Tips from 6 experts to improve your business processes today

There are tools, apps, and widgets for just about everything these days. From marketing, sales, accounting, project management, to human resources--all of these functions have a world of applications to choose from that promise to help improve the way we work.

But we all know too well that the promises that many business applications make to help improve your business often do not measure up. We therefore saw fit to take pause and determine, what--if anything--should an organization do before considering the purchase of yet another application?

We approached 6 business improvement experts and asked them one big question:

What's the most important thing small business leaders must do before adopting technology to improve their business?

Our business improvement experts came from a variety of different backgrounds including design, innovation, and continuous process improvement. Their varied insights had one definitive focus: it is the processes, and not the technology itself, that contribute to lasting improvements in your organization.


1. Define and review your potential ROI


Brianna Sylver
President, Sylver Consulting
Website | Twitter

Potential return on investment (ROI) is — hands down — the most important metric to assess when deciding to invest in (and then adopt broadly) a new technology for a small business.

This ROI equation is multi-faceted including assessments such as:

  • potential time saved
  • money saved
  • cognitive load reduced
  • process transparency gained
  • opportunity maximized, etc.

We’ve also found, here at Sylver Consulting, that it’s important to put all tech investments back through this ROI equation on an annual basis (especially when investing in SaaS solutions).

A lot can change in a year’s time about your business and the landscape of offerings available.

2. "Focus on continuous improvement"


Denis Tokarev
Project Management / Continuous Improvement, Toronto Hydro

As a former business owner and a project manager in the area of organizational effectiveness, I would recommend that small businesses start focusing on continuous improvement rather than ad-hoc firefighting activities. Considering business improvement as a journey (not a one-time action) will lead to larger benefits in the long term.

I would suggest looking at the principles of Lean as a framework for improving your business. These principles are simple to understand and share with your team. Lean is also a proven approach by many companies across the globe.

Lean can become that solid foundation of productivity for your company, that you will use for adopting multiple technologies.

3. "Have a Clear, Measurable Outcome"


Judy Machado-Duque
Founder of Productivity Goddess & Author of Life Purpose Playbook
Website | Twitter

It’s important that small business leaders have a clear, measurable outcome or goal before adopting technology to improve an organization.

For example, if the clear and measurable goal is to generate $100,000 in revenue in one of the company’s products or services (income sources), then processes & expectations can very easily be developed that align with that goal. For example, by listing all possible growth strategies for that specific goal, you begin systematizing a process by ensuring its simplicity, avoiding duplication, and developing consistency and continued growth.

It takes just a few minutes to do that first step (the math) to empower and create growth.

4. "Technology, whatever it is, must be a means to an end"


Karl J. Krayer, Ph.D.
President, Creative Communication Network

There is no doubt in my mind or hesitation at to what the answer to the question is: technology, whatever it is, must be a means to an end. This means that technology is not the most important factor for improving businesses--it is the results or outcomes. So technology of any type, or any decision to use it or not, should always be based upon the question, "will this lead us to the result we desire?"

5. "Understand what you are trying to do with the process"


James Lawther
Head of Data Science, RSA

Before adopting new technology, make sure to understand the process you are trying to improve by following these three steps:

  1. Understand what you are trying to do with the process - What is its purpose? For example, is the purpose of the process to provide quotes for customers?
  2. Talk about it with your staff - Speak with the people who do the job. Who knows the work best, them or you?
  3. Optimize your process - Find a way to remove unnecessary tasks. 
    • Filing paper-based quotes? Why don’t you use e-mail?
    • Going back to clarify information from a customer? Why didn’t you collect all the information up front?
    • Stock piling quotes so you can do them all on a Friday? Whose life are you trying to make easy--yours or the customers?

Only when you have stopped all the unnecessary work that you do should you start to consider investing in technology.

6. "Create a written process map of the area you wish to improve"


Andrea Hill
CEO/Owner, Hill Management Group, LLC
Website | Twitter

The most important step prior to adopting technology is to clearly map out the process to which the technology is being applied. Too many people buy technology by comparing "bells and whistles" features. But if you get a bunch of bells and whistles - and what you really needed was a drummer and a tuba - then those bells and whistles won't help you at all.

I recommend that business managers create a written process map of the area they wish to improve by following the steps below:

  1. Include all manual and currently automated steps in the map.
  2. Next, highlight all the duplicate and unnecessary steps.
  3. After that, identify missing steps - often found by identifying where and why mistakes happen.

With that process map (or maps) in hand, it becomes much easier to identify how to use technology to help improve the overall business.

In many cases, good technology will provide insight into superior process, and that's good too. But the process maps are still important, because if you don't know what you have, you don't know how to improve it.

The other thing business owners must avoid at all costs is retrofitting good technology to a bad process. I encourage business owners to take advantage of the fact that most business technology is based on sound processes, developed by interviewing and working with many companies doing similar types of work.

That's how we approach it here, and it works really well!

Next steps

Do you have a tip of your own that you would like to share? If so, please let us know in the comments below.