Why should I document business processes?

Yesterday, we talked about training your employees, particularly the entry level ones. I don’t think I have to harp (again) on what McDonald’s manages to do with teenagers that you seem unable to get to take out the trash without asking at least twice.

However, a brief remark about keeping your business processes up to date in yesterday’s post provoked an email comment from one of my readers so I thought I should expand on that a little bit. Or a lot.

The comment: “I have to ask what should be up to date?”

The easy answer is “Everything.”


But that’s the easy way out.

Specifically, you should be thinking step by step about things like this:

Think about all the things that you do in a work month without a 2nd thought.

How should the widget machine be cleaned (vs how it actually gets cleaned when you aren’t around).

How do I perform the end of day, week and month cleaning of the espresso machine? Are the 3 processes different? Do you do things monthly that you wouldn’t do weekly or daily? Probably so.

What is necessary to ship a new build of your software? Every single step. Yeah, I know. Joel thinks it should be 100% automated. That’s a laudable goal, but sometimes it doesn’t work for some companies. Perhaps hardware is involved, or your golden retriever sniffs every CD for good luck before it goes in the box, because the first time that happened, that customer bought 2800 more copies, or Best Buy bought 10000 boxes of that version, or whatever. Who knows, I just know that you all have your reasons:)

Turning on the alarm at night. Turning off the alarm in the morning, and managing to do so before the police appear to show you.

Where the best donuts and coffee are found, so that you can have them ready to use to make up with the police when they have to show up – which seems to happen every time your new staffer opens up for the first time.

Locking up.

Opening up.

Maintenance of expensive equipment. Who does it? How often? What is outsourced? What do we do while it’s at the shop? Who is the contact there? How do we pay them?

What to do 6 months before each trade show. 3 months? 1 month? 2 weeks? The day before? The week you return?

How to pack your product for shipping. What goes in the box, in what order, packed with what, with what paperwork, stickers, bubble wrap and a Tootsie Pop (one of my businesses includes one in every package – cuz no one else does). That way, the box that arrives next month, packed by Stan, Sue, Chuck or Shauna from the high school looks just like the box I packed last year when I was doing this in my basement at 2am.

Phone sales scripts. Possible responses at each step in the script. When to push forward. When to scream for help from your boss.

Ordering from each vendor. What you get from each one. How much. What sizes and colors. Info about the representative and ordering process. How to pay, what terms and other things are normal and what some vendors might try (assuming you still use them) if a newbie called to place an order.

Typical Costco trip agenda. What you get there (paper goods, food items, which sizes, brands, quantity etc).

If you have a partner or spouse involved in the business: Things that the other one would have to do if one was gone for a month caring for a parent, or if they were hanging out with Brad and Jen. Or Brad and Angelina, or whatever.

Things you know the other one takes care of, but don’t pay attention to because you know the other one just takes care of it. Like how to get into EFTPS to pay payroll taxes, when to do so and where in QuickBooks to find the right numbers to pay in the first place. Little things:)

Now think about how valuable that book of stuff would be if you had it to hand to a new assistant manager. Or a new bookkeeper. Or to a new customer-facing employee. Or when starting up a second or 100th location. Or if you had the bird flu for a month and had to manage the place from a hospital bed, perhaps with the help of a relative who was incapable of saying no.

And a million more.  Why? Because right now, all this crap is in your head and you aren’t getting any younger.