Most small and mid-size companies (be they factories, importers, buying offices, trading companies…) do not have written procedures.
A well-written set of procedures that is respected and applied by the whole staff is a tremendous asset for 4 reasons:
1. More reliable processes
A well-thought procedure ensures that a quality system is in place (i.e. that the company doesn’t ship products that are not satisfactory to customers). That’s precisely the objective of the ISO 9000 series of standards.
Two years ago I suggested this basic ISO 9000 checklist for importers who visit a manufacturing site. Should you buy from a factory that doesn’t have (and comply with) a solid quality system? With great caution.
Importers often need to complement the factory’s quality system with their own inspections during production. And, when they find problems, they need to follow procedures such as this one, for example. Procedures are not just for factories!
2. More efficient processes
By mapping all the process steps and all the tasks they are composed of, it is much easier to notice inefficiencies and to propose improvements. If you don’t know how to map your processes, run a Google Image search for “flow chart” and you will find many examples.
Once the process steps are mapped out on paper, here are a few examples of questions to ask:
- Can we remove certain steps that don’t really add value?
- Can we combine certain steps, to eliminate hand-offs between departments (to save time and reduce errors)?
- Can we distinguish several segments in the business (example: regular product vs. rarely ordered products, or high-quality vs. low cost) and dedicate a different process to each segment?
- Can we semi-automate the tasks a robot would do best?
3. Growth without excessive pain
As Michael Gerber wrote, the absence of an operations manual is what prevents many companies to get from “childhood” to “adulthood”.
Here is the reasoning. When the company is small, the boss can dictate and monitor what everyone does. But, at a certain size, this is no longer possible. The absence of written procedures makes it very hard to train new staff and to check they are doing their job in the right way.
4. Continuous improvement
Without a standard in place, the current state tends to deteriorate. Therefore it is critical for ambitious companies to write down what they consider the standard way of doing their work.
With the help of a standard, improvement becomes possible through the implementation of a better standard.
As Masaaki Imai, who has documented the extraordinary performances of companies such as Toyota and Nissan, wrote:
Where there is no standard, there can be no improvement. For these reasons, standards are the basis for both maintenance and improvement.
For him, all management activities into one of these two categories:
- Maintenance of standards: writing good procedures, training the staff, coaching employees and controlling whether they respect the standard.
- Improvement of standards: looking for better ways to do the work, and updating the existing procedures to reflect these better ways.
Do you agree?