I advise companies on how to overcome their barriers to meaningful growth. As I perform my assessments on what's holding the company back, I purposefully seek out inefficiencies in handoffs and gaps between systems. Identification of these issues is often the key to improved profitability and better margins .

As I uncover an issue, I ask the business leaders "why haven't you turned that into a process?" or "have you explored ways to make that more efficient?"

The excuse most often provided by the leader is that they don't want to "spend the time or effort" it would take to turn a task or action into a process until they know it's "important enough". If technology is involved, they are concerned that introducing a system would be too costly.

So how do you measure importance and when should a task be systemized? The rule of 3 should be your guide.

The rule of the 3 simply states:

If you are going to perform a task

more than 3 times,

if it involves more than 3 people or

if it takes more than 3 steps,

it should be written down and turned into a formal process.

More Processes Qualify Than You Would Think

When considering the rule of 3 for the tasks you use to run your business, you will find that more qualify than you initially think.

My 4th grade teacher gave me a writing assignment that illustrated this point. She asked me to describe the steps it takes to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My response, "you take out the bread, spread the peanut butter on one side, jelly on the other, put them together and you are done". To which my teacher asked, "Where did the bread come from? How do we have peanut butter and jelly to work with? Did you use a knife or a spoon?"

The exercise of documenting and thinking through a process helps you and your team consider all of the necessary dependencies and often brings with it the realization that a process may involve many more steps than you expected.

Technology Can Help

As you identify a process, look for technology to help you make it more efficient and prevent human error.

Many affordable systems exist today that allow you to easily manage processes and make them repeatable. From systems like Infusionsoft that can turn your customer prospecting and training into trigger based campaigns to simple calendar reminders and location-based apps built into our smartphones and tablets.

The number of times a human is required to move data from one location to another increases the likelihood of error due to transposition of numbers, typos or a simple misunderstanding and labor is the most costly and finite component of your business. Finding ways to free up this valuable resource adds dollars to your bottom line freeing up cash for more strategic endeavors.

An added bonus--once you program technology to do something, it doesn't call insickor forget.

Documented Processes Are Key to Growth

The most important reason to create and document your processes? Unless you can easily describe how your business works, you will have problems raising money, finding someone to buy your company and taking time planned and unplanned away from the office.

As you look at ways to improve your company, the rule of 3 can be a powerful tool in making the decision as to whether or not a task is "process worthy". The lack of documented process is a major stumbling block to business growth and sustainability.

Published on: Aug 13, 2014
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.