When an organisation grows and takes on more activities, it's no longer possible to manage it without formal processes.
Things can spiral out of control, leading to missed deadlines, lost opportunities, frustrated customers, and increased costs.
But getting organised is often one of those non-urgent activities that we don’t quite get to.
In his book “The 7 habits of highly successful people”, Stephen Covey outlines the Time Management Matrix.
Covey makes the point that all too often we focus our attention on urgent activities instead of important ones. But to really make a difference, we need to focus on the important things we need to do.
Implementing, and following, any system or process faces this challenge.
This holds true for any type of system: CRM for sales and marketing, ERP for manufacturing, and solutions for project management, software development, operations and customer service.
Giving to get
A manual process, or no process at all, gives so much flexibility. If you need to add a step, just add it. If you need to do something differently, you just do it.
But this quickly gets out of hand, causing confusion, crossed wires, and even the simplest tasks to take longer than they should.
Following a process, or using a system to codify a process, restricts you. It blocks off manual work-arounds. It forces discipline. The system needs the right data in the right place at the right time.
But if you develop the discipline to give up your old habits and follow the process, you get more than just a standardised output. You get predictability of results: in time, specifications and quality. When you enter data, you and your team can see not only individual tasks, but also your overall workload, how your resources are being used, and where there is slack.
Yes slack. Slack in your system is a chance to get more work done without overworking your team or changing the delivery dates you promised.
Perseverance pays off
Results don't happen right away. Before you get the rewards, you have to put in the work. The new process will take some time for you and your staff to get used to. If you implement in small steps, which you should, your new process might not cover all the things you do. There will be a lot of exceptions, especially in the beginning. But it's important to stick with it. If you go back to the old way, you'll get the same results.
Choosing your target
It’s not possible to change everything at once, so prioritisation is critical. Measuring the price you are paying for lack of formal processes is a good first step.
What is the cost of a missed deadline? A lost sales opportunity? The re-work and duplication of effort when requirements are not clearly communicated? Some of these may result in direct financial costs; others may simply distract your team from getting the real work done.
Improvements may be possible with process changes alone. But if you are running your business on spreadsheets and whiteboards, it’s likely that the manual updating of these tools has become part of the problem.
If you have graduated to a system, whether CRM, ERP or project/systems management solution, these may not cover everything. There will likely still be gaps that you continue to fill with those same old spreadsheets and whiteboards.
Addressing this takes determination. Identifying the blockers in your current operations, assessing the impact and the gains from fixing them.
Standardising a process is like pruning a rosebush: you need to do it often to make sure the plant grows in the direction you want it to go.
Committing to change
Change is hard. Documenting your processes. Learning new skills. Unlearning some old habits.
Be prepared to invest your time, your focus and that of your team. You should also be prepared to pay for systems and outside help in implementing.
But the gains exceed the costs. Henry Ford put it best when he said: “If you need a machine and don't buy it, then you will ultimately find that you have paid for it and don't have it.”
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