Software Tips.

The Art and Science of System Building

I occasionally mention that there is an art and a science to system building. Let me explain further.

The science of developing good business systems includes the principles you learn regarding process, components, quality, speed, and measurement.

The art of system building involves your unique business structure (Org Chart) and how the systems interrelate (System Framework). It is what you name a system or box, where each box fits into the structure, and how you define the beginning and ending points of a system—where one stops and another begins.

You and your business are unique. If ten architects are asked to design a 2000 square-foot home for a family of four, each would come up with a solution. However, no two designs would be alike. In the same way, your business is uniquely YOU! This is one reason you got into business—to do your own thing. The creative elements begin in the System Framework of Box Theory™ software.

One of the most head-scratching aspects of system development is deciding where a procedure starts and stops. In the natural flow of business activity, tasks may seem to run together in one continuous process.  More likely, there are several separate systems, each with a distinct objective.

When you first lay out a system, I recommend that you establish the beginning and ending points—first and last step—before proceeding with the steps in the middle.

Here are a few things to consider as you try to identify a distinct and separate system.

  • The task can logically be represented on a flowchart or checklist with a single box and an unambiguous name.
  • The system has one primary purpose (e.g., deliver furniture; process an application). If there is more than one purpose, there is usually more than one system.
  • Most often, there is also one primary measurement of system performance (e.g., number of deliveries per day; number of applications processed). Be careful here. A system can sometimes have more than one measurement. For example, you may also measure what percent of deliveries were on time, or what percent of applications were not completed correctly.
  • There is a natural break in the system like the scenes from a movie (e.g., loading furniture on the truck is very different than delivering the furniture across town).
  • Sometimes a system ends when a task is handed off to another person or team (e.g. a warehouse person loads the truck and a delivery person transports the furniture—two separate systems).
  • The box or system is at the lowest level, the bottom of the hierarchy. You can see no benefit in breaking the system down any further to get the desired outcome.

The lower the level a system is on, the more details you control, and the more precisely the system operates. By working on a system at too high a level (e.g., Marketing), you can miss a lot of important details. On the other hand, working on a system at too low a level can be burdensome and unnecessary (e.g. Daily Marketing Calendar). Work at the level that gives you the desired result (e.g., number of new leads). Most of the time, this decision will come naturally.

Sometimes a task or box seems like it belongs in more than one system. A recent example came from a home repair business where the owner needed to determine if a “thank-you” letter requesting referrals belonged in the customer care system or a lead generation system.  My response was that “Send Thank-You Letter” was perhaps the last step (box) of the customer service cycle. A follow-up phone call seeking referrals belonged in the lead generation system in a box called “Customer Referrals.” Maybe you see it differently.

Remember, this part of system development is an art. It is up to you. Do what works. If you change your mind, you can move your boxes around until you are satisfied.

Have fun in The Zone!

Better Systems
Better Business