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Applying Critical Thinking to Process Design.

When coming across roadblocks in business operations and growth, intelligent organizations start their search for the root cause by conducting business process analyses (BPA)

This helps identify the need for updated or completely new processes. More importantly, it carries you to the next step of crafting more effective business procedures. This is also called business process design (BPD).

The purpose of creating new processes is to resolve issues and/or inefficiencies that are often caused by a lack. But process design is not as easy as it sounds — it requires a thorough analysis of the initial procedure, as well as defining the result it aims to achieve, identifying the resources and involvement needed, and so on.  

This is where critical thinking comes into play.

Business Process Design. 

If you think about it, a business is the sum of multiple processes happening simultaneously, non-stop. All of them serve a purpose, helping to achieve the overarching goals of the organization.

Generally, efficient business processes are specific and detailed through straightforward steps that can be followed and executed by others. But, as often happens, many processes end up being implicit — i.e., performed automatically without getting formally mapped out. 

Business process design tackles the task of crafting entirely new workflows to establish processes and procedures in an orderly and efficient way. 

Intentional process design is important because business processes that lack explicit structure may be difficult to explain and carry out, and even harder to analyze. In the long term, BPD saves time for leaders and their teams, enabling them to follow existing procedures instead of devising their own methods. 

So, effective business process design can benefit organizations by:

  • Providing structure to processes,
  • Ensuring consistent process outcomes, 
  • Increasing output efficiency and capabilities,
  • Improving an organization’s productivity.

Critical Thinking in Business. 

So, how can applying critical thinking help you design a new business process? 

Think about the critical thinking flow, which is typically triggered when you encounter a problem. 

You begin by collecting or receiving information related to the issue, either through observation or via other channels. Next, you proceed to analyze what you’ve acquired based on any set standards or conditions (and also depending on the purpose of your data gathering). And finally, you use this information to make informed conclusions and brainstorm solutions to the problem.

There are plenty of step-by-step guides to critical thinking with anywhere from 4 to 8 (or more) steps. Here is a simplified (but broadly applicable) version that we use here:

  1. Identify the problem. 
  2. Collect relevant information.  
  3. Analyze the gathered data.  
  4. Interpret the results and make conclusions.  
  5. Evaluate conclusions and come up with solutions. 

It’s undeniable, then, that critical thinking is an essential skill in the context of business: it enhances problem-solving, decision-making, and flexibility in reasoning. That’s why critical and analytical thinking is also key to designing effective business processes. 

Crafting New Processes. 

To recap, business process design is the act of creating a process framework from scratch.

Knowing which broader category the new process fits into will guide your approach to process design as you dive into the details. Generally, there are 3 types of business processes: 

1. Operational processes. These are the main procedures that enable a business to function by focusing on profit-making activities to achieve overall business goals. An example of an operational process is product manufacturing, as it plays a direct role in producing and distributing the product or service of the company. 

2. Supporting processes. These secondary workflows don’t directly contribute to profit but are essential in driving the business. For example, this could be HR activities like maintaining employee payrolls or performing effective onboarding procedures for new staff.  

3. Management processes. These processes and protocols oversee and assess the operations of the organization, focusing on performance and compliance. They ensure that all members of the company are handling their responsibilities and that all business functions are running smoothly.

When mapping out business processes, you’ll need to outline each step in as much detail as possible. Where are the starting point and the end of the step? How does it fit within the procedure as a whole? Going further, you’ll also have to document the procedures that outline how these processes should be carried out, by whom, and in what circumstances. These practices complement critical thinking at each stage of process design. 

BPD itself is a process consisting of the following steps:

  • Define the problem.
  • Identify inputs, outputs, parties, and procedures.
  • Map out the steps.
  • Test the flow.
  • Finalize and implement the new process. 

Notice how these phases align closely with the flow of critical thinking: you might already be intuitively applying critical thinking when laying out a new business process. 

Once you’ve established the problem that the new process aims to solve, it’s important to define the type of process and its scope. That is, the required resources, the people involved, the expected outcomes, and the procedures that will be followed.  

Do not skip this next step, as this is what makes a process truly precise and effective: documentation. The easiest, most effective way to do that is by mapping it out as a flowchart, which will be helpful in determining the order of steps and also their usefulness (alternatively, it can be a detailed written document). Here, it’s important to include not just each step but also the resources, parties, and procedures involved at every stage of the process. 

It’s also helpful to properly test the flow in low-risk conditions. This creates an opportunity to experiment safely and involve other team members and stakeholders. You can then use this feedback to make changes and improvements to the process before implementing it in real business scenarios.      

Final Thoughts. 

Critical thinking is essential for creating successful business processes. Where business process design aims to solve problems posed by inefficiencies or areas that are lacking, critical thinking enables problem-solving frameworks that generate these solutions.

Business process design is a process in itself, requiring thorough planning, a clear outline, and favorable conditions for execution. At each stage of the design process, critical thinking helps analyze and evaluate information, and then apply it to make informed decisions. 

Efficient business processes can significantly enhance business performance and improve profitability, so the importance of intelligent process design cannot be overstated.

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