TLDR. In a company, processes are how you win…or lose. Think of it this way: processes create effects from the moment a new colleague joins the company, to the moment the first contact with a new client has been made.
Processes are how you win…or lose. By allowing you to quantify and keep track of your activity.
Are the people you interact with having a good experience? Are you having a good experience yourself, in the company you work for or in the company you own? Are you making evidence-based decisions?
Well, processes might be responsible for all of that.
Let’s not take anything for granted and let’s start with the definitions.
So, what is a company? Well, a business or a company is a legal entity whose primordial objective is to grow. The process of business development can be viewed as the ideas, processes and activities aimed towards making, creating and maintaining the business.
We know what the ideas and activities usually refer to.
But a process? Well, a process is like a fine tuned algorithm, meaning a finite set of activities that unfold in a sequential manner with the goal of satisfying a business objective. Too pompous? Let’s give it another go: a process is the combination of people, tasks and technology working in sync. Processes are like a narrative: each activity derives from the previous one and sets the stage for the next one. That’s what we call a flow of processes.
Let’s continue with an example: say, when a new client is interested in your services.
Scenario number 1: Using your website, they will find your phone number, then call you, have a long talk by the phone about the solution they need, then a back-and-forth of emails may start, then an offer is made and sent via email, then another session of back-and-forth emails, then calls or online meetings, then discussions about the contract, then agreeing on the shape, size and content of the contract, then another session of emails about the contract. Then finding a way of signing the contract and so on.
Scenario number 2: The client can choose an available timeslot for the discussion. An online meeting takes place. After, by using a template for generating the offer, you will complete it with the customized info and proposal. You send it to the client, then schedule an online meeting for presenting it and responding to his questions. Then, by using a contract template and a digital platform, the contract will reach the client, ready to be signed right then and there.
Now just take some time to notice the differences in the two scenarios: take time to compare the time it took and the experience you offered your client.
So, in a business context, a process is similar to a programming function, as it takes in a set of parameters (the process input) and uses a finite number of steps (process execution steps), returns a result (process output) that is measurable, by using performance standards (KPIs), so that the process can be optimized over time. Pretty straightforward, right?
Why should a company invest in having processes is a more than fair question to ask yourself at this point.
And we might just have the answer: you should invest time in creating processes because they give meaning and direction to your activity; they provide ways of action and consistency; they align teamwork around objectives; they encourage organizational clarity and transparency; processes take out the “I” from the equation and replace it with “We”.
Processes are also an important milestone for scaling a company’s ability to service its customers. Imagine having a company that builds custom houses for customers. When you have one customer, you may still be able to build a house in order to please the customer. But when the number of customers grows to say 10, then the company has to adopt a process for working with customers in an efficient way. And that right there gives the company a scaling advantage.
How do you recognize the need for processes?
In our opinion, there are three aspects that create the need for processes: consistency, complexity and automation.
- You need processes to provide consistency. In an unpredictable world, we are always in the search of consistency: consistent behavior, consistent messages, a consistent flow of activities. By appearing consistent, you provide a sense of safety and professionalism to your own employees and collaborators.
- You need processes for the complex activities of your company. If, for example, you’re adding people to your team at a rapid pace, complexity goes up. If your team isn’t growing, but your product is becoming bigger and you’re adding a lot of new features, complexity goes up too. So processes can intervene and break the epic stuff that needs to be done into smaller, fluid steps.
- By excellence, repetitive activities make room for automation. Enters, a process. By having a process about a recurrent activity creates space for creativity and for transferring knowhow from one another.
Overall, we start to notice that processes allow us to focus on building a self sustainable company. Which is a strong point, right? The business should become less reliant on the co-founders in order for it to blossom into a higher level organization. If the owners decide to skip work and watch Animal Planet for a week, the business should survive just fine because everyone knows what to do thanks to processes.
Of course, approaching the pros and cons of investing in processes is mandatory at this point:
- Process is how you ensure quality. Process is how you make sure you aren’t killing your staff to get there. Process is documenting how you won last time so you can do it again. Process is documenting how you lost last time so you can fix the flaws they found. Process is ensuring that winning is replicable, scale-able, and sustainable.
- Process is how you eliminate errors. Without detailed steps, tasks may be confused or overlooked resulting in an inefficient process. If they don’t understand the purpose of a particular process, team members may be unclear about deliverables or priority.
- Process is how you save time. A process document can detail the needed information that would otherwise require a meeting. Ineffective meetings waste time and can even increase confusion in some cases.
- Processes might make it seem like nothing is stable – since you can constantly adjust your activity and improve your processes; but the instability feeling is just an illusion.
- It’s easy to fall into the trap of creating so many processes that people get lost, or feel paralyzed. You can automate a lot of your repeatable daily (weekly, monthly, yearly) tasks, but they need to be complex enough, repetitive and important enough for the wellbeing of the company.
- In case processes might seem too rigid to you, change your perspective. When your culture is based on continuous improvement and feedback, then your team becomes the very mechanism that will prevent processes from becoming too rigid.
Now, with all this said and done, we are offering a helping hand in how you can introduce processes into your organization. So:
- Start by classifying existent work units into distinct departments
- Assess what exactly must be done for each task in each department
- Extract process definition documents for each task with detailed steps on:
Description: Why is the process relevant?
Process input: What prerequisites does the process have?
Process Execution: How is the process implemented?
Process Output: What comes out after executing the process?
KPIs: How can we measure the performance of a process?
- Delegate process execution to new hires in order to scale
In a well-oiled organization, every team member should be dealing with processes on a daily basis. You follow them, you contribute at perfecting them. Anytime you say “this is how we do things on our team”, you are already talking about a process.
Sure, processes might take some time in creating them, by needing strategic planning, but we are convinced: processes are how you win.