Posts Taged processes

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 25 :: Operations :: Processes

If you want to be tied to your desk, be forced to solve every problem yourself, never enjoy a day off and worry constantly about whether or not work is done the way you want it done, ignore this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge.

Creating processes is the key to delivering a great customer experience, ensuring quality, scaling your business, decreasing mistakes and defects, empowering employees and increasing velocity.

New business owners struggle with early hires. To the detriment of the organization, they often hire people “just like them” so they can feel confident that the work will be done just like they would do it. The better alternative is to create detailed processes for everything so that every new hire, as they follow the processes, can do the work just as the founder intended. Then, as new talent is added to the organization, those with different skill sets, personalities and gifts can add new strength to the organization and bring increased clarity and refinement to the processes.

Let’s quickly clarify the distinction between processes and policies. Processes are for those tasks where there is no wiggle room – the way we mass-produce widgets, the way we pay a vendor invoice, the way we complete new employee documentation. Policies are for those tasks where there might be some gray areas – when do we give a refund, when do we allow a reservation to be cancelled without a cancellation fee, how many bereavement days do we allow when an employee’s family member dies. Processes are like railroad tracks – you can’t veer at all from the track without negative consequences. Policies are like guardrails – if you drive anywhere between them, you’re safe. With processes, follow the letter of the law. With policies, follow the spirit of the law.

Back to this week’s challenge. In thirty minutes, you won’t be able document all the vital processes in your organization. So, in this week’s challenge, we want to construct the framework that you’re going to use to create your process documentation. For processes to be most effective, they must be complete and have sufficient granularity for those who have to follow them.

Here are some suggestions for putting your process documentation together –

  • Why does this process exist? What is the endgame? Is it part of a larger task (for example, if this is the process for invoicing a customer, how and where does it fit in the larger task of obtaining, processing, and filling a customer order)?
  • Who is responsible for this task? Who is the backup person if the primary person is unavailable?
  • What is the requisite knowledge for this task? What is the requisite experience for this task? Where can that knowledge and experience be obtained.
  • If the person responsible for this task has a problem or question, who do they ask?
  • What resources are required for the task? If software is required for the task, who adds new users or assigns privileges? If there’s a software problem, how do you get technical support? If equipment is required, where is it located? Who provides support if the equipment breaks down? If materials are required, where are those materials stored? What vendors supply those materials? What is the process for reordering those materials?
  • What are the steps in the process itself? Describe the steps in detail, including why that step is done? As you’re documenting the steps, be especially sensitive to the things that are done by instinct or that “everyone knows”. Make sure that even the most intuitive, well-know and obvious things are included in the documentation. For example, if the last step is to drop something in the mail slot, spell out the location of the mail slot.
  • Who is notified when the process is completed? How are they notified (even if they are notified automatically via software)? What do those people do with the notification after they have received it?
  • How is completion of the process measured? Are the number of widgets manufactured counted? Is the insurance claim reviewed for accuracy? If so, who is responsible for the tracking or auditing the process? How do they give feedback or scoring to the person or people who did the work?
  • How is the person executing the process invited into the improvement of the process? How can they question the process or recommend changes?
  • Where is the most updated copy of the process stored (paper, shared drive, collaboration software (Slack, Microsoft Teams, Basecamp, etc)? How are any “remote” copies of the process updated when changes to the process are made? How are changes to the process rolled out? What is the training mechanism? (demonstration, checklist, class, video, podcast, collaboration software)

Use these suggestions, then add and customize to create your own framework for documenting processes. Then, beginning with the most critical value creation activities, work your way through all the processes in your organization.

When you’re finished, the goal is to create a “company in a box”. That is, if someone with the requisite knowledge and experience picked up your process documentation, they should be able to carry out all the core value creation activities in the company. And, perform the work just the way the founder intended (with the modifications and enhancements made by other smart staff members along the way).

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 24 :: Business Continuity :: Operations

2020 has been the poster child for disruption. From global pandemic to localized rioting, business owners and managers have faced situations they’ve most likely never seen before. These events and the fallout from them have magnified the importance of a solid business continuity plan.

In the second One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge, we discussed business continuity in the context of protecting the data that powers your organization. This week we turn our attention to operations.

Let’s jump into the exercise.


Operations pivot on people and on the skills they bring to the workplace. To mitigate people risk in the context of business continuity –

  • Identify any processes that are not thoroughly documented. If a current employee becomes unavailable, it’s imperative that the processes surrounding their job are accurately and thoroughly recorded. Document not just what they do, but why it is done, when it is done (including deadlines) and to whom the finished work product is distributed. During this week’s thirty-minute exercise, you won’t be able to complete the documentation itself, but you want a complete list of all undocumented or under-documented processes in the organization.
  • Identify options for completing critical work if a large percentage of your workforce is unavailable (as we saw with COVID-19).
    • Can work be completed by other personnel?
    • Are those personnel cross-trained and do they have access to the process documentation from the previous step?
    • Can you access contractors, temp workers, or consultants to complete critical work?
    • If so, who are those people and how quickly can you mobilize them?
  • If your workforce if formally organized (unionized), work proactively before a work stoppage to engineer an agreement that allows the company and the unionized workers to benefit from the company’s success.
  • Make training an ongoing part of the company’s employee development process so that all workers are continually honing their skills and building a broader base of expertise.



Clearly, some businesses, like a hotel, are location dependent and remote work is not an option, but for many other businesses, work can be portable. Depending on the nature of the event that triggers use of the business continuity plan, there are multiple options.

  • If onsite work is required and the primary location is destroyed or inaccessible, a “hot site” can be activated. Typically, hot sites are abbreviated replicas of a primary location complete with equipment and tech. In the event of a disaster, the hot site is activated and workers report to the new site and begin work. Cloud-based systems are accessed from the hot site location and business continues as usual. Obviously an expensive solution, but sometimes necessary.
  • If your business is multi-location, consider moving operations to what would normally be a branch office.
  • If the need will be longer-term (maybe due to something like a fire or flood), consider a coworking space for temporarily housing your operations.
  • In a world of ubiquitous broadband internet service, cloud-based systems and video conferencing, working from home is a more-than-viable option. If you don’t have a work from home policy, work from home procedures or tech that supports work from home, add the development of those things to your to-do list during this week’s exercise. Once you have those things in place, schedule some practice work-from-home days to make sure everything functions as it should.



There are multiple critical-path resources in a business. The absence of any of them can diminish or destroy the organization’s value creation activity. Effective business continuity planning puts those resources back in play as soon as possible – ideally without any interruption to value creation activities.

  • If your organization is dependent on specialty vehicles or other large equipment for which rentals are not available (e.g. tow trucks), craft a plan with a competitor for a shared business continuity plan. You’ll be each other’s back up and you’ll do a pre-negotiated revenue share.
  • If your organization uses specialty tools and those tools become damaged or destroyed, identify multiple sources for replacement tools.
  • Identify multiple vendors for raw materials. Craft agreements with primary, secondary, and even, tertiary vendors for essential items. Nurture the relationships so that each one represents a win-win for both parties. If a primary vendor fails, make it easy for the other vendors to respond quickly. Always track vendor performance in pricing, quality, and service.



Even a brief business disruption can have an oversized impact on sales revenue. Unchecked discretionary spending can quickly deplete cash reserves. Activating the business continuity plan might have its own built in costs (rental charges, overtime), so acting quickly is a necessity.

  • Build a cash reserve much like you’d do for your household. Three to six months of fixed costs, plus all “automatic” business continuity expenses is a good start.
  • Quickly assess the severity (and anticipated length) of the disruption. If necessary, quickly stop all discretionary spending.



Create a communication procedure as part of the business continuity plan. Where do team members go to get the most up-to-date and best information. Who do they contact if they have questions?

One Final Tool

For the final part of this week’s exercise, I’d encourage you to conduct a “pre-mortem”. We know all about post-mortems from every episodes of CSI (or one its spinoffs) that we’ve watched. When someone dies, the coroner examines them closely to determine the cause of death. A pre-mortem is similar, except, for purposes of this exercise, we propel ourselves into the future and pretend that our business continuity plan has failed miserably. Then we ask, “What did we miss?”, “What fell through the cracks?”, “What procedure broke down?”, “Who was unprepared and why?”, “How did we fail the customer?” You get the idea. It’s looking backward at the event from an imagined failed future state. Anything that helps us create another perspective of our response to the disruption is beneficial. Take the results of the pre-mortem and work them back into business continuity plan.

After you have the plan in place, review it with your team and put a reminder on your calendar to review it every six month to make sure everything still makes sense.