One of the most important things in your entire business are your working processes. And yet the majority of businesses we work with don’t seem to have them. They do of course; every single thing you do from the moment you get up in the morning is a process and whether or not you have something structured, you’re still following processes. But from the multi-hundred employee companies, to the small team businesses or entrepreneurs, a succinct set of steps that make sense – logical, effective processes – seem to be missing. This is often met with vigorous head nodding acknowledgement and a desire to have structure in place.
Your processes allow you to understand what’s currently happening, increase consistency & quality in your work, easily hand over responsibilities to staff, lower your new employee intangible training costs, align operations (that is, your day to day work) with your overall strategies, create better working cultures, outline where you can automate & use systems to improve those same processes, better deal with exceptions-to-the-rule, allow for easy visual communication of ideas & experiences, and quickly change & adapt when you need to to leverage, take an opportunity or address a new problem.
Processes can initially feel incredibly overwhelming but if you work through them in small steps you can quickly tackle one area at a time and then continue to refine.
So where do you start? Let’s walk through the areas of your business outside your client work (i.e B2B or B2C service projects) or customers (i.e users buying a product). We’ll tackle those lifecycles in a seperate post.
- Write down the different “departments” in your business that you run tasks in. These might include accounting & finances, administration, procurement, human resources, client inquiries etc. Keep these on a document, whiteboard or piece of paper somewhere.
- As you go about your day-to-day work, write down the processes you undertake in each of the departments. For example, that might be invoicing a client, reconciling accounts, starting a new team member, approving a course affiliate, providing services information, sending information on a speaking engagement, answering helpdesk or other customer queries, setting up meetings etc.
- Bonus points if you time your tasks with each of these items. Download Harvest or Toggl or Rescue Time and easily record your timekeeping against each activity
- At the end of the month you should now start to be forming a fairly accurate task listing of the work you do. Take one of the departments you’d like to focus on first and sketch out the different tasks you run through in a visual flow (you may find there are distinct processes within the department). Note down the approximate time each full process takes.
- Walk through where you (or the team) can do things better. What is the outcome of this process? Where are the friction points and bottle necks? Does the time of the task feel appropriate to the benefit of it? How often are you doing this? Can you automate something, move it to a system so it reduces your time, create a guide or website page to point to etc?
- Now do a quick cost-benefit analysis. I know we are all exceptionally busy – where’s the biggest benefit right now? Let’s just fix that one area by picking it, figuring out the solution and implementing it. Make sure it works for your customers, your staff, your company and then have a mini celebration.
- Once you’ve structured it, record that process formally. Either in a graphic in your well-foldered-and-labelled information system (i.e Dropbox), in your company wiki (i.e using SlimWiki), on your Intranet (i.e Igloo), in a process documentation solution (i.e Pipefy) or something that works well for you. Now you can refer back to it when you need to, easily explain it to somebody else, hand it over to somebody to work from, and go back and tweak it whenever you need to. This is a part of your business where you’re creating the best experience (internally or externally or both) as much as you can right now.
How do I decide on the system where I need one?
That’s a question I’ll attempt to cover in another post but for now I’ll assume you either know some good solutions, or can do some research, ask around and trial some solutions that best fit you, the functionalities and the requirements you have.
When we work on processes with clients, I like to create two visual graphics. One that is system/tech agnostic (i.e the task flow of the process only) and one that incorporates the systems/tech we are using as solutions in the appropriate steps (i.e the EDM provider, the project management system, the accounting solution, the API, document template etc). This allows us to also see at a glance in the future what that part of the technology is doing so if it’s causing problems or there is a more effective opportunity it can be replaced with a lot less confusion and/or disruption.
Here are a couple of small examples of process flows as the visuals can be more helpful in explaining the documentation process (there are many ways of visualizing processes – these are a small cross section of about 8 major ways we do it depending on the process, function and hierarchy)…