How much process do you need?

There seems to be two approaches to process. None, as expounded by the JFDI, action-focused, now-is-too-long entrepreneur. Or loads, as implemented by the risk-averse, detail-obsessed control-freak. I’d like to say I am exaggerating here but people really do seem to fall into these two camps. So which is right?

Neither, obviously. Without process, a business will reach a point where the entrepreneur becomes a bottleneck and just can’t do it all, and will ultimately crash and burn. (That’s the business. Or the entrepreneur. Or both.) Too much process and the business is unable to respond quickly, gets locked into doing the wrong things, takes too much time and money to do things and comes to a complete halt.

In both cases, by the way, the staff feel completely powerless and demotivated and contribute far less than they are capable of.

Process is a means to an end, and you need just enough of it to reach that end, i.e. a profitable and successful business. To me, process is what you use to make sure you don’t have to solve the same problem twice. You solve a problem, put it into a process so that others can deal with it in future, and move on to the next problem.

So when do you need process? When you’ve solved a problem that you think you’ll encounter again (or you anticipate a problem that will keep arising, such as dealing with customer complaints). How much process do you need? Enough to allow others to deal with it without your supervision, but sufficient for you to be able to manage the activity.

In a growing business, your resources are constrained, so you have to use them carefully. Don’t waste them on process you don’t need (i.e. writing a big thick manual to deal with a one-off or occasional problem), or on solving problems more than once (i.e. being surprised everytime a customer asks for a refund).

It’s a delicate balance, a matter of judgement. Asking yourself if you need a process, and if so, how much process, is something you should do continually. Getting it right will make a big difference to your business.

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