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How the local supermarket ruined my perfect process

I have always loved following a process. Perhaps this is why I can bake, but struggle at cooking. One is systematic and requires exact measurements and timings; the other, less precise, with more creative flair needed. Exactly how much is a handful of basil or a splash of wine? Who knew milk or breadcrumbs would correct a sour acidic pasta sauce, when it doesn’t appear in the recipe? It seemed almost inevitable I would end up in operations. The perfect role to indulge my love of a spreadsheet

But what is an operational process?  To keep it succinct, it is a step-by-step guide to achieve your goals and objectives.

The key to writing a good process is to keep it simple and keep the end goal in mind. I always find the best place to start is with the person doing the job. They already know their own process, so get them to write it down. Once they have listed all of the steps of the process, get them to test it from their written notes, refine it and try it again. Swap with team mates, try it, refine it. Before you know it you have a procedures manual: a set of procedures which form the basis for new starters, training and competence and appraisals as well as invaluable management information.

A process should also be flexible, to adapt to the ever-changing environment.

Even little things can benefit from process management. In a previous role, I had to endure my colleagues grumbling about how to make the perfect coffee for expectant clients. The obvious solution: write a process! With a few quick conversations everyone knew how to use the office coffee machine to make the optimum strength coffee. Not only did this maximise client satisfaction as it was delivered uniformly by every member of the team, but it also reduced waste, cutting costs and reducing our environmental impact! See, processes can even save the planet!

Even seemingly perfect processes should be regularly reviewed, monitored and tested. There will always be new variables to consider.

Annoyingly our perfect coffee process did not remain perfect for long when the supermarket next to the office, stopped stocking the brand of coffee we used. Even worse it could not be sourced locally elsewhere, nor competitively online. The process then needed reviewing to see if the measurements could still achieve the stated objective of optimum strength coffee. It couldn’t. The new brand of coffee somehow didn’t quite deliver, so we refined and  tested the process until it did.

Of course to understand if a process is working it needs to be measurable and for that you need KPIs. KPIs are akin to a superpower in an operations role.  They are the key to monitoring all your procedures, from compliance to client servicing. They should be reviewed yearly and can be different for each person within the organisation.  They should be chosen carefully, be relevant and measurable. For example, if your administration team’s efficiency and morale is consistently being impeded by an adviser, who submits incomplete paperwork or doesn’t write down clear client objectives, make it a KPI.

None of this will work without effective communication. It is critical that everyone buys into and understands the value of the chosen metrics. You are a team and you are all working towards a communal goal. An operational process is simply the guide to getting there and a KPI is a measure of how well you are doing against that goal.

But all that’s very logical and achievable however I am still none the wiser about the exact measurement of a handful, if you have any ideas, please let me know.

Clare Delaney – NextGen Planners

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