Business Process Simplification — A Business Imperative

Businesses compete in a world that is growing ever more complex.

In their attempts to reduce uncertainty and re-establish control amid this new complexity, companies tend to introduce new reports, new rules, and new processes. This has the potential to lead to a workplace riddled with cumbersome structures and processes — internal ‘complicatedness,’ a workforce that is unmotivated and disengaged, all of which has an impact on performance. So why do businesses keep introducing more complexity rather than stripping back and simplifying their processes? And, how do you take advantages of simplification in your business?

As businesses grow, processes become more complex, resulting in an increased number of steps, tasks, and resources required. The more complex a process becomes, the greater the likelihood of errors, rework, completion times, and support and training. Isn’t it strange that in our quest for growth and progress we seem to be taking a leap backwards by complicating the process?

What is Process Simplification? Process Simplification involves systematically studying each business process, uncovering hidden sources of complexity. This idea is to permanently eliminate complex steps, wasted resources and non-value-added process activities, and implement ways to optimise the process.

The beauty of Process Simplification is that often the benefits materialise immediately. From greater efficiencies, better product quality, shorter process completion times, to increased capacity and reduced expenses — productivity levels will go through the roof. Not to mention the knock-on effects on employee engagement and health.

The thing to remember, however, is that the benefits of Process Simplification will be multiplied when combined with other areas of business simplification, such as product and organisation simplification.

Why companies don’t simplify

If business simplification really is paramount to overall business success, it begs the question, why don’t companies simplify their business and systems? In our experience, there isn’t just one reason why companies put off streamlining and harmonising their business and processes — but a collective of challenges that are usually inherently embedded in the operations of the business.

  • Overhead Trap

Many companies are unwilling to develop products up or down from their existing overhead and margin levels. They develop their own rules of thumb and get married to them, unable to embrace the innovation in smaller lower margin products.

  • Structural Complexity

In large businesses, structural shifts and changes happen over time. They may range from subtle changes in reporting relationships to the establishment of new units. It’s their accumulation across all areas of the business over time which can create layers of complexity.

  • Accustomed To Complexity

Often managers believe the only route to progress is adding layers of complexity. For example, when a company introduces new layers of management, an executive may naturally ask for more reports and e-mail updates. The undesired result is a vicious cycle of reporting — adding additional complexity. Quickly businesses become accustomed to convoluted, heavy, and expensive systems.

  • Lack Of Skills & Knowledge

Businesses fear simplifying their process and products because they believe they don’t have the right skills or knowledge and time. They are simply overwhelmed by the challenge, and therefore, the task is reprioritised.

Simplification Best Practices

Some of the world’s most successful businesses are modelled on simplification. IKEA, Apple, Airbnb and Uber all adopt the key principles of business simplification. Let’s take Uber. Uber is the king of simplification. Their entire business model is extremely simple, not least for the company itself. It owns no cars — it’s just an intermediary that uses technology to connect riders with drivers, then takes a slice of each transaction. It also provides all three customer benefits from simplicity:

  1. Ease of use — from the ordering to the payment process, Uber ensures the process is simple and easy.
  2. Usefulness — the single app works worldwide, the tracking gives a sense of security and peace of mind,
  3. Experience — the experience is a revelation compared to the traditional taxi service.

Process Simplifications for Your Business

  • Streamline Organisational Structure

To simplify your processes effectively, you must start by periodically adjusting the structure of your organisation to make sure it serves the business strategy and market needs and is as simple as possible. Start by centralising functions or consolidating and shifting reporting relationships. The idea is to simplify and streamline common services, inputs and outputs.

  • Process Review

Once the right structure is in place, take a hard look at the process currently in place from reporting and planning, to new product development and introduction, performance management, and so on. The idea is to develop a simpler set of enterprise-wide processes with input and engagement from all areas of the business from the grassroots level upwards.

  • Managerial Habits

It is important you then ensure your managers are committed to reducing complexity by identifying how their own (often unintentional) patterns of behaviour can complicate matters. They will need to be accountable and responsible for removing those habits which hinder simplification.

  • Process Automation & Standardisation

Once the discovery and analysis of workflow process have been completed, it is time to make the most sustainable improvements possible from standardising recurring and identical processes to automating those processes by leveraging technology and outsourcing to quality suppliers.

At Zymplify, we believe a simplification strategy must be treated as a business imperative — not a “nice to have” virtue. It requires an explicit strategy and it takes hard work, but the results will speak for themselves.