Document Your Processes - It Pays!
By James K. Boomer, MCP
There are a number of tasks we do on a frequent basis that become so routine that we take for granted that “everyone in our organization knows how to do that!” This assumption is most likely untrue. More likely, a number of employees are sitting at their desks right this moment stumped about where to begin with this new project they have been assigned. Documented processes provide a perfect starting point for new projects.
The first step in documenting a process is identifying a repeatable process that is frequently used within the organization. Be careful to not take too narrow of a view. Many tasks we do have very similar steps that lead to very different outcomes. These tasks can be grouped together to make a single documented process built with enough flexibility that it can be applied to each specific task.
After you have identified your process, it is important to talk to representatives from all parties that play a direct or indirect role in this process. This step can be completed in a number of different ways.
- Formal interviews
- Informal face to face discussions
- Sending out a questionnaire
- Observing the process in progress
Once you have collected input from all parties involved, you can start to flush out key areas for improvement, consolidation of similar tasks that serve the same purpose, and eliminate unnecessary tasks. Another key area to look for is steps that your organization is currently completing in house that are not in line with your unique abilities. These steps are perfect candidates to be outsourced to a 3rd party that can complete the tasks more efficiently, reduce turn around time and cost. This information should be the basis of your documented process. Documentation of the process can be done with a combination of a process flow program, such as Microsoft Visio, and a word processing program, such as Microsoft Word.
Now that you have the process in writing, you are ready for the most important and most challenging step; getting your people to follow the process. By talking to people up front and collecting their input, you have a head start. Make sure that the documented process is distributed throughout your organization. In a larger organization, it might be helpful to take a phased role out approach. You can start with personnel in key management positions within your organization. Once these individuals understand and buy in to the process, they can distribute to the people that they work with.
Benefits to Documented Processes
- Increased consistency of how work gets done within your organization
- Decreased “ramp-up” time for new hires or existing employees transitioning to a new role
- Provide a guide to creating new processes or selecting a new technology to use within your organization
A personal example – The Boomer Guide Creation Process
One of my first assignments after coming onboard with Boomer Consulting, Inc. was to formalize the process for creating Strategic Guides. We had already published the Guide to Strategic Planning and the Guide to Outsourcing which served as good templates but there was no formal documented process. With four new guides in the pipeline and different members of the Boomer Team assigned as authors for each of the guides, it became apparent that we needed a formal process. With our repeatable process identified, I set out to talk to the key people involved in the process.
Through interviews with internal Boomer personnel, representatives from our Marketing/Design firm, and representatives from other organizations that publish similar products on a regular basis, I was able to identify key areas for improvement, consolidate overlapping steps, and eliminate unnecessary tasks. Further, we identified some steps that we had been trying to complete in house that would be more efficiently completed by our Marketing/Design firm. We opted to leave all of the design to the 3rd party firm since it is not what we do. The information gathered during these interviews was the basis for documenting the process. The document included process flows, textual descriptions for steps that required further clarification including parties involved, and a timeline of when each step should be completed. Once we had our process in writing, it was presented in a staff meeting where we solicited feedback and suggested improvements. With everyone providing input, it was relatively easy to get buy in from the entire organization. We are now ready to put our process to use as we move forward with creating new guides on a quarterly basis.
Voice of the Editor
Which isn’t completely true. I mean, occasionally I drop by when I manage to sneak out of the nonstop frat party over at Going Concern, but I’m mostly a wallflower over there. I’m happy to say that I’ve been given express permission (or explicit orders, if you like) to wander over here to AccountingWEB more often.
Why is that, you might ask? My job is to replace the irreplaceable Gail Perry as Editor-in-Chief. What does that mean? I don’t really know! I think it’ll be fun getting a feel for things, throwing in my own thoughts here and there, and listening to the discussions you’re having about the accounting profession.