A number of years ago a new client responded to my question “can I see last year’s financials?” by handing me the check register for his business checking account. Ignoring some other issues (many?), this is indicative, to me, of a problem that many individuals have when they start their business – they don’t put processes in place to ensure that what needs to be done is a) being done, and b) being done in a standard and repeatable manner.
So when should you develop and implement processes for your business?
As early as possible. But when is that? As soon as you identify that you have a task that you would like to be able to do in the same way on a repeatable basis.
Now some of you may be saying “but, it’s only me right now; I can remember what I need to do”. To a certain extent that may be true, but if you a) find yourself asking “how did I do this last time”, or b) intend, in the future, to have someone else handle the process, then you should be defining and implementing a repeatable process. It is an investment in the productivity and quality of your business.
The need to bring others into the business operations can often be the first time a business owner thinks about defined processes – unfortunately, for many, even this milestone is not enough to make process development a necessary task.
An often expressed reason is that the business owner doesn’t have time to develop and implement the processes. To which the response is that they don’t have the time not to. What do I mean by that? Let me give you two examples to illustrate the point.
In the first, the business owner (and maybe some staff members) stop and say “how did we do this last time?”, or “how should we do this?”, or some similar set of questions and brain activity about how things should get done; instead of just being able to get on with it and do it the same way as last time.
In the second example, the solo business owner is so busy that they’ve recognized the need to “get some help”. In our scenario, they have identified that they will like to bring someone in to help with their “pick, pack, ship” activities in relation to customer orders. Of course, they don’t have time to train anybody how to do it and they don’t want to leave someone to their own devices in case it gets done wrong. If the business owner had written down the process at an earlier, less hectic time, they would now have a guide for the new employee’s activities that the employee could refer back to after some initial training, and also something that they could measure the employee’s activities against.
In both of these examples, the business owner would be able to save time and increase productivity, which translates into lower expenses, and also maintain or improve the quality of what is being done, which translates into customer satisfaction.
Another reason trotted out for not developing defined processes is that the business needs to be able to react to different situations which can not be covered by a process. My usual response here falls back on my “Disciplined, but Flexible” mantra – i.e., having the discipline defined in a process allows you to be flexible, with an appropriate response, to an unusual situation, because you know how it differs and can see what needs to be done differently. Even if the flexibility is defined in the process as (something like) “if the situation doesn’t meet these criteria, seek guidance from person a”. Without the underlying discipline embedded in the process, you will have flexibility but also chaos.
So, where in your business could you improve your productivity and quality by defining (or improving) your processes?