What's a Business Process ... and how do I document it?

They say "the grass is greener on the other side." Here you'll learn how to have the best garden on your block, i.e. the best processes in your business. By following the guidelines here, you can grow your own green thumb, become a better chef, and build a better business.

The phrase 'business process' is all the rage these days. It's hard to follow a business-related twitter or instagram account without bumping into the word. But what is it, how can you use it, and how can you get better at it?

A business process is simply something that you do over and over again to help you make money. 

Steps to a business process:

  1. identify something you do over and over again
  2. write down the steps in either a table in a document, or in a spreadsheet
  3. next time you do that thing, use to the document/spreadsheet
  4. update the document/spreadsheet

Now that we have that quick overview, let's examine them in some real-life contexts and then look at how they work in business.

1. Identify - What do you do over and over again

You mainly want to focus on things that you do over and over again, that take a lot of time to prepare for or clean up after. Cooking is nice, but to cook a meal you also have to shop for the food, prep the food, cook the meal, wash the dishes, store the food, eat, and then do those dishes too.

In business the same thing happens, there are things you have to do, and they require gathering materials, setting up your workspace, doing the activity, cleaning up after yourself, and other stuff you don't normally think of as part of the process.

When you start to include the gathering, setup, breakdown, and maintenance, you'll start to see the whole job, not just the one activity. 

2. Write - list the steps one by one

I started you off in the 'identify' section with your gathering and setup steps. When you list what you have to do, make sure you include your 'pre-requisites' or things you need to have setup before you can do the work itself.

If you make physical products like t-shirts, oils, craft items, or even 3D printers, include in your process the materials, you need to perform your tasks.

If you're providing an online service, list the documents you need, the information from clients that you need, and software tools that you use such as photoshop, a development environment, as well as the steps to performing the actual work.

3.  Use - refer back to the documented process list

If you're anything like me, you don't like task lists, project management systems, or anything that makes you record what you have to do. They get in the way of productivity right?

Yes, in the short-run they break up your flow because you have to remember where they are, access them, and update them, and that takes time. So it makes sense that you don't want to do them. However, these aren't one-off things. You do them over and over again. 

And no, in the long-run, not using your to-do or task lists, or your pm system slows you down because what you're trying to get good at is the whole thing, not just one part. Documenting your workflow or process helps you make sure that you perform all the steps in the order that makes the most sense. Doing things out of 

4. Update - make your documents look more like your process

Now that you have the document all nice and shiny, make it shinier. As you refer to the document over and over, whether it's a recipe or a how-to recolor a photograph, you should add and update steps. Sometimes you forget something, sometimes you need to break a task into two smaller steps. The goal is to have the longest list possible, not for the sake of being long, but for the sake of being thorough.

That's about it. When you identify what you do over and over again, document the steps, use the documentation, and update your document for accuracy, you're going to be well on your way to creating a streamlined business. These documents are to help you get better at what you do over the long-run.

Everything you do will be much easier the 100th time. And if you document what you do and use the documentation you have, you'll be a lot better by the 10th time. Like the old song goes "love the one you're with" you need to "document the process you have".

Here are a few tips for making better processes:

  1. start with no less than 20 steps, including the setup and breakdown. this may seem like a lot at first but the setup and breakdown will each take at least 5 slots of the 20.
  2. use multiple columns including when you have to get information from someone, or when you have to notify someone
  3. include breaks for when you have a pause in the work, anything from waiting for the rice to boil, the paint to dry, or a large document having to upload or print
  4. Be your own favorite customer - use the jobs to be done framework to help you identify all of the steps you need to do some aspect of your work

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