Digitising a business process: our quickstart guide

Many organisations are now looking for ways to improve, streamline and automate where possible. Digitising business processes that were non-digital or semi-digital has become a major focus in recent years. However, it’s not always obvious how to start this development journey.

Identifying where to focus your efforts to be able to get going can seem overwhelming. That’s why we thought it best to share what we’ve learned from our experience in helping organisations create innovative digital tools to increase the value they deliver.

Why do this?

Create value for your team
Inefficient and outdated internal processes cost businesses money every day, slowing down teams and impeding their productivity.

There’s an obvious value in improvement here, as a digital tool can help your team get more done. Not to mention the improvement in their job satisfaction from a digital tool that’s a delight to use and makes their work lives easier.

Create value for your customers
It goes without saying that a happy, efficient and motivated team does their best work, and this has a positive knock on effect on your customers. Efficiency isn’t just limited to internal portions of the process; any client facing aspects will also see improvements, meaning better customer relations and clients who keep coming back.

Differentiate your business
It’s fair to assume your business exists in a very crowded marketplace. A fantastic new digital tool can be leveraged for marketing purposes even if it isn’t customer facing, and the value of appearing more innovative can propel your growth.

If you follow the steps we lay out here, you’ll be in a great position to move forward with purpose, and you’ll make any digital agency you approach to partner with very happy!

#1 Highlighting inefficiencies

Your organisation already goes through tons of processes – some digital, some semi-digital and some fully old school. There will definitely be room for improvement in some; no business is already perfect!

So the first step is a task to give you a broad overview of the potential candidates for digitising. Think of it as once-over of where the business is at now.

List your processes
Draw up a list of your current business processes, and rate their performance in order to identify where inefficiencies lie. This can be a simple 1-5 or you can get more granular and split out who and what they are (in)efficient for.

Impact scoring
Now that you have a rated list of processes, it’s time to think about how big a problem each represents, and how much difference an improvement can make. You’ll be considering which changes would make the most impact, there’s no point investing lots of time in something that won’t bring a major positive change.

Document tools
Paint a picture of the digital landscape at your organisation by documenting the tools you already use. This is something to do early on, as if they are to stay, anything new will need the capacity to interact with them.

#2 Identifying problems

You’ve picked a candidate (or two) to explore. So why do these processes not work as perfectly as possible?

What are the specific pains being encountered?

Interview key people in the business who work use them and ask them about the good and the bad elements. If you’re talking to lots of people, keep a tally of how frequently issues are mentioned. If something’s mentioned more often, it’s probably a bigger problem.

Mapping out the process flow is also really important. Show how each customer or stakeholder runs through the process detailing the options they’re presented with and all the potential outcomes. Detailing inefficient areas on these flows is usually a good idea.

Tools like Primary are great for this but PowerPoint can also work. Good old Post-its on the wall is also a totally viable option!

Draw up personas of customers if you don’t have them established. Most business processes interact with a customer, if you don’t have a persona of these people now’s a good time to do it.

So you’ve now got a documented series of flows and some ideas around where pain lies.

#3 Research the market

Don’t reinvent the wheel. There might be an off the shelf digital product that even if it isn’t a perfect fit, does, say, 90% of what you need.

Is an extra 10% functionality worth the investment of building something entirely from scratch? It definitely makes sense to ask that question.

However niche your problem, there’s no reason to presume there’s not a product made to solve it already. (Trust us, there are some very niche products out there, we’ve worked on them.)

It sounds obvious, but unless your business’s purpose is making project management tools, you definitely shouldn’t be out there trying to make one to beat Basecamp.

You could use the following criteria to rank the existing tools up for consideration.

Feature set
Do the features match what you require? Are there many more features than you’d use?

Integration with third parties
If you use lots of digital tools already, then working out whether there are inbuilt integrations is important. If not, does the tool have an API that allows other applications to be connected?

Company maturity
Is the tool run by a well established company who’ve been around for a while or is it a brand new startup? How big is the team that works on the product? You should be able to find this out on their site or by a sneaky look on LinkedIn.

Sector experience / nicheness
Do they just cater to your niche or are they a one size fits all tool?

What’s the process for customising the tool to your needs? Is it something that can be done within the admin interface, would it need to be done by their development team or is it simply not possible?

How is usage priced? Are you paying a set fee or does it increase with more users? Are there costs involved for setup and support? Map out a few scenarios to show how costs might change based on different levels of usage.

Is there a dedicated support team and how quickly do they claim to react to your requests? Is there documentation about any service level agreement and what does it include? If this is a business critical process then you’ll need to understand how you’re covered.

#4 Get the team together

If you can’t find something that fits what you need, then it’s time to explore something that you might build.

To do this run a workshop with your team involving people from different areas of the business who are involved in the process. Think about involving a customer or two if you can. Bringing them in may give you valuable insight that you might not get internally.

Review the current process and sketch out your ideas for how it might be improved by digital tools. You should draw on other tools you use that have features that you think should be relevant. Poaching good ideas is positively encouraged.

Read all about the workshop we ran with the Not Actual Size team to generate potential solutions, pitch their ideas and form the scope of their new digital tools.

#5 Building a product specification

With your ideas documented you can start to refine those into a product specification. You’re looking to develop a high level document that maps out the features that you’d expect to form part of your tool.

If you want to get into more detail then assign a category for each feature. Some will be essentials, some would be nice to have, some might be wildcard ideas that need more exploration and discussion. Understanding priorities is important to get to an MVP launch.

Lighthouse podcast

Weighting and rating - how to prioritise your backlog

For more about roadmaps and deciding which features to prioritise, check out our ‘weighting and rating’ podcast.

Taking all the assets you’ve created here to a design and development team will give them a huge amount of information to work with. They’ll quickly be able to understand:

  • The problems you’re solving
  • Your users’ interaction with the process
  • The problem areas and issues they face
  • What you deem to be important in a solution

It’s then down to that team to refine further and bring their expertise into the picture. Don’t expect to end up with exactly what you’ve mapped out – that’s rarely how MVPs work and that’s a good thing.

You’ll need detailed thoughts around user experience, design and how to actually build the finished article, but this is the perfect starting point.

Our services

Idea to launch

Want to skip uncertainty and get straight to creating a product people love? Let us take you from idea to launch. 🚀

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