Skip to content
how to improve business process handoffs
8 min read

How to Improve Business Process Handoffs

In baseball, you usually notice pitchers secretly communicating with catchers through hand signals. The pitcher tries to indicate what type of pitch they will make - a fastball, curveball, short or long ball. This helps the catcher know what to expect, allowing them to act accordingly.

Now imagine it is the third strike, the first base is open, and because there was no clear communication, the catcher drops the ball. Yikes!  

This situation is something you don't want on the field, or in your business. 👀

Business Process Handoffs are like pitches made from one person, system, or department to the other. And to make sure these pitches land right where they should, you need to work on ensuring smooth handoffs in your business processes.

Now this may raise a lot of questions in your mind such as - How do I know if I have a Handoff problem? What are the common challenges? Do process maps help? How can I improve process handoffs? 

So let's cut to the chase and dig deeper into Business Process Handoffs and try to answer these questions.

What is a Business Process Handoff?

A Business Process Handoff is an activity of transferring a person, responsibility, or information from one person to another, one system to another, or one department to another. The successful transfer of this information is critical to run smooth business processes.

Let us take an example of on-boarding a new employee to your company. In this case, the Handoff is between your HR department and your IT department. The transfer of information is the details of the new employee for access to company assets and security.

Now let's assume that your HR sends out an email to IT with a list of new employee details and accesses required, but misses out on one tiny detail. And before you know, a series of emails start shooting across the departments to find where exactly the ball was dropped!

The point here is that it is critical to communicate exact requirements to gain the expected result. If the right information is not shared, it results in back and forth causing delays within that process. 

In many cases, improving Handoffs is not going to land you any immediate brownie points, but it is a preventive measure that saves unnecessary costs and efforts. 

Handoffs present a great opportunity to make subtle improvements to your business. They are a not-so-complex solution to fix gaps in your systems as long as you comply with the key elements:

  • Set clear expectations

  • Communicate effectively

  • Avoid assumptions

  • Clarify doubts

Although we referred to a specific example of information transfer between two departments, Handoffs are everywhere in your company. Between two employees, between sales and marketing departments, team A and team B, or an old and new employee. And if you have ever come across such a situation in any process of your business, chances are that your business has Handoff problems. 

Inefficient Handoffs can have severe outcomes such as delays in processes, an unpleasant effect on company culture, or in the worst case - bad customer experience. And while these are all nerve-wracking situations, Handoffs do not have to yield such severe outcomes if you know exactly how to do them!

While Handoffs sound like fairly simple activities, they can turn into a complex labyrinth of data that weighs down the performance of your team. 

Did you know that NASA once suffered a loss of $125 million because the engineering team did not communicate the correct metric system to the builders team? That’s right. The engineers who designed the NASA aircraft used the common metric system. They did not communicate efficiently and left out a tiny but important detail -  which metric system to use. The aircraft builders assumed it to be the English imperial system and used inches and pounds instead. I won’t comment on the details of the disaster that followed.

But this is an example of how the tiniest of mistakes in a process handoff can lead to huge losses.  

Let's look at the three major challenges that complicate business process handoffs:

  1. There are information silos - Information and communication silos are always the devils in disguise. Out of the many negative outcomes, these cause a serious obstacle in the smooth processing of handoffs.

    Referring back to our baseball example, imagine having silos within the team and not sharing the game strategy with each teammate. It goes without saying that the limited sharing of information will severely impact team performance.

  2. There is insufficient documentation - Doesn't it just bum you out when there are seven new emails in your inbox every time you are looking for details from an old email?

    Initiating and executing Handoffs on email can result in a waste of time and effort. Searching your email every time you need to complete a Handoff task is not the best way to use your valuable time.

  3. Your communication is incomplete - Let me paint you a picture - You are a regular at Starbucks, your go-to drink is a no-whip soy latte with caramel drizzle - soy because you are allergic to dairy. You go to this outlet almost every other day and are greeted with the same familiar face at the counter and recite your order flawlessly.

    BUT, this one time you forget to mention the soy, and then the allergy repercussions set upon you!

    This is a classic example of how incomplete communication can easily wreck your Business Process Handoffs. 

Why Business Process Mapping won't help in Process Handoffs?

Business Process Mapping is a visual representation of processes that help us better understand the complexities involved. And just like a location map, they allow you to pinpoint the exact location of the problem.

But here's the issue - although the location map takes you through the shortest route with least traffic, it does not show you details like potholes, barricades, and the missing takeaway lane of your favorite fast-food restaurant.

Similarly, process maps identify the swimlanes between the sender and the recipient of the Handoff. But they do not highlight the details that are critical for the Handoff to succeed. 

Like we established earlier, setting clear goals and expectations, stating requirements, and effective communication is the key to a successful Handoff. And process maps do not help us with them, which is why they are not enough to solve the riddle of Business Process Handoffs.

What can you do to improve Process Handoffs? 

Some Business Process Handoffs are informal in nature and are not as structured as other critical Handoffs.

But some Handoffs are repetitive in nature, just like the Starbucks order we talked about. 😊

And to avoid the consequences of allergic reactions to dairy, you can improve the regular Handoff with a few detailed but guaranteed techniques. Let's run you through them:

Standardize the iterations - Your structured Handoffs are going to be repetitive in nature. And even though the departments, systems, or teams remain the same, the person who executes the Handoff might change.

And if you do not standardize the actions of the Handoff, every new person will try to 'reinvent the wheel' by discovering new ways to run the Handoff.

These new discoveries may or may not work for the best for your business - which is why you need to standardize Handoffs that are structured and cyclical.

Use Business Process Documentation - Business Process Documentation allows you to describe a complete guideline of how to execute a particular process. And even though Handoffs are theoretically a part of business processes, they become a process when they are repetitive in nature.

Hence, documenting every step can help you pull off a successful Handoff. This includes - but does not limit to - checklists, tutorials, detailed actions, and templates.

Schedule a Knowledge Transfer Session - Paperwork is good. It templetizes, standardizes, clarifies, and acts as reference when in crisis. But there are situations where paperwork is not enough. The two parties who are involved in a process handoff may have more to communicate and ask. For example, the receiving party can have doubts and questions that can only be resolved through face to face (or virtual) communication.

Hence, scheduling a knowledge transfer session between the two handoff parties is an important step in the handoff process

Create a Handoff Agreement - A Handoff agreement is like a contract between the sender and the receiver of the Handoff. It is a strategic set of information that needs to be transferred from one party to another to allow the receiving party to complete the process.

Now when we say a contract, our mind immediately pictures a legal document with a stamp on it. But this is like that in no way!

A Handoff agreement is a simple yet comprehensive document that stores all the information needed to ensure the Handoff runs smoothly. It also helps you keep the sender and receiver accountable for their tasks by documenting the requirements and expectations 'preemptively'.

Business Process Handoff Agreement

Let's look back at our HR and IT example. A Handoff agreement, in this case, will clearly state the requirements of IT from HR to complete their process. This should include the correct employee details and the level of access required for the employee. Since the HR and IT have both agreed upon the requirements and expectations, they have to run the Handoff as described in the agreement.

The Handoff agreement does not have a one-size-fits-all solution, and you might have to build it from scratch.


Business Process Handoffs are often sidelined as secondary priorities for businesses. But a slight mistake in communicating in the Handoff process can cost your company a fortune. Step up your game with streamlined Business Process Handoffs. To learn more about business process management, read this post.