Unifying Company’s Procedures through Process Standardization

You have given everything to your business processes – the latest technology, highly competent professionals, and top-notch resources, but still optimal results are not achieved. The seemingly winning combination of resources and cutting-edge technology is incomplete without process standardization. The primary reason for using standardization is to bring about a certain level of uniformity in the way tasks are assigned and performed. A standardized process is streamlined and devoid of any chaos or confusion while it is executed. Read on to understand the process of standardization, its benefits, and challenges in standardizing processes.

Standardized Process

What is the process of standardization?

In large organizations, process teams develop their own ways of doing things. A single process like billing or accounting can be executed in a dozen different ways. Having different ways to execute a single process only leads to confusion and chaos in the organization, which results in double billing, lost deliverables, poor quality, decreased productivity, and work delays. The lack of a reliable and consistent system for managing mission-critical business processes not only brings down operational efficiency but also affects the business’s bottom line. Therefore, standardization in a business is important.

Standardization refers to the process of establishing a set system of attending to tasks and operations. Work standardization involves setting standards for workers for executing tasks and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for all business operations. An example of process standardization is setting standard operating procedures for filing documents in a company. Employees need to follow a standard template for filling in documents for the company. This way all the details are available in a standard format, making it easy to understand for all employees. IT process standardization is another common standardization example.

Let us understand the meaning of a standardized procedure. A standardized business process is a clearly defined and documented process that remains the same and consistent throughout the organization. Irrespective of the team following the process, the operating procedure remains the same. Process standardization essentially describes the establishment of a set of rules that govern the way people in the organization are expected to complete a given task or a sequence of tasks.

Standardization can be applied to any process or procedure or task that is important for the business. Payroll processing, invoice processing, answering phone calls, gathering client information, etc. are some standardization examples. Each operation comes with its own approved standards. The manager is tasked with the job of making sure each team member is aware of standard operating procedures and follows them diligently.

What are the prerequisites for process standardization?

  • Documentation of all existing processes/procedures and compare them across teams
  • Establishing standards that are robust enough to withstand even when key employees quit the organization
  • Get buy-in from all the stakeholders
  • Weaving standardization into the company culture

Process standardization focuses on establishing a set of validated and accepted procedures that outline the best and most reliable practices to be carried out within the organization. A standardized process enables optimal use of human resources and technology while maintaining a production rhythm adapted to customers’ needs. Standardizing business processes promotes synergy between people and materials to achieve effective production methods for the business.

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How to go about process standardization?

Standardization of processes can be easy or complex depending on the level of commitment shown by all the stakeholders. Each business adopts different methods to standardize its processes.

Here are common steps followed to standardize business processes:

Identification of key business processes – standardizing all the business processes at the same time may not be feasible. The first step to process standardization is to identify key business processes that need to be standardized. Standardizing the most important business processes helps improve business outcomes. Identifying key business processes provide a clear idea of where to start.

Make a process map – once the key processes for standardization have been identified, the next step is to map out the processes. Process mapping helps employees understand the steps that lead to the result and identifies redundancies and process bottlenecks. Flow charts, pictorial maps, and multifunctional flow charts are different ways of mapping a process.

Adopt a standardization framework – developing a framework for standardizing business processes is important for effective standardization. Instead of developing a new framework, you can adopt a framework that other businesses have used successfully. You can also use process management software to standardize processes. Service desk software not only standardizes business processes but also helps you track the performance of the team and processes.

Process automation – automating key business processes is a great way to standardize the process. It saves your company a lot of time, effort, and money by automating repetitive tasks. Workflow automation software like Cflow is very effective in standardizing processes. The easy-to-use form builder can be used to create process forms quickly.

Engage everyone – building an all-inclusive workforce is most effective in building a progressive work environment. The goals of the company, new development strategies, process standardization changes, etc. must be properly updated to all the stakeholders. Also, the team members must be given proper training about the way the new standardized process works.

Documentation of the process – all the steps in process standardization must be properly documented for future reference and audit purposes. Proper documentation also ensures that the limitations and rectifications required at each stage are identified in a timely manner. Accurate documentation gives you an idea of individual steps that lead to the result.

Monitor and analyze – any newly introduced process needs to be monitored and analyzed periodically. Taking feedback from individual tasks by way of performance metrics helps track the effectiveness of standardization.

The above steps form a broad framework for standardizing a process. Following this framework simplifies process standardization for businesses. Guided by this framework, business leaders can decide on the key areas of the business that need to be standardized and the steps to follow.

Importance of Work Standardization

The importance of standardization in businesses is evident in the way it improves process efficiency and productivity. Standardized business processes help in limiting risk by reducing variables.

Here is why process standardization is important for a business:

Reduces costs and improves productivity – the best way to improve the productivity of the business is to focus on the relevant processes. Streamlined and standardized processes enable cost reduction and better productivity. Standardization eliminates repetitive tasks, which in turn brings down the costs associated with these steps. These repetitive steps can be effectively automated to bring down the strain on employees. The time saved thus can be channelized into productive activities that improve the quality of process output.

Minimizes the cost of human errors – manual processes are ridden with errors and inconsistencies. The average cost of a data breach caused by humans was estimated at 3.3 million USD in 2020. As work environments are increasingly digitized, sensitive data and software are becoming more accessible. Having a standardized approach toward data handling and access ensures the security of sensitive data and minimizes data handling errors. 2-factor authentication or 3-layer authentication of sensitive transactions ensures complete data integrity.

Effective record of work knowledge – often when an employee with unique work knowledge quits the organization, the working knowledge is lost. It takes a lot of time and money to regain the working knowledge lost this way. Having standard operating procedures that entail proper documentation of work knowledge so that it stays in the organization even when the employee leaves the organization. Having standard protocols in place ensures that a single employee is not responsible for a business-critical process. Proper documentation and a standard offboarding process enable proper knowledge transfer.

Improve work consistency and quality – standardization removes the discrepancy between teams and employees. IT process standardization, for example, brings a standard way of reviewing software code and testing it. By bringing in a rigorous testing process that the entire team follows, the number of errors (bugs) in software can be brought down and high-quality software can be delivered. The same holds for other industries like manufacturing. Without proper checks, the risk of delivering defective products to customers is high.

Benefits of Standardization

The main reason why organizations go for process standardization is to reduce variability in processes. Standardization has the advantage of reducing variability in all business processes and outcomes. Standardization means that employees have an established and time-tested process to use or follow. Process standardization brings down ambiguity and guesswork, guarantees quality, and boosts productivity.

The key advantages of standardization are:

Improves clarity – a standard process eliminates the need for guesswork and extra effort in searching for information or data. Any task is likely to have some gray areas or edge cases that require guesswork. A lot of time and effort is invested in clearing such ambiguities. A standard and a clear set of instructions to work from to complete a task are helpful for employees, who will end up spending very less time trying to figure out things and spend more time carrying out a task. Process standardization is particularly useful in tasks that require training. Instead of having all the operating instructions inside the head of the trainer, standardization documents all the instructions for the trainees to simply follow them. Service standardization means that there is only one correct way of doing the task to get a clear measurable result.

Standardization ensures the quality of deliverables – lack of standardization means more ambiguity, which produces unreliable and inconsistent results. Inconsistent results bring down the quality of deliverables. Standardization of operating procedures ensures proper documentation of all the steps and other details. One of the most important ways in which standardization guarantees quality is by minimizing the chances that vital details will be overlooked. Having a standard policy and procedure document templates ensures that crucial information is not omitted or overlooked.

Improves productivity – standardization streamlines business processes, making them leaner and more functional. Streamlined processes cut out the waste and utilize resources optimally. Process inefficiencies are eliminated by providing quality checks and standard policies. By eliminating the ambiguity of alternative procedures, unhealthy competition and conflicts are done away with. When everyone has the same way of doing things, it will be easy for teams to work collaboratively, and less time will be spent on bridging communication gaps and reducing conflict.

Boosts employee morale – standardization promotes uniformity between employees. Setting clear standards at work help employees feel a sense of achievement and pride when they reach those standards. Contrary to the belief that standardization brings monotony and kills creativity, having standards that anyone can master brings pride and work satisfaction.

Walter McIntyre writes in Lean and Mean Process Improvement – “If managed properly, standardized work establishes a relationship between people and their work processes. This relationship enhances ownership and pride in the quality of work performance. The result is high morale and productivity”.

If a process is governed by working standards, each employee is guided by these standards to perform efficiently with a sense of ownership. Achieving these standards instills a sense of pride in the employee and boosts his morale.

Improves customer service – a team that works with less ambiguity delivers higher quality and better productivity. Standardized ways to address customer queries and complaints enable service teams to respond to customer issues promptly and efficiently. When an organization is more productive and efficient, outcomes for customers are automatically better.

Automates key processes – it is much easier to bring standardization into automated processes than manual processes. Automated processes follow preset business rules for predictable and reliable outcomes. Manual processes on the other hand are ridden with human bias and errors, which increases the risk of error and ambiguity. An automated system also classifies activities based on their importance and accommodates quick changes. All the employees need to simply conform to the standards set by the organization to deliver quality results.

Challenges in Process Standardization

Despite several benefits of standardization, many organizations are not comfortable with the idea of conforming processes and procedures to only one way of doing things. Employees who are not used to following preset standards may find it difficult to adopt standardization. Many organizations regard standardization as boredom and loss of freedom and creativity.

Here are some of the common challenges of process standardization.

Standardization dictates monotony and boredom – by definition, uniformity means one correct way of doing things. For some, uniformity or standardization is synonymous with monotony. By following only one way of doing things, they feel it puts an end to their creativity. However, standardized processes do not kill creativity, on the contrary, they instill a sense of achievement in employees. When a task is done to the prescribed standard, it is 100% complete. And checking off boxes boosts employee morale.

Standardization kills creativity – a common concern in many organizations hesitant to adopt standardization is that a workplace that is standardized does not promote innovation and creativity. The essential apprehension here is that standardization promotes a work culture that strips individual thinking and new ideas. It would not be right however to equate standardization with a lack of innovation. Standardization is only the elimination of alternatives and ambiguities that lead to inefficiencies and conflict.

By eliminating conflicts within the teams, you can free employees from the needless waste of their time and energy so that they can focus on innovation in areas that matter. Process standardization is in fact conducive to innovation because it helps everyone do more and be more effective team members. When an employee discovers a way to improve a process, the organization can investigate and possibly adopt it as a new standard.

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Process Automation and Standardization

We have already touched upon process automation in the discussion of standardization. Process automation refers to the ability of the business to deploy technology to simplify and keep complex business operations running. Automating processes eliminates redundancies and repetition. It also helps in eliminating the errors and limitations associated with manual acquisition, processing, and communication of data.

The 3 main activities around process automation are:

  • Centralization of information
  • Automation of processes
  • Reduction of people’s intervention

At the outset, process automation may seem like a simple and straightforward process. However, automation involves digital transactions and inputs from stakeholders and making a mechanical conversion through hardware and software components. Automated processes have very minimal human interference, which means human errors and biases are also minimal. Using a complete workflow automation solution like Cflow ensures smooth and hassle-free process flows.

Where does process automation apply in a business? There are several areas/departments/systems in a business that are prime for automation. Payroll processing, sales order and invoice processing, account reconciliation, data entry systems, and employee expense reimbursement systems are most suitable for process automation. The precursor to successful automation is a complete understanding of existing process flows. Mapping each step of the process helps gain a good understanding of existing workflows. Once this is achieved, the next step is to identify the gaps, errors, and bottlenecks in the process flow.

The automation solution must focus on eliminating these pain spots in the process and improving the overall efficiency of the process.

Are automation and standardization the same? Although the intention of both these process changes is the same, they have certain differences as well. Process standardization focuses on defining a standard way of performing processes. Standardizing processes makes it easy to identify the profitable and problematic areas of business operations and rectify them with better methods of doing it. Once a process is standardized, the workflow becomes streamlined and well-defined, eliminating the scope for irrelevant activities.

Process automation on the other hand standard procedures is initiated over time as client demands keep evolving. Each time your company has a task or a job order, you won’t need to redesign the process. The already established standards can be used for solving and handling similar tasks. Therefore, it is better to standardize first before automation. Automation is based on certain preset business rules.

Choosing the process for standardization should be done after mapping individual workflows. A process map provides a visual understanding of the objective of each task, its dependencies, and the inputs required for each task. Those processes that have repetitive tasks that require very low intelligence can be effectively automated. Similarly, tasks that involve handling huge volumes of data can also be automated. Consistent quality and consistency stem from robust and efficient processes that overcome the human tendency to err. The software doesn’t just help you structure workflows but also helps automate significant chunks of tasks.

An average worker spends nearly 3 hours a day on tasks that can be easily automated. A lot of these tasks are simple and require low human intelligence. Workflow automation lets you automate such tasks, which speeds up the overall process and eliminates errors out of forgetfulness or human bias. Automation also lets every worker focus on productive work rather than mundane admin activities.

Conclusion

The path to achieving high productivity and performance need not always be long and tedious. It could be simple and quick when key processes are standardized. Given the constant fluctuations and variations in the market, it is only sensible to bring standardization into internal processes through process standardization. Standardization has the advantage of reducing variability within the business processes so that predictable results are achieved. Process automation is a great way of standardizing process execution.

Once a standard process flow is created, automating the repetitive and redundant tasks in the process improves process efficiency and productivity. Cflow is a workflow automation solution that makes it easy and simple to automate key business workflows. The visual form builder enables businesses to create intuitive workflows that produce quality results. Start implementing process standardization into practice today. Signup for Cflow to explore new levels of productivity and efficiency of your business processes.

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