What expertise do you bring to your organization? Because most of us with any sort of technical knowledge – event planners, grant writers, system admins – all have one big thing in common.
People always need something from us.
As our orgs grow, so do the needs of our staff. If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed with requests, or find yourself repeating the same instructions to people over & over… then it may be time to streamline. Let’s turn that task into a process!
Why a process?
A smart process does wonders for our productivity. Guidelines & timelines help keep us accountable, minimize errors, and set expectations at our org.
The result? We’re enabled to produce our best work in a timely fashion, without having to lose our minds.
But wait. My staff hates change.
Yup, who doesn’t? Ask anyone that has ever implemented something new. Be it tech or toilet paper, you’re guaranteed to have some naysayers.
But that’s no reason to turn your back on systems of working that make your org better. We all deserve the ability to produce quality work with minimal stress. If a process can get us there, then the learning curve is justified.
Besides, we’re not reinventing the wheel unnecessarily. Don’t fix what isn’t broken! We’ll focus on the points that have historically put the quality (or timeliness) of our work in jeopardy. And we’ll make sure to take staff into account when making those process decisions.
A process it is! Where do I start?
Before you start process-lytizing (^_^), you’ll want to brainstorm around 3 key areas:
- The people submitting requests
- The people fielding requests
- The request itself
Part I: The people submitting requests.
Start with the staff who are going to use this process. After all, they’re the ones keeping you in business!
While different departments have distinct needs, you should start by honing on the commonalities between requests. Ask yourself:
1. What types of requests do I get?
Assign labels to those asks: are you getting requests for reports, tech enhancements, training? This will help you identify procedures for each type of request.
2. How often am I asked for things?
Do requests come randomly or in regular intervals? Figuring out that frequency will help you plan for both busy times and slow stretches.
3. What is the amount of lead time I’m typically working with?
If people asked for stuff early enough, we wouldn’t need to do this. That doesn’t mean we get to set rules based solely on what makes us comfortable! To determine your timelines, it’s only fair that you take into account your staff’s expectations and sense of urgency.
4. How do I hear about requests?
Are you mostly fielding requests via email, web chat, or in-person? The how here will guide the communication channels you ought to consider incorporating into your process.
After you’ve given your staff enough thought, it’s time to turn the focus to your team.
Part II: The people handling requests.
A strong process will be designed around your own capacity. So whether you’re a full team or a one-stop shop, be honest with yourself on the following:
1. What do I need to fill a request properly?
List the requirements for each type of request. Include the obvious points, plus those afterthoughts that crop up at the last second. The latter is what your process will prevent.
2. How long does it take to get this done?
Maybe it only takes 10 minutes to whip up that report, or a few hours to get that copy drafted. Estimate how long each bucket would take you on a good day. Don’t worry about the bad days for now; our process will include buffer time for those unknowns!
*Tip*: This is only to help you get a handle on your capacity. No need to share these stats out widely with your staff…
3. What are my challenges to filling a request on time?
Know your limits! What stands in the way of getting things done? This could be anything, from old computer software slowing you down, to being pulled in too many directions by your boss. (*winks at entire sector*)
*Tip*: Even if you can’t address these things, being realistic about their impact will help you set realistic timelines.
4. How do I prefer people loop me in?
Which communication methods lend best to your work flow? For me, I like data requests in writing. Email works right now because my team is fairly small. But if we ever grow past a certain point, I’ll want a form submission process to keep everything straight. (Hint: Google Forms is an easy, free tool for this.)
5. How am I tracking it all?
This process should contribute to your own task management. How do you organize requests, stakeholders and due dates? Online calendars, post it-notes, spreadsheets…whatever works for you is fine, as long as it works!
After you’ve cycled through your needs, start comparing your answers from the last section. Note the conflicts between your needs and staff’s, and sit tight. The next section will help you decide which way to fall on those areas.
Part III: The request itself.
Your request isn’t a person. BUT, as the output of your process, it needs to be held to a certain standard of excellence.
For example…I wouldn’t share a data report I was only 70% sure about. Likewise, I’m sure you wouldn’t submit an article or grant application that was riddled with typos JUST for the sake of timeliness. Amirite??
So while this may be the last consideration in our list, it’s the most important! And it will be the deciding factor on any conflicts from the last two sections.
1. What determines if a request is up to snuff?
From a quality assurance perspective, what checks need to happen before you can comfortably send a request back? Maybe someone needs to sign off on that copy, or you need an extra day to validate your reports. Factor this into your timeline.
2. What about priorities?
When you’re juggling multiple requests, certain factors are bound to take priority over others. Time sensitivity, the person making the request, and even specific directives from your boss will play a part.
All that to say…don’t stress if the order you receive things isn’t the order which they get done. That’s perfectly normal.
3. Are requests bound by certain time constraints?
I’m really talking expiration time here. A report on your last round of donations will eventually become outdated from the time you work on a request to when you deliver on it. Be sensitive to time’s role in these kinds of situations, and try to augment your process to account for those variables.
4. Which aspects of a request are non-negotiable?
There will inevitably come a time when someone asks for something that is just wrong, for whatever reason! As the keeper of your work, you need to decide which aspects of a request can be negotiated, and which can’t.
For my role, data integrity is everything. If I get a request from staff that puts our data at risk, or calls its reliability into question, it’s a no-go. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try to find a more appropriate solution, because that’s just what being a database manager is!
By this point, you should have a good sense of what it takes to fill a request and how to set the stage for staff.
And for those who want to actually start putting one together, you can move on to Part 1 of a 3-part series on how to create effective staff processes!