One of the most common aspirations of IT Solution Providers and Managed Service Providers is to systemize their business to allow scalability and flexibility. By creating documented systems and processes, you give yourself options to delegate or outsource work. You encourage higher standards of quality. And you reduce your reliance on individual members of staff.
I’ve written before about how to create an IT Operations Manual for your Business but the fact remains that many MSP’s say they don’t have the time or know where to start when it comes to creating an Operations Manual.
I understand why this can be. MSP’s often find themselves wrapped up in a culture of being time-poor, with increasing number of demands on their time and no margin available to actually get ahead. What’s more, the idea of building an Operations Manual can seem a huge task – images of fat binders of documents which can make even the more organized IT business owner shudder at the thought of the work involved.
The key to building an IT Operations Manual is not to become overawed by trying to do everything at once, and instead, to take baby-steps. It’s also important to understand that a system or Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) doesn’t necessarily mean a very formal piece of paperwork. A good SOP can be written on an A4 sheet of paper, a series of screenshots with annotations, or even a video detailing how to achieve a task.
Simply writing down the steps you take when you undertake a task is simple – grab a pen and paper. Do a step of the task and write it down in plain English. Move onto the next step, and write it down in plain English. Repeat until you’ve completed the task. Voilà – one SOP!
There’s really no need to overcomplicate this process. A SOP explains how to achieve a common task, and writing the steps involved in that task down on a piece of paper as you undertake that task is a fine starting place.
As time goes on, you can improve the existing SOP –amend it and update it with more detailed instructions or better steps – but for now, getting the steps down on paper is 100 times better than leaving the process rattling around in your head.
Tools such as Microsoft Snipping Tool and the Commercial tool SnagIt make capturing screenshots and adding annotations a breeze.
Capturing a screen-shot using these tools and then adding arrows and text can allow you to quickly demonstrate to a reader what you want them to achieve.
The next time you need to undertake a task that you’d like to build a SOP around, grab a series of screenshots of you accomplishing the task and save them into a document. Number the tasks and include written instructions underneath each screenshot on what you’re the reader will achieve with each step.
You’re done – a visual SOP which your colleagues can easily follow.
One way to quickly create a SOP is to video capture your screen (a Screencast) as you undertake the task you wish to document.
Web based tools such as Screenr allow you to quickly create and share your screencasts both internally and externally. There is nothing to install or download, and you can record screencasts on both PC and Mac. The resulting video plays on all manner of devices, such as iPhones.
While paid-for versions of tools like Screenr offer more flexibility and may be a better fit for your business in the longer term, the fact that you can start screencasting for free means you have no excuse to capture a SOP by video straight away!
While building an IT Business Operations Manual and the Standard Operation Procedures (SOP’s) that go within that manual may feel like a monolithic task, it doesn’t have to be.
By using baby-steps, and realizing that SOP’s don’t have to be lengthy, weighty documents, you can quickly build a library of “How To” documents and videos that enable you to delegate and outsource your work – leaving you free to get on with more important tasks.
Which tools do you use to document SOP’s, capture screenshots or video screencasts? Leave a comment below and let us know!
Listen to our February 2014 webinar on time management for MSPs!
Richard Tubb works with MSP's to help them focus on what is important, free up their time and make more money. You don't have to do it alone any more!