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If You Don’t Have a Process, You Don’t Have a Business

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I’m a process guy. I like steps and sequences. I like documentation and diagrams. I like knowing what I just did and knowing what I’m going to do next. Process-oriented thinking is in my nature.

But I’m not just a process guy because I like process, but because there’s good evidence that creating, understanding, and following a process is the foundation for almost every ongoing success in almost every organization in history.

Or to put it in simpler terms: if you don’t have a process, you don’t have a business.

These may seem like painful words to some business owners. That may be because you consider yourself highly creative or extremely adaptable. It may seem like being in business is about helping customers, not about following a procedure.

But in truth, process-oriented thinking does not prevent creativity. Process-oriented thinking does not stall customer service. Process-oriented thinking does not prevent you from adapting to circumstances.

Instead, a process is about understanding what you are doing well enough to know what impact a variation might have. It’s like knowing the route and the geography well enough to take a detour. If you have no idea where you are going and decide to veer off the path, you might get lost entirely.

Business Process Sequence - Surfing

© Flickr user John Lemieux

The famous process expert W. Edwards Deming once noted, “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.” That quote merits some further discussion. What does it mean to describe what you are doing as a process?

First, describe what you are doing as a series of steps. Perhaps the most self-evident element of a process is sequence. Something comes first, something else comes second, and so on. If there is some order that appeals to you, that structure tells you something about the activity as a process.

Second, identify the inputs and outputs. Every process requires something that goes into it, whether it is raw materials, information, or energy. Every process generates products and byproducts, which may come at the end or anywhere during process executition.

Third, determine what usually goes wrong. It might seem like looking for failures is the opposite of process-oriented thinking, but in reality if you know what kinds of mistakes commonly crop up, you must have had some experience with the process. And you can use this as information about where you need more details, more resources, or more precision.

Finally, document what you learned and test it with someone else. Once you have described what you are doing as a process, give your process documentation to someone else and see how they do. This is what cooks do with recipes and what manual writers do with new manuals. A process which hasn’t been documented is just a personal habit.

So if you want to have a business, you have to have a process. In fact, you probably need more than one.

Make it happen. Or: ask for help.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
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Robby Slaughter
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