All managers face the same question: “How do I improve the way my business works?”
Well, according to BPTrends 2016 report, the percentage of executives who see processes as the crucial way to drive their businesses forward is 24 times the number who always have standard processes to follow and 6 times the number who always document their processes. Executives see the value yet fail with the execution.
Clearly, we need to investigate how processes can be employed better in the workplace.
Microsoft’s Developer Network see effective processes as fitting into two neat categories: automated processes which are software driven and interactive processes which are human-focused while incorporating automation.
We’re going to split this into three sections:
- Human-driven processes
- Automated processes
- Interactive processes which combine the two
We’ll look at what each is, where each is most useful, and I’ll present use cases for each.
Employing processes within your team
What is a process? A process can be generally defined as the series of steps which need to be followed to complete a task.
Operating with a process increases productivity, helps organize workflows across the company, and increases employee accountability. Standardized processes also make sure that quality is consistently high through making sure best practices are always followed and optimized over time.
At Process Street, we create a process every time we have a task which we need to do more than twice. Repeatable tasks need processes to make certain the task is completed to the highest standard every time. Certain processes which are highly repeatable can be automated – fully or partly – but sometimes a process has to revolve around the individuals undertaking it.
When to take a human-oriented approach
Every time we publish a blog post, as part of our writing workflow we run our pre-publish checklist. This checklist has evolved over time to encompass all the necessary steps to optimize our articles.
It could be big things like checking for filler words and style, undertaking keyword research, or using bolding to make a post scannable. Or it could be small things like checking alt tags on images contain a keyword, checking title and subtitle capitalization parameters are met, and correctly categorizing the article.
The vast majority of tasks within this process are tasks which are better done by a person. They are tasks which require research, scrutiny, and creativity.
Having well documented human-focused processes:
- Can be more flexible than fixed automated processes.
- Utilize the wealth of expertise your employees bring to the company.
- Are important for personal interactions with customers and clients.
- Can be improved in creative ways through employee suggestions from engagement with the process.
Processes centered around laying out standard operating procedures for your employees are useful in use cases like content creation, sales, customer service, and more.
Processes like these are best allocated to people and can be used to guide the strengths of your employees. These kinds of processes help your employees focus on what they are best at. But they wouldn’t be able to do that if it weren’t for automating the tasks which would normally be wasting their time….
Automated processes and where to find them
Process automation is the use of technology to undertake and complete workflows without the need for human intervention; it is the key to getting more done.
This approach to managing workflows has long been a staple in the manufacturing industry and other related sectors. Automated processes in these areas can increase output, standardize quality, and dramatically improve energy efficiency according to ABB.
Now, through the widespread availability of workflow automation apps, companies of all kinds can look to automate repetitive tasks.
According to the McKinsey report Four Fundamentals of Workplace Automation, for 60% of US jobs, 30% of their time can be automated. Depending on the sector, this figure rises dramatically. MicKinsey published this interactive data which shows the breakdown for different areas of the economy and their relative susceptibility to automation.
The industry with the most potential for automation of existing duties is accommodation and food services with a whopping 75% of time able to be automated. Second is resource extraction with 63% and in third lies technology, media, and telecoms with 51%.
Third party tools like Zapier, Flow, and IFTTT can be used to automate administrative tasks and many aspects of communication, amongst other things.
How to automate a common marketing workflow
One specific use case which illustrates process automation outside of a technical field might be inbound marketing and email campaigns. Through marketing automation software like Infusionsoft, ActiveCampaign, Drip, or Autopilot, whole campaigns can be constructed in advance and then left to run independently of human interaction.
Through one of the above tools, you could construct a sign-up form to embed into your website to gather leads. Once someone signs up through the form, their details are automatically pulled into your contacts list and tagged on the basis of their actions. Platforms like these can often also tell you where in the world your potential lead is located without even having to ask.
Once you have a user in your platform, they can begin their email journey. You can design a customer journey which sends them a preset series of emails. These emails can each be designed to look professional and be personalized to each customer. You can put time delays between each email to tailor your approach, plus add logic to the journey whereby which follow-up email the customer receives depends on how they interacted with the previous one.
If someone has signed up to subscribe to your blog and they have clicked on a button in one of your initial emails to access an e-book or some extra content, you could segment them to receive a sales email at that moment or the next day. Through this approach of segmenting your subscribers, you can qualify potential leads and send an automatic notification to your sales representative to reach out to them.
Without needing to code, and requiring only a short period of setting up, you have automated a huge chunk of inbound marketing. This process is now also scalable as there is essentially no limit to how much work one platform can do in a day – unlike their human counterparts.
Automated processes provide you with:
- One time setup and execution.
- A way to avoid wasting time on repetitive tasks.
- Standardized approaches for consistent quality and performance data.
- A scalable process which can handle many requests all at once.
However, employee focused processes and automated processes do not have to be separate things. When combined, they can produce powerful, flexible, efficient, and human results.
How to build interactive processes
When Microsoft talks about interactive processes it is referring to the integration of employees’ expertise and software’s lifting power.
Interactive processes enable you to keep the benefits of customer facing friendliness and employee creativity while also cutting out all the waste in between.
Here you’ll find a link to our ebook about business process automation which explains in depth how you can integrate automation tools into your business processes. It contains:
- The basics and potential of business process automation
- How to automate complex workflows.
- An overview of the main tools on the market with added detail.
- 222 ready-to-use examples of business process automation
- Use cases of how businesses have saved time and money through automation
However, you may also find the automation of business processes referred to by other terms. Interactive Intelligence, in their report The New Intelligence of Business Process Automation, use the terminology Communications Based Process Automation to specifically reference the way in which most effective automation for businesses rests within the communication of information.
For instance, with Zapier you might create a zap which automatically sends your Typeform survey data straight to a Google Sheets or MS Excel sheet. This zap has communicated data over to another area/person. In the same way, when a person is plugged into these automated processes, they are utilized best when that individual is communicating something important back to the automations.
Their conceptualization of the use of automation tools within business processes is as a communication tool between the person running the process and the machines doing the lifting for them.
The future of interactive processes
McKinsey even take this further in their outline for the future of process automation. In the previous McKinsey study referenced in this article, the authors concluded that marketing executives could save on average 15% of their working time by integrating automation into their company workflows. Their new report goes even further.
In a recent publication, McKinsey introduce the concept of Intelligent Process Automation which they claim will see the automation of between 50 and 70 percent of tasks for many workplaces and translate to 20 to 35% annual run-rate cost efficiencies.
It hinges on 5 key areas:
- Robotic process automation to deal with repetitive tasks
- Smart workflow tools like Process Street to optimize processes
- Machine learning and advanced analytics to gather large amounts of actionable data
- Natural language generation tools to allow computers to communicate more easily with humans.
- Cognitive agents – which act like a virtual employee. A UK insurance firm employing early stage technology in this area saw a 22 percent increase in conversion rates, a 40 percent reduction in validation errors, and a 330 percent overall return on investment.
The conceptualization of future process potential by McKinsey shows the benefit of staying at the forefront of this field when conducting your operations. Yet, fundamentally, what they describe is simply a fully optimized version of the broad category of interactive processes in the vein of that presented by Microsoft.
It is this philosophy of interactive processes which inspired Process Street and drives forward the continuous development of our product.
How to properly execute an interactive process
One such internal process we use which mirrors these requirements is our BANT sales qualification process. This is an approach which seeks to determine the suitability of a lead for an upgrade to a paid service. The aim is to reduce time spent on low-quality leads, increase paid conversions, and to provide the service most tuned to the client’s needs.
The BANT methodology was developed by IBM and stands for:
- Budget. What is the prospect’s budget?
- Authority. Does the contact have the right authority to buy?
- Needs. What needs does your prospect have? Do they match your product or service?
- Timeframe. How soon are they wanting to implement a solution?
When talking with a client, we need to assess each of these categories and record the information. The way we record this information determines how useful the information can be, and the way the process is followed determines how efficient this qualification process can be.
We combine Process Street with Close.io to make this process run as smoothly as possible. Process Street allows us to follow the same process each time a new client is assessed while the information gathered is then automatically inputted into Close.io which runs the numbers and stores the information in a way which makes it easily actionable in future.
We integrate this checklist with Close.io via Zapier’s third party automation software. This integration is set up in a one-time building of the process. This means that all the information entered into form fields within the checklist, or selected from drop-down menus, is entered directly into the CRM in a structured manner.
As a result, all leads are categorized and can be segmented within the CRM based on their responses – for example, use cases. By asking for potential budgets and, crucially for us, team size, Close.io can automatically extrapolate that information to determine the size of the opportunity in financial terms, allowing us to better manage our finances and plan for the future.
Processes like these bring the best out of Process Street’s interactive potential. A real person can communicate with customers presenting a human face to the company while the software organizes the administrative elements, parses the data, and creates future predictions based upon the information gathered.
Instead of messing around with repetitive administrative tasks, our sales team can focus on what they do best: talking to clients and engaging with their needs.
You can see more about how this process operates in the video below:
Combine human expertise with software power
Whatever the terminology you want to employ when discussing processes, there is significant potential for increasing the efficiency of your operations and raising the standards of your results.
The key takeaway from the Microsoft perspective appears to be that certain processes are best handled by computers and others by humans – even if computers are helping.
It is up to you as a manager to determine when a process should be fully automated and when you should keep it interactive with a human touch.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Finding the right balance within your internal processes is one of the key challenges of designing processes which fit the needs of the business. With Process Street, you can easily establish processes, track their success, and iterate them over time. This flexibility allows you to find the right processes which suit the needs of your company.
How do you balance automation of processes within your business? Let us know in the comments and we may follow up with you to learn more.Business & Finance Articles on Business 2 Community