At the beginning of a new year our thoughts tend to turn toward making improvements in our business which will increase its size and revenue. Often when a business grows rapidly, information about tasks and processes are held entirely in someone’s head. If they leave the company this can leave a knowledge gap that can be difficult to fill. New staff come in and are not sure what the business processes and procedures are and this can lead to problems with motivation, accuracy and speed of learning. Even if your staffing is relatively stable, people get sick or go on holiday, leaving someone to temporarily carry out their tasks.
As a business grows, written business processes to govern how tasks are carried out, by whom and within what timescale will become increasingly necessary to ensure a consistent quality outcome. Written processes also give a benchmark against which performance can be measured and a hand over plan when staff move on or change roles.
The first step when documenting a process or task is to break the process down into steps. Identify who is responsible for each step in the process, what the outcome looks like at each stage and what order tasks should be completed in order to arrive at a consistently high quality outcome using the minimum effort and resources necessary. Look at the stages of the process and identify any areas where tasks are handed between people. Ensure that these areas are particularly clearly documented and state who is responsible for each area of the outcome. Add any milestones or targets required for timely completion.
List everything that you think could go wrong. If appropriate, ask another person if they can see any areas where a failure might occur.
Write it all down but then put it away for a day or two. When you go back to read it again, try to follow the steps. Would you add new steps? Do you understand what you wrote? Could you express the task more clearly? Would a diagram, screen shot or better explanation help? What would you clarify?
Ask someone you trust to follow the process as you have written it. Can they follow it easily? Do they understand it clearly or do you explain some elements more clearly? How do they think it could be improved to make the outcome happen faster or more efficiently? What input can they give which will help the overall process to move smoothly?
Provide links to all supporting information. This might be a “How To” guide for a task that forms part of the whole, a manual that governs company process, legislative rules, or a related instruction that is already in place.
Include the locations of any files or forms that must be used. If your documentation changes infrequently, example forms are fine to include. However, if you can store the form on-line and publish a link in your process document this will make your documentation more future proof. If the form is updated, your manual will remain applicable.
Contact details for all the teams involved in the process are also critical. Using a link to the company contact list is helpful here. Again, it future proofs your documents, reducing the number of amendments required.
If you must use jargon or acronyms, please explain it in a footnote. It is particularly important to avoid these in induction manuals since your new team member will think they’ve landed in outer space without knowing the language.
Before a process is released into the world it should ideally be tested to identify any missing steps or incorrect information. If you can, ask a representative of all the teams involved to look at the process to make sure it will work at every step in the process.
All business processes are live documents and should be subject to regular review, particularly when there have been major changes in the organisational structure.
An outsider can often view business processes more clearly than those who are within the organisation. They come in with a fresh eye and new questions that you might not have thought of. It can be a challenge to “see the wood for the trees” when you are so close to the action. A new perspective can also help clarify priorities for change where there seem to be a lot of issues to resolve at once. If this is an area you are struggling with, then do get in touch. I have experience in setting up and improving processes and would be glad to help.