What are Processes?
Process are the documented steps and tools used to complete a task or goal and the metrics that you use to measure your success. The key word, especially when it comes to startups and small businesses, is documented.
As a small business or startup, oftentimes the very last thing you are thinking about is writing down the steps it takes to do a given task and why. If someone were to ask us in the early days “why do you do it this way?” more than half of the time the answer was “There is literally zero reasons. It’s just how we do it” and it most definitely was not written down anywhere. You can scrape by for a while like this, however at a certain point, you will hit your capacity.
So I’m here to make the case that spending time thinking through your processes and systems is something that you should be doing today. At UnderBelly, we have this saying that we use frequently “One time is a situation, two times is a process failure”. For us, this is a way to see where we have oversights because if the problem has shown up twice already, we can be pretty darn sure it will continue to happen.
Step one is identifying that there is a process failure. For us, this often means a whole lot o stress during a specific stage of a project. Once we’ve identified where we think there was a process failure, we set aside time to analyze the situation, the current process that we have in place, and create a hypothesis as to the root cause of problem. We then create a solution to our hypothesis, which often comes in the form of creating a process that we did not have, or we adjust the process in place.
We repeat this process until the problem is fixed.
“One time is a situation, two times is a process failure”.
Clients were sending inconsistent and unclear feedback early in their projects, especially around the first rounds of moodboards. We thought by asking for written feedback from clients, it would provide more flexibility to folks who were incredibly busy and often inundated with meetings. It would allow them to sit with the moodboards for a couple of days and then they could send us over their written detailed thoughts.
We had a client who was confused by idea of the moodboard and didn’t realize that these were intended to be inspirations and offer guidance rather than being first draft design. It took numerous emails back and forth to realize that they were asking for a recreation of an image we found on Pinterest, them not realizing it wasn’t created by us. That was the first yellow flag, just a situation.
Then we had a client who sent over conflicting written feedback. And since it was written feedback, we couldn’t follow up with clarifying questions in real time which either meant we take a piece of feedback and run with it or we start an email chain. Neither of these are ideal solutions and both would delay the designs early in the project. This was our red flag, our process failure.
So we analyzed our process and created a hypothesis around what the root problem was and made adjustments. For our next client, instead of asking for that first round of feedback to be in written form, we scheduled a zoom call where we could go over everything in real time.
Our hypothesis: Our clients have never had to give design and branding feedback, let alone in a constructive manner. By having the feedback meeting over zoom, we could ask clarifying questions as well as make real-time adjustments that can’t be done over email.
Since we made this adjustment, we are able to hone in on the design direction more quickly and with less frustration on behalf of us and our clients. Talk about a win.
On one hand, processes can help you identify gaps in your systems or lines of thinking, and on the other hand, processes make it possible to grow.
When you are first starting your business, you and your tiny team are trying to do everything. But as you grow, new hires take over tasks that were once yours. This is where processes come in. Having established processes allows you to more easily hand over tasks to team members. They can see what you were doing, why you were doing it that way, and how they can take it over moving forward.
Having explicit processes also makes it easier for team members to build upon them. If they know why you are doing a task a certain way, it’s easier for them to know where adjustments can be made to be more efficient and what needs to remain. Remember, having the documentation and systems in place is just one part of it. The other part is ensuring your team knows why they are in place because processes are only as good as they are maintained.
Before we had hired anyone to join UnderBelly, we spent a lot of time working on our external client processes for the reasons stated above. But we didn’t really spent anytime working on our internal processes. When we decided to search for an intern, we knew we had to spend some time thinking through our internal processes. We had hired interns in the past with less than fantastic results (100% because of us, the interns themselves were fab) and wanted to make sure this time was different.
So before Laura joined the team, we got to work outlining what it meant to work at UnderBelly and I’ll be the first to tell you it felt both ridiculous and incredibly official. I mean, we had a Handbook for gosh sake! But what we found by building a handbook that outlined our office policies, the tools we used, where different documentation could be found and more, was that Laura was able to jump right into being a part of the team by the end of that first week.
Because we had spent time establishing our processes, when it came to adding a new team member we were able to quickly integrate her into our flow and even pass off ownership of certain tasks like social media management.
If you’ve gotten this far into the blog I assumed I’ve sold you on the importance of processes. But now you’re probably thinking “Documenting all of my processes seems incredibly overwhelming”, especially because there are probably 25 other items on your to-do list. So here is my mini list of things you can do to start:
Find a tool that you actually enjoy using for tracking your tasks and projects. This one made all of the difference for us.
Notion - this is what we use and we fricken love it.
Start where there is an actual pain point. Feel free to use our motto “One time is a situation, two times is a process failure”. Where do you keep seeing the same problem arise? Start there.
Next, write out a task that is easily repeatable. Use the tool that you enjoy using and document the steps of the task to the point someone could read the steps and do the task just okay. Don’t worry about having it perfect.
Keep repeating steps 2 + 3 until you’ve run out of processes that either tackle current pain points or are easily repeatable . At this point you’ll have a process to your process documenting so tackling the bigger ones that aren’t as intuitive will be much easier.
As a reminder, the goal of processes is to make your life easier or to make your team’s life easier. If you have a process that is not achieving those goals, ask yourself if it’s necessary. If not, go ahead and get rid of it. Similarly to meetings, you don’t need processes for the sake of processes.