Taming the Process Beast

One of the biggest and most annoying time killers is relearning the steps to accomplish a task you’ve already done. It often feels like re-inventing the wheel. It gives me the same awful feeling as being stuck in traffic: It feels like my life is slipping by in the slow lane faster than it should.

The cure is to have awesomely documented processes that you can refer to later when you need them, and then to be able to share with others. This saves infinite amounts of your time, plus it empowers others to complete tasks on their own.

Early in my career, “process” was always made to look very boring, needlessly time-consuming and a by-product of people with no talent trying to invent value for themselves. It was a long time before I ever heard anyone explain the awesome value of having good processes in place.

Some years ago, I was trying to recall the steps to install our Raceday plugin on a new customer’s website. I searched my computer and found the steps listed in my Notes app on my phone.

Of course, it occurred to me that I had been managing my processes if I wanted to admit or not. I had tons of them in the Notes application on my phone, laptop, and tablet. I had them in dozens of spreadsheets, word docs, PDF files, and even paper hidden away in a file cabinet where I could easily forget it. This is the worst possible way to have your processes documented, so I made the time to fix it.

I did what most people, do; I started searching for some online software I could use to manage my processes better, faster, and more efficiently. I tried well over a dozen and came to the same conclusion: They were all had way too many features and way too expensive. So of course, I flirted with building my own. In designing that system, I came up with a faster, easier and cheaper way to do it.

I installed the barest version of WordPress we have. I dug through Notes, my phone, client folders, spreadsheets, and documents and moved what each one I found into its own WordPress post. I then just kept that site open and added new posts every time I could. I documented monthly reporting, accounting steps, sales steps, support items, and a whole lot more.

The very first time I was able to go to that WordPress site and search for one such task I had not done in months, I realized the value of my efforts to the tune of over an hour of work saved. That is, if I had to retrace the steps, find the URL’s, get the logins, remember where everything is in the application I logged into, complete the task, run tests, and notify the client that it was done, it would have easily have been over an hour. Instead, the whole thing took me less than five minutes!

That first little success was all the fuel I needed to keep working on this.

When I had enough random tasks documented that it started to become difficult to find them, I started organizing them by category, using the built-in WordPress post categories. I separated Raceday, and Digital Opera tasks then broke them down into primary categories of marketing, sales, onboarding, support, products and services, Client-specific processes, administrative, operations, offboarding, and staffing.

Last month, I noticed there were a few too many processes in there that were not really necessary, so on the home page, I created a quick checklist of what I should be creating a process for, so each process met one of these criteria or more for inclusion:

What to Create Processes For:
1. Tasks that create and generate revenue
2. Anything that gets GREAT results or makes customers insanely happy. Make it repeatable!
3. ALWAYS AUTOMATE WHAT YOU CAN. But recurring activities that have value to us and cannot be automated need a process anyone can follow so that it can be delegated easily.
4. Specific, not often repeated, often complicated tasks, so we always avoid spending time relearning something we already know.

After that, I came up with a template that should be completed on every process going forward, so that all the information is available, in particular to someone we’ve added who has never done the task before. I’ve seen other variations of this on the web, but this is what works for me:

Process Name
– Short Summary
– Date created and by whom
– Last update date and by whom

Outcome: what is produced by completing this process
Why It’s Important: A short sentence that justifies the inclusion and existence of this process
What’s Needed: URL’s, How to login, files, client or vendor contact information (or where to find it). Etc.
Overview: Where does this process fit into all of our other processes?

Exact Steps Needed: Use videos and screenshots if needed.
Main Step 1
– Substep
– SubStep

Main Step 2
– Substep
– SubStep


Testing and Q/A: Does it need to be checked on various browsers and devices? Does it need software tests? Is it performing as expected? Has it affected the speed of the website? List anything that should be tested.

What it looks like when completed

Who to contact when it is completed for review and approval

Who to contact if you have problems

Additional Notes – any supporting notes, links, or additional documentation.

The total cost of this system was $0. I installed the WordPress installation in a subfolder of our existing website. Yes, there is time invested in creating, editing, sorting, and managing all the posts, but it’s already paid off. My best estimate is that I’ve saved around $10,000 in the time since I’ve implemented this and started using it heavily.

Over time, that number will only grow, and I already know I can grant access to the system and then just point a new person to the right process, and the job will get done quickly and correctly.

How awesome is that?

©Larry Preston. All Rights Reserved. Image credit:  “Taming the Beast” by Edwin Reyes Sablaya.