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The Importance of Process in Your Business

Monte Wyatt & Brad Sugars, Feb 13, 2020

Without documented processes in place, a business relies entirely on the skills of its workers who produce the best work.

If your workers have different degrees of ability, your company delivers different qualities quality of product. This does not lead to longevity. The loss of your most skilled workers will lead to the loss of whatever customers your company has managed to satisfy.

Instead of relying on workers alone, businesses need to rely on skilled workers who maximize outcomes by following proven processes.

A process is a sequence of interdependent, linked procedures which, at every stage, consume one or more resources (employee time, energy, machines, money) to convert inputs (data, material, parts, etc.) into outputs. These outputs then serve as inputs for the next stage until a known goal or result is reached.

The upshot is this: you can solve every problem with a process.

Many companies believe they have processes in place because they work through a series of steps through force of mental habit. That is, this happens, then this happens, then we get those results.

But this is a schedule, not a process. A process has clear document steps. A process has clear expectations of what the results of each step should look like so everyone knows when it’s time to move on to the next step, and what the entire process looks like when it’s complete.

According to Atul Gawande, surgeon and author, failure in the modern world results from errors of ineptitude rather than errors of ignorance. That is, failure results from mistakes we make because we don’t make proper use of what we know rather than mistakes we make because we don’t know enough.

In Gawande's powerful and thought-provoking book The Checklist Manifesto, he shows how the routine tasks of surgeons have now become so incredibly complicated that it’s just too easy for an otherwise competent doctor to miss a step, or forget to ask a key question or, in the stress and pressure of the moment, to fail to plan properly for every eventuality, making mistakes all but inevitable.

Gawande researched other professions where errors have grave consequences, and came up with a solution: experts need actual checklists. They need written guides that walk them through the key steps in any complex procedure. His safe-surgery checklist is now in place around the world and has achieved staggering success.

If even highly trained surgeons need checklists to make certain they’ve remembered to wash their hands, think about what happens when a company brings someone new into its process. For as long as it takes for a new hire to develop correct habits, the new employee's work product will be different from everyone else's. How does the company ensure that those newly learned habits are the correct ones and that they're the same as everyone else’s?

Here are the nuts and bolts of creating a checklist:

  • Identify dumb mistakes. Understanding your company's or your team's significant causes of failure is the first step in creating a helpful checklist.
  • Seek additional input. Ask people in your organization who do similar work for their ideas on the common causes of failure or what they would suggest checking.
  • Create simple steps. Be clear and specific about what someone should do in the scenario you're creating a checklist for.
  • Test the checklist. The first few times you use your checklist, see where it's working, what you've forgotten or what should be reworked.
  • Refine the checklist. Continuous improvement is essential in getting the best use out of a checklist.

Realistically speaking, if the company hasn't documented its process, everybody's work product is different. No matter how routine the task, different people will do different things on different days if it’s not written down, if they don't have definitive checkpoints to ensure that they conform to the proper process.

If the process isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist.

In any given business there are likely between six and twelve primary processes. Typical financial processes take care of payroll, accounts receivable and accounts payable. There should be processes for sales, marketing, fulfillment, talent management, and manufacturing. Each step of each process requires a responsible person who ensures the procedure is followed, is on schedule, and is completed to the correct standard.

In your company, do these vital processes have a documented flow-chart or checklist that ensures consistency and responsibility or do they depend on the habits of the employees who carry them out?

Your company may have its ways of doing things that developed on the spur of the moment in the early days when routines grew out of necessity. That may have worked then, but it’s time to look for better ways.

To recap, businesses need to rely on skilled workers who maximize outcomes by following proven processes. Create a checklist to ensure that your processes are clear to everyone .

We'd love to hear from you. What processes does your company follow? Thank you for sharing.