There are only three things that everyone does every day at work. No matter what your job is or where you're employed, you are always either (1) preparing to work, (2) doing your work, or (3) communicating with someone (or something) about the work. 📈📉📊
You might start your day opening all of the software you'll need, logging in, and reading over directions from a client or supervisor. That's preparing to work. Then, you do the work itself - in other words, the stuff you get paid to do. For a programmer, it's writing code; for a chef, it's making food. Then, you let the relevant people know that your work is done; a to-do box is checked, and an order is served. ✅🍱
When we refer to "Business Processes", we're talking about everything you do as you go through these three types of activity at work. From signing deals and setting a schedule to actually performing the work and getting paid - they’re all business processes. In this post, we'll talk about three different categories of business processes, and how defining your processes can help you to focus more on generating value, and less on mindless, repetitive tasks. You're probably spending a lot of time right now on preparing to work and reporting your work, and we want to show you how you can reduce that - or even eliminate it altogether. 🤓
This post is part of a series about the Company XRay, a method for creating more mindful time at work. If this is the first that you’re hearing about XRay, you should check out our first post on the topic, which gives a high-level overview of the concept. In our last post, we took a deep dive into choosing and deploying software tools, which you can read here.
Now, let’s start by considering value processes.
Value processes are the activities that generate revenue for your business and are the reason that your company exists. These processes are the work itself, rather than preparing to work or reporting it. For designers, value processes would be the creative steps required to generate a design; for a baker, they would be the steps to mixing ingredients for baking. A business that doesn’t optimize their value process probably won’t stick around very long. Who wants to hire a design firm that can’t make a smooth UX, or a baker that makes bland cakes? No one.
Ultimately, improving your value processes relies on your human abilities. This is human work that relies on quality, creativity, and uniqueness. It's made up of what we call 'C.A.S.T.' tasks; tasks that are creative, analytical, strategic, or thoughtful. C.A.S.T. tasks, and the value processes that they support, need to be done by humans. Accomplishing your value processes is the primary goal of your company, and it's where you should be able to focus most of your time and resources. If you're an engineer, artist, manager, SDR, or any other type of knowledge worker, I'm talking about focus and flow time; the 30-60 minutes you have a day where no one interrupts you, you're focused on the task at hand, and the time seems to fly by; or finally slow down. Being in a flow state is the best way to accomplish your value processes.
However, you'll often find that you end up spending a great deal of time on logistical processes - activities that support your value processes, but don't create value themselves.
You may be restricting your value processes' capacity by neglecting your logistical processes. Every hour spent on paperwork, scheduling, and data look-ups is a context switch that could be spent on the work that actually defines your business and brings in revenue. By taking some time now to define, optimize, and automate your logistical processes, you can devote more of your time and energy to what matters in the long run.
Logistical processes are where the average business is going to have the most room for optimization. Logistical processes are all the things you do to keep your business going that don’t directly create value or translate to revenue. You can think of them as the work between the work: they’re the emails you send to let people know that you’ve finished something; the links you need to find to get the right hex codes for your client’s brand colors from the test campaign; the repetitive information that you log specifically to copy and paste. Logistical processes are vital to the survival of your business, but they’re not what you’re getting paid for. It’s perhaps because they fall outside of our areas of expertise that we tend to have sloppy, ill-defined methods and procedures for getting the bs work out of the way of the real work.
When you have issues in your value creation process, it's usually going to be obvious to you and your clients. If your designs are confusing, or if the food you make tastes bad, you'll probably hear about it right away. It can be harder to detect the flaws in your logistical processes. By their nature, flawed logistical processes are poorly-defined and create unnecessary ambiguity. They fail to communicate the necessary information to the relevant people at the right time. When you have messy logistical processes, you might have finished work awaiting review without anyone knowing that it's ready for their feedback. You might have a client who's out of the loop because they weren't added to all of the right communication channels. Even if the work itself is good, the perception of your work will suffer if the logistical processes are causing delays, miscommunication, or are forcing you to redo work.
One of the main goals of the XRay Method is to help companies define and streamline their logistical processes, and even to automate them whenever possible. According to a McKinsey study, workers spend about 19% of their day searching for and gathering information. The study also notes that just creating a simple searchable database for internal company info can reduce that time by 35%. Assembling the right information in order to perform work are the robotic tasks we target. We want to remove them from human workflows, so that people at your company can focus on tasks that deserve their attention and skill, and frankly, make money.
Logistical processes can (and we believe will) be standardized by entity type, business model, geography and more. While value processes can be highly specific to each company, logistical processes can often be applicable to many different companies in different industries. A pizza chef and a sushi chef might not have a lot in common when it comes to making their respective dishes, but they both need to pay their employees in the same way - and it’s not all that different from how a bookstore or a design studio has to pay their employees. Hence the invention of HR software like Zenefits, JustWorks, BambooHR, and others.
By documenting a standard procedure and automating it wherever possible, you give your team more time to focus on revenue-generating activities and avoid the mistakes and confusion that hamper their work every day.
Outlier processes are, as their name suggests, a little bit different. An outlier process is any activity that hasn’t typically been part of your business, but that you’re now undertaking. Maybe a client asks for a service that you haven’t offered before, and you’ve agreed to try it out rather than losing the client to another firm. Maybe you've started using a new piece of software, and you need to learn the ins and outs of it and decide whether or not to keep using it.
Whatever the case may be, it’s inevitable that you’ll run into some outlier processes eventually. No business continues to do exactly the same thing day in, day out forever. Sometimes, these new processes can be a great opportunity to create more value or streamline a process. When that happens, the outlier could become a new norm. In other cases, the outlier process might just be a distraction that takes up more resources than it’s worth.
So how do you tell the difference? How can you distinguish between innovation and a waste of time? You can’t always predict what’s going to happen, so the best thing to do is to be methodical and treat each new process as an experiment. When an outlier process arises, document everything that you can! You should have a record of who’s doing what, for how long, the resources they’re using, the results of their work, and any revenue or other value that you can attribute to the process.
Don’t be afraid to say no. In many cases, it’s not worth it to devote time and resources to a new service or product or other activity if it simply doesn’t align with your business goals.
However, if you decide that the outlier process is something that should be a regular part of your business, make sure to analyze it the same way that you’ve done so far with your existing value and logistical processes. When you’re doing something new for the first time, odds are that you won’t be doing it the most efficient way possible. You’ll probably have people doing some redundant tasks, and will likely accomplish most of it manually. Go back and define the value and logistical processes that make up this new process, and find the robotic tasks that you can take off of your (and your employees’) hands.
Outlier Processes are the gradual change agents that let our organizations grow, mature, and evolve over time. There are constantly new challenges arising among your various company functions. Handling an outlier opportunity well typically results in a messy-but-effective first version of getting something done, which could evolve into an entirely new value prop.
Value processes, logistical processes and outlier processes are a part of every business. It’s important to define and analyze your processes from time to time, and consider where your responsibilities fall. How are you spending your time? Are you stuck in one silo, or reactively running between the three?
Here's how you can find the robotic tasks in your workflow and start automating them.
Step 1: List Your Value Processes and Obstacles
First, write down one of your company’s value processes that you would like to focus on. Next, consider the process that you named and identify potential bottlenecks. What can prevent you or your employees from completing this value process efficiently and effectively? What gets in the way of delivering results on time and at the level of quality that you strive for? When you list these obstacles, there’s a good chance you’ll find that many of them relate to your logistical processes; the preparation necessary to do work, or the communication that work was done.
Step 2: List Your Logistical Processes
Next, list out your logistical processes as they relate to delivering or communicating the value process you identified. Document about three of the activities that support this value process, but aren’t directly related to generating revenue. Your list might include processes for onboarding and training new employees, record keeping, payroll procedures, systems for adhering to legal regulation, etc.
For each logistical process that you’ve identified, write out all of the tasks required to complete it. It’s possible that a lot of your activities won’t have a documented procedure in place. If that’s the case, just write down how you or your team did it last time. One of the benefits of going through the XRay method is that you’ll clear up ambiguity in your processes and create valuable documentation of how you’re getting things done. Even though you won’t be able to automate everything, you’ll be able to spot redundant activities and help your team to be more productive the next time someone 'new' comes in.
Step 3: Identify Robotic Tasks
Once you have each of your logistical processes listed out, it’s time to find the robotic tasks in the list - the tasks that you will be able to automate. Look for anything in the list that involves people simply moving information from one place to another without modifying it. Look for repetitive tasks that should be essentially the same every time. Look for the tasks that are all about one-way communication; tasks that just keep someone (or several people) in the loop rather than starting a collaborative effort or conversation. All of these kinds of tasks can and should be handled through automation. Make a list of those tasks, so you can start planning to automate them.
If you’d like help designing and building automations for your robotic tasks, feel free to contact us for more info.