Process is by far the most under valued aspect of building a business. Young, ambitious, entrepreneurs – like yours truly – are used to freedom, creativity and a bit of magic. The idea that a repeatable process must be imposed on our business and lives is a bit repulsive.
But after being in business for two years I can tell you that process is essential. Without process your business will not scale. Without scale you don’t have a business.
Jeremy sent me a Steve Blank talk last week that really puts this into perspective. Most of my contemporaries act like Billy Durant. We are driven by ambition, creativity and fearlessness, bordering on arrogance (or stupidity), to make our ideas a reality. But turning your ideas into reality is not the same as turning your vision into reality.
My idea was a simple outsourcing solution that would be used by businesses to cheaply and securely scale their organizations. When we launched TaskUs my idea was a reality.
My vision is to be the go to resource for every growth stage startup in need of a team of 10 people or more to automate a human intelligence process (aka cyborg process) be it chat support, transcription, moderation, tagging or sentiment scoring. My vision is for the company to have 5,000 employees spread across offices in the Philippines, India and South America, supporting 100+ growth stage operations at any one time. I’m still working on the vision.
The bridge between the realization of my idea and my vision is process. When we opened our first office in the Philippines I had a team of 8 people. Tasks were assigned and checked, in some semblance of a process, but the process was fluid. This kept us agile, but it also prevented us from the rapid scale we would need to be able to take on 50 to 100 person contracts. When we got our first such contract we spent a month running around like chickens with our heads cut off. Who was doing what? When was it getting done? How long did it take? How good was the final result? It was terrifying chaos.
What enabled us to pull it together and maintain the contract to this day was process. In any process there are multiple sets of players. In a classic example there are Producers, Checkers and Managers. We were doing massive amounts of transcription work. So our producers were the transcriptionists on the floor. Our checkers were our in house QAs, who routinely checked and graded the work of the transcriptionists. Our managers were our team leaders who oversaw each shift of transcriptionists, keeping them on task and ensuring they met production expectations.
This process was built by asking a simple question: What matters? At the end of the day what data do I need to see as the owner of the operation? At the end of the day what data does the client care about? In this case it was the overall volume of audio transcribed and the quality of the transcription. That’s it. Checkers (QAs) and Managers (TLs) are the two levels of management in the process that provide daily insight into these metrics.
But process doesn’t stop there! Simply having access to the important metrics is meaningless unless you do something about it. A feedback loop must be built so that the Producers have access to their own stats. Each transcriptionist needed to know how much audio they transcribed each day and what the quality of their transcriptions were. Furthermore, we needed to support those transcriptionists struggling with either metric to improve. This involved one-on-one training sessions with the QAs or speed typing practice.
Knowing what we know about People, we must also factor self-interest into this equation. It’s great that the Producer knows the areas in which he must improve, but when he is sick, tired or simply having a bad day what is his motivation? Incentives are essential in every process. Incentives take the form of carrots and sticks. For us the stick is the fear of loosing your job. We built a six month, glide path in which the producers metrics must improve each month. If the metrics do not improve to the specified guidelines the Producer is warned, once, twice and then terminated.
As an employer who expects excellence of his employees, I think it is only reasonable that my employees expect excellence of me. So I returned the favor in the form of monthly, monetary bonuses for all Producers (and Checkers and Managers) who go above and beyond.
Obviously a massive transcription production is a relatively simple, quantifiable process. But the frame work of Producers, Checkers, Managers, Carrots and Sticks can and should be applied to every business process…unless you want to stay searching for a business model that is.