Baseline Before Innovation


A lot of aspiring entrepreneurs I talk to know one resource on systems: Tim Ferriss’ the 4 Hour Work Week. And while it’s a good book and on my shelf, it’s a misleading goal for the growing business.

Before a new entrepreneur creates or sells anything they’re already thinking, “how can I outsource this?” Well, first of all, you can’t outsource the creation of your business.  Too many people gloss over the years of time Tim put in before he could automate the business and that’s what I want to talk about today. Because in order to automate, you need to understand your process.

If you start thinking of automation before documentation, then keep reading.

If you’re constantly improving processes or thinking “we have to do better”, then keep reading.

Just like the football team that runs drills on the basics before learning complex plays, your team needs to get comfortable in the task before you start throwing curve balls. Sorry for the mixed sports metaphor, my only football experience is Remember the Titans.

But the fact remains you need a process to understand how things are done before you improve them. This can’t just be a general understanding or habit you do, it must be documented and practiced before it’s automated.

You need to document exactly how you want things done and in that process you’re going to learn a lot that you didn’t know before. Maybe you write the process down then realize you need a flow chart. Or videos and screenshots, or a screen share. In documenting each step you’re going to realize it’s a lot more complicated than originally thought and begin to improve.  Only then can you can begin to examine the flow, measure, test and improve to optimize what you’re doing now.

Note: this is extremely hard for most people to do – it takes both discipline and attention to detail, because we’d much rather just do the damn thing than write it down. This type of process and system work usually takes a left brain thinker to translate.

Kelly, Show me How This Works:

Let’s say new clients to your membership program submit their profile through the site you use. And you’re noticing several complaints that it takes 3 or 5 days to get approved. Should you switch sites? Hire someone to monitor the requests? Enter them automatically upon payment?

No matter how many solutions you come up with you’re not ready to implement yet.

First ask, what is the process? Who gets notified when someone joins your site and needs approval?

Maybe those emails are going to a team member who is long gone. Maybe the emails go to someone but get filtered into a folder and never read. Maybe the team member is just a slacker and needs to understand why this approval process is critical to happy clients.

If you don’t understand your current system and where the breakdown is happening, how can you expect to solve the problem?

Now, once you’ve located the breakdown and patched it up what do you do? Probably go back to work or to put out another “fire” that needs your attention.

That’s normal but it also ensures that you’re going to go through this entire song and dance again. Whether in a month or year, it’ll come up again.

Instead you need to document the baseline process. This can be as simple as a word doc or you can put it in your project management system (I love Backpack for these Standard Operating Procedures).

Then, the next time you find something has broken down you have a frame of reference.

1) Client joins membership program
2) Client gets welcome email with instructions for forum sign up
3) Client signs up
4) Team member gets notification email
5) Team member checks emails daily against orders
6) Team member approves paid clients into forum

Great, there’s a very simple process. Maybe in time you’ll have that team member do screen shots of the forum management area and write out instructions for checking the online orders.

How an operations manager improves this system

In addition to ensuring that the process is clearly spelled out and the resources are available (like the team member approving clients having access to the orders and forum), an operations team will also track these numbers for you. On a weekly or monthly basis they can tell you that of the 40 new members, 35 joined the forum. The operations manager can track this so if it falls to 5 out of 50 new members in a month joining the forum, you can clearly see a systems breakdown.

By seeing the system and understanding how it works, your operations manager can identify problems before they become apparent through complaining clients. By recognizing who on the team is responsible for each moving part and monitoring the system as a whole, the operations manager can help you innovate each part of your business so you’re never left thinking,

“I guess it’s going okay; no one has complained. Yet.”

Of course these systems also give you an overview of who is responsible so if the Team Member in charge of approving new members into the forum is sick with dysentery, then you can easily cross train another team member to provide coverage.

It all comes down to two basic principles:

You can’t automate what isn’t systematized
Start by writing down what you do

If you’re ready to put this into action in your business answer these questions:

what would I be overjoyed to give up doing in my business?
what things this week absolutely drove me crazy?
if I could pay someone to handle one thing what would it be?

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