As entrepreneurs, when we have an idea for a start-up, we want our business to succeed and grow. Defining your products and services is part of the journey and having responsive and agile processes is a key part in this. Just remember not to lose sight of your initial idea or concept.
Most start-up businesses will have a business strategy, showing your vision for the business, the products or services you offer, and may even identify your key customers and market sectors. But to succeed, as Joanna Strahan of C2C Process explains, you will also need a plan of how you will achieve this.
This plan should include a set of core processes that help you to deliver the company’s products or services. People often associate the term ‘process’ with a rigid and complex set of written instructions. However, the definition of a process is simply a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a task or goal.
For example, if your vision is to build affordable home, you will follow a sequence for constructing homes, but you may have tweaks that allow you to deliver different type of houses in both size and design.
The ‘sequence’ is the core process and this needs to be able to grow with your business. However, in many cases this doesn’t happen and companies outgrow their processes. This can trap a business and prevent it from expanding and/or increasing its profit.
There are often three reasons that start-ups and other businesses outgrow their processes. Let’s go through these and then look at some solutions.
Failure to plan is a plan to fail
The excitement of a start-up business is a great motivator, but if this energy is not channelled correctly, we can miss key stages in our growth, that will help us consistently deliver what our customers want and what we promise.
Imagine you running a training course. You are knowledgeable about the subject and keen to impart this information, but if you produce a lesson plan without clear learning objectives, how do you know you won’t miss key aspects of the learning?
Without a lesson plan you will struggle to review how well the session went and you won’t be able to consistently deliver the course, time are time.
Tweaking and revising your plan as you go is good practice – after all nothing stays static and you learn as you develop.
Forgetting about your vision
Your customers come to you because they need your product or service and they like the way you do it. Whilst it is important to listen to your customers, if you incorporate every want, need or request your product or services will soon become unrecognisable and won’t be in keeping with your initial concept or your vision for the business.
However, there may be requests that make sense for you to incorporate in your products and services. But before you do this, ensure the changes fit into your core process. Just bolting them on makes the process unwieldy and can mean that it is harder to replicate and ensure quality control.
For example, you establish a reporting dashboard to measure your Key Performance Indicators. You begin to see key trend data that helps you improve your business; you share this with your customers and it triggers them to ask for measures to be added. Should you adapt your dashboard to satisfy these requests? Do they fit with your original vision? What are you left with if you change the dashboard, does it take the focus away from you Key Performance measures?
Creating a tick box process
Creating processes that are bespoke to you and your business can take time to design, and it is often tempting to purchase an off the shelf process that puts a tick in the box or gets you that accreditation.
This is a false economy, as the off the shelf process is often not used and stays in a folder gathering dust. A procedure that hasn’t been created holistically and doesn’t align to the core process will create a procedure that ends up sitting outside the core process and is therefore often overlooked.
When staff members perceive it as a bolt on task or something that is not essential, they will create their own informal and unwritten processes, and with everyone working their own way you will not get consistent deliver and you may not achieve your companies vision.
Your business culture
Never forget that people can make or break a process, and this can be because they are creatures of habits. We often hear a business owner or a team member saying, “I’ve been doing it this way for years”.
The solution is to create an agile and responsive culture, but this requires joined up thinking and collaborative working, being open to change and empowering your team to be creative and to make change happen.
A good way to build this culture for your start-up or small business is to establish Process Working Groups. These groups will have the responsibility for setting the process, reviewing its successes and looking for improvements.
The staff members who are in these groups should be chosen;
- for their understanding of the current process,
- their ability to enthuse others and
- the capacity they have for ploughing through and getting the job done.
The working group will need a clear brief including:
- Why do we need to make changes?
- What are we trying to achieve (for example, to improve time efficiencies or to increase compliance)?
- What are the risks to the business if this is not achieved?
- Should performance reviews, measures or objectives be included?
- What is the timescale to implement any changes that prove necessary?
The working group needs to be focussed on the big picture as well as the detail. It should also be willing to accept feedback. Of course, it will also need to be objective when reviewing the success of the process.
It is important to remember things change, processes grow and evolve and sometimes things just don’t work out the way you had hoped they would. Do not see these occasions as failures. They should be seen as providing valuable lessons from which improvements can spring.
Just the idea of being audited is unnerving for a lot of people. The fear of someone going through what you do with a fine-tooth comb and finding mistakes or the things you just haven’t had time to do, can be very stressful.
If you want to keep your processes agile and responsive you will need to change this perception as it is imperative that you know how your business is performing, what work is being done and the processes being followed.
Remember the aim of an audit is to find compliance and that process audits are designed to find out if the process itself is fit for purpose. This approach is more holistic and helps ensure that you avoid the ‘tick box’ mentality.
These process audits should look at:
- The purpose of the process
- What business objective is it supporting?
- Is it managing the risk and exploiting the opportunities?
- Is it achieving its purpose? or
- Are there barriers, blockers or waste in the process?
These audits must be a true and honest reflection of the process and should not be carried out by anyone who is part of the task/project or the process working group.
The feedback from these audits along with any other performance measures should be given to the Process Working Group for review. The auditor can then discuss the feedback with the working group, corrective actions can be agreed (if they prove necessary) including changes/improvements to the process.
For your ideas and your start-up to succeed you need to have robust processes in place from the beginning. As you develop and grow you can use the ideas outlined here to keep everything in sync. That way your business will avoid outgrowing its processes and remain agile and fit for the future.
About the author
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Joanna Strahan, founder of C2C Process Group and an expert in business improvements, management systems, achieving industry accreditations, auditing and inspections. C2C Process Group offers expert support in the implementation of process and risk-based approaches, driving operational efficiencies, compliance monitoring and collaborative working.
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