When building systems for your business, it’s always handy to think of your business as a machine with inputs and outputs. Money comes in, your magic happens, and products and services go out. Of course, thinking at this high level isn’t useful for building systems, so we break down this machine into smaller machines that we can easily document.

For example, in an eCommerce business’ warehouse, an order picking list comes in, and a parcel goes out. What happens in between?

  1. The relevant products are found on the warehouse shelves and brought to the packing station.
  2. A box of suitable size is found, and other packing materials collected.
  3. The materials are packed into the box.
  4. A shipping label is printed, and the parcel put somewhere ready for collection.

People

At every step, there are three major aspects to think about when documenting the system: the information needed (and collected for future steps), the work being done to transform something, and the people doing this work.

When we design and document systems it’s very easy to concentrate on the first two, and pay only cursory attention to the third aspect – “Oh, Alice does that”. This is a huge mistake.

The people involved in a business system are the biggest asset (or the greatest liability) to your systems. Get it right, and it will transform the way you think about your business. They are not simply the cogs acting out the steps in their work. It doesn’t matter how low-level this work might be. They are also the feedback mechanisms to make this work better.

Feedback

Because people have feelings and intuition, they are perfectly designed to collect feedback on how well a system is operating. In our eCommerce warehouse example, they might find:

  • The organisation of the warehouse is slowing them down.
  • The area for parcel collection is too small and disorganised, and things go missing before they get picked up.
  • The packing materials are hard to work with and slow them down.

You can improve all of these things quite easily if you know they are problems. If you have feedback mechanisms to get these pain points back to those who can make improvements, then you’re on your way to getting the full value out of every individual in the organisation.

Intention

A useful way to think about this is that intention flows down the organisation chart (you do have one, don’t you?) from the highest levels (who know where they want the organisation to go) to the lowest, and feedback flows from the lower levels (who know what happens on the ground) back to the higher levels. If you’re sending intention down but ignoring the feedback coming back up, how do you know the path the organisation is going down isn’t the wrong one?

We’re planning to discuss this new way of thinking about organisational charts in a later post. For now, I’ll leave you with this question: Does your organisation collect feedback from the people doing the actual work?

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