When you start up a completely new business there’s no business process – as such. There’s only what you decide to do at the time.
Which is fine – to start with, anyway. After all, you need to work out the best way to do all the tasks your business needs.
Some things you’ll have done before, perhaps in another business or in a previous job. In which case you’ll either decide to do those things in the way you’re used to, or to do something completely different. (Perhaps because the way you used to do it never actually worked?)
Even so, at some point you’re going to settle on a specific approach that you’re happy with. That doesn’t mean you won’t review it every so often – after all, what works for a small business may not work for the larger one it will later become. But it’s reasonable to say that there’s now a process in place.
So why would you need to write that process down?
What’s the point? You know what you’re doing, after all!
And that, of course, is precisely the point. You know exactly what you’re doing – but no one else will know unless you tell them. And if it’s not written down, they are far less likely to remember exactly what you said than you are. You’re doing that work all the time, after all. They’re doing it only when you can’t. If you’re off sick, or away on holiday, or at the dentist, there’s a fair chance that some poor soul in your team will try to remember what you told them. And get it horribly wrong.
So what’s the answer?
Unfortunately, the answer is very simple. Take the time. Write it down. Yes, it’s tedious (for you) and there are probably dozens of other things you’d rather be doing, and dozens more clamouring for your attention. But if you don’t, you’ll waste even more time clearing up the mess your team will make of a job you see as simple.
Don’t have a team? Do it anyway. Because one day you’ll be tired, or distracted, and you’ll forget one critical step in the process. And then you’ll spend the rest of the day, or the week, or the month, cursing yourself as you clear up your own mess!
So one final question. How long will it take?
Read some answers in Documenting your process (or – how long does it take?)
Checklists don’t always get a good press. ‘Just ticking the boxes’ is one of those phrases which suggests someone is doing the barest minimum – that they don’t actually care about their work. In which case what’s so great about them?
Imagine you’re on the way to the airport and looking forward to a two-week holiday. An hour after you leave home, your partner asks if you remembered to turn off the cooker.
Well? Did you?
Wouldn’t it be great if you had a checklist of everything you needed for the trip? And everything you needed to do before you left? And used it? Properly?
You’d avoid that moment of pure panic twenty minutes from the airport. You’d avoid one or more heated arguments with your partner. In fact, you’d be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
Provided, of course, that you’d given careful thought to your checklist in the first place…!
Checklists as a life-saver
Well, they can be. Research published in 2013 showed that surgeons who used a checklist in an emergency situation were 74% less likely to miss a key step in life-saving care than those working from memory alone. And airline pilots use checklists all the time – but most especially in emergencies.
Both professions are highly regarded. They demand long and intensive training. They enforce the highest possible standards. Yet both can benefit from a simple, memory-jogging checklist at a moment of crisis.
An established business process answers the question ‘by what method?’ It deals with the ‘how’, if you like. Checklists are the next step: a way of documenting the ‘how’ so it can be done the same way next time.
Which can be useful if you’re entirely new to the process…
Put yourself, just for a moment, in the shoes of a new recruit. Your new boss welcomes you with genuine warmth. After a few minutes of polite conversation she shows you to your desk. At which point she says: ‘Well, there it is. I’ll leave you to get on with it.’ Get on with what, exactly? How? Where? And in what order?
Checklists could be… well, rather useful?
And so, when you think about it, could be the process of producing checklists. If there’s a task you do on a regular basis, have you ever thought about how you do it? What steps are involved? What errors you now know how to avoid? And whether there might be other, or even better ways of doing it? Writing a checklist helps you focus on these issues and may even raise concerns (and ideas) that have never occurred to you before.
Because checklists can be changed!
So if you’ve never loved checklists before, now could be the time to start.
But what makes a good checklist? And what’s the best process for creating one? More in our next!
At its simplest, a business process answers the question ‘How? By what method?’
Almost everything we do demands a process of some kind. So imagine – for example – that you’re a competitor in the Great British Bakeoff and you’re asked to make a sponge cake. You’ll need to decide how, exactly, you’re going to make it (assuming that Mr Hollywood and Ms Berry haven’t already given you the recipe…)
Or – if this is more your scene – imagine you’ve been given a kit car to assemble. Even if you choose to ignore the instruction book, you’ll still need to think about what to do, and in what order.
But assuming you did have a recipe, would that stifle your creativity? Would it mean you couldn’t make a sponge cake? Or build a kit car with your own long-desired modifications?
It wouldn’t, of course. And yet many people see business process as a constricting shell, stifling growth and creativity. Which could be why we’re so often asked to ‘think outside the box’.
But is business process a ‘box’? Does it really constrain you to that extent? Is it like a beetle’s carapace – an exoskeleton that holds you in? Or is it more like your own skeleton – the supporting framework at your very core? A framework that provides the anchor points you need for your creative muscles, and gives them total freedom to grow and develop?
How creative do you want to be?
Creativity is a wonderful thing. After all, it has produced the world’s greatest works of art (not to mention most of the everyday tools, gadgets and devices that make life possible, tolerable, and even enjoyable).
But it can be overrated. Leonardo da Vinci was so creative with the painting methods for his Last Supper that his work began to deteriorate almost before he’d finished it. By contrast, Sophie Caroline Hill’s highly imaginative use of the third dimension – so that her pictures spill out into the room – suggests a new definition of working ‘outside the box’!
Let’s take a more down to earth example. You could be very creative next time you take the car out. Or perhaps you could drive on the wrong side of the road. How about taking a short cut through someone’s garden? Or choosing to ignore traffic lights for the day? Yes, you could do all these things. But the results would probably not be encouraging (and might well be fatal). It’s unwise to get that creative with anything related to safety.
And how creative would you want an employee to be with their time sheets? Or with accounting for your company’s money?
The truth is that even the most creative process can thrive on constraint. A short story is just that – short: so there’s a constraint on its length. And every invention is constrained by the laws of physics. (Unless, of course, you’re operating in the Star Wars universe or your name is James Tiberius Kirk…)
A good business process won’t constrain your people – it will simply provide a supporting structure they can build on safely, and with confidence. After that, what they can build will be constrained only by their own ability and imagination.