We have all are familiar with user manuals ever since we were young. There is always something fascinating about opening a brand new product and going through its user manual. User manuals often contain detailed walk-throughs of how to set up, use, maintain, and even troubleshoot when issues arise. Without interacting with anyone you can navigate your way through with ease. People generally have an appreciation of the importance of user manuals. However, did you know that you can also have an operations manual for your business? Yes, you can, and in this article, I discuss its importance.
What Is An Operations Manual?
This is essentially a document that stipulates a set of guidelines on how certain functions of a business are carried out. One of the core components of an operations manual is SOPs. SOPs stands for standard operating procedures and every business must have them. How staff or employees in a business work together to get things done is detailed in an operations manual. The size, contents and nature of contents in a business operations manual will vary from business to business. The bottom line, as is consistent with what I usually emphasise, is to streamline how things are done.
The operations manual will detail steps taken to carry certain functions within the business. For example, it can be steps taken in handling customer queries. Let me cite a recent practical example to buttress this.
Recently I have been experiencing data network challenges where I stay. So I have been contacting the mobile network service provider in question for close to a week now. Yesterday one of their engineers drove to meet up with me to look into the matter.
The professionalism I noticed from dealing with the call centre was clearly borne out of having standard operating procedures. Even when the engineer was making calls whilst troubleshooting the matter you could see a structure to his approach.
It was apparent he knew who to contact, and what to do next. I have used the example of two different job roles here – a customer service representative and an engineer. Though they collaborate they know what they ought in a harmonious manner. If something is not clear, it is easy to refer to what would have happened along the workflow cycle.
Without an operations manual, for example, SOPs, there will be conflicts and communication breakdowns.
Have you ever seen a scenario where staff members deny being responsible for something that would have happened? I love using practical relatable examples. Consider livestock feeds and veterinary services companies like the one I was contacted by last year.
The business operations manual would stipulate that when a customer comes in they see a sales representative. Let us suppose they want to buy a 50 kilograms bag of broiler starter crumbs. They make payment to the sales representative who then generates an invoice and passes it along to the dispatcher.
The dispatcher logs it into a logbook and goes to the warehouse. In the warehouse, he again logs into another log sheet on the respective section for the stock feed bought. He then carries the bag and dispatches it and gives the customer the invoice upon their departure.
That is basically the workflow as prescribed in the operations manual. What then happens if 50 kilograms of broiler crumbs is bought and 2 bags are dispatched instead? Who is accountable or responsible for that error? Simply because there is an SOP as prescribed in the operations manual, it can be figured out where, how and who is responsible. That illustrates the importance of having a business operations manual.
Effective Monitoring And Evaluation
An operations manual stipulates what must be done, by who, how, when, and so on. This obviously means that working relationships and dependencies are clarified in it. This helps in monitoring how things are flowing. What is working and what is not can be easily noted. Even in the event of troubleshooting, it is easier to diagnose where exactly the problem is. Weak links can be noted and areas needed attention can be noted. Using the prior example, let us suppose every month there are cases of mistakes in dispatching more than what is bought. The workflow can be evaluated to see where the root cause is and a way forward can be mapped. For example, it could emerge that the dispatcher is overwhelmed by workload and might need someone to help him out. This can all be possible by having an operations manual that sets the tone for ease of monitoring and evaluation.
If you do not have a business operations manual, you have to start working on having one. It is not really rocket science; it just needs to be consultatively deliberated on. Normally when a business is quite small you can get away with not having one. However, when the business grows and its team, then it becomes imperative to have one. My advice to you is that no matter the size of your business you need to have a business operations manual. Some of the basic things to cover in business operations manuals are hierarchies, procedures, policies, jobs and descriptions, amongst others.