Writing a better Standard Operating Procedure
“Everything starts out looking like a toy” (No. 12)
This week’s toy: battery free mobile gaming is a proxy for developing usable devices that are more energy efficient and sustainable. My next question: how much juice do we need for a simple phone that never needs ⚡️? Edition No. 12 of this newsletter is here - it’s September 19, 2020.
The Big Idea
Almost every Standard Operating Procedure is written in a straightforward way even if the underlying procedure (or related procedures) are extremely complicated. First this happens, then that. Handoffs are documented. Entry states and exit conditions are identified. By reading an SOP you can know exactly what happens.
So why don’t workflow diagrams for SaaS and Sales Processes look like this? One of the reasons is that the level of detail required to explain a business process is hard to contain or express in one graphic suitable for presentation. Because we want to tell the story well, when we share with other team members (and other departments) we don’t always add every detail.
You know what this looks like. We’ve all seen examples of presentation slides that show a lead ingestion flow where all the data is there, everything goes right, and it’s easy to show what happens, all in one slide.
It’s tempting to think that by creating a presentation ready slide for a process we will be done documenting how it works. And that might be true, until the underlying conditions change.
ThE ReAliTY is A biT DiffERent
Sales data – like any data – can be a bit messy. For any one of these pillars depicted in the graphic you might need to define:
The beginning state, or entry criteria. Do we have a Minimum Viable Lead with the fields we need to send along after the event that’s sufficient for engagement, and who is responsible for fixing that information if it’s missing?
The actors involved, and a time frame for getting that lead to the next stage. Does this happen immediately or is there a lag? Is the information imported automatically or does it depend upon a manual process? Have we accurately attributed the information depending upon where it originated?
What happens in that pillar. A simplistic graphic that says “mission accomplished” hides several sub-processes that need to complete to move to the next stage
How we fix problems. How do you know there is an issue? Your simple diagram doesn’t tell you, even though your standard operating procedure tells you exactly what to do when you’re missing a field or get a different result than you expected.
Why does this matter?
Documenting the way the procedure actually works – in addition to the “happy path” one which we would like it to work – is a key part of any project. What’s missing is the updated documentation that needs to happen every time one of the inputs to the procedure changes, or when a new department needs to provide an approval, or if the whole thing is a bit different.
Software vendors would tell you that all you need to do is to “log into our software” and then export a PDF or an image that tells you about the current state of the flow or idea. What’s missing from that strategy is the Change that happened, how it’s different from what went before, and also how it might affect other systems.
People Have Change Fatigue
A lot of things change in the workplace when you’re at a high growth company, and documenting those changes is often the last thing on everyone’s list. What if it were possible to have a continuously updating Standard Operating Procedure that – when asked – could export as a presentation slide, an outline, or even a video with generated content to explain the whole process from end to end.
Content management for changes is hidden work. When we fail to complete this we are creating decision debt that will prevent organizations from moving quickly and from adapting to change. We’re also missing an opportunity to train people who don’t use a system on the actual mechanics for how we do business and match up the concepts they see in a presentation slide with the operational rules we use to make that happen.
What’s the takeaway? Build your Standard Operating Procedures so that anyone in the business can read them and know enough to ask the hard questions about why that lead didn’t route or that account didn’t get enriched. And when things work, they’ll also know why they went well.
We’d like to know …
How do you know what to trust on the internet? I’ve been using snopes.com for a long long time, but simple heuristics work too. Be wary of information you see once.
Click the tweet to vote.
Links for Reading and Sharing
These are links that caught my eye.
1/ The struggle is real - Hubspot tracked pre-COVID and post-COVID sales data to benchmark the gap between performance in the before times and now. Data by region here is particularly interesting. We’re not out of the woods yet, but things are improving.
2/ The 👀 have it - Google is now investigating iris tracking for depth estimation and (presumably) attention tracking. From simple parlor tricks like a filter to change your eye color to a real time index of whether that person on a zoom is paying attention, this could change the way we interact remotely.
3/ GPT-3 and its children - Pioneer Square Labs (among other VCs) is interested in the model called GPT-3 and its ability to mimic existing functions on the internet. This is not exactly “artificial intelligence” but more like a highly sophisticated ability to copy … almost anything.
On the Reading List
Thanks to Pete K. for sending along a copy of The Transparency Sale by Todd Caponi - all about understanding buyers and meeting them where they are, instead of misleading them into making decisions they don’t support.
I’m re-reading Tiny Habits by B.J. Fogg, which is an excellent summation the behavior, trigger, and model to create lasting habits (especially a little bit at a time).
What to do next
Hit reply if you’ve got links to share, data stories, or want to say hello.
I’m grateful you read this far. Thank you.
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Want more essays? Read on Data Operations or other writings at gregmeyer.com.
The next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a “toy.” - Chris Dixon