Image: Business process

Dan Robbins died last year, aged 93, and you’ve probably never heard of him.

You will, however, understand his relevance to business processes when you learn that Robbins invented the famous paint-by-numbers kits during the 1940s.

Dan himself took inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci, who used number patterns to train his apprentices. If da Vinci could turn out master painters using a simple paint-by-numbers process, imagine what heights of success business processes could take your business.

A business process – defined by some as “a collection of linked tasks which find their end in the delivery of a service or product to a client” – is nothing more than a paint-by-numbers system that staff and contractors can follow to achieve a consistently desirable outcome.

You may wince at the thought of writing up business processes and procedures. It is another task to add to the list when most business owners and leaders are already overwhelmed.

Still, a company cannot afford to be without them.

Why have processes and procedures?

  • They allow the business to function independently of you when you are away, sick or otherwise occupied.
  • It negates the need to repeat yourself multiple times. The steps are in black and white, making it easy for staff to follow.
  • Delivers a consistent result every time and reduces the risk of misinterpretation and distortion.
  • Reduces room for mistakes and errors, including within the overall system.
  • Improves efficiency by eliminating time-wasting detours and confusion.
  • New staff can get on with the job after a relatively brief induction.
  • Improves the saleable value of your business because the new owner can pick up the reins.

What must the processes include?

Processes and procedures allow for the consistent completion of tasks and increase your business’s chances of achieving its goal.

However, they are more than just steps towards an outcome. 

When designing a process, consider these questions:

  • What tangible outcome should be achieved?
  • What is the overall goal of this task, and how does the task contribute to the goal?
  • How does the process incorporate your organisation’s business philosophy as it applies to the task or goal?

Apply the paint-by-numbers methodology

Once you understand the task’s context, you can map out the steps that you and your staff need to follow to get the result.

A fair process or procedure should, in so far as possible, reduce the need for guessing, questions, and even initiative – it is paint by numbers.

For example, a process to write an article may look like this:

  • Write out the client problem, need or question you are trying to solve as your first paragraph. It should be a current problem that people are wrestling with right now. For instance, the cashflow squeeze from a provisional tax date over the January holiday period.
  • In your second paragraph, state why this is a problem: It is the worst time to pay tax because cashflow is low, customers and staff are on holiday. No money is coming in.
  • State why this will continue to be a problem: The provisional tax date is not going away, and failure to plan and budget – sometimes a year ahead – means every January will be a headache.
  • In your next paragraph, offer two or three tips: Plan and budget ahead, diversify income sources to keep trading through the holiday period or talk to Tax Management NZ (TMNZ) about paying your tax for you.
  • Finally, conclude with what you believe to be the best solution and why it is the best solution/ For example, you may be able to save yourself a headache by planning for your next January provisional tax date. Still, in the short term, TMNZ has you covered.

Anyone who follows this process should write an excellent article that is current (being relevant is where the company’s philosophy comes into play). 

An article may not be a product of your company or business, but it is a ‘product’ or ‘activity’ that most companies would engage and therefore deserving of a process.

Processes and procedures should not be limited to your core tasks but cover every business facet – even blogging.