4 Simple Steps to Stop Process Problems in Their Tracks

By Suzanne Martin & Tim Cook

Not too long ago, we were in the middle of launching a brand-new marketing initiative … and to put it lightly, things weren’t going as planned. As the frustrations and roadblocks kept adding up, we looked at each other and wondered, “What’s going on here? And how can we fix it?”

It took some sleuthing, but we finally put our finger on the issue — and it wasn’t our team’s fault at all. It was our process that needed fixing.

We put our heads together to create a revised process — one that now makes life easier for our whole team. So if your processes need some TLC, never fear! Let’s talk through how to spot a process issue, and some simple steps to get back on track.

The Cost of Poor Processes

Operational problems like ineffective processes might seem more like occasional headaches than serious setbacks. But if your process is full of speed bumps, your team will face the same frustrating issues over and over.

Plus, inefficient processes waste time that could be spent executing programs, generating leads and driving ROI. According to market research firm IDC, inefficiency costs the average company 20–30% in revenue every year.

How can you tell if your process is behind your marketing frustrations? Keep an eye out for these four red flags:

  1. Frequent late work: Occasional missed deadlines are a fact of life. But if simple tasks often stretch on forever, there’s probably a more efficient way for your team to work.
  2. Duplicated work: If two people accidentally double up on tasks, or if routine work is often redone, your roles and responsibilities should be better-defined.
  3. Role confusion: Every task in your processes should have one owner. If two people are responsible — or if no one is — the odds of someone dropping the ball skyrocket.
  4. Inconsistent results: A solid process is like a well-oiled machine. If your results are hit-or-miss, your team might be using workarounds that don’t always get the job done.

If these problems sound familiar, chances are you have a process problem, just like we did. Fortunately, those problems can be fixed! Here’s how we tackled ours.

Assemble Your Team

Evaluating a process from start to finish can’t just be management’s responsibility. No one knows your team members’ jobs better than they do, so they should be involved in mapping their own responsibilities.

We gathered our team for a group discussion to talk through every step of our process, including current problems and frustrations. Warning: This can get complicated quickly! We recommend using process charts, like the one below, to stay organized.

Map Where You Are

We divided the process mapping into two stages: “as-is” and “should-be.” In the “as-is” stage, we documented what was currently being done — even if we knew we’d change it later. It’s tempting to skip this step, but you need to know where you are to identify your biggest issues.

Once your process is on paper, look for spots where work slows down or frustrations run high. What’s behind these problems? Are steps missing? Are roles not defined? Could new technology help streamline tasks?

Know Where You’re Going

Next, we moved on to mapping what our ideal process should be like. By evaluating the difference between our “as-is” and “should-be” maps, we were able to plan our journey toward improvement.

That journey might take a while. You might need new tech to automate part of your process. Or you might need to make a new hire. But getting your road map in place is a big accomplishment — and it has to happen first!

Review Your Updates, and Test

Finally, we followed our new-and-improved process exactly as written. Then, we called another team meeting to debrief. What went well? Did unexpected problems show up? If so, how could we fix them? Repeat this step as often as necessary, until you have a process everyone’s happy with.

Not only does this help optimize your process, it helps your team’s overall morale too. They’ll know you see the problems they’re facing — and that you’re working to fix them.

We know how frustrating process problems can be. But they’re fixable. If any of these red flags and frustrations sound familiar, now’s the time to give your processes a good, hard look. You and your team will be better for it.

Has your team recently dealt with process problems? What signs tipped you off, and how did you fix the issues? Share your stories in the comments!