As a business owner we understand that implementing systems is a key ingredient to help us scale. What isn't always so obvious is how to do this.
Here is a simple checklist of the best formats from which to choose from for three common situations that your business needs to implement systems to handle.
Situation One: A system to coordinate activities between multiple people
(E.g. To produce a product or deliver a service.)
• A defined timeline: This lets all players visually see the sequencing of steps and stages in a way that they can integrate into their personal calendars.
• A flow chart of the process steps: Not only does this let you better organize and optimize the process, but it makes key dependencies clear and gives all players in the system a better understanding of how their work fits into the bigger picture.
• A project "task list": Built like a checklist, this tool helps you clarify explicitly who needs to do what, by when. (Once you have this nailed, I encourage you to consider online tools like Zoho Projects or Basecamp in which to house these project task lists.)
• An event "screen play": Ever watch a play? What you don't know is that the stage manager has in front of her a detailed scene-by-scene 3-ring binder that lists out exactly which props are being used and where they are placed, who is in which scenes (and where they enter onto the stage, and the lighting and sound cues that will happen and when. Done as a progressive timeline, this is like a timeline on steroids. For example, my company, Maui Mastermind, produces 4-6 high end business owner training workshops per year. We have our "screen play" that lays out exactly what props go where, which handouts need to be given to participants and when, what A/V needs are for each segment, etc.
Situation Two: A system to guarantee all the steps in a complicated process are followed.
(E.g. To produce a successful event or ship a complicated order accurately.)
• A comprehensive checklist: As long as all the boxes are checked your company can be confident that all the steps were followed.
• A procedural recipe: Typed out long-hand, this is simply a complete list of all the steps in the process, in order. This is very useful to capture key company knowledge, when training a new team member, or working to optimize a process. But be aware that once a team member is fluent with a process, he or she will likely just ignore this long, intimidating written out process.
• A "cheat sheet" version checklist: For people who do a process over and over, this shorthand version will give them the mental anchor to make sure all the key steps are taken, in order, but not be so overloaded with non-essential information that your staff might be tempted to skip over it. For example, think of the checklists that pilots use for various situations. They are honed down and rely on the pilot being trained in the background expertise to wield each of these checklists for a specific outcome. Airlines know that if they were to give their pilots a 17-page version of the checklist that most wouldn't.
• Technology automation: Remember that anything that can be automated is one of your best ways to make sure all the needed steps in a complicated process are in fact being followed. If it can be reduced to software, and that software can be checked and double-checked, then you now have an exceptionally scalable way to handle that portion of your system.
• Templates: When you template a complicated process (or more likely, when you template a portion of that complicated process) you build in much of the expertise into that template. It's a great form of embedded control to protect your company as you scale.
Situation Three: A system to capture key company "know-how" that has been painfully gained through experience and expensive trial and error.
E.g. Contracts for vendors or customer project history.
• A database of key information: This could be a spreadsheet with vendor pricing, a CRM with all key customer emails and customer notes, or even a project management folder or workspace tool housing all key contracts, task checklists, and work papers.
• A template of key work output: As I shared above, a template is a great way to capture expert knowledge. These could include a "Request for Proposal" template, a standardized "bid" template, or a "new client record in CRM" template.
• Standardized system tools: These could include formatted spreadsheets with built-in (and proofed) formulas, diagnostic decision trees to help a team member visually approach a situation, or even a simple worksheet that prompts your team to record all the key information in an organized way.
• FAQs: A great way to list out in a searchable format the most common questions and their respective answers about key areas of your business. You could have an FAQ that explains how to do your monthly client invoicing, or how to prepare for a trade-show, or even how to follow-up with the project team.
• Formal project debriefing sessions: If you do a lot of "brainwork" to produce your product or service offering, then consider regular "debriefing" sessions during which you pull key team members into a conference room and run through a structured series of questions with the aim of capturing new insights, best practices, improvements, expensive failures to learn from, etc. from your team that performed that work. Then make sure you store and share that information in standardized ways. For example, consider sending out a 2-page "project write up" to your entire team after a key project closes with the top insights (perhaps with link to more detailed information that came out of your debrief.)
So there you have a detailed look at how to make systems real in your company.
For more on building systems, including a free tool kit with 21 in-depth video trainings to help you scale your business and get your life back, click here.