SCHEDULE TIME OUT. Either a chunk of time or say, an afternoon a week, for a month. Dedicate this time to thinking and reflecting on how far you have come and where you want to go. Brainstorm with a close colleague or friend if you can but make sure it is someone you can be honest with; someone who shares your vision and gets where you are planning to go. Ensure you spend this time somewhere far away from day-to-day business. If you can’t fit in a trip to a lodge with an inspiring mountain view – just leave the office and go somewhere peaceful. Take a note book and pen and DO NOT CHECK EMAILS OR TAKE CALLS.
WRITE ALL YOUR PROCESSES DOWN. Write down every single important task in the chain of stuff that needs to happen for your firm to deliver its product(s) and/or service(s) to clients. If there are things that some staff members do that you’re not sure about; get sure. You need to be absolutely thorough at this stage. Understanding the minutiae of process functions will massively impact on decision making after the research phase. And if you miss something out here, it could painfully blow-up a plan part-way through the implementation phase much later on! Ouch.
CREATE SOME MAPS.
Start with an Organisation Chart if you haven’t already got one (its crazy how many SMEs don’t really know who reports to who and who’s job title is what!) Then map or chart all the software products used to complete an associated essential task and note by whom it is used. Start off with a pen and a large piece of paper (there is something quite cathartic about using pen and paper) then tech-it-up when you’re sure it’s right. Add some visuals to an online version if you can. Use a software like Lucidchart
to bring maps/diagrams to life and make them collaborative/interactive.
EXAMINE YOUR MAPS CAREFULLY. What are you doing that really NEEDS to be done. Where do you or your colleagues ‘waste’ time the most? Where in your ‘dream’ business day would you automate a procedure. Mark it on the map. Get your team’s input at this stage. Ask them where they think or wish they could save time. Perhaps they have already researched tools that would help but just not passed on the info yet?
THINK ABOUT WHAT SOFTWARE CAN GO AND WHAT MUST STAY. It’s important not to get too hung up on any specific tools or platforms though. Those you’re sure you will end up with at the beginning of this ‘detox’ are not necessarily the ones you will end up with at the end! Whatever you think you are going to keep or jettison right now, don’t bet on it – just write it all down and mark it on the Map – for now.
DO SOME RESEARCH. A good starting point is this. If you are even 85% sure there is one thing you don’t want to change (eg. Your accounts system might be Quickbooks and you know you are happy with it but what you would like to do is automate some of the invoice creation within the programme instead of having staff members manually input the data), then use that piece of software as a starting point for your research. Work out what’s on the market that is built to marry with it or that uses API’s* to ‘talk’ to it already.
PICK UP THE PHONE. Speak to fellow business owners in the same industry. What do they use? Why do they use it? Suss them out. Are they ahead of the curve or behind you in terms of systemisation? Write it all down. Speak direct to the software companies you think might have solutions to your problems. Of course the sales guys and gals will always make their bit of software sound like the new best thing since sliced bread. And it might be. But it’s also possibly not quite the right fit for your business. Just write all the research about everything you stumble across down (in the same place) and come back to it later.
CHOOSE A PROJECT MANAGER. This should preferably be someone senior from within your organisation who shares the big picture you have for your business. But if all your staff are stretched and can’t do a proper job for want of time (or are digital dinosaurs) then get someone in from outside. Outsource the project management or get a contractor. Previous experience is helpful but not always necessary. The important thing is that you trust the person to be resourceful and act for you. They will be doing the hard graft of detailed research and ultimate implementation. There needs to be an open, honest, two way communication between you both. If you don’t trust anyone internally or can’t afford to outsource then you will have to do it yourself. Do not delegate this to a staff member who is unable to think outside the box, or who will be afraid to speak up or challenge you. The job won’t get done properly.
TELL YOUR TEAM THAT CHANGE IS COMING AND GET THEM ONBOARD WITH YOUR VISION. This is probably the most important point of all because you need to bring your team with you – emotionally. It’s going to be disruptive putting in new processes and they won’t necessarily get why you are trying to do it. Most employees just want to go to work and do what they are paid to do, go home, spend their salaries and not worry about the other stuff. If they wanted to worry about the future success of a business they would be running their own. So it’s a big ask to get them to embrace new ideas especially if those ideas are going to take time out of their day and ‘create more work for them’. Well, there will be more work in the short term because they will have to learn how to use new stuff. But once some steep learning curves have been mastered they’ll be relieved that their jobs get so much easier! So be sure to keep staff informed and inspired along the way.
REMEMBER THE FIRST STEP IS GETTING HONEST about what does and doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s easier to bounce that off an objective outsider.
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