It may not be your favorite topic, and many people regard process management as being sort of “nit picky” or “micro-managing,” but the truth is that every one of your practice functions is actually a process, and it either contributes to or detracts from the success of your business. If you do not deliberately create and manage processes as part of your business strategies, then those processes will be created organically by other forces – your team, your patients, the market, or some other influence – and you will still have to deal with the results, good, bad, or indifferent.
If you were an auto mechanic, you wouldn’t throw all the parts of a car engine into a box and just expect a smooth-running vehicle to emerge from the pile. It’s similarly unrealistic to hope for a profitable, well-run business to emerge just because you’ve acquired all the needed staff members, equipment, software and inventory. You may wind up with a reasonable result, but it will not necessarily reflect your priorities, give patients the experience you aspire to, or even properly protect your business interests. It’s your job to construct the processes that create the results you want to achieve.
Good processes ensure consistent, repeatable results, facilitate training, lay the groundwork for clear expectations, and provide opportunity for accountability and constant improvement. These outcomes improve patient experience, create consistency in operational standards, help build profitability, and can even help to limit your business liability in certain circumstances. They can also help you avoid conflict and misunderstandings with your staff, and contribute to more pleasant, productive workplaces.
Fortunately, creating a good process is also a process – and a pretty straightforward one – that you can learn and implement easily. You can also train your team members in how to create processes and then turn them loose to repeat the steps inside their own areas of responsibility, sharing the effort and improving reliability all the way down the line.
Steps to Create a Good Process
Consider the Outcome
Start by thinking about the goal. What is this process supposed to accomplish? A process that has no goal is basically pointless, and engaging in process management for its own sake doesn’t accomplish anything except wasting time and frustrating others. So be clear about both the desired outcome and why it matters.
You also need to consider what the standards of performance are. The standards of performance are the concrete tasks that, done correctly, lead to the desired outcome.
As an example, let’s think about the process of taking patient measurements for eyewear. Incorrect or imprecise measurements are almost guaranteed to result in redos and added expense in the optical, so it might be useful to examine and standardize how those measurements are collected and then create a formal process.
In this case, your goal might be “Eliminate redos caused by imprecise measurements on eyewear orders,” (the desired outcome), and we may state our standards as: “provide precise measurements for every optical order,” and “collect complete measurements for every pair of eyewear solid” (the tasks to be completed that lead to the goal).
Document all of the Steps in the Process
Every process has multiple steps. Start your documentation by making a simple list of all of the steps you can think of. This is an excellent place to enlist help. If you are documenting a process that is typically performed by someone else, get their input. Review the results for completeness and clarity and make sure the steps are listed in the correct order. Write them out in as much detail is needed to correctly accomplish the tasks.
For our example of creating precise eyewear measurements, you would undoubtedly want to enlist your optical professionals to provide their expertise and help create a step-by-step process for ensuring precision in eyewear measurements. Find out where results need to be double-checked, and how they should be recorded. Make sure you note if (and when) steps may be skipped as optional, and which may not.
This process takes your standards of performance and verbalizes them clearly, so now your team members understand exactly what is expected of them. Eventually, you may want to be able to tie these standards and processes to performance evaluations, compensation, or other employment measures. Concrete expectations empower both the employee and the employer, and can drastically improve satisfaction for both.
Once you’ve got a clear understanding of your desired outcome and a complete list of steps, hand it to someone else, and see if they can successfully follow the process as written to accomplish the task. Let them provide their feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Then make adjustments. Don’t forget, your process needs to be repeatable so it creates consistent, reliable results over and over again. If it is, you will have created a valuable resource that you can leverage to speed up training, objectively measure performance, and improve accountability among your team.
The next step is to take your documented process and put it into play. During this step, take the time to explain your reasoning for the process and set clear expectations about when and how it should be used. A good process goes nowhere without compliance from your team, so make sure you follow up on those expectations. If it all possible, create a measurable benchmark that can be used to define success. (In our measurements example, you would probably want to begin monitoring the redo rate in the office.) Engage your staff in the benchmarking as well, which will help them to become more invested in the success of the process.
Review and Modify
You can’t just “set it and forget it” with your business processes. Your practice will grow and change over time, and its needs will also change. Take the time to review processes periodically so you can make needed adjustments. You may even decide that you can either temporarily or permanently suspend a process. Even though it worked well when you started, that doesn’t mean it will (or should) work forever. Just make sure that your changes are deliberate, thoughtful, and well-documented!
Bad Processes / No Processes
Bad processes or a simple lack of good processes can lead to poor or unreliable outcomes. The goals or tasks you want to accomplish will not be done, or may be done poorly. Patients may experience inconsistent results or answers in your practice, and you may actually open yourself to unexpected liability through a simple lack of good process management.
Protecting Your Business
You have certain legal obligations as a practitioner and a business owner. You are required to treat your employees fairly, protect your patients’ privacy, meet a standard of care, and provide adequate warning to your patients about certain risks. Good processes help you ensure that these obligations are met. However, even the best crafted processes may not prevent an accidental oversight or failure to meet some standard. In some cases, the very existence of a properly documented process and verified process training (think HIPAA training) may provide some protection to your business in the event of legal fallout. I strongly recommend that you take the time to speak with your legal and professional advisors to learn which processes are absolutely necessary for the long-term health and well-being of your practice, and how they should be implemented to protect you and your business.
Take it Slow
There’s no need to re-work every process in your office all at once. Take your time and work through them methodically. Better processes tend to create successes that build on each other. They can have an exponential benefit in terms of creating calm, efficient environments where your patients, your team, and your business can all flourish.