When should an SME embrace BPM?

Small and medium enterprises rarely focus on formally establishing business processes or how they will be managed from the outset. After all, businesses are typically started through the enthusiasm and passion of one or two individuals – and that passion is purely focused on just “doing the business”. Having (hopefully) identified a market need, the aim is to get the sales through the door and start making money. Isn’t that how all businesses start off? Surely the rest will “take care of itself”?

While this approach may produce monetary results in the short term, and maybe even a profit, what happens as enthusiasm brings in more and more results? The business grows, more resources are required, and things start to become complicated. More staff are added to cover the growing workload. Profit becomes eroded. But everyone does what’s necessary to “get the job done”. The interesting thing about business growth is that it takes some time before individuals can afford to dedicate their time to specialist roles. So while employees may be employed in a specific role, very typically they are actually multi-tasking across multiple roles. And rarely does anyone stop long enough to focus the efforts of everyone and ensure that the product or service is being delivered to the customers consistently. How do you communicate the requirements of what needs to be delivered? How can results be delivered to customers consistently if the processes to produce them are inconsistent? How would you measure these inconsistencies anyway, if you haven’t benchmarked what it is you are delivering?

But this doesn’t just occur within small businesses. The reality is that these inconsistencies occur across organisations that employ 10, 50 and 500+ staff. And it is invariably evident within organisations that have been allowed to just evolve.

So at what point should processes, functions and strategic goals be aligned?

– As soon as the vision of the business is established and documented.

This is the point in time when all required roles within a business should be identified. Position descriptions (functions) for all roles should be documented. The overall business structure should also be documented in the form of an organisation chart.

With the strategic goals documented and functions defined, the processes of the business can also be documented – what needs to happen between receiving an order and delivering the goods/services? Importantly, all of this should be completed independently of whether individuals are available or have been identified to fulfill the roles of the business.

So why would a small business place any of its limited resources into documentation of the business? The biggest benefit in doing this is that it provides the basis of a plan for the business to move forward, and forms a tool for communicating this plan to others (new staff, clients, suppliers, etc). And no matter what label you attach to this exercise, the management of business processes starts with effective documentation of those processes. It is at this point when you start Business Process Management.

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