Can your Small / Medium Business pass the Beer Truck Test?

January 10, 2008

January 10 2008

If you, or a key individual within your organization was hit by a beer truck on the way to work tomorrow – what would happen? or better yet, what would not happen?

Who else knows where that payroll or financial information is? Who else has any idea on your accounting system, or any other technology resources that you have?

This little note is not about “succession planning” or “bench strength”, but about the day to day operations tasks that keep your business running.

Plain and simple, what activities do your people “do” on a daily basis to keep the gears running?

If you do any activity within your organization, and you do it more than once – you have a possibility of getting a formalized, documented “process” to improve efficiency and reduce internal costs. This is something that I have seen lacking in the majority of small / medium business that I have been associated with, or have spoken to. A process can be defined as the broad sequence of events that make up a particular function. For example, “Payroll” could be one of these, with a Process of an input of completed time sheet, which outputs to a supervisor for validation, which outputs to payroll department, which outputs to a payment. You are not looking at one individual person or department is “doing” but the complete “flow” across all departments that generate the desired result.

There are many professional grade process management tools available, two of which are below. While I am an ITIL certified practitioner and have also implemented both IT Operations and Infrastructure planning to ISO 9000 Process Management standards, for many SMB’s these can be overkill.

The ISO 9000 standards are an international consensus on good quality management practices. In the risk of over simplifying, to be ISO 9000 compliant you need documented practices for your organization that are consistent and repeatable. You can think of it as “Tell me what you do, show me, and Prove it”. The required documentation for “what you do” and “Prove it” forces a consistent and repeatable process and records of those processes.

The ITIL,or IT Infrastructure Library, is a framework of best practices for applying IT management best practices to supplying IT services. Originally defined by the Office of Government Commerce in the UK. ITIL can reduce IT service and support cost through following its best practices in configuration management, service delivery, etc.

I have had great success in using both ISO and ITIL standards to reduce cost, and reduce IT related problems in my IT career, but fully implementing these frameworks can be expensive, and in smaller organizations they can be swatting a fly with a sledge hammer.

So you have identified a process, such as the “Payroll” mentioned above, now, write it down! Write down those steps and which function performs the step, with a brief comment of that functions duty with that step.

With these processes documented in these steps, there are several advantages;

1) Training. When new individuals are hired, there is less training required to bring them up to speed on their own process tasks, firstly because it is written, secondly, if a certain task is intermittent, unless someone remembers that it is to take place, you avoid re-inventing the wheel.

2) In more complex processes, if it took someone a day to figure out how to do it the first time, why do that again the second time?

3) Documenting the steps in a process, can also prevent more expensive options that were not intended – think purchasing for example, you have Net 30 with a Vendor and a corporate discount, but someone buys the same thing on the corporate credit card down the street.

As the Principle Owner, GM or Manager at a SMB organization many of the ideas of these frameworks should be pulled from your toolbox and used.

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2 Responses to “Can your Small / Medium Business pass the Beer Truck Test?”

  1. elliotross Says:

    Of course and my apologies!

  2. dankeldsen Says:

    Elliot – good to see someone bringing ITIL and process up in an SMB/SME context. Very good indeed!

    Quick request for you, I’ve been using BizTechTalk.com for about 2 years now, and would prefer not to confuse “the brand” (so to speak). If you could coin a variant term – that would be fantastic.

    See you around the blogosphere, and agree with your first post. Easier to have an impact on the world at large when they can actually hear you and join in the debate. We can always use more thinkers out here in the wilderness.

    Cheers,
    Dan


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