Who is to blame – the system or the operator?

Like many business owners, I became aware of the importance of checklists by looking at how airlines and surgeons operate in complex environments. You can read about the interesting history of airline and medical checklists in Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (2011).

For business owners to get from the “start-up” stage to the growth stage (in other words, to move beyond doing everything themselves), they need to develop systems, processes and checklists for everyone to follow. Each section of the business needs its own version of these three key elements. Finance will be different from sales and operations will be different from human resources, for example.

Firstly, business owners must work out what the system should be for each section. What’s the simplest way to move a task from conception to completion? They then need to work out and implement the right processes to ensure what is supposed to happen happens. Lastly, they must create checklists to ensure the processes are followed.

You cannot “set and forget”

As in the case of airlines and hospital operating theatres, systems, processes and checklists must be continually reviewed and kept up to date. When systems change, processes must change and the checklist that supports these processes must also be updated. If processes are not kept up to date, people will ignore the checklist and take short-cuts. This is when serious errors can occur. Too often, I see business owners with complicated processes and checklists that do not bear any relation to their real business systems.

It is particularly important you get your systems and processes right in the case of customers. Customers want processes to be as simple as possible – for example, they want to move quickly from an enquiry about a product to product delivery, and to move swiftly from a problem to a solution.

What risks does your business face due to poor operations?

Aeroplane accidents are sometimes attributed to pilot error. The fallout from such pilot errors (and, indeed, from surgeon errors) can be catastrophic and involve the loss of human life. While it may not be a life-or-death matter in your business, failing to have the right systems, processes and checklists in place can have costly ramifications.

“Winging it” does not work. I recommend business owners work in conjunction with someone outside their business to review their systems, processes and checklists, so they can implement what is necessary for effective operations.

A new platform is available that enables business owners to develop their own apps for designing and implementing processes and checklists in a cost-effective manner. If you have an interest in developing these yourself, please contact me at bryan@bryanworn.com and I will refer you to the relevant company.

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