How to systematize your business

Systems & Operations

If you want to scale your business, no matter its size, one of the most important things you can do is to systematize it.

I don’t mean you need to create rigid, massively automated processes for every activity; but to build structure and clarity around processes, expectations, and results.

If you don’t systematize, eventually your business will run into massive bottlenecks or fires which will stop your growth dead and distract you from what’s important.

As a recovering management consultant, focused on process improvement and systems, I’ve seen countless companies who were maxed out due to poor systems and processes.

One heavy manufacturer we worked with was a prime example of the importance of systemizating.

They were the top company in their niche, making machines for some of the most prestigious clients. Unfortunately, their sales capability was far greater than their ability to manufacture the machines. Delivery times started to lag, eventually hitting more than a year.

The team started rushing … a bit too much … quality started to suffer. Customers, tired of waiting, started cancelling future orders. The company’s reputation was damaged and some customers left them – permanently.

How do you stop this from happening to you and gain the benefits of systemization?  Let’s dive in.

Why systematize?

If you want to grow your business and not have it centered completely around you, systematizing is key.

Systematizing your processes, manually or automated, is the first step to scaling the process. This applies to businesses of all sizes, from solopreneurs to massive multi-nationals.

Your plan is to double sales? Make sure all the elements of the system are able to handle the anticipated load without a big increase in costs. Hire an assistant? If the process is clear and documented, they can take it off your plate.

Other benefits of systemization include:

Process clarity

By visually mapping out your processes, you quickly develop clarity around the process. This visibility makes it easy to have others take responsibility for the process, for troubleshooting and process improvement.

Higher productivity

When processes are clear, it’s easy to find ways to make them more efficient.

Predictability

A set process has clear expectations. When the process is being followed, the output and experience becomes predictable. You can trust things will be executed the right way.

Cost reduction

Efficient processes cost less than inefficient methods. You can apply the right (and often less expensive) resources to the job and reduce waste along the way.

Improved communication and visibility

Structured processes increase visibility and accountability while reducing the potential for miscommunications and assumptions.

Reducing bottlenecks and issues

When your processes and systems have clarity,  you can easily diagnose issues and bottlenecks within the system.

Freedom

I can’t emphasize this one enough. Creating scalable processes creates freedom – for you and your team.

Scalable processes are predictable. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you do the process. Others can take them over and become accountable for them, or you can outsource them or automate them completely.

Along with getting the right people in the right seats, it is one of the keys to creating freedom in your business.

The basics of process mapping

We could do a deep dive into Lean, Six Sigma, swim lanes and process mapping, but I have a simpler way to meet your needs.

Do you have sticky-notes and a felt pen? Then you have all you need.

  • A box is a step in the process
  • A diamond (sticky turned 45 degrees) is a decision

On each sticky-note, write the name of the step, who is accountable for it, outputs and any related KPIs (don’t worry if you don’t have any). Draw an arrow to the next step.

At the high level, it’s that simple. When you do detailed processes, there may be more to add, but this gets you a LONG way.

Start at the highest level

Let’s take a 50,000-foot view of your business and answer the question – how do you make money?

For most companies, the answer is 5-10 steps, such as:

 

When you add a who is accountable, outputs and some metrics, it ends up looking like:

 

Every organization has additional supporting processes, such as the overall financial processes, IT, HR and others as well.

Dive in

Once you have a high-level map, it’s easy to start diving into different areas and creating more detailed process maps. These operational process maps are great for documenting the processes throughout the organization.

SOPs and process documentation

Writing process documentation is very helpful, but with a big caveat. Many people have the tendency is to write a tome for each process.

Those tomes are great for gathering dust.

If you don’t need a new dust cover, I recommend keeping your process documentation short and sweet. I use bullet points wherever possible.

I was on an ERP project once that generated more than 1,000 pages of step-by-step process documentation. It was … impressive.

A year later no one had ever read the documentation. They were having challenges with new staff learning the system. We had the experts guide the new staff in creating a 1-page process map and cheat sheet for each process. Those are still in use today.

Moral of the story – create simple, minimalistic documentation for the processes. Just enough to get people through it.

Do a process health check

One of the most powerful things you can do once you have started to systematize your business is a process health check.

For each step in the process, ask the people who do the steps and those dependent on it, for its health. Is it green (working well), yellow (some issues) or red (broken).

Any steps that are red should be fixed or redesigned quickly as they are causing problems in your process and your business.

Build process improvement into your DNA

Doing a major processes health check quarterly or semi-annually will start building process improvement right into your corporate culture.

Our clients review their top-level process maps semi-annually, in our quarterly planning session. We review the process health since the last check and how we expect it to preform based on our targets for the future. That way any needed changes can be built into the quarterly plan.

It’s recommended that the leadership team review the processes for their team(s) on the same schedule.

Back to our story

The company realized their processes, or completely lack thereof (we call them “organic processes”, think spaghetti), were a massive bottleneck and standing in the way of their growth.

The leadership team dove into process definition with gusto. Within the first hours of process design and health checks, they found major issues they could quickly resolve.

Six months into their re-engineering, their lead time dropped by almost 50%. Their team was far more productive, thanks to the process clarity and improved communications.

It was the leadership team which saw the biggest change.  Leaders had clear accountability for their areas and were proactively improving systems. There were fewer emergencies with less energy (and stress) spent putting out fires.

Take action

Start your journey to systematizing your business:

  1. Map out the steps to make money (50,000-foot view), with those who are accountable and any metrics
  2. Do a process health check on each step
  3. Dive into the less-than-ideal steps
    1. Map them out
    2. Identify issues, brainstorm, solve the issues
  4. Create simple process documentation

Mike Knapp

STRATEGIC PLANNING & EXECUTION

Mike has been helping businesses achieve their goals for more than 20 years. He believes there is a better way for business owners and leaders to build their businesses and achieve their big goals. As a Gravitas Impact Premium coach, he leverages the 7 Attributes of Agile Growth™ to simplify the art of strategy and discipline of execution.

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