Business process management (BPM) or process improvement is the most important part of your sales and marketing because it tells you how to refine your process to improve customer experience.
Most of my customer experiences or customer journeys suck because I didn’t design them for me – someone else designed them without even asking me. The nerve…
Even business process consultants design bad processes but don’t despair. You can easily mitigate this risk through process improvement.
We found data proving that our original target of 2 posts per week was too low for our sales and revenue goals.
This means if we’re posting 1 per week we have a 3 post per week performance gap.
We’re not going to hire someone to scale this process because we don’t like to waste money. We’re going to squeeze more capacity out of this process until it screams for mercy.
MAP THE CURRENT PROCESS
We’ve already created a common vision to inspire change, so now we can start to understand our baseline process.
Since we use Trello to manage our marketing content for blogging, we can look at each Trello cards’ activity to see when it moved from list to list.
This is a manual data collection process and that’s the point. You don’t need software to get started. The data is always right there waiting for you to check it out.
Using the blogging process steps in Trello, we created a Google sheet to make our math easier. Now we know when each blog post entered and left each column, giving us an idea of how long it sat there.
This is lead time per process step.
Most teams stop collecting data and immediately start interpreting it. This is wrong and you probably already know that because this is where you start to argue over what the data means. This is a sign your process is broken.
If you’re using a scientific decision making process then start with a hypothesis and use data to prove yourself WRONG not right.
To avoid this bias, you have to remove the ego from problem solving and instead focus on what the process gap is doing.
PROCESS LEAD TIME INSIGHT
The process is trying to tell us what the bottleneck is. The bottleneck or choke point is the pacemaker meaning nothing else can go faster than that step. There’s also 1 bottleneck in every process.
Since it shouldn’t take days to write a blog post but closer to hours, we used this as our time metric and put every step in hours so it was easier to add.
We used each time stamp to get an average for each step.
This is the final picture of our process map because a map is worthless unless it has KPIs.
With this actual lead time data, the insight I can see is that it takes 1 post – from end to end – 64 hours or 8 business days to publish.
Granted this is a process map based on a sample and not the whole population. The sample represented the lowest performing and best performing posts so it ends up being directionally accurate.
BENCHMARK DATA TO SET THE RIGHT PROCESS TARGET
As I looked at this actual lead I started to double that my target of 4 posts per week was reasonable.
A couple years ago I set up a 4 hours per post target because I was focused on increasing my blogger productivity, not web leads.
Our process isn’t apples to apples compared to Buffer’s. We create a lot of our own graphics but we also shoot for shorter content.
Ultimately, their process works because they’ve got a great domain ranking so there’s plenty for us to learn from them,
I spent a few more minutes and checked out Moz and Hubspot. These Rockefellers have multiple people knocking content out every couple of days.
Digging into 1 author on Moz showed a lead time ranging from 2-7 days. I looked at only 1 author on the Hubspot Sales Blog and saw an average lead time of 4 days.
Based on this research I can see a target post lead time of 4 hours is not a SMART goal because it’s not achievable or realistic.
I’m pretty used to being wrong and this is another example of embracing failure. I could’ve given my team a ridiculous target and set them up to fail. They’d never hit it, become discouraged and less productive and then go work for someone else.
If it’s a choice between hurting my ego instead of my people, I’m fine with that.
I’m going to decrease our target for improvement from 4 hours per post / 4 posts per week to 2 posts per week or 8 hours per post.
FIND THE BUSINESS PROCESS CHOKE POINT
The Theory of Constraints already figured out that the weakest link is the only step you need to improve to see immediate results so spending 5 seconds on the process data tell us where it is:
Longest lead time = the bottleneck. If you were looking at conversion rate per blog post, the lowest conversion % would be the bottleneck. In our case, we now know a blog post can never finish faster than 31 hours because this is our pacemaker.
Let’s you laugh in the face of the 100 years of Lean Six Sigma process improvement and lean manufacturing and improve another step like Writing.
Not impressed by the 6% difference – here’s the kicker. What you’ll see is blog posts passing through “Writing” faster only to pile up faster at the “Creating images/links/header” step.
It’s like driving behind a slow driver. You can go speed up or slow down, honk and curse but nothing can make them go faster. The only way to go faster is to remove them out of your way.
We do the same in process improvement through small bites and iterations.
ROOT CAUSE ANALYSIS AND PRIORITIZE IMPROVEMENT
We’ve caught our white whale but how do we turn her into sushi (too dark?)… We do it by analyzing our choke point by asking why 5 or more times.
Most issues you see are only symptoms of the root cause. You can never see the root cause because if you could then that means this is an easy problem and you were just too lazy to solve it.
Yeah – didn’t think so.
We dig and dig until you get to a root cause that’s common among several fo the issues. Not only is this effective because you get to solve this one but it’s efficient.
It’s efficient because does it turn your 70 action item list to 20.
We could have easily gone down the road of setting up some system to punish them for not doing their work but that’s not how you build high performing teams.
You build a process that helps your team hold themselves accountable which helps you get your time back from managing them.
For most of us, that means knowing why we do things. If I know why I have to publish 2 blog posts per week instead of 1 – I’ll understand what the company loses if I don’t do it.
Now that you action items tie directly to your root cause, how do you know which ones are the highest priority? We use a Benefit Effort matrix.
Most teams get this wrong because they don’t have the KPI in mind. We countered this by asking each other, “Does this have a high benefit towards increasing from 1 blog post per week to 2-4 posts per week?”
For “effort”, take your best guess or ask someone who would know. In our example, we have 2 root causes which reflect our lack of standardization and task objective.
This means our action items are:
- Create a standard format or template
- Set up regular Google Analytics reviews – root cause dips in traffic to potential causes like lack of blog posts, etc
- Quantify how much traffic each blog post gets – tie traffic x conversion % x value per lead = lost revenue $
Notice, you don’t see any automation or IT development here. That’s because “the process is manual” is never the root cause.
Automation is only the solution when you’ve improved your bottleneck so well it’s the ONLY next step.
BPM means you’re analyzing and improving your processes so you can get more done in less time without sacrificing quality. No one wants to waste money on broken processes, you just want to repair them or design brand new ones so you can hit your goals faster and easier.
The great thing about process improvement is that with every improved management process, you set the tone for a better culture. You let people know that no opinion is more valuable than data and results.
Your financial statements and cash flows will thank you while you land more profitable customers and highly skilled employees. Stick around for the last post: sustaining change.