July 12th, 2021 in Managers Talk
In our first edition of the Managers Talk Series, we asked managers from different backgrounds and industries about the importance of workflows and processes in an organization. We asked every manager the following three questions:
Here is what they had to say about workflows and processes.
We’re a design/build construction company based in San Diego and we exclusively build accessory dwelling units or ADUs. 1.5 yrs ago, we were doing 10 projects a year. We are on track for 100 a year, and this is only possible because of sound processes and investment in developing our workflows.
1) What did your organization look like without good processes?
Without good processes, our organization required more effort to produce the same output. Without a unified system for organizing our workflow, we also held a lot more in our heads… which can be very stressful for employees and unpredictable for clients. We could not ensure a consistent experience or outcome.
2) How did implementing new processes improve your work?
Working through a pilot phase in order to define new processes is vital to developing a successful system. You will not get it right on the first try, which is why an iterative approach usually works best. Try to get something off the ground with your “87% right” version, and then refine.
Streamlined processes will ultimately get owners and employees out of the day-to-day operations so they can work ON the business instead of IN the business. Recording standard operating procedures using screen capture software, such as Loom which is free, allows for painless and efficient transfer of processes to employees or independent contractors.
Using a standard process will allow clients to more readily see the path to purchase. If your company can clearly explain the next steps at every point of the customer journey, clients will also be more likely to move forward.
3) What makes a good process?
A good process is transparent, scalable, automated, and measurable.
A process needs to have sufficient detail in order to be carried out by someone with relatively little knowledge of the task. The goal is to disaggregate complexity. By breaking down a larger process into steps, you can create roles within the organization that are more accessible; an employee can be productive more quickly with a clear process to follow.
A process needs to be scalable so that it can support future growth. This typically means it is developed within a project management system so that the process can be templated out for future clients or jobs or tasks.
A process needs to be automated wherever possible so that human involvement in the process is targeted at adding value. If there is not a clear value add to have an employee involved, the step should either be removed or replaced by a cheaper labor source, such as an offshore contractor.
A process should have defined goals and timelines that can be used as a yardstick for success. These goals promote transparency and accountability for the team. Missed goals should lead to an investigation that results in a process improvement.
Without formalized processes, we were a logistical mess. We couldn’t get through one week without some component of a project falling through the cracks and causing us delays. Up until last year, we were saved by the fact that we were in person. The increased interpersonal communication and water cooler talk of being in the office often salvaged our helter skelter workflows. For example, if a couple of employees were grabbing a coffee, one might ask “oh, you haven’t completed that yet? I’ll pick it up.” You just don’t get that level of communication in our new remote world though, so we were forced to adopt new, more formalized processes and workflows.
Adopting more formalized processes that turn on digital tools has sped up our completion date of deliverables within one of our channels by 56%. In addition, the number of handoffs that get dropped has decreased significantly. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I got a complaint because someone was late picking up their piece of the process.
A formalization of the process is key. Have your workflow memorialized in a flowchart or detailed PDF that everyone can immediately access. In addition, B2B SaaS tools are critical to performance. Leveraging tech like Asana, Airtable, and other digital platforms helps dramatically.
The processes we implement are often structured around project management, client tracking, outcome tracking, and funder reporting. Without good processes in place, we see organizations experiencing more frustration, chaos, missed deadlines, and often resentment.
Our company has been working diligently to implement clear processes and procedures within all areas of our work, and we are starting to see that hard work is paying off. Our staff and client satisfaction continue to grow as well as our offered services. Our expertise in the marketplace has always focused on research and evaluation, however, we are now seen as experts in the area of system processes, which puts us in a unique position to help our (mostly nonprofit) clients implement systems that allow them to be higher functioning.
Helping clients understand the old motto, “work smarter, not harder.” There are so many great products out there for the general public to utilize, however, the task of setting it up and utilizing it can seem daunting. We work with our clients to set up systems and maintain them.
The biggest hurdle I’ve seen with our clientele is understanding that processes need someone to oversee them until they become part of the culture. As the “holder” of the processes and procedures for our company, I’ve found that the weight of the work seems a lot lighter when there are clear sight paths of the final goal or deliverable.
Projects that seem so overwhelming become simplified when the tasks and timelines are clearly defined. It also allows for us to pivot, or adjust accordingly without falling behind should the project encounter unforeseen issues. Prior to having clear processes and procedures when we encounter issues, they would paralyze our team, now we take a step back, adjust and plow ahead. Productivity and job satisfaction have increased significantly since implementation.
3) What makes a good process
We find that processes function best when there is consistency. Change frustrates staff, supervisors, and clients. Establishing clear processes and procedures from start to finish, in all areas of the workplace; hiring, onboarding, project work, etc., makes for happier staff, supervisors, and clients.
The single biggest mistake that I see startups make is that they build a supply chain whose sole purpose is to launch a project and they forget about all of the work that goes into managing an ongoing operation. I’ve seen companies be forced to halt production because they ran out of screws, sell more inventory beyond their lead time to build more, and receive production that is out of spec. Generally, the businesses surrounding these supply chains are very nimble and fast-growing but are also chaotic, stressful, and could be leaking money or inventory.
It’s important that your team isn’t running at 1000 RPMs all the time. You have to have some room in your calendars for the team to think strategically and implement changes vs hopping from crisis to crisis. I’ve been lucky enough to personally build or rebuild over a dozen startups and I’ve noticed good processes tend to help slow down the rhythm (but not the pace) of the supply chain so that things become more predictable, cash and labor efficient, and streamlined.
Whenever I look at a company’s operations I look for the most stressful parts of the business as those are the symptom of some underlying process or internal asset that needs to be created. It’s important that you don’t put in process for process’s sake- things need to be truly better and not just different from before. A solid process should solve a very apparent need, have been thought through from all angles, and be easy to understand.
We’ve focused the last year of our business’s growth on building long-term scalable processes, with excellent results so far. Prior to this focus, we would often take on work that we hadn’t accurately scoped, and end up spending way too much time on simple things and killing our margins, or underestimate the resources required to fulfill a project and disappoint our clients.
We revamped our client scoping and onboarding processes in 2020, with immediate results. Our clients are happier, our team is more focused and satisfied, and our profitability is higher, especially on highly complex projects.
A good process is one that directly addresses felt needs. We’ve found that any process that doesn’t have a clear “why” in terms of why it exists, often falls by the wayside as clients and our team invent their own processes, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The best processes are those that are simple and straightforward and don’t include any steps that aren’t absolutely necessary.
My previous organization, which was global, had little to no process around demand generation, sales, and their connection to successful delivery. Each of the sales leaders ran their regions a bit differently from how they generated leads, to how they engaged with partners, to how they prepared sales documents, to how they presented the “pitch,” and to how they handled the sale over to the delivery teams.
This situation was very problematic in a growing organization that leverages global overlay sales and delivery teams. As a result, we lost productivity, created inconsistent customer experiences, and created more work and confusion for the supporting resources. The sales teams did not use our CRM consistently either, which created inaccuracies in reporting and ultimately what I would consider negligent and fabricated forecasts that could never be met. It limited my ability coming into a new region to predict my level of effort and the probability of winning or losing deals, how long it would take to close a new deal, and whether attaining my quota was realistic.
These implications have a cascading effect in professional services, as we cannot foresee when we need to hire or leverage existing stretch resources, how we need to manage customer expectations, and where we need to innovate on a sales strategy to be more competitive or a customer service strategy to drive deeper engagement. Most importantly, all of these issues were demotivating to employees who experienced the negative consequences of the lack of process.
With a new demand generation and structured sales process in place, my work was greatly improved most predominantly in becoming more efficient with the business growth becoming more predictable. Through consistent language, repeatable behaviors, understanding of what needs to be done versus what has been accomplished per each stage of the sales process, and through alignment to the customer buying cycle, I was able to grow my product line by 40% year over year. Additionally, it improved the quality of life for my teammates who felt more strategic, productive, and effective. The increased level of transparency improved morale and employee engagement which, in turn, improved the customer experience and retention.
What makes a good process within operations is what also makes a good process overall, regardless of the functional area. The most successful customer-focused organizations establish and align the key actions within processes as they relate to the customers’ journey within that process or cycle. If employees understand how their customers move through their process and align key interactions accordingly, they are far more likely to meet objectives focused on employee engagement, customer experience, revenue growth, and operational efficiency while supporting the customer in also meeting their objectives.
Due to the complexity of many organizations’ various customer types, numerous solutions being sold, and the many roles across the organization engaged in a given process, it is critical each employee understands their role-based responsibilities, core objectives, and expected outcomes per stage of a process and within the customer buying cycle to create a seamless experience for each other and the customers.