assistance in implementing the SOPs with practical and systematic guidance.
BPX shall identify and define the altered organisational requirements and redesign the organogram brought about by process standardization. Our team of process consultants shall also determine the required changes in the workforce. Job analysis shall be conducted in light of the new operational framework. The financial assessments for implementing the entire exercise are also prepared. Internal rebranding and communications remain a priority from beginning to end to ward off any misconceptions or miscommunication about the exercise.