Tim ran a successful service firm with sales of $2 million per year and an operating profit margin of over 30%.
"David, I feel stuck here. We are at our max capacity and are having to turn away business. We're looking to hire more, but right now that's just going to have to wait until we get through this wave of projects--I just can't spare the attention to onboard and train any new staff."
Like many business owners, Tim had grown his business to the point where he was doing all he knew how to do. It was at this point that Tim enrolled in our business coaching program.
I asked him a few questions. "Tim, walk me through the process you use when you take on a new client project at your firm." Tim spent the next 6 minutes laying out a detailed process.
"Tim, that's great that you're so clear on doing this. A question, do you have this process formalized on paper, or even better as a process template you use in a project management or other software tool?"
Tim responded, "No, we've never formally written it out, it's just that after having done this so long everyone knows the process."
"Oh," I said, "Everyone Tim? If I were to ask your staff to lay out the process, do you think they could have laid it out as clearly as you did just a moment ago?"
Tim was quiet for a moment, "Well, no, not as clear as I did, but they all know it."
"Okay Tim," I said, "I understand that they all know it. What would it look like if you brought your team in to your conference room for 90 minutes to lay out your existing process into a clear flow chart, listing out all the current steps. Do you think if you all put your heads together looking at a visual flow up on your white board that you could find ways to streamline this process? I mean, is there room to eliminate steps, or do other steps in parallel, or to automate pieces of this process, to make it faster, cheaper, easier, more consistent?"
"Well now that you put it that way, I'm sure we could find some efficiencies if we did that."
And that was the opening I needed to give Tim a proven 6-step process to redesign a core system to increase its speed, value, impact, efficiency, and consistency.
Here is that same process we coached Tim's company through.
Step One: Lay out your current system--VISUALLY.
You can do this as a flow chart on a white board, or my favorite, as a series of sticky notes on a way, with one step to a sticky note.
Once you've laid out the full system with all its parts, you have the baseline upon which you want to improve.
Step Two: Get clear on exactly WHY you have this system in the first place.
What is the intended output you expect from this system? How does this create value for you and your customer? What are the most important outputs to the process? Why do they matter more than the other outputs? Which are the least important and lowest value outputs?
By getting clear on the purpose of the system you can look at your old baseline with fresh eyes knowing what it is the system is really supposed to do.
Step Three: Mark out your critical path.
Which steps of your baseline system are the most expensive in terms of time, money, complexity, top talent, etc.?
Which steps of your baseline system are the biggest bottlenecks to the process? The ones that in the past were the biggest constraints to the flow?
Which steps of your baseline system are incidental? Unnecessary? Or simply of very little value to the true purpose of the system?
Which steps of the baseline system are inadequate or under developed based on their high importance for the final output of the system?
Essentially what step three prompts you to do is to look at your baseline system, for what often might be the first time in such a formal way, and to flag those aspects that deserve more attention as you redesign it, and which steps you can eliminate or simplify because they are of less value to the true purpose of the system.
Step 4: Brainstorm ways to redesign the process to be faster, cheaper, simpler, more impactful, and consistently of higher quality.
You'll want to do this brainstorming with a varied group of experienced and new team members.
Your experienced team members who've been engaged in this part of your business will bring a seasoned intuition to the idea generation that will let you draw from their deep institutional knowledge.
Your "outsiders" (to this area of your business) will bring a fresh set of eyes to challenge your assumptions and help you see your blind spots. Ideally at least one of these fresh sets of eyes will be strong technologically so she can spot places to automate and streamline the process via technology.
- Which outcomes of the system are "must haves" and which results are incidental or "nice to haves"?
- How could you reduce the steps or decrease the resources needed and still generate the needed results? And generate an improved result?
- Which steps could be combined? Automated? Simplified? Outsourced?
- How could you speed up the process? Reduce the people needed to perform the process?
- How could you make the system more robust? More stable? Less prone to error?
- How could you upgrade the value the system creates (internally or externally)? Increase the value in a way that decreases the cost to produce the result? Or marginally increases the cost to produce but so enhances the value of the output that you can get a price increase for the value offering now?
Step Five: Smooth out the best brainstormed ideas into a new and improved redesigned system.
This is a good time to also pay attention to the FORMAT of the system not just the process.
Remember, every system has two layers to it--the process layer ("step 1...2...3...) and the format layer (e.g. a word doc of steps, a spreadsheet checklist, a software template, etc.)
The process layer ensures the system works; the format layer makes it likely that your team will actually use the system to get the results you want (versus just ignoring it).
Step Six: Use the new system for a while and observe what is and isn't working--improve it on an ongoing basis.
Based on my experiences with doing this inside my companies, and in the companies of clients we coach, your new system will be a big leap forward, but will still need to be refined over time. Step 6 says that as you use the system, continually improve it as you go.
Let's go back to Tim's story for a moment.
He did the above process and redesigned their core system for doing client engagements for their most common project type. Previously it took them up to 30-45 days to get the final project output to their clients. After doing the redesign work, they reduced that time to under 20 days, and they have a company goal which they feel they'll hit very soon to reduce that time to under 15 days.
Not only will it thrill their clients to get the work that much faster, but this acceleration of the process will allow them to take on 2 times the client work with their current staffing levels! Remember, Tim's company was turning away business because they didn't have the capacity to do the client work. This will let them grow by an additional 100%, without additional hiring. Plus, when they do go to hire to continue to support their growth, it will be much easier to hire and onboard since all new team members in this area of the company will be supported by a much stronger, well designed system within which to produce for their clients.
Your turn. Pick one core system in your company to do this six-step process on. It could be your sales system, your production system, your lead generation system, or some other aspect of your company. Once you've done it once, move on to the next core system, and then the next. This relentless process is one of the reasons why our business coaching clients enjoy an average annual growth rate of 64.2% -- because they keep refining their core systems.
If you would like to get the in-depth details of how to do this with your own company, allowing you to scale your business and at the same time reduce its reliance on you, then please join me for a special webinar training I'm doing that's coming up very soon.