Operations Manual: Because 'Winging It' is Just Too Mainstream

Key Takeaways
Operations Manual: Because 'Winging It' is Just Too Mainstream
The manual shows the business' strategic approach to ensure efficiency.
The manual shows the business' strategic approach to ensure efficiency.

Remember the moment you decided to be like Nike and just do it, taking the plunge to start you next business venture? The eagerness! The enthusiasm!

And then your balloon gets popped with the ensuing karaoke session: ad-libbing all the way, flying by the seat of your pants.

Unfortunately, when it comes to business, success doesn't work that way.

Running a successful company requires a roadmap, or else it's like assembling Ikea furniture without instructions. And what's your instruction sheet for running a business? A business operations manual. It's a leader's guide to putting together a puzzle — your organization's secret weapon, GPS, and bible, all in one.

In this article, we'll show you how an operations manual makes it easier to optimize your company's growth. We'll break down the essentials – what it is, why it is crucial, and how it can help us steer clear of inconsistencies and inefficient business processes. Let's go!

First Things First: What Is an Operations Manual?

An operations manual is a structured resource that serves as a guidebook on how to perform specific roles, complete tasks, and interact with different aspects of the project or business operations. It's the business' standard operating procedures (SOPs) put together in one knowledge base.

What is the operations manual for?

A good company operations manual example is an employee handbook — but instead of being limited to employee procedures, the operations manual is for the entire organization's procedures. It's like the company encyclopedia or operations guide, covering different business aspects and all the information about the organization.

The operations manual also outlines the processes, procedures, and policies regarding the the company operations. Having this information all in one place expedites new employee onboarding and training, enabling consistency and process adaptability.

The best way for business owners and co-workers to dodge frequent and unnecessary human error is through process documentation. And the best way to do is with an operations manual. Without it, everyone's working in the dark and this leads to business and project dysfunction.

An operations manual is a structured guide to help you run a company.
An operations manual is a structured guide to help you run a company.

Is This Manual Beneficial to My Business?

Yes! Here are some of our top reasons why a service operations manual is advantageous for your organization.

Creates a template for business processes

Those days where ad copy and client proposals have you stuck behind your desk for hours? Gone when you use an operations manual. With it, everyone has something to refer back to when they need to check a form, recreate a process, or empower an employee. It provides a guide or pattern that lets you do the task more effectively at a faster rate.

No more waiting 12+ hours for a reply from a remote co-worker just to ask something simple and routine, like where to forward processed invoices.

Simplifies business workflows

Having poor reports and poor staff performance may not always signify a problem with the business itself. It may be due to the lack of a standardized plan of action.

For instance, another department may want to do Version 2.0, which differs entirely from our solution. This only breeds further confusion and chaos. Prevent inconsistent workflows with one unified business process to help simplify the system.

Promotes accountability

Perhaps one of the most important reasons for having an operations manual is to promote workplace knowledge.

Imagine this:

Your content creator unknowingly shares an event flyer on your official social media page. It should have been submitted for approval to the editor first. Then the social media manager would have scheduled the post at a specific date and time. As a result, several stakeholders started calling you and asking about the typos, incorrect grammar, unaligned theme, and wrong date indicated on the event post.

"I didn't know the process. It's not my fault."

Uninformed individuals may not realize the negative consequences their "unawareness" may bring to the company. Their excuse may be valid because there are no black-and-white rules on how to do their job correctly.

An operations manual could have reminded everyone how to carry out their duties using reliable project management tools. It demonstrates the importance of sustainable knowledge so everyone knows where a task starts, when it is finished, and who to ask in between.

It also supports an agency's culture of clarity and transparency so mistakes are prevented, and individuals are held responsible for their actions.

Want to reach your goal faster? Establish a comprehensive operations manual for the whole team!
Want to reach your goal faster? Establish a comprehensive operations manual for the whole team!

Helps us reach our goals more easily

When our purpose of having an operations manual is aligned with the business goals, it will help us achieve those goals faster and more easily. So, determine your reason for establishing an operations manual:

When we know our 'why,' our manual steers us to the path with minimal obstacles and leads us toward accomplishing our objectives. An operations manual makes our desired result more visible and clearer for the entire agency.

Increases market value

When we document a company's processes, it shows investors and the general public that the business values its ability to deliver consistent results. This is also a crucial business move that adds to a company's market value. A professional operations manual makes the transition to new leadership easier and lessens disruptions if you plan to sell the company.

Serves as a guide for establishing best practices

For small businesses, an operations manual serves as a guide for best practices to run successfully. It enables us and our team to develop the groundwork for procedures, know where to improve, and create a plan of action to address them.

How Does It Support Our Business Growth?

An operations manual is an essential instrument that supports critical elements for growth, like consistency, efficiency, adaptability, reduced dependence on key players in the company, and risk mitigation.

Enhances consistency and standardization

A business's operations manual is a comprehensive and concise handbook that offers clear direction for everyone to follow – from the CEO to the new hires. This is vital, especially when an organization is just beginning to thrive.

When processes and procedures are standardized, we maintain the consistency needed when it comes to delivering the same high-quality deliverables. By providing reliably excellent products and services every time, clients will know what they are getting, we'll know what our clients want, and it will build trust between us. Providing the same standard output also creates a solid foundation for our processes to run smoothly.

Staying consistent is vital for business growth.
Staying consistent is vital for business growth.

Boosts efficiency and productivity

Remember how good it feels when we do things right the first time? When we take less time, materials, and effort to do each task, that's a sign of being productive, and we gain more time in return. Doing it right in one try increases productivity and motivates us, since proficiency makes us feel empowered.

What if we commit mistakes and don't get it right the first time?

$hit happens.

We're all human, and errors are unavoidable. As we expand our business, we also discover things along the way. The key is to go through our operations manual and use the necessary metrics to evaluate performance, set steps to improve, and do a reassessment afterward. Optimizing the process may not correct the errors, but it can help us get the job done perfectly the next time.

Growing the business also requires efficient resource allocation because it lets us save and maximize what we have. With the help of an operations plan, we can also identify factors that limit our progress.

Are our deadlines realistic? Have we provided enough training for our team? Are we still on track with the budget?

Establishing a reliable structure enables us to measure and refine how we utilize and set boundaries for every resource.

Promotes adaptability and scalability

When we make a process more adaptable, we remain in control of the situation, which is essential when scaling. Adapting to market changes and client needs per our operations manual, through trend analysis and monitoring, allows us to adjust smoothly without major impact on the company.

An operations manual also enables the business to handle increased demand while seeking new opportunities.

An organization with a dependable and logical business model can maintain the quality of its output because the people follow a standardized way of operating. Documented SOPs and company information help to clear the path because the plans and measures are centered on evolving business demands.

This advances the organization's capacity to expand quickly.

Develops effective training

By integrating the operations manual into our workplace education, we make employee training easier and make employees more effective members of the organization faster. We're arming them with knowledge but also helping them manage their workload more effectively, advance faster in their careers, and achieve a work-life balance. When individuals know they are taken care of, they're more satisfied, engaged, and more likely to stay with the company for many years.

Empowering team members also eliminates back-and-forth communication, saving time and increasing productivity. It also reduces the situations where we rely too much on only a few people's abilities and knowledge, which is risky even for thriving businesses. We train everyone to grow within the organization and nurture their potential when we make operational information transparent and accessible.

Process documentation lets us train people better and more effectively.
Process documentation lets us train people better and more effectively.

Implements proper risk management

With an IT operations manual, everything becomes visible and easily accessible. The processes are reviewed more often, while schedules for updating technology and business procedures are observed religiously. Modifications to address threats and challenges are executed in an orderly and systematic way. When there's transparent documentation in the workplace, there' enhanced safety in terms of physical security and data protection.

Resource risk mitigation is also vital to reduce wasted project resources, including budgets, people, and time. Scope risks in project implementation may also be an obstacle, especially if there are undocumented changes to the limits of the deliverable.

Consistent functioning through an operations manual lets us foresee and assess an upcoming risk or unpredictable situation. Inconsistencies stand out because we're used to uniformity in performing standardized tasks. This helps us recognize risks faster and gives us more time to prepare.

How Is It Structured?

There are several common components of an operations manual, and you'll need to tailor them to the organization's needs and goals. Here are some of the components and topics to address in your operational procedures manual:

Organizational hierarchy

The company hierarchy is usually found in the operations manual. This shows how the workforce is structured in the form of a diagram or organizational chart. It starts with the very top with the C and D-level executives, to the managers and team leaders, to the very last of your team members.

The company's "family tree" should also include everyone's full name, title or job role, and the team they belong to, if applicable.

Contact information

Organizing your contact information is vital. You'll gain more time working and less time searching your email list if you need to communicate with someone inside the organization. You'll also want to include the company and individual employee records, including their addresses or personal phone numbers, depending on your company's discretion.

You can also add the essential contact details of people and organizations outside the company, too. The details of all the contact information can be further divided into different categories like suppliers, affiliates, government agencies, and authorities — even emergency contact information in your local area.

Duties and responsibilities

Another important component of an operations manual is the job description for each role. This is where employees can find the functions each individual performs, including the level of authority, key skillset or specialization, who they report to, and if anyone reports to them.

This section, combined with the contact information of employee records, makes finding an individual they can collaborate with or ask questions much more convenient. With the help of a detailed list of each position in the organization, they can easily find them through the contact list and verify the information as per the role they perform.

Business systems and flowcharts

Alongside the people who make up the organization, the operations manual focuses mainly on the company procedures, tools, and essential how-tos. This section may even contain process maps for department-specific tasks and tools, collaboration procedures for each team, staff development along with the training manual, and step-by-step instructions discussed as visual diagrams to comprehend the completion of a process easily.

Other than essential business processes, the operations manual also includes different values that the company upholds and policies founded on these principles applied to dealing with customer queries, preserving a conducive work environment, maintaining professionalism in the workplace, and addressing employee grievances and conflicts.

Don't worry if this section takes up the bulk of the operations manual. As our agency grows and expands, it develops more and more process improvements to meet our evolving organizational needs.

The operations manual becomes a powerful tool that guides everyday activities in the organization.
The operations manual becomes a powerful tool that guides everyday activities in the organization.

Emergency plan

We might have had a quick look at our agency's emergency plan once. For yearly renewal of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements and as a part of complying with state requirements, we may have peeked at it yearly —  at most. This infrequency is rarely sufficient.

All documents that pertain to changes that might alter processes, affect production and personnel, and limit business continuity must be documented correctly in this section of the operations manual. This helps us disseminate important information faster and make crucial plans accessible to everyone in the organization.

What should we add to the company's emergency plans?

Include all procedures to prevent human-made incidents (server breach, data leakage, etc.), what to do during the incident (who to get in touch with, first aid care and emergency actions, what to do to contain and narrow the damage, etc.), and what to do after an emergency has taken place (disaster recovery and contingency plans).

How Do We Create An Emergency Plan?

The easiest way is to start with a digital format like a simple Google Docs file and compile it in an online resource folder. This allows us to ask for input and recommendations and easily revise things if needed. We can then create physical copies in case of emergency and for government compliance, with the option to upgrade to software. Or we can add it to our database as the agency scales.

Important tip: We DON'T want to make our operations manual sound like we're trying to read a bedtime story. When we describe the processes in a monotonous, dull way, people quickly get bored, ignore the procedures written, and just opt to rely on what they already know. Our operations manual might as well be non-existent. You don't want that to happen!

Don't Wait Any Longer. Implement Your Operations Manual Today

Tailoring our operations manual to our audience is like giving someone a guidebook to help them find their way in a strange city. We wouldn't offer someone a map of New York if they were going to the Maldives, right?

Also, we want to create a manual in language that project team members, partners, key stakeholders, and everyone involved in the project's execution can easily grasp.

This will:

  • Provide clarity so team members can understand the processes related to their job functions in detail. The manual will also give them an idea of what is expected of them instead of catching them off-guard during performance reviews – surprise, surprise!
  • Identify value-shared goals with stakeholders so they know you consider their input. It will strengthen your business relationships and build trust.
  • Promote inclusivity to everyone else playing a role in making things happen. We don't just host a party and leave folks standing outside. Whether it's the contractors or the new hires, we must always make everybody feel welcome and get up to speed quickly as they join our team.
The operations manual effectively drive the company towards its goals - implement one as soon as you can!
The operations manual effectively drive the company towards its goals - implement one as soon as you can!

Once we know our audience and we're ready to implement, we must keep in mind that implementation only works with regular communication and training. It's essential to keep talking to our team about the processes and ask for their feedback and suggestions to ensure we're all on the same page. We may have to put effort into staff training early. But showing employees how something is done correctly the first few times increases the chance of them getting it right later on.

Always be open to changes and be willing to adjust the manual,

Let's Recap!

Briefly, here are the things we've learned about creating an operations manual:

  • An operations manual is a structured guidebook for the entire organization. It increases the efficiency of our processes, simplifies workflows, boosts engagement and accountability, and mitigates risks in our team.
  • A manual serves as a guide for our growing company by maintaining consistency, observing best practices, promoting adaptability, and delivering standardized, high-quality results while seeking new opportunities.
  • Essential components of an operations manual include the organizational hierarchy, company information, individual contact details, job descriptions, business processes, policies, and emergency procedures.
  • Knowing who will use it and what the purpose of your operational plan is lets us align its contents with our business goals. Create it in crystal clear language that everybody will understand.
  • Don't wait for a later time to implement one!

More than just a know-how of business-specific tasks, an operations manual will translate to increased process efficiency. Employees will need access to the manual so they know how their performance contributes to the company's growth.

Implementing an operations manual tailor-fit to your company makes your business healthier and more organized because winging it is just too mainstream for a business as unique as yours!

Ready to learn more? Check out these simple steps to help scale your Project Management Team.

Business operations consultant Juliana Marulanda
Juliana Marulanda - ScaleTime Founder
Juliana Marulanda is a business operations expert, speaker, and the founder of ScaleTime. With over 20 years of experience across Wall Street, the non-profit sector, technology startups, and family-owned businesses, she now helps service-based businesses.
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