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How TO DESIGN AND MANAGE YOUR BUSINESS GRAPHICALLY

What is a Business Management System?

"A Business Management System is a set of tools for planning and implementing policies, practices, guidelines, processes and procedures that are used in the development, deployment and execution of business plans and strategies and all associated management activities."  

Black's Law Dictionary, 2nd Ed.

Business Management Systems (BMS) are great in theory.  They offer you the tools and strategies to document your business processes and define the way you work.  They are a standard method to achieve consistency and quality in everything you do.

But what if no one ever uses the tools you have adopted or the documents you create with them? What if they can’t be accessed easily, or they’re too complex or detailed to be useful as part of your everyday business? What if a system is created at vast expense and never referred to again?

After all, a Business Management System is only valuable if it is easy to use, helpful and recognisable as ‘the way your company does things’.

The aim of a BMS should be to place your business processes front and centre in the mind of your workforce. 

It should be the Quality System that ensures everyone in your company sees how you do things and why. It should be the way you demonstrate your commitment to the values embodied in ISO 9001 and many other standards

It shouldn’t be a folder of static documents hidden away and never looked at again, rather it should be the dynamic core of your company.

That’s where a graphical approach to Business Management comes in.

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This guide will explain why and how you should set about documenting your business processes and procedures in graphical form, making them the beating heart of your operation.  

It will explore how a graphical approach can help bring your company’s entire Quality System ‘to life’, facilitating continuous improvement and giving your business that elusive competitive advantage.

Why do you need a BMS?

When a business is small, everyone knows everything about how it operates.

A team doesn’t need to document what they do, because they just ‘know’ how to do it. And they work so closely together, they can always adapt and improvise to meet new challenges. But as a business grows it becomes more difficult, in fact, impossible to work like this.

As teams expand, change and disperse, so valuable knowledge and experience can ebb away. At the same time, old mistakes can be replicated and inefficiencies amplified.

There is a tipping point, where it isn’t enough anymore to just ‘know’ best practice, you need to start formally documenting and sharing it, or you risk losing these insights altogether and having to start from scratch all over again.

Adopting a Business Management System isn’t about imposing a new layer of bureaucracy on a growing company, it is about creating a dynamic knowledge base upon which all future success can be built.

 

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The challenge of moving from start-up to scale-up

Traditionally, there has been a low success rate in companies going from small start-up to scale-up status. As Sherry Coutu, Chair of the ScaleUp Institute has pointed out

"...only a small group of start-ups achieve significant growth in revenues – just one per cent have sales of more than £1 million six years after they start"

For those companies who have delivered a successful product to market and are in a period of growth - the challenge will be expanding your offering and customer base while delivering the same level of quality to your clients, time and time again.

But this may not be so easy to achieve.

As you embark on new and complex projects you may find it more difficult to replicate quality at scale. This may be because you’ve never had the time to really think about or manage the way your business ‘does things’.

Without a well understood set of business processes governing the delivery of your end product, a sudden spurt of growth might cause systems developed in an ad hoc way to be overwhelmed.

Timescales may start to slip, fulfilment may become increasingly chaotic and confusion may reign.

Why Business Management Systems Exist

And that’s why formal Business Management Systems exist, to help companies find ways to define, document and implement best practice in everything they do.

They are designed to help you document the way you do business while identifying inefficiencies, improving business performance and increasing staff effectiveness as you grow.

A Business Management System can be implemented by external consultants or internal teams, using standard office software or specialist, proprietary solutions. These solutions vary in their degree of cost and complexity, some requiring the installation of applications and others offering a more lightweight approach.

But however you choose to do it, adopting a BMS is an important step in your business evolution.  It means you are starting to develop a shared understanding of everything you do as a company. It means you are developing a common ‘language’ or ‘system’ for delivering quality across your organisation.

And, don’t forget, developing just this kind of Quality System is a key requirement for ISO 9001, ISO 13485 and many other standards.

Documenting Business Processes

One of the primary functions of a good BMS is to give you the tools to record, analyse and continually optimise your business processes.

In practical terms this means defining and documenting precisely what each business task is, and how it should be carried out.

Whether through flow diagrams or long form documents, your BMS should help you record the necessary inputs and expected outputs of every process in your business. It should help you document the requirements and dependencies of every part of your operation. It should help you define the way you do things.

The diagrams and documents you create will let new joiners grasp more quickly how you work. They will help current staff understand and optimise existing procedures to secure greater quality. They will allow you to identify the gaps and omissions in your processes that lead to mistakes and waste. They will help reduce the risk of things going wrong and improve efficiencies across your business.

In the long run, they should save you money and make your company more productive.

Creating a Quality System

The aim is for your Business Management System to become, a ‘bible’ for delivering operational excellence that everyone in your business can follow and contribute to.

In other words, it should be the system through which you guarantee the consistent delivery of quality products and services to your customers. A mechanism for managing and continuously improving core processes to achieve maximum customer satisfaction in the most efficient way possible.

But the truth is, no matter how painstakingly it is put together, such a system will be of no value to your company unless everyone in your company actually uses it.

Why most Business Management Systems fail

The problem is, all too often, Business Management Systems end up being neither accessible or useful to a business as a whole.

Many BMS are cumbersome and over engineered. They are proscriptive in the way they operate and difficult to change or update. Too often they convey process and procedures in a dense and text heavy format that is difficult to follow. Sometimes they even require the wholesale installation of new software across a company, which is never a quick fix. Indeed, according to Forrester Research, the industry average for installing such applications is 14.5 months, an unacceptable wait time for most start-ups and SMEs.

In some cases, installing a BMS will simply introduce new and unwanted layers of development and bureaucracy into a growing organisation.

If a Business Management System is over-complicated and difficult to use your team will inevitably try to find ways to avoid using it. And, of course, if procedures are not properly observed, there is a greater risk of mistakes happening, timelines slipping and quality suffering.

All this, in turn, increases the chances of regulatory non-compliance and raises the risk of your business failing a quality audit. And if that happens, it defeats the object of implementing the solution in the first place.

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Why a graphical approach is best

So how do you develop a Business Management System that will win the hearts and minds of everyone in your organisation. How can it become the life blood of your operations?

There’s no point painstakingly documenting your business processes if the documents you create can just be filed away, ignored or forgotten about. The system you create has to be easy to use and your team must use it for it to make a difference.

We would even go further than that and say it also has to be a pleasure to use if it’s going to become the ‘way you do things’ rather than just a description of of how you think things should be done.

"You can't save souls in an empty church"  

David Ogilvy

A BMS Your Team Will Want to Use

As the computer scientist Ben Schneiderman points out in his Eight Golden Rules of Design, "A picture is worth a thousand words. An interface is worth a thousand pictures".

A graphical Business Management System (also known as a gBMS) is a way of recording your overall business processes within a single, lightweight interface.

It is an easy to install process driven intranet that can sit at the very heart of your business; a series of interactive and dynamic web pages that can detail your entire operational structure.

An integral part of any gBMS is the tools it gives you to document and map your business processes.  This is the way it will help you compile a dynamic operational bible that defines ‘how you do things’ while facilitating ongoing analysis and optimisation of all the tasks it describes.

Process Mapping should be at the heart of a gBMS. And this task of mapping your processes, should above all be an act of ‘visualisation’ rather than an exercise in ‘writing up’ documentation.

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“Visualisation gives you answers to questions you didn’t know you had"

Ben Schneiderman

Visualising tasks through diagrams and workflows can help you identify the separate elements of a process and understand the way steps in a task relate to each other. They can be used to gather information and data about a process as an aid to decision making or optimising performance.

Visualisations bring abstract concepts to life. They make ideas tangible so people can grasp them more quickly.

Instead of requiring your team members to read instruction manuals and long-hand explanations of the way your business works, a diagram can help them see a process in its entirety.

Most importantly, these diagrams can help you better identify all the necessary inputs, dependencies, and expected outputs of a process, and see more easily where things might be going wrong or could be further optimised. Done right, a business process map can help you see and understand more about your business at a single glance.

They are a powerful way of visualising the connections, dependencies, gaps, risks and opportunities that your quality system describes. They are ways of seeing, literally, how tasks in a business fit together and feed into each other.

But a good gBMS should also, as much as possible, remove the clutter from around the description of process.  

A graphical Business Management System can create layers of detail, so process flows can be used to gain a quick ‘high level’ understanding of a function, as well as letting you drill down into the detail of how a task is carried out.

In the end, mapping your processes, graphically and step-by-step promotes a level of transparency across your business that will help you achieve quality objectives and should make regulatory compliance much easier to achieve.

For example, the quality management principles that govern ISO 9001 certification can be embedded into your company’s working practices with this kind of tool.

“See more, by seeing less”

John Maeda – The Laws of Simplicity

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‘Risk-Based Thinking’ and a gBMS

A Graphical Business Management System can help support the ‘risk-based approach’ to quality that is at the heart of ISO 9001 and ISO 13485.

In fact, as certification and regulatory bodies around the world (like ISO and the FDA), shift their emphasis from ‘inspect and control’ to a ‘proactive approach’ to Quality Management, being able to demonstrate your commitment to continuous improvement of your processes  has never been more important.

Graphical representations of your business structure and processes can be key to this ongoing optimisation. They offer an ‘at a glance’ vision of the way you work, minimising the possibility of error in the replication of tasks and helping you keep your focus on ways to improve.

Within a gBMS, the relationships between specific tasks, their dependencies and outputs can all be laid out simply and graphically. This can help you assess where the greatest risks and opportunities for your business lie and help you develop approaches to manage them.

The right gBMS can also automatically prompt you to review processes and procedures at regular intervals to ensure they are always delivering quality in the way they should.

 A gBMS helps you:

  • Identify the risk
  • Define the likelihood of the risk
  • Define the consequences of the risk
  • Define the level of the risk
  • Mitigate the risk (by visually representing more effective processes)
  • Make those processes readily available to the entire workforce
  • Embed ‘risk-based based thinking’ across your organisation

Where do you start?

So, how do you start preparing to develop a Graphical Business Management System?

Luckily, even in the high tech sector an internal audit of your processes can begin in a low tech way. Get a pen and a flip chart. Map out your most important processes. A simple flow diagram will suffice for each.

Work together with all the people responsible for carrying out each task and get them to specify exactly how those tasks should be done.

Working with the team who are closest to the task is really important when mapping a process, since it is they who will have the greatest insight into the current methods and pressures of delivery. But you may require someone from outside the team to add perspective and ask important questions to prompt further thought as you go along.

Start describing, in detail, the process that you are mapping. What are the inputs? What are the desired outputs? What are the things that need to happen along the way to achieve that output. As you draw the process out, note the task’s requirements and dependencies. See the moments in the process where key decisions need to be made and the possible outcomes of each.

In reality, you will discover there are several ways of doing each task and people may be doing it in different ways. But this is the point at which you need to decide the single way your business will do it in the future.

By defining these business processes together you will also identify the risks and opportunities associated with each one – optimising them accordingly as you do so.

Undertaking this process, will also help you notice:

  • Inefficiencies – see at a glance if parts of a process are superfluous or wasteful
  • Omissions – identify gaps in a process that might be causing mistakes or delays
  • Risks – assess the potential risk to your business of a process malfunctioning
  • Opportunities – see how a process could be changed to maximise value and improve quality and consistency of delivery

In the end you will have created a series of ‘maps’ showing how all your processes should be carried out and how they fit together.

It should be the case that if all the processes outlined in these flow diagrams are followed – all of their outputs should be of a consistent quality.

In other words, you will have reached a shared understanding of how business and quality management works in your organisation. You will have defined best practice for everything you do in the future.

Armed with these diagrams, you can now use the tools of your chosen gBMS to start designing and building out the Quality System that will define the way your business operates.

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What to look for in a gBMS

Your chosen BMS should give you the ability to ‘design’ and manage your whole quality system via a graphical user interface.

It should help you visualise your entire business process from end to end in a high level way, while giving you the ability to drill down into more detailed documentation when required.

It should be lightweight enough to support an ever changing, agile approach to business process management. It should be capable of being instantly updated by a non-coder, easily and without downtime or disruption.

8 Things to look for in a gBMS

1. Does it support graphical business process management?

Does the BMS help you create dynamic flow diagrams to illustrate process and relationships within a company?  A good gBMS will allow you to render each step in a mapped process a clickable object. These can then link to greater detail about a task or function if required, including long form instruction manuals or regulatory documentation.

  • Hyperlinking to deeper content keeps interfaces uncluttered.
  • Prevents information overload for users

2. Visualising processes – can you use the process diagrams to follow the steps of a task from start to finish?

Like a real map, your dynamic work flow diagrams should allow you to orient yourself precisely within a task, letting you trace your steps backwards and forwards from any point to help you follow, understand or optimise it.

  • Avoid mistakes in the execution of tasks
  • Grasp complex processes fast
  • Visualise new efficiencies.
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3. Does it support a search facility and include auditing capabilities?

A good gBMS will allow you to quickly search for and find business critical information when you need it most.

  • Check the way a process should work
  • Respond quickly to auditing queries
  • Find specific answers fast

4. Does it integrate with standard mapping tools and other software?

Your gBMS should let you build your process diagrams in the programmes you use every day and then export them into the system.

  • Import Powerpoint/Word/Visio/Excel process diagrams seamlessly into your gBMS

5. Is the set-up process quick and simple?

The best gBMS will not require wholesale transcription of existing documentation into a new format or application. Instead, it should offer a kind of digital framework into which existing documentation can be integrated, whether they’ve been created in Word or a whole range of different software applications. Setting up a gBMS should take days, rather than weeks or months.

  • A good gBMS should be lightweight and easy to set up

6. Will the design tools help you build your gBMS as a unified whole?

Good design strives for consistency. Every page should feel part of the same system. The system should have uniform formatting, it should move smoothly between screens and pages should be consistent in shape and size.

7. Does the gBMS support auditing and approval of all your process documentation?

A good BMS should require approval of changes to workflows and quality documents by key stakeholders before release.

  • Ensure the latest, approved versions of SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) are always displayed within the gBMS
  • Track changes and version history of documentation for auditing and optimisation purposes

8. Does it deskill the process of design, creation and maintenance of the system?

Can anyone in the organisation (with the right permissions) use the software to add content, make changes and create new pages? A Business Management System that requires specialist skills to keep it updated may prove costly to maintain and could fall quickly into disuse.

How to use a graphical Business Management System

Setting up your gBMS is only half the battle.

A BMS will only be valuable if it is used and it won’t be used unless you have buy in and backing from everyone in your organisation.

A firm commitment to the principles of the system and support for the tool you develop needs to come from the top. If the chief executive does not make it clear that it is central to the company’s plans and future success, the initiative will fail. But the ‘big stick’ approach will not be enough to secure its widespread adoption.

As with any new approach there may be suspicion around the introduction of ‘yet another’ piece of software and even resistance to a new layer of bureaucracy seemingly being imposed from above.

But involving the your team in defining and documenting their own processes from the outset will go a long way to achieving a sense of ownership across your company.

Training

The successful launch of the system will require an introduction and training programme that encourages your team to ask questions and see the full value of your solution.

Training with a gBMS can be a impactful, interactive experience that will really help drive home your key messages and keep the tool top of mind for everyone who will use it.

This will be especially important if you are experiencing resistance in your mission to set up a Quality System within an organisation. Because of this, you should carefully consider who will deliver the training, whether an external presenter would be best or if there is a particular individual in your business who would be better placed to sell the vision internally.

Whatever happens, everyone, from the top to the bottom of your organisation should be involved in these sessions, not least to demonstrate how central it is to your entire business strategy.

How to ensure long term success with a BMS

Again, the ongoing and widespread use of a Business Management System will only happen if there is a sense of shared purpose around it; an understanding of its importance and relevance to each individual and the business as a whole.

That is why we argue a good BMS should be a pleasure to use. That is to say, it should help you address the operational pain points of your company in the most practical and effortless way. If it genuinely helps solve the problems your team encounter every day whilst they’re delivering your end product then it will become an essential part of the way they do their job.

For a business made up of complex procedures and processes, the layers of detail offered by a gBMS will be a resource your team will naturally gravitate towards for ongoing training, analysis and clarification.

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Manage, maintain and audit

To be genuinely useful and relevant to a company, a Business Management System needs to be constantly updated.

For this reason, a lightweight gBMS that supports quick editing without disruption or downtime is a must.

The system should be regularly audited to ensure it is being properly used and accurately reflects the way your business operates. If it doesn’t, or if you can see there are better ways of working, you need to make the appropriate changes.

But the role your gBMS plays in your business as a shared and collective resource, is what will ensure its contents are regularly refreshed and properly maintained.

Conclusion

When companies start up and are small, everyone knows everything that is going on within them.

But as they grow there comes a time when this is no longer the case and there needs to be a step change in the way things are done.

Growing companies often over-step this mark and find themselves struggling with ineffective processes – processes that used to work but don’t anymore.

The right gBMS can help you manage this growth, through better documentation, continuous optimisation and improved organisational oversight.

An agile gBMS, installed as a process driven intranet can be set up quickly and immediately start delivering unique oversight of all your business processes in an efficient and flexible way.

Using a gBMS you can document graphically everything you do - from the way you create and deliver products and services, to the financial controls that support your entire business. It can be used to:

  • Record the ownership of tasks and the distribution of roles and responsibilities across a company
  • Give you an ‘at a glance’ vision of all the processes, business structures, and reporting hierarchies, essential for onboarding, auditing and other management tasks
  • Help every part of your business see and minimise the risks of non-conformity, while maximising efficiencies and replicating success
  • Help you obtain ISO certification by embodying its required standards within the organising structure of your company

A gBMS, therefore, can be more than just a record of best practice for your business. It can become the way you do business, the process by which you guarantee the consistency and quality of everything that your company delivers, even as you continue to grow.

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