Want to scale and automate your business?


How to Simplify a Complex Process

Business Process Management

A Complex Process is like tangled headphones in your pocket; they need untangling before you can use them efficiently. In your business, these tangled processes can slow operations, increase costs, and reduce productivity. Simplifying them not only enhances performance but also improves employee satisfaction and customer experience.

Interestingly, many people have a different understanding of what a complex process is. In my mind, a complex process is one that people cannot fully remember all of the steps and therefore tasks end up being reinvented or not completed. Live Science reports that the average person can only hold between 4 to 7 items in mind at the one time, unless they use continual repetition or grouping items together.

Unless your team member is only performing one function that they perform over and over again, it is likely that your people forget to implement steps of processes, some of which could be mission critical to your organization and customers.

At Way We Do, we believe that it is important to document complex processes, provide training to your team, and allow them to use workflow tools to remember all the crucial steps that need to be completed. However, point-in-time training isn’t enough as discussed in our last blog post about The Forgetting Curve and how 75% of new information is lost within one week of the learning.  Without workflow aids, complex process steps are forgotten, and things just simply fall through the cracks.

How a Complex Process can impact your business

Complex processes in organizations can lead to a host of issues, notably where clarity and efficiency are crucial. These processes often involve numerous steps and variables that increase the likelihood of errors, particularly if they are poorly documented or understood. They also tend to feature redundant steps and bottlenecks, which slow operations and extend turnaround times, while consuming significant resources like time, labor, and materials, thus driving up costs.

Furthermore, complex processes pose challenges in training and implementation, hinder scalability, and reduce transparency, making it difficult for management to monitor and adapt to changing market conditions. This lack of flexibility compromises an organization’s responsiveness to new opportunities or challenges. Simplifying these processes, increasing automation, and improving documentation are key strategies to address these issues, enhancing overall agility and efficiency.  This is where Way We Do comes in.

Characteristics of a Complex Process

Navigating complex processes can be daunting. Effectively simplifying or managing the complexity of these processes is akin to clearing and marking trails in a forest, which is essential for enhancing both efficiency and effectiveness. If your processes contain any one of the following characteristics, then you can define your process as being complex.

  • Multiple Steps: Complex processes have many steps, phases, or components, each of which might be essential for the completion of the overall task.
  • Interdependencies: The steps in a complex process are often interdependent, meaning the output or result of one step affects subsequent steps.
  • Variability: There can be high variability in how the process is executed, influenced by different conditions, inputs, or environments.
  • Multiple Decision Points: Such processes often require decisions to be made at various points, which can influence the direction or outcome of the process.
  • Diverse Stakeholders: Complex processes typically involve multiple stakeholders, each with potentially different objectives and levels of influence over the process.
  • High Uncertainty: Due to the number of variables involved, there is often uncertainty in both the execution and the outcome of the process.
  • Resource Intensive: They generally consume significant resources, including time, labor, and capital.

A step-by-step guide on how to simplify a complex process

What is simple for one person, could be complex for another.  Here is a best practice approach to simplify a complex process for all team members.

1. Identify the End Goal (Map Your Destination)

Just as you need a destination before you start your journey, the first step in simplifying a process is to define what you want to achieve. Understand the primary objective of the process. Is it to improve service delivery, reduce costs, or enhance product quality? Knowing your end goal is like having a destination in mind before you set out on a trip.

2. Break Down the Process (Dissect the Frog)

Think of a complex process as a frog in a biology class. To understand how it works, you need to dissect it. Break down the process into smaller, manageable parts. This will help you see what’s necessary and what’s not. Just like identifying different organs in the frog helps students understand its biology, breaking down a process shows you how different components fit together.

3. Identify and Eliminate Non-Essential Steps (Prune the Tree)

Once you have laid out all the parts, it’s time to prune. Like a gardener who prunes a tree to remove unnecessary branches, examine each part of the process and ask whether it’s essential for reaching your final goal. Remove or combine steps to streamline the process.

4. Standardize and Automate (Set the Cruise Control)

In driving, cruise control helps maintain a steady speed without manual intervention. Similarly, standardize routine parts of your process and automate them where possible. This reduces variability and frees up time for tasks that require human intervention.

5. Create Visual Aids (Draw the Map)

Just as a map helps you navigate through unfamiliar territory, creating visual aids like flowcharts or diagrams can help stakeholders understand and follow the simplified process. Visual aids make complex routes (processes) easier to navigate.

Way We Do's Instant Flowcharts
Source: Way We Do’s Instant Flowcharts

6. Seek Feedback (Consult the Compass)

On any journey, sometimes you need to check the compass to ensure you’re heading in the right direction. Similarly, seek feedback from team members who execute the process and from customers who are affected by it. They can provide insights into what works and what doesn’t, acting as your navigational aids.

7. Test and Refine (Trial Runs)

Before launching a big trip, you might take a smaller trial run to gauge the conditions. Apply the same principle to your process. Implement the simplified process on a small scale to test its effectiveness. Make adjustments based on the results and feedback, ensuring the process is optimized before full-scale implementation.

8. Document and Train (Write the Guidebook)

Once your process is simplified and refined, document it. Create clear, concise guidelines that anyone in the organization can follow — like a guidebook for tourists. Ensure that all relevant team members are trained on the new process, just as tourists study the guidebook before visiting new places.

9. Implement the Process and Monitor Progress (Track the Expedition)

Once the process is in place, it’s crucial to implement it effectively and monitor its progress continuously. Think of this like tracking an expedition’s progress through challenging terrain. Use tools like Way We Do to capture data at each step of the process, allowing your team to communicate the status of tasks and milestones clearly. This real-time data collection not only helps in ensuring that the process is running as intended but also provides invaluable insights that can be used for ongoing improvements. Regular updates and transparent communication help keep everyone aligned and aware, ensuring the expedition stays on the intended path.

Miss nothing in your complex process

Simplifying a complex process may seem daunting, much like planning a trip to a new country. However, by defining clear goals, breaking down the process, pruning unnecessary steps, automating routine tasks, and seeking feedback, you can make any process more efficient. Remember, every big journey begins with a single step.

Start simplifying today, and transform your tangled processes into streamlined pathways to success with Way We Do.

Have questions?