The Process of Improvement


You might think the notion of business processes only applies to big companies with lots of staff and paperwork across multiple departments.

But we all have business practices, even sole traders or SMEs. If you leave an email in your inbox until it’s dealt with and then file it in another folder when the project’s over, that’s a business process.

Put enough of them together and you’ll always find room for improvement. The reasons to streamline your processes can be different depending on the size of your operation and the sector you’re in, but it can be anything from saving time at work to serving your customers quicker, and it can apply to almost everything you do, including:

  • paperwork and filing
  • IT
  • billing and invoicing
  • tax and finance reporting

In a very general sense, the best way to improve processes is to map them out so you know exactly what you’re doing, design improvements and apply them

  1. Find it

Just like in the above example, you might not realise some tasks are even processes. Anything you do more than once that has multiple steps is a business process, so step one to improving the way you do it is to identify it as such.

You should end up with a list of processes that are ready to dissect and if necessary, redesign.

  1. Map it

Sketch out how the current process is by itemising every step in it, even the stuff you hardly think about. It might sound like overkill, but think of this example – if you scan and email a receipt whenever you receive it in the mail, that half-minute-long action can be streamlined by doing it in bigger volumes less often.

Each process will then have a series of steps that will give you the distance and objectivity you need to see what can be improved.

  1. Redesign it

Don’t be afraid to get messy on paper. Set your individual tasks (each with their individual steps) side by side and you’re bound to see overlaps, double ups and other shortcuts that can stretch the time, money or resources you have further to make things better.

Make copies of each list, rub out, cross out, rewrite, move around, combine lists and steps together. Do a few dress rehearsals of new combinations. If necessary, measure the results (how long it takes, how much it costs, etc.) to see where you’re making gains.

  1. Reset it

After much note taking, testing, theorising and practising you should come up with a new list of processes, each with new steps. There’s no right or wrong answer about how different they should be – you might already be sufficiently organised and discover not much needs to be done.

Nor should you consider them set in stone. Keep in mind that they’re the picture of how you should do things now. After a little time in the real world, processes will evolve. You’ll find something you considered a big step isn’t that big a deal, and something you hadn’t even thought of is actually the lynchpin of the whole task.

Even more importantly, something will change – whether it’s tomorrow, next week or next year. You’ll get a new client, pursue a new service offering or work with a new supplier, and not only will existing tasks and steps change, entirely new ones you need to incorporate will emerge.


Your business runs on processes no matter how big or small. Approaching them haphazardly or not being aware of them will only make them more entrenched, and you’ll always be able to find improvements.

And don’t be tempted into thinking that proceduralising your business properly will mean there’s no room for imagination or creativity. That’s perhaps the most important part, but it belongs in the project, not the procedures that generate it, track it or complete it.

Improving your processes will only give you more freedom to dream, scheme and create when the time is right. As the saying goes, spontaneity happens when you plan for it.

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