Process Design: What It Is, Why You Need It, & How To Get It Right

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Flat-pack furniture instructions.

Do you follow them to a ‘T’ or leave them in the box? 

Although it takes me twice as long, I never have the right tools at hand, and I always have to re-build parts – I rarely follow instructions when building my flat-pack wardrobes, chairs, and tables. 

Why? 

Because they can be so god-damned complicated, confusing, and inefficient!

Processes are a lot like flat-pack furniture instructions. Processes should tell you how to complete a task in the best, most efficient, and cost-effective way. But, if processes are complicated, confusing, and inefficient – what do you think happens to them?  

Yep. They get left in the box. 

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Complicated, inefficient, and redundant processes cost companies around 20 – 30% in revenue every year. 

Read this FAT FINGER article about process design and find out how to create streamlined, effective, and useful processes that don’t end up in the trash (along with your flat-pack furniture instructions). 

So, put your hammer down, and let’s work our way through the following topics:

  • What process design is 
  • Why process design is essential (and what happens if you don’t do it) 
  • Process design in 6 simple steps
  • Perfect process design with FAT FINGER

Ready to start unpacking process design? 

What process design is 

Process design is exactly what you think it is. It’s the art of designing a process. It’s creating a set of repeatable steps that people within your organization can follow to complete a particular task or activity. 

Process design ensures that there is a smooth and continuous relationship between the required output and all the intermediate processes.”

Management Study Guide, Process Design and Analysis 

A well-designed set of processes will keep all the different areas of your business, from manufacturing and marketing to finance and operations, running like clockwork. They’re the glue that connects and holds everything together. 

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Without processes things get missed, mistakes happen, and it’s easy to lose track of where your team is and what they’re doing.   

But, there’s more to process design than simply building a process for your team to follow. Process design requires thought, imagination, and creativity. It’s a process in itself – one that encourages you to establish the best, most cost-effective way to complete a particular task.  

It’s a way to imagine, select, evaluate, and define safe, cost-effective, and robust solutions to problems

Science Direct , Process Design

That’s what process design is, let’s find out why it’s needed… 

Why process design is essential (and what happens if you don’t do it) 

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of why process design is something you need to do, I’m going to recall a tragic event that many say could’ve been avoided if careful process design had been done. 

What a lack of process design can do…

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Chernobyl. 

The 1986 nuclear explosion that killed 30 people, triggered over 20,000 cases of thyroid cancer, moved 350,000 people from their homes, caused an undefinable amount of environmental damage, and cost the Ukrainian economy around $235 billion.  

Although most attribute the cause of the accident to a series of human errors, it’s clear to many that the release of over 20 million curies of radioactivity (30 times more than the nuclear fallout from Hiroshima and Nagasaki) was down to a set of poorly designed processes that weren’t followed. 

The Chernobyl disaster sparked criticism of unsafe procedures and design flaws.

Britannica , Chernobyl disaster

I can’t pretend to understand the inner-workings of a nuclear power plant, but I can understand that the entire blast happened during an experiment. The experimental process, designed to test emergency core cooling capabilities, was so poorly designed it resulted in the biggest nuclear explosion we’ve ever seen.     

The disaster occurred when technicians attempted a poorly designed experiment. Workers shut down the reactor’s power-regulating system and its emergency safety systems, and they withdrew most of the control rods from its core while allowing the reactor to continue running at 7 percent power. These mistakes were compounded by others, and the chain reaction in the core went out of control.”

Britannica , Chernobyl disaster

But poor process design didn’t just cause the explosion:

  • Poorly designed safety processes meant that prior to the experiment no one had thought about, or prepared for, the potential damage the experiment might cause if it went wrong. Because of this, minimal safety protocols were in place when the explosion happened, and thousands of people were contaminated, unnecessarily.
  • Poorly designed emergency processes meant that selfish Chernobyl plant operators, frightened of losing their jobs, were able to hide the severity of the explosion from the Government. This meant that evacuations didn’t start until 36 hours after the accident, and thousands of people were contaminated, unnecessarily.
  • Poorly designed testing processes meant that after the explosion, the Government failed to identify traces of radiation in food and milk produce. This meant that thousands of people unknowingly consumed polluted food products, and thousands of people were contaminated, unnecessarily

As the operators did not understand the process, they attempted [and failed] to control a very fast process

Control GlobalChernobyl Did Not Need To Occur

This is obviously an extreme case of how poorly designed processes can lead to catastrophic and irreversible disaster, but it does demonstrate the importance of process design. 

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Poorly designed processes lead to miscommunication and poor, reactive, and inefficient ways of working.

In the business world, this translates to unmet expectations, confusion, mistakes, poor performance, and inevitably, lower profits.

Inefficient business processes have five times more impact on the customer than the delivery of a poor product

LinkedIn, Impact of Poor Process on Organizations

So, that’s why we need process design. But, how do we do it? 

Process design in 6 simple steps

Business processes are meant to be simple but often get complicated by organizational structure, complex systems, and inadequate process development

LinkedIn, Impact of Poor Process on Organizations

To understand how to design effective processes, we need to look at what constitutes an ineffective, poorly designed process. So we know what not to do. 

3 key signs you have a poorly designed process

How do you know if your process is good or bad?

If people are getting their jobs done, customers seem happy enough, and no one’s complaining, does that mean you have a well-designed set of processes? 

Not necessarily. 

These three warning signs signify that you have a poorly designed process: 

Poor process design warning sign #1: When the process isn’t followed 🚫

There’s no point in having a process if no one follows it. A good test to see if your team is following a process you’ve created is to ask two employees to define it. If you get two different versions, you know you’ve got a poorly designed process that your employees don’t follow.  

Either the process hasn’t been clearly defined, no one understands it, or no one remembers it. 

Poor process design warning sign #2:  When mistakes are made ❌ 

An increase in silly mistakes is a tell-tale sign that a process has been poorly designed. If your processes are too complex or, at the other end of the spectrum, too vague, misunderstandings and assumptions are likely to be made. This leads to catastrophic errors in judgment and costly mistakes.

Poor process design warning sign #3: When deadlines are missed ⏰ 

If people aren’t hitting their deadlines it means the process is inefficient and poorly designed. An inefficient, poorly designed process contains unnecessary steps and tasks. These unnecessary steps and tasks create bottlenecks, involve too many people, generate extra work, and are a waste of time, effort, and money. 

Now we know what bad looks like, it’s time to see what good looks like. 

The 6 steps to a perfect process 

As we established earlier, designing the perfect process is a process in itself, and it’s one that needs input from the people that will be running it on a regular basis. 

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So, before you begin the ‘process’ of process design, gather together a team of people who will be using the process in their day-to-day jobs. Book out their diaries and get ready to analyze, discuss, and create a process that will work for them, for you, and for your organization’s bottom line.

Process design step 1. Define the problem 

First, identify what problem you’re trying to solve with the process you’re creating. 

Ask your team questions such as these to help you narrow it down and truly define it: 

  • What’s the desired outcome of the process? 
  • What are the key deliverables or requirements? 
  • Who are the key stakeholders? 

You might find during this step, that you’re trying to solve more than one problem with the process you’re designing. If this is the case, create separate processes for each issue. 

A good, effective process has only one clear objective and finding it is the aim of this first step.

Process design step 2. Collect information

If the aim of the first step is to define what the problem is, the aim of the second step is to establish why this problem needs solving and how you might solve it. 

So, once you’ve got a clear objective for the process you’re creating, you need to start collecting information about it and establish why it’s a problem and what you can do to solve it. 

Find data to prove the problem, look at what others are doing to tackle it, take photos, draw it out, document your customer’s needs, and ask your employees what they need this process for.

Process design step 3. Analyze the process & brainstorm ideas 

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Once you’ve gathered information and you fully understand what the process is for, why it’s needed, and how you might resolve it, it’s time to rip your existing process apart. 

Pull it to bits, examine each part carefully, and talk to the people who run the process now. 

Take each individual step and ask: “Does it add value?” If it doesn’t, remove it from the process. Eradicate unnecessary resources and eliminate time-consuming bottlenecks.

Starting with what triggers the process, and using the information you gathered in step two, brainstorm with your team to find out what tasks and actions need to be included in the process for it to achieve the results you’re after. 

Discuss how to make each task in the process better and more efficient. 

Write each step out on a post-it note, or on a whiteboard, and run through it with the team to see if you can identify any inefficiencies or gaps. 

Ask key questions such as: 

  • When should the process start? 
  • When should it stop?
  • Who’s going to follow it? 
  • Who’ll be responsible for it? 
  • When will it be followed? 
  • What parts can be automated? 
  • How often will it be run? 

The leaner the process the more efficient and cost-effective it will be. Consider the effort, resource, time, and cost associated with each task and make each step as tight as possible. 

Process design step 4. Document your process 

Now you know what steps to include in your process, you need to write them down in a clear, easy to understand way. 

You might choose to write them out on a piece of paper or type them up in a Google doc. You might decide to map them out in a flowchart or, you might decide to use a platform, like FAT FINGER, to create a templated process that everyone can access and you can easily update (more on this later). 

However you decide to document your process, make sure it’s: 

  • Clear 
  • Simple
  • Easy to read
  • Quick to update 
  • Accessible  

Process design step 5. Test the process

Next up, you need to test your newly designed and freshly documented process.

Ask an impartial employee, someone who hasn’t been involved in the process design, to read through and successfully execute an instance of the process. 

If they can do it in good time and with no problems, it’s passed the test and you have a well-designed process!

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If they can’t, take it back to step three and re-think the process steps.

Process design step 6. Review and improve the process

Once the process you’ve designed is up and running, monitor it closely, and ask those following the process to do the same. Gather your process design team together and regularly review it as a group. 

Ask questions like:

  • Are there any missing steps? 
  • Is everything in the right order? 
  • Are there any unnecessary steps? 

This ‘review and improve’ step should be a continual exercise to keep your process up to date, efficient, and effective. 

And there you have it. That’s how to design the prefect process. 

As you can see, it’s a relatively simple and straightforward procedure to carry out. But it can be made even easier with the right tools. 

Perfect process design with FAT FINGER

To design, build, and follow an effective process you need to make sure your processes are easy to access, quick to update, and simple to stick to. 

This is where a tool like FAT FINGER comes in handy. 

What is FAT FINGER? 

FAT FINGER is a no-code application building platform. It’s purpose-built for creating, designing, documenting, and executing processes. 

Watch this video to get a quick overview: 

As you can see, with FAT FINGER you can:

  • Create and update processes in seconds
  • Access them from anywhere and from any device
  • Gather and report on valuable insights and data
  • Assign tasks to your workforce and monitor their progress
  • Set and receive key notifications and alerts 

Take your dusty, old, paper processes, and create streamlined digital processes that you and your team can build, access, follow, and update easily. 

How can FAT FINGER help with process design? 

With a 44% increase in procedure adherence and 97% of employees feeling more in control of their operations, it’s clear that creating processes using FAT FINGER works. 

How can you use it for process design though? 

First, you can create a bespoke workflow for your design process. 

Take each of the six steps outlined above and, using the drag-and-drop editor, add them to your workflow. 

Then, assign tasks to team members, set-up notifications to remind you and your team to complete certain tasks, and record and store key process details, all within the same checklist. 

When you’re designing new processes, you can also use FAT FINGER features to make sure your processes are as efficient as possible.

For instance, you might want to connect your new or updated process to the apps, systems, and platforms you use on a daily basis and automate all your manual tasks. Or, you might add an automated approval process into the workflow so you can approve or reject key decisions with one click. Or, you might want to streamline complicated procedures using clever if/then logic. 

Plus, with FAT FINGERS template library, you have access to thousands of pre-made templates which you can use for free, to help kick-start your process design. 

Like these, for example (to access these templates or any others in the template library, sign up for a free trial): 

Risk Assessment Template Checklist

Use this Risk Assessment Template Checklist to standardize the way your team completes risk assessments. 

Click here to access the Risk Assessment Template Checklist.

Safety Inspection Checklist Template

This Safety Inspection Checklist Template will ensure that you and your team complete your safety inspections accurately, efficiently, and effectively, every time. 

Click here to access the Safety Inspection Checklist Template.

Top Tip! Grab these pre-made templates and follow your newly created process design workflow to make these processes fit your organizational needs like a glove. 

And, there we have it! That’s what process design is, that’s why you need it, and that’s how to get it right. 

If only flat-pack furniture instructions were that simple!

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How do you do process design? Tell us in the comments below!

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