Technology, labor, distribution and consumer demographics have all massively changed just in the last few years.

As such, business processes need to be constantly evolving to adapt and bring satisfaction to the customer as efficiently as possible. Organizations are continually looking for leadership that can control the mechanics of a redesign project as well as align them with an overall business strategy.

It can seem like a tall order to disrupt the status quo at your company, but with the implementation of smart business process improvement strategies, you’ll be able to make these changes as fluidly as possible. Let’s look at business process improvement (BPI), define it, explore strategies and then note the business and project management tools that can help implement and analyze progress in your company.

What Is Business Process?

7 Steps for Business Process Improvement

Before we can improve business process, we must first understand it. Business process is simply a series of tasks that you and your team perform repeatedly to create a product or service for your stakeholder, sponsor or customer. Business process can be modeled as a flowchart, which details the tasks necessary to serve that business goal.

A business process starts with an objective and ends with the achievement of that goal, which provides value for the customer. A business process can often be broken down into smaller processes, allowing for divisions of labor.

In general, business process is broken down into three types.

  1. Operational: This includes the core business and creates a value stream, such as orders from customers, opening accounts, manufacturing, etc. .
  2. Management: This includes such processes as corporate governance, budget and employee oversight.
  3. Supporting: This includes those processes that support other processes such as accounting, recruitment, technical support, etc.

Six Characteristics of a Business Process:

  1. It has definite boundaries, inputs and outputs
  2. It has an ordered list of activities in sequence
  3. It asks: “Who is the customer?”
  4. It must add value for the customer
  5. It is embedded in an organizational process
  6. It usually spans several functions

Lastly, when working on a business process it helps to have an owner, someone who is responsible for overseeing and improving this process.

How to Improve Business Process

By streamlining your business process you’ll have less errors and delays, and customer satisfaction will improve. Sounds great right? Well, here are some steps you can take to cut waste, boost efficiency and improve your business process.

What Needs to Change?

Analyze your business process at a high level and identify what needs changing. You can uncover areas ripe for improvement by conducting a process audit to discover where issues and risks lurk.

Analyze Your Pain Points

After you’ve figured out which parts of your process need improvement, it’s time to analyze them fully to understand what’s happening and how to realistically make improvements. Ask yourself the tough questions, for example:

  • What steps are creating roadblocks?
  • What aspects are most time consuming?
  • Is there an undue increase in cost and resources?
  • Is quality impacted?

You can find your answers by using business process mapping to outline everything with a flowchart or a swim lane diagram. These tools visualize all steps in your business process. You want to dive deep into each phase of the process to make sure you’re not leaving out any steps, regardless of how minor they might appear.

Business Process Mapping Steps

Business process mapping means defining what a business does, who is responsible for what, what the standard is for completing that process, what tools will be used and how the success of the business is determined. The reason for this is simple, to increase a business’ effectiveness.

With a clear diagram or detailed business process map, it is easy to see where improvements in the business process can be made to increase efficiencies and productivity. This is also a way to take a specific objective and measure it in order to compare against the overall objectives of the business, ensuring that they’re in alignment.

This will help to discover the source of the problems occurring in your process. To further your understanding of where the process is breaking down, you’ll want to talk to those people who are directly involved in it. Get their perspective on what’s wrong and what they think can be done to improve the process.

Get Buy-In

Once you’ve identified and analyzed the issues, you’re going to need to get support from senior management to okay your plans for improvement. These improvements can take time and use resources, so without commitment from senior management you won’t have the power to proceed.

Design the Improvement Process

Now you’re going to redesign the inadequate part of your process and apply the improvements you deem necessary to add efficiency. The best way to do this is by working with those people involved in the part you’re focusing on. Include what you learned when mapping the process but continue getting input from them as part of the redesign.

Be clear about what you want to change, then work on brainstorming or other group activities to collect ideas. At this point don’t stifle any suggestions, regardless of cost or resources involved. You want to explore first.

After the exploratory step, you narrow the solutions by considering the ideas within a realistic context. Apply impact and risk analysis. Work to uncover risks and potential failure points to further help you understand the full consequences of the proposal you’re building. Once you and the group have come to a realistic approach that has been agreed upon, then you’ll want to create a new diagram to document the steps involved.

What Do You Need to Get It Done?

Now that you have a plan, you need to determine what resources are needed to implement it. List everything required. Go through the proper channels to approve of these resources and communicate clearly why they are necessary to refine and improve the process.

Make the Change

Implement your redesign. This might mean changing existing systems, teams and processes. Sounds like a project in and of itself? That’s because it is, and you should organize it as one. Plan, allocated time and resources, consider risk and assemble a team to get the work done.

Review, Review, Review

Just as you reviewed the existing processes to discover where improvements could be made, you’ll want to review your improvements. Monitor their progress and make sure they’re meeting the milestones you’ve set up. Be ready to adjust your plan accordingly as issues arise.

Stay in communication with your team throughout. Get input from them on how the new process is working. Ask if they’re finding it frustrating on any level. Take this information and tweak your plan to make sure that the process is in fact making improvements and not meaningless change.

Tools to Help with Business Process Improvement

There can be a lot of preparation, administration and management involved when implementing BPI. So, here are some tools to help you along the way.


Kanban is all the rage in project management. Kanban is a Japanese word that translates to “billboard” in English. Formed as a methodology to improve manufacturing efficiency, kanban project management has its origins in the Toyota corporation. Now, however, not only has it been widely used as a scheduling system for lean manufacturing, but it’s also used in agile projects as a way to prioritize the backlog of tasks.

Kanban is a visual tool to help you see your current process. It’s very flexible and allows you to visualize your work and divide your Kanban board as you see fit. You can break the Kanban board down as far as you want.

This visibility creates clarity, so you can evolve your process as needed to add efficiencies. It helps everyone on the team see the process at a glance, which allows for a more collaborative effort at improving those processes.

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping was developed in the 1960s and is a graphic technique that helps improve learning and offers clear thinking to enhance performance. Therefore, it’s a great way to start collecting information that is relevant to your process.

You can connect important pieces of information, manage interconnections, link to documents and add summaries for each piece of data. You can use this process to create a work breakdown structure.

The industry-standard definition of a work breakdown structure is a “deliverable-oriented hierarchical decomposition that offers digestible tasks for team members to meet the project’s objectives and create required deliverables.”

It also helps to facilitate brainstorming as mind mapping is a natural organizational structure. It radiates out from the center, with lines, symbols, colors and images, which displays information in a way that engages the participants.

Using a mind map will also help capture and organize whatever findings you make about the new process. It makes summarizing the information clear and organizes the work in a logical fashion. Then you can preview your findings with stakeholders or the team in a way that is easy to grasp.

What Is Corporate Governance?

Corporate governance is a system of rules, practices and processes that are used by a corporation to direct and control its actions. It’s a way to offer a balance between the varying corporate entities, such as stakeholders, management, customers, suppliers, financiers, government and community.

Look at corporate governance as the framework by which an organization achieves its goals and objectives. Since that’s the larger picture, you can see how corporate governance is not merely a top-tier concern, but something that touches every part of an organization. That includes action plans, internal controls, OKRs, performance measurements and corporate disclosures.

Roles in Corporate Governance

If corporate governance is a set of rules, controls, polices and resolutions to dictate corporate behavior, shareholders are going to have a great influence on those decisions. But governance is more than that. The main arbiters are the board of directors of any organization.

Related: Stakeholder vs. Shareholder: How They’re Different and Why it Matters

The board of directors is elected by shareholders, or they’re appointed by other board members to represent the shareholders. Some of their responsibilities are to make important decisions, such as appointing corporate officers and deciding on executive compensation and divided policy. However, their tasks go beyond the financial when they’re needed to address social or environmental concerns.

Insiders and independent members make up the board of directors, insiders being major shareholders, founders and executives. The independents are not wedded to the company by the same ties, but have experience managing or directing other large companies and can help offer a broader context to decision-making.

The board of directors consider decisions that will impact employees, customers, suppliers, communities and shareholders. The board of directors are not managers and are not directly involved in the day-to-day operations of an organization. They are, however, responsible for oversight and planning, two pillars of corporate governance.

Related: What is Stakeholder Theory?

That said, the board of directors can delegate some duties to board committees, which have the time and resources to dive deeply into issues that call for expertise. These committees then will report back to the board of directors regularly on their findings.

The Good & Bad of Corporate Governance

Corporate governance can have a positive or negative affect on an organization. If the corporate governance is casting doubt on the reliability, integrity or obligations of the organization to its shareholders, then that’s a problem that will likely have financial repercussions.

For example, if a blind eye is turned towards acts that are illegal, then there will result in scandals that have plagued many companies in the past. This will tarnish a brand at best and put the organization out of business at worst.

If corporations don’t take auditing seriously or choose to have themselves audited by a less than scrutable auditor, the resulting financial reporting can be inaccurate or non-compliant. Then, there are badly put together executive compensation packages that fail to create incentive or create backlash for other executives and employees in the corporation. A poorly structured board of directors will make change difficult if things are moving in the wrong direction.

However corporate governance creates a rule by which to measure a corporation against a transparent metric, so shareholders, directors and officers are clear on direction and are incentivized to act in accordance with the rules. Most companies desire a high level of corporate governance, even more than mere profitability, as environmental and ethical behavior are more and more a part of good business.

How Does Corporate Governance Impact a Project’s Definition of Success?

Corporate governance is more than merely a device to control a corporation; it is helpful on the project level too, as it presents oversight on compliance, mitigating risk and offers guidance and direction for project managers. By offering an ethical standard or moral choice, it can offer context to the larger picture when deciding—as opposed to getting lost in the project weeds.

There are issues, of course, especially when working within an agile environment where being able to move quickly and pivot is essential. Corporate governance is a slow process that must clear many hurdles before decisions are made, and rightly so. These decisions can influence not merely a single project, but the corporation writ larger. Therefore, a project manager might find themselves frustrated by red tape if they’re used to moving on decisions swiftly.

The same issues can arise if there is a need for further funding or a change in scheduling. Money can be a difficult valve to open when controlled by a board of directors. While the capital might not be in the hands of the board of directors, the decisions on how those moneys will be spent is, and therefore, trying to secure more funding if needed can be hard.

Good corporate governance can help drive a complex project, depending on the degree of organizational impact and the number of stakeholders. Without a strong corporate governance, projects can suffer from an inability to secure committed allocation of resources, get issues, actions and risks addressed, have delays in decision-making, lack of buy-in from stakeholders and insufficient visibility of the importance of the project on the executive level.

That said, more often than not corporate governance is a template that has been erected for the greater good, and your project will have to find a comfortable spot to live and thrive in that space. It was made to create opportunity within the corporation, so the best thing any project manager can do is become intimate with it and know their way around it.

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