The majority of IT business owner/managers I work with tend to be incredible Technicians. They’ve built up a regular customer base thanks to the fact people seek them out for their valued expertise within IT.
Over time, their expertise is sought by so many customers that they run out of hours in the day to help everybody – and so their thoughts turn to how they might clone themselves to cope with the demand.
Sadly, cloning technology isn’t yet advanced enough to produce a duplicate of an individual, so thoughts turn to hiring staff to pick up some of the slack instead. But then another problem presents itself. All of the stuff the owner/manager does each day, only he knows how to do. How is he going to find the time to teach a new employee all that stuff?
One option is to not train the employee. Instead, hire somebody with the appropriate technical skills and let them learn on the job. I’ve seen this happen, and what typically occurs is that because a new technician is doing things differently to the way the owner/manager does them, clients start complaining that service levels have fallen and they want their old technician back.
Furthermore, if the business continues to grow as it has, the same problem is going to occur when you take on your second employee. Where are you going to find the time to train them?
Does the second technician train them in “his” way of doing things. If so, pretty soon you’re going to have a bunch of technicians doing things the way they want to, and you’re going to face a whole new set of problems.
The answer is to create an IT Operations Manual.
At its simplest, an Operations Manual is a collection of documents, notes, workflows and processes that describe how to do things within the business.
For most IT businesses, this Operations Manual starts with documentation about client sites. Administrator usernames and passwords, details of servers and backups, IP addresses and ISP details. This ensures that any technician of an appropriate skill level has the information necessary to begin basic troubleshooting on any client site without having to be constantly tapping the owner/manager on the shoulder to ask them for those details.
As the business grows, the IT Operations Manual starts to include processes – how to reset passwords, how to support third-party products, how to troubleshoot known problems. When this happens, more junior technicians can start to take on jobs, freeing up the time of senior technicians to do things such as lucrative project work.
When the business grows further, and the owner/manager is spending less of his time doing technical work, and more of his time doing administration – the Operations Manual starts to grow with systems and processes for undertaking HR work, sales and marketing, finance and accounting – enabling suitably experienced people to relieve the Owner/Manager of those jobs too.
And so the business grows. By documenting how things are done, jobs are undertaken not on a “best guess” basis, but on a “best practice” basis. Work can more readily be delegated, allowing the owner/managers time to be spent on more valuable business growth activities.
At this stage, if you’re an owner/manager who has experienced the pain of having too much to do and not enough time, you’re asking how on earth you’ll find the time to start creating an IT Operations Manual.
The answer is, you’ve got to make the time.
If you don’t make the time, you’ll continue in the vicious circle of doing, doing, doing but never making progress.
When I talk to owner/managers about documentation, they typically imagine long documents full of laborious step by step instructions.
But a business process could be as simple as grabbing an A4 sheet of paper, slowing down, using a scribbled flowchart to note the basics steps you take to complete a job, and filing it away properly. The next time you need to do that same job, try following your own written process. You’ll no doubt find ways of explaining it better, or doing it faster. Update the process with them.
Tools such as PSA (Professional Services Automation) and RMM (Remote Monitoring and Management) assist with creating this Operations Manual, enabling information to be gathered automatically, and to easily be accessible across the business.
But even using a pen, paper and a folder for your Operations Manual – by documenting and refining the jobs you do on a day-to-day basis, pretty soon you’ll be in a position to start delegating those jobs to other people.
As a side-effect, you’ll then have started building an actual business with intellectual property and substance.
That business is valuable, because rather than all of the useful information being restricted to the owner/managers head – it’s available to all.
Think about it from the perspective of somebody looking at buying one of two businesses. Both generate the same revenue, but when when speaking to the owner and employees of the first business – there is no Operations Manual, and it’s clear that if they decided to up and leave, so would the knowledge about how to run the business. A risky purchase for any buyer.
When speaking to the owners and employees of the second business however, the staff show the prospective buyer how they do their jobs based on documented systems and processes. The buyer sees that the business has real value as an on-going concern.
For owner/managers looking to grow their business, an Operations Manual gives you the chance to delegate responsibilities to others. It also provides you with the ability to easily train new members of staff. It helps assure staff they are doing the right thing in the best way, and it enables them to take on new responsibilities (or leave the company, it happens!) without the business being affected.
An Operations Manual demonstrates clear business value. If a process is consistent and repeatable, it lends itself to efficiency and profit.
In conclusion, there is no reason for any business of any size to not start creating an Operations Manual straight away. Because if you don’t have an Operations Manual, you’ve got to ask yourself the question – do you actually own a business or just one or more jobs?