From a piece of paper to a business operating system.
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Let’s say you have a key role in the operations of your business; I’m sure you already do. One day you worry that you’re starting to forget all the steps involved in doing your job well, so you decide to start writing down how you do your work.
In this article, we're going to look at how the process of capturing your knowledge might evolve, in seven steps; from a single piece of paper called a standard operating procedure, to a system your business runs on. Each step of this evolution is an improvement on the previous, where you realise ways in which capturing of knowledge could be done even better.
You start by identifying a key task or process that needs to be done regularly, such as invoicing a client. You take out a piece of lined paper and write “How to invoice a client” at the top.
You then start writing the steps to complete the task, from start to finish, numbering each step. The first few steps might involve checking or calculating the time spent on that client’s work that month, or calculating the materials used. You keep each step action-orientated and brief, including only necessary detail.
We call this page a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). You make copies of your new SOP, and store them in the office somewhere the rest of your team can easily access them.
After using this SOP for the first time, you realise that it is missing closely-related information, so you decide to improve it. You take out a new page and this time, under the title, you write today’s date and your name.
Next, you add a heading titled “Requirements”, where you list things that need to be done before this task can be started, the tools and resources needed, and the skills that a person needs to have to complete this task effectively. You then add all the steps from the previous version of the SOP.
You end off the page with another new heading titled “Next”, where you describe what high-quality and poor-quality work looks like, who should assess the work, where the completed work should be put or sent to, what sort of report should be done afterwards, and what task should be done next.
After giving this improved SOP to your colleagues to use, you agree that it’s pretty helpful and will probably improve the quality of the work since it standardises your procedures. So you start making more SOPs for other tasks.
After making dozens of SOPs for the tasks you do in your work, you start asking your colleagues about the work they do regularly. You agree to spend a few hours with them to write down how to do the tasks they do as well. With that, you start making SOPs for accounting, marketing, operations, human capital, IT, procurement, distribution, and so on.
After making those dozens of standard operating procedure documents, you’re confident your business is on track to being repeatable and secure, no matter what happens to the best team members. But you realise that there’s a lot of other tacit (subconscious) knowledge that you didn’t capture in the SOPs because they’re not really tasks; they’re part of the organisation structure and culture. You decide to document them too.
You call a meeting of the management of the business, and start asking hard questions that at first receive very little response. But after a few people start chipping in, everyone starts volunteering their wisdom and knowledge.
You start by asking “What do we do? What do we want to be known for? Where are we going? How do we know if we’re doing great work? What is our plan for the coming months?”. From those very broad questions, you start honing in on the more practical and operational knowledge like,
“What meetings do we have regularly?
What important dates are coming up?
Who will keep us accountable to these timelines?”.
You write down all this knowledge over several more pages, and add that to the SOPs. You now have a sort of paper-based team knowledge “website”.
Given that most of the team now work from home, or out and about with only their phones on them, you decide that you need to digitise the team knowledge “site”. You know that some team members will prefer to use the paper pages, but the rest of the team will appreciate the convenience of the digital version.
You select software that seems to be simple and has the sorts of features you need - you choose Google Sites - and start typing it all out. You quickly realise a few additional benefits of the digital version, like how easy it is to rearrange the pages and sections, and how each page can have a layout that uses space more effectively than a plain top-to-bottom page.
When you’re done, you proudly tell the team about the new team knowledge site, giving them the address to it.
After a few weeks, a disappointment starts to sink in, as you realise that your team isn't using the team knowledge site you lovingly built over the course of weeks! But of course they aren’t: it would require behaviour change, or it needs to be easier to use than to not use.
You then decide that the new team knowledge site needs to be really conspicuous. For those who work on their computers, you decide to place reminders in several places: within the project management software the team uses, within the team chat software in all main channels, and even within the software that individuals use to do their work. For the team members who don’t spend as much time at their computers, you print out cards and posters to place strategically around the office.
You then take it a step further and add an item to the schedule of future strategic and reflection meetings to make sure the team knowledge site gets spoken about whenever operations and work quality are discussed. Essentially, you make sure that whenever and wherever your team may benefit from using the team knowledge site, there’s a little note reminding them how to access it.
The business is going well, and your team is enjoying the security of being able to check the team knowledge site whenever they’re unsure about something. But you have something better than “doing well” in mind for the business; you want to grow it significantly by opening new branches or offices. And to do that, you’ve realised that the easiest way is to make sure the business is fully repeatable.
The only way to test just how repeatable your business has become with its new team knowledge site, is by opening a new branch with completely new employees, and by requiring them to learn their new responsibilities and tasks primarily through the team knowledge site. Sure, some of your existing employees will train the new ones, but all training will be done using the site.
Fortunately it’s a success, and within just a few weeks of the team being fully hired, everyone at the new branch knows what they need to do and how to do it well, and by when. There’s little stopping your business from exponentially now with the right resources at hand. Well done.
If you were to start writing down how to do your job today, then that is what your journey might look like; from creating a single piece of paper, to a system your business runs on, in 7 steps.
If you’d like to know more about team knowledge sites, we have several other great articles on our website, including our last one: What is a Team Knowledge Site.