For those who have read Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited, you’ll recognize this theme: Organize your business as though you were going to franchise it. Franchising is simply a distribution method for a product or service, using the brand, operations systems, and support of the franchisor. Applying this concept, which is essentially just documenting how to operate your company, can help improve productivity and profitability even though you’re not likely to ever franchise it. The foundation of a “franchisable” business is replicable operations systems. “System” is defined as an interrelated body of tasks and procedures, but I would add that for business purposes it needs to be documented in a form that can be most effectively utilized by those responsible for its implementation. So where do you start if you want to document operations systems for your business? I recommend that you chart your organization on a spreadsheet, sorted by job function, responsibility, and task. From that table you can document the systems for each key responsibility. 

First, on a blank sheet, write down the broad categories you use to organize your business. Example:

  • I  Marketing & Advertising

  • II  Sales

  • III Production

  • IV General Management & Financial

Under each section, write down the related responsibilities. Example:
IV. General Management & Financial

a. Planning & budgeting
b. Bookkeeping & accounting
c. Human resources
d. Office administration
e. Operational performance review & analysis

Then under each responsibility, write the related tasks.  Example:

IV. General Management & Financial

e. Operational performance review & analysis

- Review goals & objectives monthly
- Review job costing reports
- Review cash flow reports
- Review financial statements monthly
- Review marketing numbers monthly
- Review sales plan vs. actual monthly
- Compare closing ratios to plan monthly
- Compare gross profit to budget monthly
- Determine where and why variances occurred
- Make changes to plan and budget monthly

Now create a spreadsheet with a page (tab) for each section, with the responsibilities and tasks listed down the rows. At the head, along the columns, list the job functions -- not titles -- in your company (as the owner, you may also be the general manager, sales manager, and production manager; so list the three functions separately -- “owner” is not a job function). Where a job function and a task intersect on the spreadsheet, place an X if that function handles that task. Ideally, the responsibilities and tasks will be in sequential order, ascending, so the information will be in a “day-in-the-life” chronology.  Example of the tabbed page for the General & Financial topic:

With this detailed breakdown, you can provide your staff with an outline of their duties. This, however, is not an “operations system.” A true system would include written, graphical, and/or video descriptions of how to perform it, which should address the “who, what, where, when, and why.” This would be a staggering project for all the tasks that have been mapped out, so the realistic approach is to identify only the critical tasks and document those. Don’t assume the burden of doing this all yourself; delegate pieces of it to your staff. If they’re not comfortable with writing, meet with them and tape/video record what they say. The positive outcome of this exercise should be increased awareness, reduced miscommunication, and greater efficiency, making for a more productive team and happier customers. --Rick Provost has more than 20 years experience helping to build the country’s largest design/build franchise network specializing in exterior home improvement. Formerly the president and CEO of Archadeck, Rick now provides his franchising expertise through The Consultancy, a consulting firm specializing in business systems development for contractors. Rick also is a facilitator, coach, and consultant for Business Networks, a peer-review network for remodelers and insurance restoration contractors. He can be reached at