Processes are at the heart of every business. You do them every day, but have you ever taken the time to plan and write down what you do? Workflow documentation can help your business in several ways, not least of which is that it’s easier to get new employees inducted, trained and up to speed.
Why should you write down how you do business:
Writing down how your business works will make you look closely at your processes. This will help you to identify ways to streamline and improve them, which will make your business run better. Processes are usually explained in a Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) document and you will need to develop SOPs for every area of your business.
Good SOPs will help you to standardize, delegate, outsource, or automate tasks to save time, will help you train new team members better, faster and more efficiently and will make life easier for everyone in your organization.
“If a picture paints a thousand words….”
Use diagrams and pictures to show how your business works. Visual documentation is one of the best ways to record how your business works. A diagram makes it much easier for a new employee to understand how things work than a piece of text, especially in a multicultural, multilingual work environment.
Business processes are usually mapped in flowcharts, of which there are many variations to suit different types of processes. A flowchart illustrates the steps of a process and shows how the task goes from beginning to end.
While flowcharts are the simplest way to show something visually, there are many other types of diagram that can be helpful for recording business processes. Two of the most common are swim-lane diagrams and value stream maps.
A swim-lane diagram shows a process from the beginning to the end, but it does so by breaking it up into “lanes.” These are columns for different stakeholders, facilities, departments, or resources. It shows more clearly who is responsible for which part of a task.
Value Stream Mapping:
A value stream map is a more complicated diagram where the work doesn’t just flow one way but in all directions. It’s useful for complex tasks that require multiple departments and stages, or that might be modular.
Before starting to document your processes:
Look at the big picture first.
Context is everything. Your team need to know and understand where each process fits in the overall scheme of things. When showing new employees how to do something, you have to start by showing them the big picture. Tell them how this task fits into your business as a whole and what it is meant to do.
The SOP should not only describe the process, it should also specify the materials and tools needed to complete the task and other things staff need to do (if any).
Involve your team and get good feedback
Don’t document your business processes all alone. Ask other people who have a stake in the process for their advice and thoughts, especially if they are usually in charge of the process. You’ll also need feedback on the documentation to make sure it’s clear and easy to understand.
Create a resources library.
Keep a library of all your SOPs. Make sure it is kept up to date and is available to all employees. Conduct regular reviews and audits to ensure the processes are being followed or need to be changed.
It will take some time for your team to get used to following the SOPs. At first, it may seem like you spend more time ‘fixing’ the processes than operating them. Once you’re through the learning curve however, you will find that everything works much more smoothly, your team understand why things are being done in this particular way and everyone knows what’s to be done and by whom.
Want to find out more about how to improve your business processes?
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