4 reasons why small businesses need process maps

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4 reasons why small businesses need process maps

Process maps are not just for large organisations. Process mapping can be invaluable, even vital, to small businesses.

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Published on
4
May 2017

You might think “process maps” or “Standard Operating Procedures” are only necessary in large organisations. Perhaps you see them as a symptom of bureaucracy. A necessary evil. Think again! Process maps are invaluable in small businesses.

Process documentation makes it easier to train new workers

One of the biggest pressures on small businesses is time. Growing businesses are especially hard hit.

I’m sure this is familiar to you:

  • You know you need help, but you barely have time to recruit another member to the team. Perhaps you’re not even entirely sure which jobs you’ll be able to hand over to a new starter, you just know you need help.
  • When your new employee joins you, they then need training. Never underestimate how much time it takes to do this right – but that’s more time you don’t have.
  • Inevitably, while learning, your new recruit then makes mistakes. Guess who has to correct those mistakes! Yes, it’s you isn’t it?! Where will you find the time for that?

Process maps can solve many of these issues:

  • With good process maps in place, Job descriptions are easier to write. That is because you know exactly what the job holder will be doing.
  • Training is easier, because you can train your new starter around a written process document. Your new worker is also more likely to remember the process when it is presented visually as a process map.
  • Mistakes will be fewer – because of the excellent training you’ve given your newest team member!

I could stop there, for many that is reason enough to map their business processes. But there is more, lots more…

A process map allows business owners to delegate tasks and processes

Delegation is an essential skill for entrepreneurs.  Yet, small business owners, in particular, find it hard to let go of some tasks. That is perfectly natural. We are all protective of our businesses. In fact, a study published in the journal Human Brain Mapping found that entrepreneurs really do see their businesses as their babies!

Having a process map can help owner-managers (and others!) to effectively delegate processes. The completed process map should give the process owner (you) comfort that the job is being done how you would wish, without micro-managing. A good process map will include timescales (or SLA’s) and checks or controls that have to be performed. By referring to the process map when assigning tasks, and when discussing tasks with your team, you are being explicit with what you want them to achieve.

The first step to effective delegation is to know what to delegate. Where better to start than reviewing your process maps for suitable tasks (or whole processes) to delegate?

Process mapping helps staff work together

With a clear process map, each member of the team can visualise the part they play in the process. It gives everyone a holistic view of the process, beyond the small part they play.

Even in very small businesses, not everyone can see the impact their work has on others. Often the work that one person does at the start of a process can cause serious headaches for people later on in the process. No one likes to complain. So often the problem goes unseen, with everyone blissfully unaware of the problems their actions are causing.

Here is a trivial (but real-life) example (names have been changed!): Sue knows that Jo likes things to be neat. Sue wants to be helpful – it is something she prides herself on. When she has finished a job, Sue stacks up the relevant invoices, purchase order and timesheets, and staples them together neatly before handing them to Jo to raise the sales invoice. She can be proud that she is making Jo’s job easier by giving her everything she needs. She does this 15-20 times a week.

Jo does not find this useful. She is too polite to say, but every time she gets one of those tightly stapled bundles from Sue, her heart sinks. The first thing she has to do is remove all those fiddly little staples, so that she can scan the Purchase Orders on to her system. Jo has to do this 15-20 times per week. This job wastes her time, and hurts her hands – those staples are tough! In fact, Jo now hates staples.

Wouldn’t it be better if Jo and Sue could collaborate on their process? If Sue knew that Jo had to scan the Purchase Orders, do you think she’d continue to waste her time and Jo’s? A clear process map would have allowed Sue to see beyond her part of the process and find ways to really help out Jo.

Process diagrams lead to process improvements

When you can see the process laid out on paper (or on screen), it is far easier to identify bottlenecks or problems. Sometimes they become glaringly obvious and they will jump out at you!

By visualising the process as a flow of tasks from A to B, you can start to ask questions of your process:

  • “Why do we do it this way?”
  • “Why does that document pass over his desk on three different occasions during the process?”
  • “Do we need to …?”
  • “Couldn’t we just …?”

These questions lead to better ways of working. And in small businesses even small improvements can have a significant impact.

Conclusion

Process diagrams can be extremely beneficial to small businesses – not just large ones.

I have two caveats though:

  • It does take time and effort to create good quality process maps. The exact time depends on the complexity of your processes and the level of detail you wish to include.
  • Process maps are only useful if they are used!

In another article, I’ll look at how to prepare a process map. In the meantime, don’t feel you have to do it all yourself. Delegate, remember! By outsourcing your process mapping, you can ensure that you get good quality documentation with the minimum amount of disruption to your staff.

And I’ll leave you with that thought again “Process maps are only useful if they are used!”. When you do invest in process documentation, make sure you use them to achieve all the benefits I’ve outlined!

This article represents my own experiences and opinions – and isn’t professional advice. If you would like help or advice to improve your small business processes, please contact me for a free consultation.

About the author

Terry Hopper profile picture

Terry Hopper

Terry is a Director and founder of Middlestone Business Analysis Limited. He is passionate about bringing big-business know-how to small businesses. He is also a Chartered Certified Accountant and Certified Internal Auditor.

Connect with Terry on LinkedIn.

About Middlestone

Middlestone Business Analysis helps small businesses achieve more with their existing resources. We help reorganise operations, automate tasks and install customised processes and systems to keep small businesses organised and to speed up administrative work. To learn more, visit our services page.

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If you would like a free initial consultation, or you are interested in an independent business review, please use our contact form.

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