Hit by a bus

The best time to document that process was yesterday – the second best time is NOW.

Every business has one – “the guy” – the one who knows how to do it. What happens if he is hit by a bus? Or when he decides this job isn’t for him any more? Sure, businesses may not fall over without this person – but there is avoidable pain.

You will lose someone through churn or tragedy and with them knowledge that could have been transferable.

Tragedy can strike at any time. In 2010 Sundance Resources lost all of its board members and CEO when 11 people perished in a plane crash in the Congo. Things do happen.

We all like to hire the best and brightest to bring skills to our company that helps set us apart. People are the greatest asset to a business – they can also be their greatest weakness. In all businesses there are things that just need to happen and you need to make sure they do, no matter who is available.

Documenting processes can cause some people to feel threatened and fear intentions. Are you doing this so they can be replaced? Yes! But it is not because they are going to be replaced. People need to be able to take a holiday, or go on a break. The company is really doing them a disservice if it is going to fall into a hole in their absence – there might not be a job to come back to!

No one is irreplaceable. The question is not if someone can be replaced. The question is what is the quality and frequency of outcomes someone else would provide. When you know the outcomes you want to achieve, document it.

“Lost wealth may be replaced by industry, lost knowledge by study, lost health by temperance or medicine, but lost time is gone forever”

  • Samuel Smiles

Writing it down goes a long way to reduce the threat of knowledge walking out the door.

Document the process. Start by making a simple checklist. If you are not already familiar with the virtues of a checklist try reading “The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande”.

No time? Make the time. Staring at a blank page is the most daunting part. It does not have to all be captured at once. Just write the first few steps. Or outline the key milestones in the process. Once you get some words on the page it gets much easier to fill in around the blanks.

Doesn’t translate onto paper? How about a diagram? Flow chart? Humans have been communicating and recording their actions for thousands of years. Have your expert talk through the process in their own words. Where do they start? How do they know they are on track? What clearly signifies they have achieved the intended goal?

Not sure how they do it? Watch. Ask to do it yourself.

  1. First list down all of the repeatable outcomes they are responsible for.
  2. Pick one from the list that is not currently documented.
  3. Start a new checklist to capture this process.
  4. Create headings of “Before”, “During” and “After”.
  5. Under “Before” capture preparation tasks.
  6. Under “During” the actual work.
  7. Under “After” what needs to be checked that the job has been done right
  8. Have someone else perform the task with your expert watching over their shoulder.
  9. Update the list with the practical observations.
  10. Run through the job again and update the list.

Were you ever left in the lurch by a co-worker or employee?