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Think your business doesn’t have processes? Think again

Processes are the lifeblood of almost every business. Whether you realize you have them or not.

As a business consultant I’ve met quite a few business owners who denied the need for proper process management — on the basis that they didn’t feel that they had any processes to manage.

Most of them were simply wrong.

Almost all businesses, including freelancers and non-profits, have “processes” regardless of what they choose to call them. They are the recurring tasks and workflows which keep their particular business up and running:

  • A procedure for dealing with a customer support request.
  • Contracting a new client.
  • Performing a monthly inventory.
  • Preparing a bedroom for the next guest.
  • A regular safety check of an engine.
  • Cleaning a doctor’s office at the end of each day.

If you stop and think about it for a minute, surely you’d recall at least two or three workflows, that need to be repeated dutifully in order to keep your business running smoothly.

That’s right. Processes are everywhere. But at the same time, they are often underestimated, underserved or even vehemently denied. This is pretty common in small businesses, startups and many mid-size companies with poor management.

Based on my experience in consulting, at least 4 out of 5 small businesses, freelancers and startups don’t have any systematic form of process management at all. They certainly have habitual processes, but simply lack any form of management over them.

These habitual, undeveloped workflows are sometimes called latent processes, because they are present but not given any serious attention.

On the contrary, managed processes are usually described in a step-by-step fashion, they are being optimized, they have an “owner” (or a manager at least) and each “instance” (any single run of a process) is recorded and stored for some type of future analysis. And on the top of all that, they are treated as important, even vital. They are the lifeblood of a business — and the prerequisite for achieving any high-level professional work.

Does your business run on these latent, habitual, unmanaged processes? And if so, should you be concerned?

Probably yes.

When people follow a non-trivial workflow by memory or intuition, the following problems can occur even when you have diligent and reliable workers, not speaking of irresponsible ones:

  • They accidentally skip both minor and important steps — almost every time.
  • They work in a suboptimal, ineffective way (e.g. doing the steps of a procedure in the wrong order).
  • They put off doing a regular job or forget to do it altogether.
  • They are more stressed out because they have to struggle to remember everything.
  • When they fall seriously ill or leave the company, they don’t or can’t pass on their memory of a optimal workflow to a successor.
  • They are unable to delegate routine work to coworkers properly and are learning to become poor managers themselves.
  • And as the consequences of their ineffectiveness spreads, the costs rise along with the need to boss everyone around about everything. Micromanagement blooms.

All and all, the profitability, quality of service and the reputation of a business suffers:

The customer is not being served well. The new client is waiting a bit too long. The stock counts don’t add up. There’s dust and hair under the guest’s bed. The unsafe engine crashes causing damage. The doctor’s office doesn’t smell good the next morning.

Bummer, right?

These problems may seem small, but they are the traits that separate the excellent businesses from the average (or poor) ones.

Your underserved clients probably don’t consider these to be minor issues. And as a result they are less willing to pay any premium above the going market rate.

The potential for a greater profit is being lost along with your reputation.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You simply need to use at least basic process management. The first step is rather obvious: Start treating your latent processes seriously or at least admit that you have them. After this realization settles in, there is no going back to ignorance.

Robert Vlach, January 5, 2018

Business consultant, writer and EUpreneur. Proud founder of Procesoid and Na volne noze — one of the largest national freelance communities in Europe

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