Designing, communicating, and documenting clear processes and process objectives should be a priority for every manager who wants to run a well-controlled, coordinated and focused operation. Quite often, processes and procedures are based on indirect inputs such as system limitations, staff experience, or simply because “that’s how it’s always been done”.
Does Everyone Understand What the Goals Are?
Every process has a purpose and a goal – but are they explicitly or implicitly defined within your organization? While the high-level purpose of a particular process, such as accounts payable for example, may seem obvious, there are likely implicit goals that your organization may expect from its staff, and without making those goals clear and measurable, you are at a higher risk of process errors or breakdown.
• What is the intended purpose of the process
• What are the qualitative objectives, or goals, of the process
• What factors define if those objectives have been met and are they measurable
• Is there a higher weight of importance applied to one objective over another
• Have the purpose, objectives and relative importance of the objectives been consistently and clearly communicated to all affected staff
The intended purpose is to account for and pay vendor invoices due. The qualitative objectives are to pay the vendor invoices timely to avoid late fees, accurately to avoid overpayments or errors that require more time to resolve, and appropriately to ensure that only authorized expenses are paid, as well as to account for all vendor invoices completely to ensure that all expenses have been recorded.
The factors that define if those objectives have been met are the number of late fees, errors, and incorrect or unrecorded vendor invoices. Each factor is considered equally important.
The organization should have a written process document that clearly defines not only the step-by-step procedures for the accounts payable process, but also includes the stated purpose and qualitative objectives of the process.
Factors to Consider When Designing a Process
Once you have defined the purpose, objectives and relative importance of each objective, determine the various inputs, outputs and controls. The process design should address each of these factors in light of the overall process purpose and objectives.
• The source(s) and format(s) in which the vendor invoices are received
• Manner in which the invoices are approved
• The skill level and skillset of the employee(s) responsible for executing the process
• The tools used to record and pay the vendor invoices and if there are system limitations or requirements that dictate a particular process flow
• Manner in which vendor invoices are paid (for example, via physical check or electronic payment; using a single system or multiple systems)
• Means of payment deliver (mail, expedited delivery, electronically)
Write it Down
Once you have designed the process, make sure to document it. Having clearly and explicitly defined process purpose and goals, as well written step-by-step procedures, is an important factor for measurable process success.
Look to Continuously Improve
Designing, implementing and documenting an effective process definitely requires work, but your up-front efforts should pay off in the long run by reducing the risks of process errors or failure and keeping things running smoothly. Remember to periodically revisit those process and procedures however to avoid falling into the inevitable “that’s how it’ always been” pitfall. Changes in staffing, new applications or systems, changes in objectives, inputs or outputs, for example, can all impact the effectiveness of the process.