As part of Claris Engage 2020, Susan was asked to present a virtual session on structure: process, procedure, and policy. While it might sound counter-intuitive, structure in your business can set you free. Having deliberate and recorded protocols will help you and your team navigate your software much more effectively. This session will not only inform you of where you need to develop structure, but how to document it. It discusses the use of software tools, how they connect, and how to handle workarounds. Additionally, generating processes for the work you and your team do outside of your software programs will be discussed.
Please find the full video transcript below.
I’m Susan Fennema. I’m the Chaos Eradicating Officer for Beyond the Chaos. Beyond the Chaos exists to help small businesses simplify their operations and manage their projects so that the owners can get their lives back and also be able to grow their businesses at the same time. Most of the reason that we do that is that I have 30 years of experience in operations and in project management, and I hire a great staff that comes mostly from the advertising and marketing world and also software development. We all have that type of experience and enjoy helping the small business owner. Plus, we see such huge transformations when they bring technology into their world. We help a lot of the small business owners that might even be still using Excel or those types of things transition into some software that can really help exponentially change their business.
I was a past lead facilitator for Women Innovating Together. I enjoyed working with those women. And, I still do work with those women. And we’ve been able to make an impact on having more women in the Claris product line. We want to continue to do that. If you’re interested in joining please, give a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am also a Texan. I run a virtual business and serve the United States, but I am here in McKinney, Texas, a little small town. It’s not that little really, but I am in a smaller town in Texas. I also am a home chef. I love cooking and being able to put together amazing dinner parties, 7-course meals, those types of things. Before I got married, I cooked in a small apartment in Chicago. And if you think that you can do a 7-course dinner without some project management, well just imagine how those things would come out of order, would not go over well. I am married as I mentioned to a field service mechanic, and I have a cat and a dog, and I’m very interested in getting into this material with you here.
Let’s dig into creating freedom using structure.
How would I like you to leave this session? I would love if you left chaos-free. We really want you to embrace these techniques, to be able to feel like your business runs a little bit more smoothly, giving you a little less chaos in your day to day and allowing you to have a little bit more freedom in your personal life. One of my favorite quotes regarding structure and planning is by Dwight Eisenhower. He planned D-Day. It’s a pretty big undertaking.
And he said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” And what I’ve always taken away from this is the act of planning helps you measure the contingencies, it helps you build out the plan and the structure for how you want things to go. And you learn things from that that might enable you to be able to move D-Day from June 4th to June 6th, which is exactly what had to happen. Can you imagine trying to move something of that scale without having plans in place? Without having done the exercise of planning? It’s almost impossible.
So that’s where we get to some structure. We want to identify why you need structure, where you need it in your business so that you are also able to respond the same way. First, let’s talk about why. Why do you need structure in the first place? I know a lot of you are worried about putting layers on things and wasting effort. Things that are going to make you slow down. We want small businesses to be nimble. This is not a layer of bureaucracy that goes into place, and that’s important to know to start through this. You will get better client satisfaction if you follow this process. Your clients are going to be comforted by the fact that you quote, “have your act together.” That they feel like there is a system that they’re being worked through.
You’ll also experience better profits. So all that time that you’re wasting, digging up that thing, or finding how to do something that you’ve already done. That’s going to enable you to be more productive and spend more time on the things that you need to, like sales, like satisfying your client’s fulfillment in your development or in whatever it is that you might deliver to them.
The other is branding. The way your company does it can become consistent so that your client gets the same experience. Whether it’s from you or a team member, they are seeing the same thing repeated every time through sales, into projects, and even into closing clients out. They get comfort from that as well as you get a sense of branding. And believe it or not, structure is going to set you free. You will be able to delegate better. You will be able to forget how to do it because it’s written down.
When Do You Need Structure?
Let’s get into when you might need it. What are some times? The first is repeating successes. If you know how to take a wadded up piece of paper and turn it into an airplane perfectly every time, then let’s get it written down so that it’s not only in your head, so that others are able to repeat the same successes. If you have three team members doing the same activity, and one of them is doing it better, that might be the person that you want to start to emulate. So figuring out what they’re doing to be able to share with the others is a great way to repeat successes.
Along the same lines, you want to stop reinventing the wheel. So those things that you do once in a blue moon, like bring on a new subcontractor. You have to remember every single time, “Wait, what did I do? What were the steps? Did we interview? Who all interviewed? What forms do they have to sign? What software do they have to sign up for?” Six months from now you’ll have to remember all of those things again. If you create a simple checklist, there you go. It’s solved. Same thing with delegating. If you are not able to write it down and to clearly get the stuff out of your head, you can’t delegate it to anyone. And we’re going to give you a simple way to make it possible to delegate and for it to get done the way you want it to get done.
So where do you add structure? What comes into you figuring out what is the biggest obstacle and where you need to add it? One way is to identify bottlenecks. And I guarantee you, if you’re the small business owner, you are the bottleneck almost all the time. So if you are the only one who can perform a task and it holds everyone else up, that’s going to be challenging for the team to be able to help you.
Everything will sit on your plate and things will get held up. So anything that is getting held up like that, that’s a good sign that you need to add some structure around it. Another one, when things seem messy or out of order or chaotic, and you can’t figure out what’s going on, there’s a sense of concern because it’s confusing. That’s a good hint that it’s time to add some structure.
Ever gone through things and felt like we’re doing a bunch of redundant things, or it seems like there are too many steps and this should be simplified? The great clue that you need to add some structure around it. If there are specific activities that are not efficient. So if you have some people that are working on a specific role, say they are creating a new widget, and that widget seems to be not efficient for one team, but is efficient for another team.
Or widget A is being produced so much more quickly than widget B. You want to be able to identify which activities are not being efficient, and you’re able then to streamline those activities if you are writing them down, then you can see the movement through the system and be able to simplify it. Another is when something is costing too much money or it’s taking too much time. That is a really good clue that something is wrong here. We did not get a good system in place.
“We’ve Always Done It That Way”
And lastly, if you’re dealing with a thing and the reason why we do it that way is that we’ve always done it that way, that’s a good hint to start to change your philosophy of why are you doing it that way? Let’s figure out the root cause of that.
I worked with a company way back in the early 90s, they had done a lot of things on paper, and they had a numbering system that helped them because it was done in paper, or on paper. They had the first three letters of the client name, and then they had a job number that was a 5-digit number. And each of those numbers meant something. The last two numbers, if I’m recalling correctly, were the year. One of the numbers was a code of what type of project. And then the other two numbers were a numbering system.
Well, you can already see if you start to automate that some of the problems that come with that. Imagine trying to program that into a FileMaker program, which is exactly what we did. We started to do that, and I wanted automated number generation to happen in the FileMaker program so that we would never duplicate and that we wouldn’t run out of numbers. That was the other concern. What happens when you get to project 100? So the reason I got from everybody I asked of, “Well, why can’t we do it this way?” They kept saying, “Well, we’ve always done it that way.”
So there was a fear of change, and I had to walk them through the structure of adding this. The reasons that they were doing those things were not applicable anymore. Because there was going to be a software tool, they were going to be able to search all those things and find them out very easily and in multiple ways. And after talking to them about it and coaching them and making them feel more comfortable, they finally gave up the ghost and agreed to allow the automated system of numbering. So that’s an example of, we’ve always done it that way, it’s not going to work in your future way, and there are limits to the way you’ve already done it.
Types of Structure
So what types of structure can we bring in? Let’s go through the different types of structures. You can call this structure “protocols,” but generically, they can also be systems, but in general, they fall into one of these three areas. Policy, procedure, or process. Let’s talk about what they mean. These bring you the structure to really manage like you mean it, and we start with the policy and those are the rules. That’s really the, “Yes, this is how it’s done. No questions.” Procedure is a checklist, and process is a written system. So those are the differences, when I’m talking through all of this, of what those different things are. We’ll define them a little bit better here.
So the rules are really policy. And in this area, it’s not negotiable. Now, if you’re a solopreneur, maybe you feel like you don’t need any rules. I will tell you, I felt like I did. When I worked only on my own, I set up my own holidays just to make sure I stopped working. I set my hours when I was going to work so that I wasn’t working until midnight every night. And just setting that structure in the policy for myself was very beneficial to get that break that you need as a small business owner. If you have a team, this stuff becomes even more important.
When do they do their timesheets? What are the rules around, for example, a subcontractor, when they submit their invoice to you? What are the holidays? When do we all know we’re not working? Do you have a time off policy for your employees? What about healthcare? Are you offering that? If not, are you offering a stipend? What about your internal communications? Do they all have to be on Slack all day? Every day? Is there a set time? Is there a set expectation of when you expect a response? All of those types of things are considered policy. They are the rules for people to know how to meet your expectations in working with you, and that really helps set up your team for success if they know.
The next section here is procedure. This is really a checklist. Think about items like onboarding, offboarding, or even installing FileMaker Server. Those things that you go through over and over again, and it really is checking it off the list. A great example of that is an airline pilot. When he goes to take off, he has his checklist and he goes through every single thing and checks them off. And by having that list, it prevents him from having to remember all of those things. It also makes sure that they all get done. So you could do this for a standard interview process, for example, as well. At each interview that your team and maybe another team member help you interview, what are the steps between each thing?
We have a process in our business to do that. We know who interviews in what order, and we know when a written audit goes out to the candidate, and we know when we check references and we know all of those steps. So having that just as a checklist, we have it in our software management tool and you can even click it as you check it off, it’s dependent on the item above, so it makes it available to the next person who’s performing the action. Makes it go very, very smoothly.
So where would we need process? Process is prose. It is often numbered or bulleted. So the types of things that you would write process around are how-tos. It might be how to access your website or how to send blogs or e-blasts, so the steps to get through those things that aren’t necessarily a checklist. Other examples of process are sales, getting paid, licensing management. I know we all deal with that. So what are the steps? What are the contingencies? So unlike a checklist, this might have, if this happens, then we do this. It just gives you a lot more ability to provide more insight and direction than a standard checklist would.
Required Structure for All Business
So to that end, what would I suggest for all businesses? I think all businesses should have structure in the form of a sales process, an invoicing or how-you-get-paid process, even if that is recurring charges on your credit card. However you get paid, there should be a process around that. How do you run payroll? Even if you’re only paying yourself, how often are you looking at that and running that? For sure, how you open a project should be one of your processes there. Onboarding, offboarding, closing projects, all of those things should be included as well.
Now that we know what structure is and when to pull it into the business, let’s talk about how you actually create it. Some things to consider can really be the software influence. It can really drive and influence the writing of your process. So what is your CRM? What are you using to capture your contact information? Are you using QuickBooks or FreshBooks as a invoicing or money management tool?
What about your software for managing projects? Where is that? And where do you enter your timesheets? Is it in your project tool or is it in your financial management tool or is it in your CRM? And how do those connect? We all know that Claris Connect and FileMaker can bridge the gap to crossover these different softwares to make them more fluid, but that influence is part of your process and needs to be considered as you’re working on it.
Let’s talk about how you can capture a process. Let’s use weekly invoices as an example. Those invoices that go out to your clients every week. First use a tool like Loom. You can pull up Zoom or QuickTime or anything, GoToMeeting, anything that will actually record something, but I find Loom works great. It’s a free tool. You can download it and you can capture things from your desktop very easily with just a real quick click.
So after you capture that, show what you’re doing for those weekly invoices. We’re going into our software teamwork and we’re pulling up timesheets and we’re reviewing those timesheets. You can actually talk through, out loud, while you’re showing and telling on screen. This is enabling somebody else to learn without them having to be in a meeting with you. So go through this and pull out these numbers. This is my thought process. You can even include that as you’re describing what you do. Make sure you’re showing your whole screen so if you’re switching between different software, that they can see where you’re going in the different software.
After you have that recording, you can transcribe it. I love a tool called rev.com, R-E-V as in Victor dot com. It does a great job of transcribing. That’s one method that makes it automated. I do believe that even though it’s great to capture things in recording as a show and tell, having things in writing is important. So write it up. That’s the next step. Because once you write it up, it’s much easier to edit words than it is to go back and edit a video. The video could still be used as a supplement resource, but I think the words are more important, that somebody can follow along and make sure that they can do it.
So the next time you do that system… that process, so the next week you do the weekly invoices, you go follow it. Follow the process that you have created step-by-step and make sure that it works. And then you have the opportunity to fill in the gaps if something was left out, or if you thought of something in the interim. Another option, if you don’t want to record it for some reason, you can have someone take detailed notes as you direct them, and then they can write them up, and then they can follow them.
That takes it off of your plate too. But more than likely you are going to have to show them one way or another. Screen share is better than in person because in person you don’t have that recorded method unless you are doing an audio recording, which you can also do.
Once you have those written documents, then you have to store them somewhere so that everyone can access them. There are a lot of options for where to do it. Your standard storage facilities, centralized, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, all of those options. And then, of course, SharePoint, which we know is a Microsoft product, and I’ve heard pros and cons about it, but many clients do use the Microsoft suite, so that might be something that works for you.
I like the project management software option. If you’re going to use that, make sure that whatever document you create, that you don’t upload it or create a PDF and upload it into your project management software. You want to actually put the words into it. So if you’re using Teamwork, it’s a notebook. If you’re using Basecamp, it’s a text document. The purpose of doing it that way is so that you can actually search, that you can search for the words. If you upload the file, all you’re going to be able to search for is the name of the file. So that gives you more ability to search and find those things.
And I would also definitely say if you’re using your project management software, that you designate a project, we call ours operations, where you can have all of them put in there and then categorize them if your tool allows it. Many also create private websites called wikis. You can absolutely do that. That lets you click between things and share links. Most of these you can also share links to as well, but the wiki is a little bit more website-esque. There are also processed development software tools out there that help you research those types of processes that might be standard in some other businesses and pull them into yours as well as managing that software… Or I’m sorry, those processes for future use and for sharing with the team and all of that.
Which brings us to the next thing. Now that we have them, how do we actually distribute them to everyone? So if you’re using your project management tool, you can assign a task in the project management software. That’s absolutely a way to do it. You just put a link to where it is. You assign the task to your team members and as they check it off, they’re acknowledging, “Yes, I have reviewed the software or the process that you asked me to review.” The other option is to post a link in a Slack channel and require a thumbs up after they’ve read it. That’s definitely a way to make sure that they know it’s out there and that they have acknowledged because you can see the thumbs-ups of course.
And if it’s really important, say it’s an HR manual or something to that effect. You might actually want a digital signature on a form. So you can create that in a PDF and upload it to Adobe Sign and have them sign off. That is a much more formal way. But all of these ways make sure that your team is aware of the process or the procedure, and that once they have acknowledged it, they are responsible to use it. So in our next section, we are going to talk about how you get the team to adopt it.
We’ve set up our systems. We’ve written them. And, we’ve put them in a centralized location. And now in this segment, we’re going to talk about how you get the team to adopt them. So how are you adopting them with the team? One thing that’s very important is that you set the tone. As the leader, as the owner of a company, you are setting the example. If you fail to follow the steps, you’re giving permission to everyone else not to follow the steps.
I know that I have sometimes been challenged with that because it’s something that you repeat. It’s something that in your head because you wrote it, and you don’t go and look at that process that you wrote. So you jump steps because you can, because you’re the owner and you can, but it confuses the process and it confuses the person who you’re asking to help you with it. So make sure that you’re setting the example by following your own process. Even if that means you have to go pull it up and read it and walk through the steps yourself.
Any unenforced systems are worthless. So if you’ve spent the time and the effort to document these steps that need to happen in your business and you don’t enforce them, they are pretty much worthless. So make sure that that effort of requiring compliance is equal to… Hopefully less, but is equal to the effort that you put in creating them. Share with your full team once. We talked about in the last segment how you can share it with your team so that they’re aware of them, but share it with them once. If they are not following it after one time of sharing it with them, now you’re talking one on one with the person. You’re not sharing again with the full team.
I worked with a client a while back and we put systems and processes in place so that his team could do things to his standards, and one of his complaints was, “They just don’t do it. They don’t follow the system.” And as I dug deeper to find out, “Well, what is going on there? Did you tell them the expectation?” “Yes, they all knew. And in fact, I told all of them 10 times that I needed them to do it this way.” And I said, “Well, are all of them not doing it?” And he said, “Oh no, it’s just Jim.” “Okay, well, let’s go to Jim and find out why.”
Let’s not continue to tell the whole team who now thinks they’re doing something wrong to follow a process that only Jim is not following. If you keep doing that, it falls on deaf ears to the whole team. The team members who are doing it right will jump in and reread that process and they’ll be like, “Oh, what did I do?”
Meanwhile, Jim’s over here completely oblivious that you even asked him to look at it again. So that is a good sign, when you start developing those systems, that somebody might not be fully on board with you. And in this case, it sounds like it’s Jim. So make sure that you are addressing him separately from the rest of the crew if he is not complying.
This needs to be to the level of escalating to HR if you’re big enough to have HR. If you are HR and you do write-ups, you can write them up or you could flat out fire them. These should be fireable offenses. If Jim doesn’t have to follow the process, why should someone else follow the process? And if he’s talking to everyone and he’s saying, “Oh, that process is bogus. I’m not doing it.” Well, now you have that rotten apple affecting the other team members as well.
So if somebody is not able to follow the process or not willing to follow the process in your business, you either need to make sure that you’re isolating them and they’re only doing that one thing that you think they do perfectly in isolation, or you need to remove them.
I’ve worked with certain teams who have that person who just won’t follow the process, but they’re making one client exceptionally happy. Well fine, they’re never getting another job. They can work on that one client until they work themselves out of a job and then they’re done. So it is important to remember how that’s going to affect your clients if they leave, how it will affect you if they leave. But also how does it affect the rest of the team if they stay? And how does it affect you? If you have to deal with that all the time.
Evolution of Structure
Another thing to remember about these processes is that they’re living and breathing documents. You don’t just create them. And they’re static forever. These systems need to grow as you grow. If you learn something new, make sure you get it in there. It could be a question from your team. It could be something, a mistake, some big mistake you made with a client that you never want to have that happen again, and you can go back and say, “Well, if we had just done this at this point, it wouldn’t have happened.” Well, there’s no reason to ever have that happen again now that you know, so put it in the process, share it with the team, share it with the new people that aren’t even on the team yet when they come in.
Make sure you’re getting input from the team on what is and isn’t working. This helps with adoption too. If they are involved in making edits and making suggestions of how it can improve or how it didn’t make sense. With my team, if there ever is confusion, I want to know why they’re confused and I want to make sure that we write that in for the next person that might come behind them and also be confused for the same reason. You also want to have a designated keeper of your systems. I call it a process champion. That could be you. It could be an operations manager or a project manager who’s especially good at this. But you want to make sure that you designate someone to maintain these and stay on top of them.
You want to review those systems annually at least. It may be quarterly if you’re growing really fast and changing quickly. But you want to review them annually at least, during the least busy time of year. I always do that the last week of the year, between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s pretty light, it’s quiet, and it’s just an opportunity to read through, make sure that yes, we’re still using all this software and that something major hasn’t changed over that time. I always set a recurring reminder in my project management tool as well to remind me to do it or else it will escape your brain.
In that case, if you have quarterly or seasonal things that come about, maybe you want to review them right before that starts or something like that, so you can separate and not do all of them at once. If that makes more sense. Another beauty of living, breathing documents is that when something bad happens, you don’t have to blame the client, you don’t have to blame the team member. You blame the system. So where did we go wrong? What did we learn? What do we need to document so this doesn’t happen again? It makes the situation less emotional, it makes it easier to fix, and it makes the team members much more honest in their assessment of what’s going on so that you can fix that system and prevent it from happening again.
Freedom by Delegation
I promised at the end, we would get you some freedom. So let’s talk about freedom. All of these systems are now created. All that information is out of your head. How do we get it off your plate? First, we have the written or recorded structure that you’ve created. So that goes to the delegatee. Whoever you’re delegating to should get that. Have them review it.
Then show them how, whether it’s through a screen share or in person, show them how you do it. Walk yourself through that process again and show them. Then have that delegatee do it while you watch them. Maybe it’s the following week if we are going back to our example of weekly invoices. Maybe one week you do it and they watch. The next week they do it and you watch. The following week, they’re going to do it without you, but you’re going to check it. You’re going to, “Hey, create all those invoices, but don’t send them out until I look.” So you get that checkpoint, but they’re doing it without the crutch of you.
And then lastly, they can write up the process and store it properly if it was something new, but if it was something that they worked on and they had changes to, they can track those edits as they go and make notes so that they’re aware for the next time, and also, should you lose that person, somebody new might also be aware.
Many project management tools on those edits will let you track the changes in versions. I know that some of those process software tools that we’ve talked about earlier would as well. SharePoint does. So you can track those versions. If they change something you’d be able to see. And you do want to make sure it’s trackable. But at that point, you have now handed off something and it’s off your plate and you don’t have to worry about it anymore. That’s how structure sets you free.
Originally published at Beyond the Chaos: Small Business Project Management and Operations Consulting.