Systems and processes are not sexy, and for most people (well, not us) they’re very boring! But they are a crucial tool that help your business stay on top of things. While they do take time to set up, once they’re implemented it will actually save you time (and hence money) in your business. So how do you know when it’s time to nut out your systems and processes?
- If there is recurring confusion about ‘how things should be done’ in your business.
- If the same mistakes are coming up time and time again
- If there’s a lack of task ownership, leading to further confusion, delay and potential conflict
- If many tasks stall at the same bottlenecks
…it’s time to create and implement some new systems and processes in your business.
But what are systems and processes? How do you identify where you need them? And what’s the best way to create and implement them? Read on to find out.
What are systems and processes?
So, what’s the difference between a system and a process?
A system is the overall area of work, e.g. onboarding a new client. A process is all the little things that need to happen to make a system work. For example, when onboarding a new client you might need to:
- Set up a new client folder
- Create a contract
- Organise a new user profile in your software
- Provide details of accounts to the client
- And more!
You can also have processes within processes. For example, creating a contract is a part of client onboarding, but it may have its own process – e.g. updating your template contract with relevant details, sending it to the client, saving a signed copy in their folder etc.
So which is more important – systems or processes? In our experience, it’s your processes which need to hit the spot, to ensure your systems tick over efficiently, effectively and accurately. That said, the first step in creating good systems and processes is identifying where systems are needed.
How do I identify areas that need systems?
This may sound obvious, but it is optimal to have systems for each area of your business. Of course, this is overwhelming and can be a huge task if you are just at the beginning of systemising your business. A good place to start is by mapping out your customer journey. Your customer is (or should be) at the heart of everything you do, so by mapping their journey, you should identify everything that needs to happen to get them from a random member of the public to happy, paying customers. A simple customer journey may look something like this:
- The customer begins talking to you by either reaching out or responding to a direct lead message you’ve sent them
- The customer is ‘sold’ on your services and agrees to work with you
- Customer is onboarded
- Services are provided to customer
- Customer is billed at completion of the job OR on an ongoing basis
- Customer is approached to resell the services after the contract OR ongoing communication occurs between you and the customer regarding the provision of services
Once you can see the mind map of your business, there are then 2 ways to approach which processes to start with:
- Those which would provide the highest value return from both the customer perspective and internally in your business, but may be complex to devise, document and implement, for example the way services are provided to clients OR
- Those which are ‘low hanging fruit’ – the information is readily available, and the process is an easy, quick fix. These tend to be systems such as onboarding clients, finances or HR.
We recommend starting with option 2, and gain the confidence to ‘process mine’ on easier systems. Once you’re in the swing of it you’ll find other high value opportunities that you can tackle when you are ready to step it up a gear.
How do I create the process?
Having scanned your business for all the ‘things’ that need to happen, you are likely to find that you are already ‘doing’ some systems and processes. But, they are probably messy, confused, and conflicting. There are also sure to be whole areas of the business that are unaccounted for i.e. where you’re ‘winging it’. Either way you need structure.
To create a structured process:
- List out everything that needs to happen. You should already have an idea from your customer journey mapping, but it’s time to get granular
- Work out the order of steps – what are your priorities in this process, and what steps are dependent on others being finished?
- Identify who in the business is responsible for which step
- Make note of the non-people resources required – tools, printed materials, software etc – and capture the links or files
- Plan the communication around each step that is required – make sure your team knows what they need to do, when (hint – checklists are great for this!)
This process will also help you identify disconnects, common mistakes, and confusions, so you can build out the process for maximum success.
What’s the best way to document processes?
For many business owners, their ‘Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)’ are all in their head. However, it is vital to ensure your processes are effectively documented. Yes, this process is front ended, but it pays dividends down the tack. A good SOP will combat all the ‘whys’ listed at the beginning of this article by providing instructions that will reduce mistakes, reduce the time taken, and reduce confusion. Not only do they make your team responsible, but it really sets them up for success.
Most people think of a SOP document as a boring, lengthy word doc. Sometimes they might be – but there is more than one way to skin a cat! Have you considered:
- Google Sites – Wildly underutilised, this App is part of your Google Suite, and can be made into a mini intranet with processes, links to your files, embedded videos, and spreadsheets. It’s drag and drop and super intuitive – both from the builder and user’s perspective.
- A video repository – use tools like Loom to visually capture processes in action. This can then be translated to other formats, such as adding links to your google site or project management software, or you could simply have a bank of key process videos.
- Project management software – our favourites such as Asana, ClickUp, and Trello, have fantastic template tools. Within a template you can include all the steps of a process, links to videos, and links to relevant documents. Each time you do the process, it is all there ready to follow – simply copy the template to a new task and follow the checklist.
- Wavebox – an inexpensive, highly powerful internet browser tool that assists you run your business with optimal efficiencies. A feature we love is the ability to create a ‘Collection’ of apps/links that can be opened (and logged into) with the click of one button, ready to complete all the steps of a process.
- A mind map tool, such as Miro or Mural – these are great for the planning stage of any process as you can move things around super easily by simply dragging and dropping. They’re also helpful for overall process documentation, especially when there are lots of dependencies or different paths a process can go down – visual tends to be better for this!
- And, if a word doc is the way forward, make sure you liven it up with video/links.
However you do it, there is one thing all documentation tools should have in common: detailed, relevant, succinct information. Keep in mind different people learn in different ways – the ultimate SOP will include both written instructions and video, as well as common use examples to provide context.
Where to from here?
Yay, you have set up some processes and started on your systemisation journey! What’s next? We recommend the following three steps:
- Automation – in structuring processes, you will likely identify tasks that are repetitive, manage high volumes of data, or incur frequent mistakes from human error. Enter our beloved friend – automation! We will go into automation opportunities and set up in a later blog, but ultimately it will save you time, money, and make your business more profitable, with less effort.
- Stakeholder feedback – once you have identified your automation opportunities, you will be left with ‘human touch’ or manual requirements. This is the time to get feedback. Share your systems, processes, and automations with your team and make sure you haven’t missed anything. Also ask ‘does it make sense?’ and ‘is it clear’.
- Brief – A process is useless if no one knows what they are responsible for. Make sure everyone knows who is doing what in the process. As listed above, this is where a project management tool can be invaluable. Translate your processes into relevant software, and allocate tasks (steps in the process) to each person. If you use Template functionality, you can simply copy the template each time the process needs to happen and seamlessly track how it is progressing.
Finally…if all this still seems too much, you know what I am going to say – outsource. We love processes, we love automation and we love documentation. So we can do all the above for you! Yay! Contact us to make it happen – email@example.com.