Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hate writing office processes? Try this tip to get started!

I'm big on process-izing. I suppose the correct term is systematizing. Whatever term you use, it's the notion that if there's something you do or produce regularly, it pays to create a repeatable process.

This post isn't about how to create a process, but the basic idea is:
  1. Define the "process" specifically: where it starts and ends

  2. Document needed steps, timing of steps, dependencies, resources or approvals, etc.

  3. Create templates & checklists to accompany steps, if appropriate

  4. File the process, train people in it, or otherwise insert the process into your office environment so that it's useful!

  5. Periodically check in to see the process remains efficient and relevant.
Got it?  All right. So, I've been hanging out with school supplies recently and I've got calendars on my mind.

Here's the idea- buy a new day planner, and use it to collect ideas and information about office processes. Get one with month-at-a-glance pages as well as detail pages.  Block time and use it to sit down with the visual of a month and think about standard processes that occur over a month.  Remember, this isn't about the actual month/day- you could actually use that blank day planner you'd had high hopes for in 2007!

Say you keep January as the month-at-a-glance SUMMARY process calendar, either noting processes week by week or simply listing all the processes you plan to create.  Then use the other monthly sections to detail processes.  Use any month for any category of processes and flip back and forth as you add/change/delete. At some point, the planner becomes an ad hoc or starter process manual, and- hey, some of us just need a starting point, right?

If you haven't formalized financial processes for your practice- start there. New client processes are another natural.  A new client process might start with the signed agreement and include templates and ticklers for internal admin activities like "create file structure" as well as client relationship activities like send "thank you for your business" note. Take your next new client and use a blank month section of your process day planner to record the steps that occur as you move through the relationship.

The idea is to use the day planner structure to focus your attention on processOf the things you know you should be doing and aren't, creating office processes is one that has a big bang for the buck.  Process allows you to streamline your efforts while making it much more difficult to make mistakes or let things slide. Creating processes is also the first step to delegating or outsourcing activities that don't rock your boat.

The busier you are, the more important it is to manage the systems in your office, and the less time you have to do it. Try using a new day planner to make it easier.

As always, the rocket science is in the doing.  However- this idea is closer to  concept than implementation. I'll be trying it out myself to see how to make it more useful.  In the meantime, if you find something that works for you- please share!