Process, process, process is the name of the game these days among integrators. The more honed your business processes are the more efficient your operation is (and the more profit you make).
Yet, many integrators likely don't have any of their business processes written down. According to Paul Starkey, principal at Vital Mgmt., a consulting firm serving the custom electronics industry, 70 percent of custom integration companies with more than 10 employees claim they have a written financial documentation process.
“Based on my experience… that is just not true,” he says emphatically. Starkey, along with his partner Steve Firszt, presented a session at the recent CE Pro Summit in Pittsburgh that focused on creating business processes.
“Most integrators with more than 10 employees claim they have their processes documented,” says Paul Starkey, principal at Vital Mgmt., a consulting firm serving the custom electronics industry, adding a bit tongue in cheek… “But if they really do, that documentation cannot be invisible to the members of their own company!”
Starkey reminds dealers that processes are not about how to add new employees, but more importantly about how to make your salespeople and technicians more productive.
“Process is a team sport. It is not a situation like the 10 Commandments where you generate them and take them to the employee base and announce, ‘Here is our new process,'” he says.
Just by definition, a process is a series of sequential steps that has a start and a finish. Each output in a process is an input into the next step. Processes are not static. They continually improve.
“If you have a good process and remove one step, it usually breaks the process down,” he adds.
Starkey notes that processes usually have multiple activities and multiple disciplines so it is important to have “lanes of responsibility” or “swim lanes.”
7 Business Areas to Document
Starkey identifies seven separate processes that need to be established to take a client from a lead to a completed installation, covering:
- Client Duties
- Project Management
- Client Relationship Management (CRM)
- Administrative Duties
Client duties are often left off of many dealers’ process charts, but it should not be, advises Starkey, because the client does need to do things for a project to be completed. And often, the client is an integrator's biggest variable because they can throw curveballs at you and the project.
“Flowcharts the most common way to document your process, but you can Google 'process documentation' and you find multiple methods of documenting a process,” he notes, saying step charts are also common.
But how many processes do you actually need to document? Lots.
“It’s messy and overwhelming, which is why many companies just don’t do it,” comments Starkey.
Most processes will require three levels:
It is at the “micro” level that dealers will identify the “gold” for running their business. That is the level at which the step-by-step stages of a process are documented. Starkey lumps all processes into five “uber” buckets to help simplify the task:
- Client-facing processes
- Business-facing processes
- Data processes
- People/personnel-related processes
Key Processes to Document
Among the processes that should be documented are:
- Client Experience (How to create high client satisfaction and referrals)
- Marketing (How to generate more leads for projects)
- Selling (Successful closing of the deal)
- Re-engagement (How do you re-engage with past clients who might come back for add-ons/upgrades)
- Business Development (How to add new trade partners)
- Design & Proposal (How to make sure you are proposing a profitable deal)
- Work Documents (Successful build of a project)
- Contracts, Billing, Collection
- Project Tracking (Timely and profitable completion of the job)
- Production (How do you successfully complete the work)
- Project Management
- Field Reporting
HR Administration (Attraction and retention of the best employees)
- Administration of Benefits
- Performance Reviews
- Developing Skills
- Terminating Employees
- Financial (Standardized accurate and timely accounting)
- Business Intelligence (Continued improvement of performance
- Business Model Design/Development (maximizing our resources)
- Sales Opportunities & Pipeline (Sales is a perfect example of an area that needs process. Most salespeople sell completely differently within the same company.)
- Service Plan Management (High Acceptance of Service plans by Clients)
- Service Calls (Successful completion of the call the first time)
- Monitoring & Managed Services (Responding to meet expectations)
Which Process Documentation Makes the Most Impact?
“I would challenge you to do just one thing and address it as an exercise within your company.” According to Starkey, the three Processes That Offer Highest Financial Payoff are:
- Improved pricing of bids to make expected margin
- Improving billing on every project
- Business development—finding the next trade partner
Meanwhile, the three Processes That Will Create Most Extra Time/Bandwidth are:
- Design Support for Salespeople
- Scheduling & Logistics for the Job
- Work Level Documentation
Sample Scheduling & Logistics Process Documentation
What does process documentation look like and how granular should an integrator get?
“There is lots of room for improvement in scheduling and logistics. How much productivity is lost because they get to the jobsite and there just isn’t the documentation they need. That leads to hallway conversations that lead to radical changes and misunderstandings among salespeople and installers,” says Starkey.
Here is an example of a scheduling and logistics cycle process with 20 defined steps:
Project Preparation & Administration
- Work scheduled
- Employee Checks In
- Assign tasks, associated man-hours, and inventory to Work Order
- Materials ordered/staged for delivery
- Paperwork signed off
Task Completion Process
- Load materials for delivery
- Drive to site to deliver materials
- Off-load, unpack materials
- Perform Work Order tasks
- Clock out for break(s)
- Clock in
- Complete tasks
- Quality Control, clean-up
- Load and return materials
- Drive to shop
- Complete and submit WO
- Unused materials noted & re-stock
- WO task time/status/returns reviewed
- Time posted against job/payroll
- WO entered progress invoiced against proposal