Documenting your processes isn't enough

There’s no use in documenting processes where nobody will see them. It’s always best if they are adaptable and can drive change.

Process has to be adaptable and easy to manipulate because you want to remain innovative!

When you get to a certain point in your business where you want to scale what you do, you get drawn into the day to day operations. Typically, this means filling in the gaps where specific steps are not being followed to the letter or are just missed entirely. However, introducing new ways to do things frequently follows the same path: You try something for a few months, but because it’s not essential to how your business operates, you forget about it. Six months later, you realise things you thought would happen have not happened - and nobody knows exactly why.

This is the point at which many companies decide to document their processes. You capture the steps; you write them down. You hope that, if someone leaves the company, you will be able to look at these files and continue working efficiently. However, this rarely happens. Just because something is written down or stored on paper or digitally doesn’t mean it’s easier to access or implement. On the contrary, very few people actually look at documented processes, or when they do, they often find they have become out of date.

This type of process documentation can come in handy for training exercises, but very few people read the outside of them. Even worse, when they need to be updated (for example, when you review them once a year), you realise people have been doing things in a completely different way - which makes the whole process seem farcical.

Two Types of Process Documentation

There are two common ways of embedding processes into your businesses. They represent a sort of spectrum, with many common activities usually sitting somewhere in between. The two ends of this spectrum are documenting a process for training and documenting it for business systems.

For Training

We often train new employees on how to do certain basic things. For example, if someone needs to open an office in the morning, we tell them they need to follow a number of steps such as unlocking the doors, turning off the alarm, checking for voicemails, etc.

This type of checklist is not something you would typically document. Instead, it’s something you train by passing the information from person to person. However, as passive as this mechanism might seem, processes like this work because they are simple to execute and easy to remember. You don’t need to specify every single little step; you usually let people fill in the gaps, and they do so successfully. The problem is that they also use their own paradigms when they learn the steps, which eventually leads to process deterioration.

Another issue with training is that it’s challenging to change the way something works (for example, if someone wants to add or delete a step or alter a flow). This is because the steps are already in our brains, and we are not computers; we tend to stick to our current ways, so it becomes almost impossible to implement change effectively. Documenting your training will help with a percentage of your business processes - but not all.

For Business Systems

Companies also typically use processes for their core systems. For example, if you work in accounting, you will have audit and compliance software. If you are a manufacturing company, you will probably have specific software to produce your products and design processes around them. And if you are a software company, you might use Jira to manage your development processes.

This end of the spectrum tends to work really well because these processes are standard across lots of companies - so people have come up with software that goes into great detail to ensure things run consistently. Those same software programs also tend to be highly functional and automate certain aspects of how things work, making things very efficient.

The In-Between Processes

People have trouble keeping processes in place for those activities that fall in the middle of these two systems (training and business systems).

This challenge is in the myriad of things that make your business work. For example, the many HR-specific processes you probably have in place. Or how you onboard employees or customers. These things are the glue that keeps your business together, and also where most businesses struggle. It’s likely your company uses some specific software, for example for audit and compliance. But what about the whole process of how to handle a client? Or how to scope a project you’re going to work on; for example, if you’re an architect.

Those are the things that often get missed and where pain begins. That’s where you get tempted to document processes (and eventually forget about them).

The Solution to Documenting Processes

One way to document your processes more effectively is to always make sure you are allowing them to be flexible enough so they can adapt and change quickly without becoming a burden on people.

Nobody wants to have to log onto systems just to tick boxes. Any process (and any documentation related to it) should be easy to use and provide all the resources that people need to do their job. It has to be adaptable and easy to manipulate because you want to remain innovative, too. The best way to do this is to have your processes embedded into your business culture to drive change. You can do this in two ways:

  • Documenting with spreadsheets: You can use spreadsheets to put your processes into lists of things to do, and you get people to mark them when they are done;

  • Documenting with task management software: Or you can use task management software to handle any task, including personal lists.

So how do you embed processes into your business culture? One thing you can do is prepare them in the background and share them to people as a task on their to-do list when they need to address them. When you do this, you will have documented your processes, but because they are embedded as a working tool, they will be effective, and they can become self-changing. Additionally, the people using the software that contains the processes can also provide feedback to make improvements (in many cases, using change requests that are part of the system) and evolve the process with the business as needs change.

When you embed your processes in this way, you ensure they are adaptable and flexible enough to support positive change. And when you start to harness the power of effective processes, you can change your business culture from one where you have static steps that are ignored and worked around to more dynamic processes managed by software.

We usually discard things that don’t work for us and find new ways to do something more efficiently. When it comes to documenting a process, what we need is a system that can actually drive change. People don’t think processes have the power to do this, but they can when they are used correctly.

With beSlick, you won’t need to create handbooks to document your processes. You can say goodbye to spreadsheets, paper, and black holes. Instead, the program allows you to record files digitally and organise them in a coherent process library. You need to know that your processes are running like clockwork to ensure all tasks are being completed with as much efficiency and effectiveness as possible. With beSlick, you can always see the process you have created, where they are being run, and how far they have come.