How to boost productivity with process mapping and automation

Getting things done well, on time and within a budget is a constant challenge. There’s the mountain of repetitive tasks that need to happen for every process, whether you’re handling a customer service request, designing a website or shipping a package. Then there are the projects that have dozens of moving parts controlled by half a dozen different employees. 

The good news is, there are effective software tools that make it easy for businesses, big or small, to clarify workflows, get work done faster and keep critical elements from slipping through the cracks.  

It starts with two strategies. Process mapping helps organizations understand how business processes work and how to improve them; process automation gets computers to do the busywork, freeing employees to handle more meaningful challenges. The two together can improve everything from employee morale to the bottom line.  

Let’s take a look. 

Why process mapping?

Process mapping is a way to visually represent a business process or workflow, illustrating a sequence of events and the tasks involved. Process maps are also often referred to as process flow charts. These can be vital planning and management tools for any business, as they help companies increase efficiency and make more informed decisions. 

Anyone can get started with process mapping. Diagramming software makes the design process simple and intuitive, with built-in templates and shapes. Some software allows you to link from those shapes directly to relevant, real-time data, too, such as an inventory spreadsheet or customer database.   

The benefits of process mapping include:

  • Documenting processes to ensure consistency, quality, and institutional memory
  • Reducing avoidable errors by keeping everyone on the same page
  • Clarifying workflows and goals, so everyone understands what their role is 
  • Identifying opportunities for improvement, such as unnecessary duplication or where things are getting stuck
  • Making complex processes easy for leadership to grasp at a glance
  • Training new employees in company processes and standards 

Examples of process mapping include: 

  • A retail company’s online order process flow chart, from customer request to billing, shipping and follow-up
  • An IT department’s process for prioritizing and addressing support tickets
  • A sales team’s optimal process for meeting its goals, from how to find and assesses the best leads to retaining clients in the long-term  

Why process automation?

Process automation software helps you set up your workflows so that routine tasks get executed automatically, saving time and resources while avoiding errors. For example, when a new customer creates an account with you, automation software can immediately send a welcome email and enter the customer’s information into a database. This way, no one has to remember to do the small things that can make a big difference in the long run.   

The benefits of process automation include:

  • Avoiding human error, as automation software won’t forget tasks or execute them ineffectively 
  • Ensuring consistency, so that each time one task is completed, the same one follows
  • Speeding things up, as employees will no longer have to spend valuable hours doing repetitive, tedious jobs
  • Freeing up staff time for more creative and fulfilling work, which can help improve morale and big-picture thinking
  • Improve collaboration, as automation software can send alerts when someone’s left feedback on a document or completed a specific task

Use cases for process automation include: 

  • Invoice processing, as automation software can pull the relevant data and route it to the appropriate staff member for approval
  • Capturing and organizing customer information, such as contact information and purchase history, will avoid time spent doing manual data entry 
  • Customer support, such as sending automatic responses to frequently asked questions or quickly categorizing a request and routing it to the correct staffer

How can process mapping and automation work together? 

Many businesses benefit from process mapping and automation; in fact, one helps the other succeed. Process mapping enables you to understand where the bottlenecks are in a process, for instance, while automation can help resolve them. Therefore, they work hand in hand to optimize and streamline everything you do.

Some software tools work well together, too, allowing you to design a workflow in one and select which aspects of that workflow should trigger an automatic process in the other. This way, planning each process and executing some elements of the process can happen almost simultaneously, making the whole effort even more efficient.

Examples of how process mapping and automation can work together include:

  • Employee onboarding. Design a comprehensive process for bringing new employees up to speed, from the day they’re hired until they complete the necessary training. Automate some aspects of that process, such as automatically scheduling a welcome lunch or entering new employee data into the payroll system. 
  • Regulatory compliance. Certain companies, such as healthcare organizations or businesses that accept credit card payments, have regulatory standards to meet. Designing a process flow chart that takes those standards into account, and then automating some tasks associated with that flow chart, means that nothing will get lost or forgotten. You can also set up automatic alerts for if and when those regulations change. 
  • Digital marketing. Create an optimized process map that includes all the tasks involved from ad placements to a successful sale. Automate some aspects of the process, such as categorizing customer information or sending a follow-up note to keep customers returning. 

Many businesses want to do more with less—to “work smarter, not harder.” Mapping processes and automating routine tasks both go a long way toward that goal. Using diagramming and automation tools together can truly save you time, money and effort.  

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Business Insights and Ideas does not constitute professional tax or financial advice. You should contact your own tax or financial professional to discuss your situation..