- Mastering the 3 year business plan
- What got you here won’t get you there: Planning for prosperous business growth
- Developing better systems and processes to increase satisfaction, efficiency and opportunities
When we explore systems and processes that drive a business, we start by trying to understand where there’s a single point of truth in an organization. This is information stored in a business application where the processes you need in your business all connect to and ultimately can deliver from.
Sales, marketing, manufacturing, accounting — everything ties into that store of information to tell you what’s going on with the company.
Systems and processes: the basics
Companies start out having — and smaller businesses might maintain — this information in a collection of spreadsheets or using an online accounting application like Quickbooks Online.
A customer relationship manager (CRM) is a system that can drive sales and marketing insight or action. If you’ve ever heard the term “a book of business” talking about a sales rep’s list of contacts, this references the earliest analog systems and processes — a literal book or Rolodex of information.
The importance of growing your systems and processes
Many companies start with something that makes sense when it’s very small (maybe just a few people). A spreadsheet or modest cloud platform might be sufficient for basic financial reporting or a customer list.
As the needs for business insight get more sophisticated, it’s important for a company’s systems and processes around them to keep pace with speed and innovation.
The spreadsheet that was sufficient when there were two employees and $20,000 in revenue won’t work when there are 20 employees and $20 million in revenue.
Symptoms you’re outgrowing your existing systems and processes
There are some telltale indicators that it’s time to scale up or investigate new solutions to manage your business information.
- – When your information is inaccurate or incomplete
- – Having redundant processes
- – When multiple systems among different departments aren’t connected to each other
- – Receiving customer or end-user complaints about things like billing or invoicing, shipping, or order fulfillment
- – Using workarounds to manage inefficiencies
- – Utilizing a lot of manual processes requiring significant human interface, such as manually entering data into a spreadsheet
Obstacles to improving systems and processes
We tend to get used to what we know, which can keep us from scrutinizing our systems and processes, and finding opportunities for improvement.
We may have spent a lot of money on a platform, taking the time to train and onboard to it. That makes us resistant to consider change if that platform doesn’t serve us well or we outgrow it.
When we’re stuck in inefficient or ineffective systems and processes, we’re trading time for innovation.Taking the time to upgrade can feel intimidating or daunting, so we push it off and kick the can.
Eventually the systems we’ve outgrown will stifle our ability to move quickly, make smart decisions, or see opportunities.
At Disney’s animation studios in Burbank, California, there are a series of underground tunnels. These were so artists drawing on cellophane sheets could carry the sheets from one department to another without exposing their artwork to the elements, potentially ruining them and delaying an upcoming project.
The costs, resources and training required to manage the delivery of project-critical assets from one department to another via underground tunnels was immense. Yet, imagine if Disney had been slow to innovate just because they were used to this, or it was expensive.
Pull the thread on this old process long enough and you’ll arrive at today, where an entire animation project is managed digitally from start to finish.
Improving your systems and processes
If you’ve recognized that your systems or processes are outdated or you’re experiencing some symptoms that you’ve outgrown them, it’s time to start making changes.
- – Identifying bottlenecks
Identify where in the process your bottlenecks are, so you can track and report where the issues exist. It could be a staffing or training issue. Or a new system could be in order to solve a problem.
- – Replacing manual labor
Try and replace significant manual labor with something more predictable and less prone to human error. For instance, if your website collects email addresses from prospective clients, and a human being copies and pastes that information into a system, then this process can be automated to be more seamless.
- – Connecting your systems
If your website is connected to your CRM, connect your CRM to your enterprise resource planning (ERP) to help integrate and manage different aspects of your systems.
Looking to your CFO for leadership
A great CFO should be future-minded about your systems and processes, guiding the entire company in a way you’re never reacting to an outgrown system or process because you’ve constantly kept pace.
Your CFO should be naturally assessing all facets of your organization and should be capable of seeing where important issues might be hiding.
Systems and processes are an essential gear in the machinery of how a successful business runs. Having a skilled “technician” in a CFO who can see the holistic relationships at work in your organization is key to increasing efficiency and effectiveness.