Would you select curtains to spice up a house with a rickety foundation? I certainly hope not! Instead, you would resolve your foundation issues before even thinking about nice-to-have’s. So why do we spend countless hours picking out curtains and discussing color choices in businesses when our foundation isn’t stable?

Based on my 20+ years of experience as both a former operations executive and as a global business consultant, I find that more than 50% of my clients prioritize curtains over the rickety foundation – at least for a while. The excitement of implementing the latest lean program or ERP system outweighs blocking and tackling in terms of excitement, career interest etc.; however, it fails miserably. On the other hand, those companies who thrive ensure they design and implement solid processes and systems before even discussing programs which will build upon the base.

Since business processes and systems can become quite complex and cost millions of dollars, it is critical to simplify the design to what’s essential to your organization and focus on the core processes and related functionality which will support your business strategy and deliver bottom line results. This is where the Systems Pragmatist skill set comes into play – in essence, it cuts through the complexity to rapidly define, design and deliver the critical processes and system functionality required to elevate business performance.

Although we could discuss countless tips and techniques for designing and improving business processes and systems, there are a few core essential tenets: 1) Understand your objective. 2) Think design. 3) Execute & integrate with the culture

  1. Understand your objective: One of the worst mistakes my clients make is when they jump to solutions (process improvements, implementing the latest programs and selecting new technologies) before they understand the objective. As cool as the latest e-commerce functionality or S&OP results, it will become a complete waste of time and money if not aligned with the company’s direction and objectives.

    The best companies take a step back and review strategy – where are you going? Why? What drives your business? How does strategy translate to objectives? Is your #1 goal this year to drive sales growth or increase productivity? Of course, no executive would turn away either! However, if you must gain sales to be successful in the marketplace, you could become world class in terms of efficiency and still fail – with no customers. Determine your objectives and sync up with your processes and systems – make sure they are aligned upfront.

  2. Think design: Once we’ve identified where to focus our attention, we should do a deep dive on critical requirements. Everyone has 10,000 requirements when it comes to processes and systems yet no one can focus on everything at once – and successfully. Therefore, the secret to success is identifying your critical requirements – which specific processes and system functionality is integral to achieving your objectives? Which is unique to your industry? Which differentiate you from your competition? Those are your critical requirements.

    I’ve found a differentiation in my clients who leverage processes and systems to a competitive advantage vs. the rest – they think about design in every element of the process. Are you thinking 4 steps ahead in the process? How will it affect your ERP system results? Have you built in flexibility? Agility? Speed? Certainly, in the new normal business environment, those who have access to critical data for rapid decision-making, who accelerate products to market and who deliver faster than the competition will win the business. Have you thought about how to design these capabilities into your processes and systems upfront?

  3. Execute & integrate with culture: Last but not least, the best design in the world is useless if it’s un-implementable! Software firms use the terminology of “build” and “run” to mean design a model or process trial and then roll out and utilize effectively. These can be good reminders to make sure you’ve dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s and that your process and system functionality work as expected.

    An essential element of this phase is to integrate the business process improvements and system enhancements with the culture. Is it an after-thought or do folks think about it similarly to shipping orders (meaning it is part of their routine)? Embed the processes into the daily, weekly, and monthly routines. Consider potential roadblocks and bottlenecks upfront. Ask employees and supply chain partners for input and feedback. Test them out. Think through changes to related areas such as performance management systems.

    I’d be surprised if you haven’t heard a horror story associated with a system implementation. There are countless reasons for them: Not enough training. The system didn’t do what we needed it to do. It wasn’t set up to work for the way we do business. We didn’t have enough time. It wasn’t tested thoroughly. And the list goes on. For example, I’m often times brought into clients to help resolve system snafus which typically result in horrendous customer service issues and down-the-line negative profit impacts. 80% of time, the client feels as though the lack of training is the issue. Although it is always part of the issue, I find that it is 20% of the issue; whereas, design and integration with the daily routine is the 80/20.

Designing and implementing business process improvements and leveraging system functionality to drive business results can require an investment of time and resources. However, you’ll be left in the dust in your broken down Yugo if you don’t prioritize this critical priority. Why not get ahead of the competition by not only creating a solid foundation but also designing it as a strategic advantage to deliver a significant return on investment?