6 Steps to Process Development
As a startup leader, have you ever thought, “I need to move quickly; I don’t have time for processes!”
I have a dirty little secret for you: you’re already running processes.
“Gasp! No I’m not! I pivot my company every week, we have to stay up to date with rapidly changing technology, and my customers change their minds every day! How could I handle all that with processes? That would just slow me down!”
How do you pivot? At random? Or do you do some combination of collecting data, analyzing data, forecasting future data, then changing your objectives based on the data? Not a process, right? Wrong!
You’re right about one thing. Technology does change quickly. So how do you deal with that? Instantly integrate the latest and greatest? Not likely. Most leaders worth their salt take the time to research the newest tech, discuss current trends with colleagues, and test it in a development environment long before implementation.
How do you address customer feedback? Drop everything each time a new feature is requested or a complaint is made? Or do you document it, prioritize it, estimate it, and determine your next step after fully digesting the input?
I hate to break it to you, but plop some numbers in front of each of those steps, and you have processes.
Here’s the good news: documenting those processes to standardize your company’s workflows will increase efficiency and decrease rework. All you have to do is be open to it.
The Benefits of Process
Processes define the steps of how you run your business. They are one of the most important foundational aspects of your business, too. Here are just a few examples of how they can benefit your business:
Reduction in Errors and Re-work
Even as a team of one, you’re going to miss things and make mistakes. That’s ok, everyone does. But the best organizations are able to reduce their mistakes by adding some process guardrails as they go. Fewer mistakes translates into improved cash flow, increased productivity, and happier employees.
Being an entrepreneur is hard. It can take a lot of sweat equity before seeing real results. But if you don’t take the time to document how you got there, how do you know there’s not a better way to get there the next time? Working through a process can point out inefficiencies that can be eliminated, and save you and your team time and money.
If you’ve ever had to pitch your business to an outside group, you’ve probably heard some form of the question, “But how will it scale?” Well, a part of the answer is “process.” Just because YOU know how to build/market/sell your product or service, doesn’t mean that others will. Even some simple documentation of key processes will allow other people, companies, offices, factories, etc. to help you scale your business.
Where to Start
If you’re wondering where you should start, look to your key business processes:
Sales and Marketing
Hiring and People Management
Almost every organization has some form of each of these. Start with these processes, by following the steps below, and you’ll be well on your way to running a well-oiled machine.
Granted, creating and following processes comes more naturally to some than others. Rest assured, the steps I recommend for developing processes for your company can work in any business sector, on any project. Here’s my six-step process to creating processes.
Step #1: Get Prepared
Before we get too far along, let’s make sure you have a few things handy because every good process needs specific tools to be successful. Here are a few tools I recommend using to help you get your process development off on the right foot:
Pencil and paper
Word processing software (Word or Google Docs)
Before jumping into software, I often start my processes on a piece of paper, or with a stack of Post-it® notes. But a lot of this software is low- or no-cost and will pay you back in spades with the enhanced project planning and collaboration features. Test out a few to see which tools feel suitable for your processes and your business.
Also, make sure you gather any relevant information needed to develop your processes. This could include your organizational chart, employees’ job descriptions, current project scope documentation, and other appropriate materials. The more prepared you are to start this project, the better your outcomes, in this case, the processes, will be.
Step #2: Set Your Scope
This is the true beginning of the process development process. Consider the goals of your organization. Which of those goals need the support of a solid process? Suppose you manufacture and sell grills, for example. In that case, you’d probably want to support the sales, marketing, and manufacturing elements of your business by developing processes to standardize what those departments do and how they do it.
Do you want to create processes for every aspect of these departments’ daily operations, or only have a process for the big picture goal of each department? This will impact how frequently the process will run—the more complicated and involved your process, the more growing pains you’ll have during implementation. Create something too complex, and employees simply won’t buy into the process.
And that brings up a crucial point: the people. They’re the ones who will have to deal with the ramifications of your process development, right? As you’re thinking about where and when you need to add processes, consider the people involved. Who in each of your departments needs to do something to make this process work? How many people will be part of executing the process from start to finish? The fewer the people, the less likely you’ll have errors, but the more the process will be disturbed when unexpected absences and disruptions arise.
As you’re thinking about where and when you need to add processes, consider the people involved.
Evaluating your risk is another crucial part of this step. Are the processes you’re creating do-or-die? Or are you building in some flexibility to prevent major blunders? Either way, what’s at stake if the process is executed incorrectly? The answers to these questions will be different for every leader, and some businesses can assume more risk in their processes than others.
Step #3: Document the High-Level Steps
Once you’ve distilled down to the large elements (who, what, and where), you can begin to think about the steps needed to carry out your process. Map out what needs to happen to achieve each of your goals.
For example, the start of an Operations process might look like:
Receive and QA parts.
Build final product.
Test final product.
Documenting your high-level steps doesn’t have to be a record of the ways things are currently done, either. There’s more than one way to get a product to market, right? Absolutely!
As you consider everything that needs to happen to achieve your high-level goals, do a bit of brainstorming. Write down every possible step in every possible way and play around with the order in which they’re completed (where it makes sense). There’s no right way to do this, and for most business leaders, their first stab at this isn’t their best. But this often results in a far better process than your current status quo. And that’s what this is all about, right? Identifying efficiencies, increasing time to market, and boosting team communication are all natural outcomes of a thoughtful process development process.
If you’re struggling with this step, don’t worry. There are a few ways to overcome step-blockage (yes, I just invented that term). Try recording your thoughts about the steps by speaking out loud. Just ramble on as if you were talking to a coworker about how to improve your processes. You could also read aloud everything you’ve written so far — how inspirational this is may surprise you.
Identifying efficiencies, increasing time to market, and boosting team communication are all natural outcomes of a thoughtful process development process.
You can also use flow diagram blocks like the ones below:
These were created with Creately, one of the resources I mentioned in Step 1.
Step #4: Expand Upon High-Level Steps (As Needed)
You’ll start to notice some of the steps you brainstormed getting swallowed up by more critical steps. That’s good! Organize your steps by taking the large steps from the previous section and adding sub-steps where needed. Please note: not every large step requires smaller steps. Do this only when necessary to avoid making your process too complicated.
As you’re ordering your steps and developing smaller steps, consider the value of each item you’re adding to the process. Ask yourself, “does this add value to my project and my team?” If the answer is no, then you may not need that step.
Augment your process development document with photos, screenshots, and other graphic representations of your process. The more visual you make it, the more likely people will understand and follow it. And that’s important because employee buy-in will make or break this process, no matter how good it is. You need to create something that will make their day-to-day easier, not more challenging.
If you’re still having trouble deciphering your steps, try working backward, beginning with the end result. This tactic produces surprisingly intuitive results.
Step #5: Continue to the Appropriate Level of Detail
As you continue to distill your steps into a bonafide process, try not to get too far into the weeds. These steps need to be helpful and reasonable. If they aren’t, you won’t get buy-in from your employees, and they won’t support the process you’ve worked so hard to develop.
If you aren’t sure if a step is too detail-oriented, go back to step two and think about the questions I asked at the beginning. That should help you figure out if a component is really necessary. If you’re facing the opposite problem and feel your process is too ambiguous, leave it as it is. You’ll quickly see if your process is too broad or too specific when it’s tested.
Step #6: Test and Refine
Once you have a solid draft process created, share it with two kinds of people who can contribute two very different points of view:
A subject matter expert. This could be someone who runs the undocumented process today, or someone who deals with similar processes.
A novice. Someone who is not familiar with the subject matter at all. If you define your process well, even if they don’t understand the details, the basic flow should still make sense to them.
Also, take the time to identify a few measurable metrics before implementing your process. These metrics should be able to tell you whether or not the new approach is working.
Now it’s time to implement. As scary as this may be, it’s the only way to learn whether or not your process will work and produce measurable, worthwhile results. Even Henry Ford, who famously revolutionized automobile manufacturing with his assembly line process, had to hit the start button at some point.
Thoughtfully roll out your process by educating employees before the process begins. They need to know what’s coming and prepare accordingly. Unexpectedly springing a new way of doing business on them is not a recipe for success. Once you feel like they understand the new process and are ready to see it through, it’s time to implement!
Unleash your process and keep a close eye on your metrics. Evaluate your results and get feedback from your employees. Use this information to tweak the process as needed. If you do everything right, you’ll be able to mold the strategy you created around operational realities while improving consistency, communication, and outputs.
We Can Help!
At Greenshaw Consulting, we don’t just talk about processes, we build and use them. Having a third-party involved in your process development can bring helpful insights that you wouldn’t realize on your own. Contact Greenshaw Consulting today for a free consultation about how to take your process, project, or product to the next level.