The focus when it comes to operations at Blink is the creation of processes that allow us to scale – to continue delivering more and better quality work without a disproportionate use of resources.
How we approach creating processes and making them repeatable is a process itself – that of process design.
Process design is the creation of a repeatable process, starting with the desire to solve a problem, achieve an objective, or codify an organically existing workflow.
The goal with process design and documentation is to create a state in which all activity can be traced to a documented process. When this hypothetical (and probably impossible) state is reached, you can start to imagine the business around you becoming a self-running, frictionless entity, giving its employees the maximum amount of space and freedom for innovation, creative work and personal growth.
And while this way of operating may not in fact be achievable by any business, effective process documentation is necessary in order to scale.
This blog examines our approach to process design. It might sound a little complicated, but it’s critical to the way we deliver work to our clients and create the best environment for our team.
The four key elements of process design
Process design can be done in many ways, but it always involves adding detail to abstract ideas.
This means starting with visualisation. As detail is added and abstract ideas become more concrete, then visualisation becomes documentation, and the precise details of the process can be fully considered through the act of writing.
The resulting document and its associated resources become the process itself – a repeatable, automated set of actions that can be followed without additional guidance.
Once this process becomes stable, it can then be improved. Systems for continuous improvement are then built into its existence and usage day-to-day.
Process design starts with abstract ideas. In order to connect these abstract ideas and start the process of adding detail, it’s necessary to do some kind of visualisation.
For this we use flowcharts. Creating flowcharts in a tool like Miro allows us to collaborate easily during the visualisation phase of process design. Becoming fluent with these tools makes it much more efficient – and more satisfying – to get big abstract ideas down into coherent representations.
Below is a recent example of a process visualisation. It demonstrates what we’re aiming to do during the visualisation process – create something that allows documentation to be the process of thinking through writing, and layering detail.
Documentation gives the process designer the opportunity to think about the process by writing about it. This can mean considering the significance of a process in relation to company culture, or working through a discussion about a broader approach.
These more theoretical considerations affect the details of the process and add context to its eventual form. Thinking about this helps the design process, adding depth, connecting different parts of the business to each other and opening the door for a more considered and detailed approach to the repeatable elements of the process itself.
Thinking about a process can be daunting. This is because process design necessarily involves a lot of detail – without enough detail they aren’t efficient and repeatable.
The way to overcome this is to layer detail across different locations, so that the entire process can be grasped quickly at first and then followed precisely when it comes to being used.
The way we layer detail within a process is by utilising detail within tasks. The process then becomes a way of sequencing these tasks. The sequence does not have to contain any detail – however, the tasks themselves need to contain all the steps someone who has not done that task before would need to complete it without assistance, as well as information on how that task depends on other tasks.
This way of layering detail means that a process page can be written fairly quickly, and the tasks that make up the process can be created and populated more gradually. This makes the design of a process less resource-intensive and something that can be collaborated on more easily.
Automation is one of Blink’s selling points. We want to save our own and our clients’ time by automating manual work where possible.
This is visible predominantly through our approaches to tasks like keyword research and our use of data science. However, automation can be used in any process, and when it comes to process design, we actively take opportunities to automate wherever we can.
In fact, process design will often be an exercise in working out a series of automations. In general, it’s a good idea to work on the assumption that something can be automated. If something cannot be automated with native features, a third-party tool like Zapier or automate.io can often be used to connect tools or different stages in a workflow.
4. Continuous improvement
After a process has been designed, it enters a state of continuous improvement. Process resources need to be updated in real time according to feedback from clients and from the Blink team.
Real-time updates need to be actioned quickly, so that process resources are kept up to date. It’s quite easy for a process to change organically, and the version of a process resource being used by someone should always reflect the latest version of what’s being done.
As well as real time updates, a process and its tasks should be reviewed every quarter. Every year all processes are subject to wider reviews as part of our organisational appraisal week.
How do we design our processes?
Designing a process is a creative act. Different people will find different tools and planning methods more or less useful according to preference.
For example, it’s absolutely fine to start working on visualising a process with pen and paper, or to work on the details of a process via a spreadsheet. The important thing is that the final resource can be used by anyone encountering a process for the first time.
The process flow for process design is therefore a very simple series of tasks. Within each task is information on how the task can be done according to how previous process design has taken place, as well as suggestions for alternative approaches and how they need to be reconciled into a final process page.
Here’s what that looks like for us:
- Create a flowchart for the process
- Transfer information from the flowchart into a Notion page
- Create a process page
- Create the task pages needed for this process page
- These two tasks will be completed concurrently. As a process page is developed more tasks will need to be added to a task database
- Create a process page
- Schedule a quarterly review for the finished process resources
- Review process during organisational appraisal week
From here, we’ll then draft up the individual process design tasks.
Each process design will have its own challenges, but it will always contain a similar set of elements – visualisation, to get an image of the whole thing down, documentation, to add detail and create a resource, and continuous improvement so that the process can change according to feedback.
It’s also important that the process design process itself is recorded and standardised, so that responsibility for creating new processes can eventually be distributed throughout the team.
Having effective process design in place has become essential for us to run efficiently, manage a changing team and service a growing roster of ambitious clients.
Want to learn more about our process design and how our methods can help your business excel? Get in touch with any questions, or book one of our free data workshops to see our custom processes in action.
Get in touch
Have a problem that Blink can help with? Let us know more about your project below and we’ll be in contact as soon as we can.