Process – to some people it’s a dirty word.
Many of us who work in small, entrepreneurial companies see “Process” as the enemy of efficiency and innovation… something restrictive that big companies do to bog things down in red tape and make it harder to get your work done.
But You Already Use ‘Process’.
I think it’s safe to say that we all use process in our day to day work, even if it’s not a formal thing. Companies approach “production” jobs systematically because they have to. Whether it’s the way they were taught to do the job, the way everybody’s always done it, or something they’ve figured out for themselves, following a proven process just helps them get their work done.
When the pain of inefficiency becomes too much to bear, companies adapt by creating a process to follow. And once your company or your crew leaders have figured out a good process, they might stay with it for years on end, or until someone comes along and shows them a better way to do things. But what about other areas where inefficiency is a limitation but may not prevent you from succeeding?
When Process is Missing.
In many companies, “non-core” tasks, things like quoting, estimating, scheduling, sales, marketing and back office operations, might be more resistant to creating processes. If you’ve been able to succeed without a formal processes so far, it can be tough to want to create one.
Have you avoided process when it could have helped?
If you’ve been able to succeed without a formal process since the day you started, does that mean implementing a process wouldn’t help you? Or are you avoiding something good just because it hasn’t killed you so far not to have it?
Service Level Agreements (SLAs). A shortcut to adding process.
You can add process to ANY business, even if you’re concerned about creating extra overhead. For companies looking to implement process tools that can increase performance without increasing cost and overhead, setting up simple SLAs might be the place to start. Here’s a simple, three step process, you can apply to almost any area of almost any business.
Step 1 – Set up Service Level Agreements (SLAs)
SLAs are simple but formal efficiency goals.
In an SLA, the person or team responsible to getting something done simply “Agrees” to get it done within a certain window of resources (elapsed time, man-hours expended, outsourced cost etc…). Often this is expressed in how much time will elapse from the when a task is requested and the time the requester can expect it to be completed.
If used properly, your company can then use the SLA to determine how quickly your customer or others can expect something to get completed, as well as how much it will cost the company to get it done. The team doing the work can also use the SLA to set an effective deadline for each job based simply on when it was assigned rather than defining a custom deadline for each task.
The team doing the work should have input on writing their SLAs, and SLAs should be reviewed periodically to see if they remain accurate and meaningful.
For example, you might have a SLA that a customer calling for a quote will get a follow up call same day and have a price quote within 3 business days of their call. Or an internal SLA may be that any new job won gets a crew assignment and planned work-start date within 48 hours of being awarded.
The important things here are that each employee or team has specific measurable goals for completing their normal activities and that others in the company can be confident that their work will get done on a reliable and predictable schedule. And all of this means greater efficiency across your company, better planning, and greater confidence.
Even if you’re a one man and a truck operation, setting SLAs can be an important way to set performance goals. For important activities, it helps you decide what is important ahead of time and prioritize accordingly when you’re out there executing.
Step 2 – Measure against your SLAs
This will require you to do some light tracking. For each team or employee, you’ll have to:
- Count the number of opportunities to meet SLAs during a week or other measured time period.
- Track how many of them were met vs how many were not met.
- Publish results in an objective and transparent way for all to see.
By tracking SLA achievement over time, you have at least one objective measurement of performance for each team or employee.
Step 3 – Reward against SLA achievement
Another benefit of SLAs with employees is that they can turn meeting company goals into a competitive game, especially when there’s a reward for “winning”. Whether it’s monetary, honorary or some sort of minor perk, reward employees for meeting their SLAs, and they will strive to reach them.
And if you’re a one man shop, reward yourself when you meet your goals. If you met all your SLAs this week, maybe a sit down lunch on Friday is your reward to yourself for a job well done.
A few Tips for SLAs
- SLAs can be flexible – Maybe your estimating team’s SLA is that an estimator will be onsite to meet with a prospective client within 3 business days of them contacting you. Your SLA can be that if this goal can’t be met, the estimator will check in by phone within 3 days to schedule a later time …it’s all about doing what’s going to help you meet customers’ needs.
- SLAs must create deadlines – And deadlines drive efficiency.
- SLAs can adapt to seasonality – Your production teams might work on a 2 day backlog in October and a 2 week backlog in June. Set your production SLAs so that they recognize the difference.
- SLAs are “agreements” and can be changed – There is no “wrong” SLA, only ones that need to be revised. The best way to reach an effective SLA process is to start with an imperfect one now and refine it over time. Part of their power is that the people doing the work and the ones receiving it both know what is expected.