Did you read this title and think "Finally, this is what I've been looking for, where I learn how my business can run itself"? I hate to disappoint you, but that's simply not possible. You can leverage more and work less, but there is no such thing as a business that runs itself. Sure, it's an expression people use; and yes, it is possible to have highly automated systems taking care of many aspects of your business. But you always need people. People need to be involved in creating the systems.
"That's just the work upfront" you might be thinking. True, once a system is created, people (i.e., you) may need to be less involved, but I only said less. People will always need to execute and maintain the systems, to tweak them for new functionality, and most importantly, to innovate and to figure out how to continually improve the system. You aren't abdicating your business to a machine. Through your systems, you are creating a support structure that frees you to spend more time (most of your time) on the things you love doing. Your processes and systems are what enable you to work on your business while working in your business and on yourself. Systems are the way we reduce waste in our business so it can grow.
The key to your personal success and the overall success of your business rests in your continued ability to improve your processes. To improve a process, you need to design it so that it has a specific outcome and then measure the success of that outcome. You'll do that by measuring what you're doing (the expenditure of resources) against the result you're getting (the value). From there, the work is to simplify the process until you're getting more of what you want with less effort and cost--that's lean, elegant and parsimonious (word of the day--in this case, it means use of the simplest or most frugal route).
Once you have a standardized process, you'll find that problems are brought to the surface naturally. Once they are visible, you can go to work on solving the problems immediately, continuing the cycle of improvement. Improve on the current process, and then continue improving on the process. Try this method for keeping it simple:
- Look at what's going on. I mean actually, physically, have a look at what the problem is. Don't just take someone else's word for it.
- Analyze the situation with others. Don't rush to a solution on your own. Let others weigh in so you can get a more complete picture. Before solving a problem, stop, reflect on, and consider all options.
- Ask "why" at least five times. To get at the root of any problem, you need to ask and keep asking why you're having this problem. The first answer to the question is rarely right. Ask the questions five times, and see what comes up.
One of the biggest benefits of this problem-solving process is that it will help you not to blame others, or to be defensive, when something goes wrong--the typical knee-jerk reaction. And, yes, I've been guilty of leaping to conclusions and blaming others many times. I'm trying to do better.
Finally, you improve your processes by eliminating waste. Only add steps to the process if they add value to the outcome, which means keeping in mind who the customer for the outcome is, whether† internal (you or someone else on your team) or external (customer, vendor or partner). Always, always, always, examine your process from the customer's perspective. I'd venture to say that the most important question to ask when examining the effectiveness of a process is "What does the customer want from this process?"