How to Develop a New Process

Sample Process Map and Spaghetti Diagram

The 7 Rules of Process Development and Implementation


You’ve got a great product, friendly customer service, happy customers and cash.  What’s missing?  An often forgotten ingredient to a well-run business is the development and implementation of processes that serve as the backbone for a company.  Developing effective processes makes your internal activities repeatable and consistent.  And the more stable your operation, the more you can distance your company from the competition.

Take McDonald’s, for example, which has mastered the art of delivering the same quality cheeseburger at any location in the world.  With the exception of local tastes, from Boston to Beijing, you can go into McDonald’s and order a cheeseburger of the exact same quality.  McDonald’s recently announced the opening of McDonald’s Next in Hong Kong.  If the experiment is successful, you can bet the fast food giant will invest great deal of time developing processes and procedures to recreate its newest product before opening additional locations.

RELATED: Process Overload and It’s Impact on Business

But we must remember that times change, and with such change comes the need to reinvent.  So regardless of whether you’re trying to modernize an old business system, or are creating new procedures to improve your business operations, here are the XXX rules of effective process development.

1.  Outline the Current and Future States

No matter what process you’re evaluating or what it is you’re trying to achieve, start by defining the current state.  Sit down with key stakeholders, talk through the details of how things are done, and capture the comments.  There are two great tools you can use to help with summarizing the current state.

Process Mapping:  First, consider drawing out a process map.  To create a process map, identify every step in the sequence to understand how information, data and work flows through your organization. Place Post-It notes on a large sheet of paper that represent each step and place them in order.  Key information you want to record for each step may include who does the task, what software is used for the task (if any), how long it takes, what prerequisites there might be, and what the output of the step is.  More often than not, you’ll find a number of opportunities to streamline activities and will uncover plenty of inefficiencies that can be eliminated.  Once the current state is mapped, begin laying out the new process using similar Post-It notes.  When talking about the future state, think big.

Spaghetti Diagram: Another great way to define the current state is to get a floor plan (or a virtual plan) and record the “flow” of activity.  Spaghetti diagrams are particularly useful for revamping physical layouts, such as a factory or office space.  Using a floor plan or diagram of the existing layout, draw lines showing the flow of material or information for each step.  Once all lines are drawn, you can estimate the total distance of travel.  From there, you can redo the layout to minimize the travel as part of the future state.

The key to defining the future state and effective process development is to focus on the details of the current state.  The more effort you put into defining the current set of steps and understanding each piece of the procedure – no matter how trivial – the better the outcome will be.

2.  Establish Benchmarks for the Process

Benchmarking, in short, is the act of learning how other people and organizations manage a given situation, and using that information to identify opportunities for your own improvement.  For example, if you want to improve your product development process, maybe someone out there is doing it really well and you can get ideas from their process on how to improve your own.  The challenge with benchmarking, of course, is that you cannot simply go to your competitor and ask “Hey, what sort of process do you use to develop new products?”  But there are certainly things you CAN do to help you get some information.

First, you can hire a consultant with expertise in your particular area of interest.  Not only will he or she have insight and knowledge that is particularly useful to you, they will also have seen how other people have done it.  If, for example, you’re trying to improve how you track new business opportunities, a consultant is likely to have seen it done many ways and can tell you the pros and cons of them all.

A second option is to get some intel via networking.  Don’t be afraid to reach out to trusted contacts of yours at other organizations.  You may have a good friend who works for a customer, or a former colleague who works in another industry that might be able to share some insights with you.  Alternatively, ask some simple questions to people you meet at the next conference you attend.  We’re not suggest you go out and steal someone else information… but you never know what you might learn in a simple, high-level conversation.

Regardless of what option you choose, benchmarking is extremely important because it can give you insight into what is possible and can prevent misdirection when developing a new process.  One final point: if through the benchmarking process you find out that no one else is trying to do what you’re doing or doesn’t seem to be doing it well, there may be a reason!  You’re either on to something great, or off course.

3.  Focus on Reducing Waste

Everywhere we look these days, we hear about reducing waste.  From environmental conservation and recycling to making businesses less costly, the reduction of waste is an easy concept to understand.  From an operations standpoint, reducing waste is a lean model concept from the Toyota Production System, known as Muda.  Eliminating waste is so important to business these days that companies spend millions developing efficient, predictable and optimized processes and systems that will make the enterprise more lean and cost-effective over the long haul.

Equipped with data you collect from benchmarking and the learning you obtain through activities like process mapping, identify areas of unnecessary effort, redundancy and downtime.  Locate bottlenecks and seek ways to automate and upgrade business activities.  In a factory setting, look at your trash can – what are you throwing away?   Here’s an example: your process mapping exercise reveals that the three different software systems you use to track your production schedules and inventory are consuming a lot of human power to bridge software compatibility issues – more than you ever realized.  To reduce waste, you might consider modernizing to a single piece of software that does it all for you so you can apply that human power to bigger challenges.  Ultimately, to develop effective processes, heavy emphasis should be placed on eliminating waste.

4.  Battle Test Before Deployment

When the Boeing Airplane Company introduced its 787 Dreamliner to the market, it wasn’t simply put into production and sold to customers.  Rather, the uber-modern aircraft was subjected to over 25,000 test conditions, 1,700 flights, and 5,000 hours of time in the air before it was ever delivered.  These figures don’t even include the countless tests performed on subsystems and individual components.  Despite this effort, well-publicized technical issues afflicting the aircraft were discovered after going into service.

The same logic holds true for the development and implementation of any new process, not matter how small it might be.  Developing a future state process requires that it is piloted in a controlled manner to understand the kinks and bugs that need to be worked out before the process is implemented.  To do this, collect a Beta team of knowledgable people who will have the ability to squeeze out gaps and problems and to understand the limitations of the new process against the backdrop of the entire area that will be affected.  If you’re developing a new engineering process, for example, but expect it to influence how the Project Management team works, be sure to get input from Project Management.  Avoid developing new processes in a vacuum.

5.  Process as Framework

The biggest mistake companies make when developing a process and implementing it into the organization is the philosophy that the process is protocol.  It’s important to distinguish the two because while protocol is a set of formal checks and balances in how we do business, process is a notional sequencing of activities in order to achieve a desired output.  When the two become merged, it results in unintended bottlenecks and inflexibility.

When developing a procedure, it’s important to keep in mind that process is a framework for how things are to be done, but not necessarily the exact path for getting there.  Returning to McDonald’s, let’s take a BigMac as an example.  If the person assembling the BigMac is told they must put the patty on the bun before anything else, what happens if patties are still being cooked during a busy lunch hour?  Conversely, if the process stated “place patty, cheese, lettuce and tomato on bun then package” it gives the person assembling the item the opportunity to improvise to keep things moving.  When developing processes, it’s important to give the users of the process enough latitude to achieve the result without giving them a script.  If the procedure is too tight, you’ll restrict the organization from its optimal performance.

6.  Avoid the One-Size-Fits-All Trap

Particularly in larger organizations, it’s easy to fall into a “one-size-fits-all” trap.  As organizations increase in size, there is a natural need for multiple systems and processes because they are needed to best serve different aspects of the business.

The key here is to be disciplined about how you go about deploying a new process into your organization.  Even if the process has been developed or created to help your sales force organize and track leads in a system manner, it doesn’t mean the same tool should be used for Finance to organize track payment status.  While there is merit in making systems common throughout a business as much as possible, there is a counter argument that would suggest that each business unit, team or function should have the ability to operate in a manner that best serves their stakeholders.  In short, just because it works in one aspect of your business doesn’t mean it will work everywhere.  Don’t force it.

7.  Process Implementation Starts with Communication

Change management is within itself a process.  A foundational piece to effective change management is to communicate to stakeholders so they know what to expect and when.  Email used to be a great way of doing it, but email saturation is hurting communication these days.  If it’s important enough, consider training and webcast sessions.  Communication should be well ahead of implementation so the organization is ready and able to absorb the change to minimize the transition has on daily affairs.  Process implementation, when thrown into the organization in an uncoordinated fashion, can be a dangerous affair.

So there you have it – 7 essential rules for process development, from the planning stages through implementation.


Looking for More?  Check Out:

The Impact of Technology on Business

5 Signs Telling You It’s Time to Restructure

How Process Overload Hurts Business

Is Organizational Friction Killing Productivity?

Creating a Technology Plan that Wins



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