Building Processes – Zig Zag Principle #44

October 7th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

Now that you’ve started bringing in some cash and adding resources, your organization is going to need more structure and discipline.  As you add more flesh to the bones of your infrastructure, you’ll need to work on making consistent progression.  This will require that you build on what you have learned so far as you have been driving to profitability.  In some cases, those will be lessons you haven’t even realized you’ve learned.

Building processes for your organization is vital to your short-term and long-term viability.  It’s a step that often gets left out as you head toward your beacon in the fog, but I’ve been convinced of its importance since I was a little kid mowing lawns.  After I had acquired a few lawn mowers and convinced my brothers and friends to mow lawns for me, I had to teach them the processes that had made me successful in the first place.  Here are the steps I took each and every time I mowed a customer’s lawn:

  1. Present yourself well. I would tuck in my shirt and wipe the sweat and dirt off my hands and face before knocking on the customer’s door with a big smile on my face and saying, “Hello, I am here to mow your lawn today.  It will take me about an hour and a half. Is now an okay time?”
  2. Clear the lawn. Before mowing a lawn, I looked it over carefully and removed all the balls and junk.  I picked up any dog mess, trash or anything else that may be on the lawn.
  3. Trim the lawn. I used the trimmer to trim around the entire edge of the lawn before I began mowing.
  4. Check the oil in the lawn mower
  5. Check the gas in the lawn mower and make sure the tank is full.  I only put gas in the lawn mower while it was on the sidewalk so that I didn’t kill any grass if I spilled.
  6. I went to the center of the lawn and picked a point straight across the lawn.  Then I shot for a straight line.  Everyone likes nice straight lines better than random tire marks across their lawns.
  7. I followed the wheel patterns through the entire lawn to keep all of the lines straight.  If the lines got off, I corrected them.
  8. I emptied the grass bag before it got full so that clumps of grass would not spill out on the lawn.
  9. After mowing, I cleaned up the lawn and yard.  I raked any grass or debris that was left on the lawn and blew or sweep the sidewalks off.  Everyone likes their yard to look neat and clean after the grass is mowed.
  10. I respectfully invoiced the customer.  I wiped the sweat off my face and the dirt off my hands and knocked on the customer’s door.  I then handed them the invoice for mowing the lawn and put a piece of candy or a package of seeds with it as I thanked them for the opportunity of mowing their lawn.

This process example may seem rather elementary, but I had to mow a lot of lawns before I learned that it took a lot less time and the lawn looked much neater if I trimmed the edges before I mowed.  I also learned that when I was having other people mow lawns for me, they all wanted to do it their own way.  But I knew that my customers had hired me to mow their lawns because they knew they would have straight lines and they would like the way their lawn looked after it was mowed.  They also loved that I gave them a packet of seeds or a piece of candy as my signature when I finished.  So, I had to document the processes and teach these things to my employees so they would know what my customers expected. 

My wife worked for Kentucky Fried Chicken while she was a teenager.  They have a list posted to the wall above the biscuit machine detailing the exact steps for making their delicious, fluffy biscuits as well as other lists detailing each step in making their chicken and every other menu item.  This keeps the consistency and quality that is expected each time a customer goes to eat at any KFC.

I used to love to eat at a regional fast-food restaurant that sells delicious chicken and rice bowls.  But one time when I went there, the dish I was served did not taste the same.  I commented to the person at the counter, “Something tastes really weird in my chicken.”  He said, “Oh, yeah, our normal supplier was out of the chicken we normally use, so we had to use different chicken today.”  I thought this was just a fluke, so I went back the following week.  This time the chicken tasted much spicier than usual, and it was even worse than the previous week.  I mentioned it to the guy at the front again and he said, “Yes, we had to try an even different supplier this week.”  I went back a few more times, but each time the chicken was different.  Not surprisingly, this franchise went out of business not long after, and now I have to drive thirty miles to get the chicken and rice that I love.  Whatever the size or complexity of your business, processes matter!

In zag number 2, you have to document the processes that led to your initial success.  You need to put these into bite-sized processes that other people can follow.  That is why I instructed my employees to trim the grass before they mowed the lawn and to put the gas into the mower while it was on cement so as to not kill the grass.  I had made all these mistakes and had learned from them, so I institutionalized what I had learned.

As you document your processes, remember to learn from the mistakes you made driving to profitability.  Documenting what not to do is as important as documenting what to do.  You want to have something in place that makes people think twice about making the same mistakes, and it will help if you have already proven what doesn’t work. 

 

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