Rob Cairns sits down with Briar Harvey about Business Processes and why they matter.
- Why you need processes in business.
- How do you determine processes.
- How business processes can improve your productivity.
Everybody, Rob Cairns here, in today’s podcast, I’m here with Briar Harvey, and we’re gonna talk about processes in business. How are you today?
I am fantastic, Rob, how you doing?
Not too bad. Thanks for joining me today. How did you get in business to where you are now and give us some background and what you’re doing?
Oh, so my journey has been kind of long and windy. I started about 10 years ago. As a product seller, I was making massage oil. And that springboarded me into coaching. And then I had a traumatic loss. And so I kind of went back to the drawing board and started writing freelance. I was doing ghostwriting and course development, product design. And then I got into project management. Because I discovered I liked managing the back end of the project better than I liked doing the hands on writing work. And now I’m back to coaching, although it’s a totally different kind. I work primarily with neurodiverse, folks, so that’s ADHD, autism, chronic depression, anxiety, ya know, all of the fun stuff. And it’s, it’s been fantastic work, I really enjoy what I’m doing right now.
That’s awesome. And, and all the mental health stuff, as we know, in today’s world is really important and actually not treated very well, as you know,
no, not even a little bit.
No, it’s a bit of a problem. So project management and processes, they kind of go hand in hand, don’t you think that a lot of people spend too much time trying to decide what tool they’re going to use to drive their processes instead of actually defining good processes?
Well, that’s the amazing thing, right? Because you and I know there’s so many tools out there to do the job. And none of them ever do it quite right, or the way that you want it to do it. So you spend all of this time getting invested in a system, only to discover that it’s not right, and then you move to another system, or you try and make it work for you. When instead, the actual work should be around figuring out what you need first, and then trying to create something that works closely with that, but it’s never gonna be perfect.
No, that is so true. I, you know, we were talking a week ago about in the project management game in the corporate world, how everybody likes Microsoft Office. And they, you know, in the corporate world, they don’t like to go to any of the SAS tools. And like the quick cups, the notions, the TROs chooser, choose your tool, but they just think office is the best thing going. And I can tell you being a pm by background office is the worst possible tool. But the corporate world seems married into that. And that’s a bit of a problem, don’t you think?
It really is because you’re left with, for one thing, employees who are shoehorned into a tool that’s probably not right for the job. But with resistance, because at the employee level, if I don’t like the tool, then I’m not gonna use it. I’m going to find workarounds to use my own system. I’m just going to plug stuff in but not actually interact with it. It makes it really, really difficult to allow for the autonomy, which is where production and creativity and innovation actually happen, right? It’s not about the system. It’s about making time to do other things.
Oh, I I wholeheartedly agree with you. When we were talking before we did the podcast I shared with you a story, which I’ll share here. We had a seat To when I worked in healthcare at one of Trumps biggest hospitals in it, who liked office, like projects set up the way he wanted it set up, not the way the tool was designed. And we used to spend project plans were due Tuesday morning at nine o’clock, and Monday afternoon. So I spend in my office, taking my project plan, by the way, which was not done in Microsoft Project, it was done in another tool, and what I call cannibalising it to make it look the way it had to work for my reporting process to get it by the CTO.
And you know, what happens when we do that? Is that we miss stuff. Oh, yeah, it’s not deliberate. But we either lose things in translation, or we are forced to cut things out, because it doesn’t work specifically with the system that we are using. And in the long run, it just really hampers creativity and innovation.
I wholeheartedly 100% agree with you on that one. And you sort of touched on something really important. Processes are designed to save time. And I’m a bit of a productivity junkie, I’ve probably read over 25 books on productivity over the years, you take a little here and a little there and build your own system. And I would agree with the joint expand on that, why processes save time.
So I think the problem with trying to adapt other people’s processes is that they don’t fit your life or circumstances. So designing a process then is about being very mindful around what’s needed, and how that actually fits in to the existing structure. And when we’re borrowing other people’s, or we’re doing it by rote, then we’re not actually figuring out the steps that are required to get there. And at the end of the day, when we actually do the work of creating the process, we can look at it and go, Oh, I do this first and this second and this third. But I don’t actually need to do that thing. Third, that can be done by someone else. Or that can be automated by software, or it can be skipped entirely, because it’s an essential step. So figuring out the process, and how that works, is what allows us to find the time, we all have the same number hours, it’s that 168. So what are we doing to make our time actually more functional?
Are you a big fan of when you’re trying to figure out the process of literally sitting down with a sketch pad and drawing it out? Or do you prefer to write it out? Or how do you prefer to conceptualise that
General, I find the best way is to record the process at as it is occurring. So for my clients, I typically have them record loom videos of this is how I do the thing, or write the thing or make the thing happen. And then we take it apart, because we’ve been able to deconstruct it from the video.
Yeah, that’s that’s a really cool idea. Because I get a sense that you are a more visual person
where I would think, Oh, yeah, absolutely.
No, same reason why, you know, if you don’t have a video around, I always carry a sketch pad in my bag when I’m meeting with people, because I’ll draw stuff out for that exact reason. It’s, it’s the visual in front of you. So in terms of processes, what do you do when you have a client or a prospective client that says, I don’t want like that process, but I want to work with him.
We just make up a new one. I mean, it’s I think one of the places where we get stuck is in sunk cost fallacy, right? I have invested all of this time in this process. And so now I’m committed Damn it, because this is why We’re doing when the reality is we should probably in many cases, go back to the drawing board and figure out another better way to do the thing.
Yeah, I would agree. Like, I think you need to take that as an opportunity. If somebody says they don’t like something and kind of look at it and figure out, really, is that the best process? Or is it just something you’ve done? Because you’ve always found it that way. And you’re not up for changing. And many agencies and many businesses say, I will continue to do it, because we’ve done it this way for 30 years.
So in my work, working with people who are neurodiverse, when resistance happens, it generally stops work entirely. And this is not, this is not something they really have control over. It’s the brain just kind of shuts down. And it says, No, I’m not going to do this thing anymore this way, because it doesn’t make sense to me. So what I’m always looking for is, where is the resistance? What’s causing us to not like this system, or use this process? And let’s pick that apart and figure it out. Because once we know what’s causing the resistance, and I’ll be honest, it’s sometimes very surface level things like the UI doesn’t work, or it’s really ugly. And that seems insignificant. But for most people, having something pretty and functional, will supersede the actual functionality of whatever the tool is, I want it to look good, that matters. And if I’m stuck around interface, or I don’t like the way it looks, then that’s another point of resistance. So it’s always for me coming back to where is the resistance? What is it around? And how do we eliminate it?
Yeah, it’s true. And I think a lot of companies, agencies, freelancers get hung up on the process, instead of again, serving the customer. And isn’t that what we’re in business for? Right?
I think so. At least that’s what I’m in business for.
Me as well. And I’ve, you know, I’ve, I’ve changed processes over the years, because I’ve had clients say to me, you know, this doesn’t work for me, or this is a problem and, and I’ve refined stuff. And then we have things like internal processes, things like, how do you produce a podcast? How do you? How do you produce internal documentation? And I find, personally, I’m always looking at stuff like that, as I do it, subconsciously saying, Is there a better way? Is there a way to, to save five minutes here and five minutes there? And people say, well, that’s only five minutes, but five minutes times 52 times two. There’s a couple hours, right.
So I read this really incredible newsletter this morning, Charlie Wurtzel, he’s moving over to slate. And he did an interview with a guy who goes in and does anonymous employee interviews. And so he’s really picking apart what employees aren’t liking about the work at this point in time. And he said, there’s really there’s two responses when he comes back with these results in a company that is dedicated to producing, despite the, you know, need to fulfil shareholder obligations at all costs, are usually more willing to look at the processes and the changes that need to be made. But for companies that are dedicated to fulfilling the bottom line, not only is there pushback, but it’s pushed back on stupid stuff. Like, I don’t agree with your definition of a hostile work environment. So I think that when we are creating new rules and kind of coming up with new systems or processes to look at, what we need to start with first is definitions. How do we define this thing or this app? What are you saying when you use that word versus what I am saying, because until we have an actual common language around that stuff, we can’t even get any farther than that, it’ll never, we’ll never be able to reach resolution, if we don’t have a sense of this is how I think this works
is so true, I did a contract in the middle of the pandemic, with an organisation that actually brought in an outside consultant to work at their communications department, and they see how it was working. And there were they came back was a lot of people were getting hung up on definitions, the definition that one person taught in a department wasn’t the same as another. And they suggested exactly that to get the definitions on the same playing field, before you even move on. And the other thing that I find very often is, processes often get hung up by I hate to say bad management, management’s just not paying attention. They’re not spending their time looking at it, they instituted a process because if done it this way, for other times, they’re not looking at the culture of the organisation. And that’s a problem culture, in my is my belief is something that you either believe, or you don’t believe it can’t be taught, a lot of things can be taught, and then and so on, and so forth. And you’ll find that most of the process problem, I think, in a lot of companies is management issues.
Well, and what we’re finding is that culture is engineered, right? It is absolutely a choice. And then it’s a deliberate one, where from top down, we take a look at what it is we believe, how we choose to incorporate those beliefs into our work, and how those beliefs sustain the work. I think that’s easier to do on some level, if you are a entrepreneur or a small business, you have the ability to say, Hey, this is what matters to me. And this is my hard line in the sand. Corporations try to be all things for all people and end up serving no one. That’s a real problem.
It’s so true. I’ve done some work with some major corporations, and the fights that go in the meetings over culture and how to do things is absolutely ridiculous, to be honest with you. And if you could move past that you get stuff done. But beliefs have a big impact in where people go on why they go. And that’s just the reality.
And what we’re finding is, especially within this last year and a half, right, is that we were asked to bring our whole selves to work cuz it was at home. And turns out our employers at large did not like it all that much. They were like, wait, wait, wait, no, I don’t think I want your whole self. But it’s too late now. We can’t really roll that back. And so what happens now is trying to find the shift, and moving forward into workplaces that don’t revolve around productivity as the only index of function, right? Or the only index of success.
Yeah, it’s so true. I was talking to a colleague last night, and he works in a call centre. And they’re remote now it call centre they’re remote right now. And one of the things one of the managers was getting hung up on was in the call centre business, and they determine productivity by time on call, which is quite common in call centres. So if you take 30 calls, or you take 20 calls, the person who took 30 calls has a higher productivity score. And I always say, but is that fair? And they say, What do you mean? And I say, but the person that took 20 calls might get ahead 20 calls that were more complex. So do we rush the customer off the phone to increase our productivity score? And there’s an old saying in business that if you tell staff how they’re going to be measured, they will work towards that measurement.
And again, that’s about being very clear about language and culture. And these are the things that matter. And I think we can make that shift away from baseline productivity metrics, while also doing good things for our employees, I think we can look at how those shifts can happen without needing to enforce a bottom line metric about butts in seats, because that one is really starting to bite us in the ass. The the the exodus from the workplace right now, especially from knowledge work, because of the requirement to be physically present is very high.
It’s so true, and you’re talking about butts in the seat. I was sharing that I worked for a major hospital, do you know working in healthcare, and working on patient force, that we used to have managers who would come down on staff for legitimately taking sick days in a healthcare environment?
Yeah, which is absolutely ridiculous. Because we’re talking about health care. Should we be bringing sickness to our patients? Absolutely. We should not put that stopped out. That is, that is a fixation on managing a schedule, or managing a number of hours on a clock, rather than patient care.
Yep, so true. So let’s move on a bit to tools. And you know, we, we all get fixated on tools. What tools do you like to use to manage your processes?
So again, I really emphasise that I am, what I like to call tool agnostic. I think you choose the tool that is right for you, and not necessarily the ones that I recommend. However, in my personal stack, I largely manage everything with notion. And I am doing all of my knowledge management. It used to be in Rome research. I’m transferring it over into obsidian right now, because I really like the graphing and the mapping functions. I think that’s just fantastic. For long term knowledge work to be able to see it in a mapped fashion
is obsidian or pricey toy, I can’t remember what, you
know, obsidian is open source, I think that you can there’s a lifetime fee to pay for upgrades that allow you to you know, download the things, but I don’t recall it being very much. So.
Yeah. And I take it with notion you’re using probably a combat style board versus a list of views, we’ve added.
Actually, I greatly prefer timelines and list views. I don’t actually personally do well with Canberra, and I have a tendency to lose things in the process. It just has never really worked for me in the way my brain works. I’d like to be able to move top to bottom and go down the list. So what I love notion for though, is the ability to set deadlines, and then just see it visually on the timeline.
Yeah, I think I think that’s the whole key when you’re trying to manage processes slash productivity is to have timelines and to make them realistic not to get pigeonholed. I mean, many people do a couple things. They pull timelines out of a hat, they’ll pull timelines and forget that to do tasks. See, you have dependencies, meaning tasks that need to be finished before doing tasks, see, and then forget about those dependencies. And by the way, those dependencies can be the completed task, or they can actually be a resource availability very often. So you know, you might have all your tasks done, but you need person J, who’s working on another project, and he’s not available for two more weeks, even though you’re ready to go. That’s a that’s a dependency and things like that need to be thought about when you’re trying to define processes, and you’re trying to define completion dates.
As a mostly I see mostly solopreneur but that’s that’s incorrect. I have a fairly sizable handful of freelancers at this point in time, I just don’t have anyone full time. Yeah. So notion works for me because it is mostly just me and my executive assistant in there. And then she actually uses Trello to manage everyone else on our team. And we Trello and clique up are the systems that I would actually go with, if dependencies are a real factor. In notion, it’s tough to set it up so that a task appears when a previous task has been completed. Read, it’s impossible. This is not a thing that exists in notion. So I really like click UPS just hard for me to use, it doesn’t work well with my brain. I don’t really like Trello either, but I’m not managing it, my executive assistant is, that’s what she needs to use for her brain. And that’s what I come back to, it’s important to have the system that works for you. And so yes, but if dependencies are a thing that you use, absolutely go with Trello. Or click up. Yeah.
And the other thing I would say, too, is, once you decide on a tool, the manager processes a manager you work, don’t be what I call a tool jumper, don’t get hung up on the shiny object syndrome, which people in the entrepreneur space love to do. Oh, there’s a new tool. So I’ll go try it. I’ll go down that rabbit hole. And two weeks later, what what are they doing? They’re back using the old tool.
Oh, Lord, I just transferred a client from Trello. To notion and back to Trello. Because it was we agreed that notion would probably work better for him. But the reality of it was that it did not at all. And if we had stayed in Trello and attempted to make things more functional there, we would have saved ourselves months of work with this jump.
Yeah, I’m sure. And I think, and I don’t think just with process driven products, I say this with all SAS products, learn the tools that you have in front of you then determine that maybe there’s not the tool for you. Because if you don’t put the time in, you’re not going to know instead of just jumping around because you’ve got that shiny object and you’ve got a Black Friday deal in front of you saying you can have this for 80 bucks. Well, that’s nice. But it the $80 doesn’t make you your processes run better. What’s the point of doing that?
Listen, I know a lot of people with App sumo accounts that they probably really regret at this point in time. It’s not about the tool. And even if it even if it works better, it may not be the one with longevity at this point. That’s another thing with SAS that people I think have started to take for granted is that it may work great now, how will it work in 10 years?
It’s so true. And I think what you got to look at is what’s going on with the tool. So for example, I do know that troll and notion have both had an influx in the last year and investment in it, which is good. I do know clickup had major investment in it recently, which is good. And, you know, frankly, I’m not so sure that buying what we call have similar long lifetime deals are the right way to go. Because then you don’t inject money into the corporation. You want them to be your partner, not just you’re somebody who sells your product cheap because you bought it cheap.
Well, and I know and work with a number of SAS founders, and the ones who are smart won’t touch app Sumo with a 10 foot pole. They’re like, No, I’m not offering lifetimes. Thanks. That’s not in my business model. And it shouldn’t be it really honestly from a business perspective, unless it’s offered to a select group of people. A lifetime is almost always a bad idea.
Yeah, reoccurring revenue, you need to keep your support costs going because you offer a lifetime deal. You still have to support that lifetime deal. And I’ve seen time and time again, where people in the SAS space in the WordPress space. They’ve offered lifetime deals and they’re out of business in two years because, you know, frankly, they don’t have the income coming in a substandard product. So that’s not a good thing.
Well, and you have to choose Do you want to constantly have to chase investor cash and revaluation? Or do you want to build a product that actually works long term for the clients? You do have? I think that’s kind of a no brainer. But I could be mistaken.
Oh, I don’t I actually don’t think you are, you and I are on the same wavelength for that. So if somebody wanted to say relook at some of the processes they do in their business, where would you suggest they start?
When we’re looking at processes, I think the place where I have my clients start is with the things that they absolutely hate doing. And the reason for that is because it’s easier to get rid of it, if you’re not invested in the outcome. I think that when you’re constructing processes at a larger corporate level, what you need to look at is, where the holes are, and where money is being lost. It’s not just about productivity metrics here. It’s what are employees not using or utilizing properly? Because there’s typically a problem in the structure there.
Yeah, that’s true. And the other place that money gets lost is you get, especially in small businesses, and I see it quite frequently as what happens is people go out, and they buy 10 tools, and they pay monthly subscriptions on those 10 tools. And then they’re only using one tool, I just did an audit for small business unit. And I saved the business owner $6,000 A month by actually going in and cancelling tools that he was
wow, that’s, that’s That’s extreme, even by my reckoning. Although I’ll say, as much as I am. Good with my own tools, I still only use or I still do a tech audit at least twice a year. Right? You do too, I’m sure. It’s like, oh, I bought all these things. And I’m not using this one, or this one or this one anymore, either.
It’s true. I, I cleaned up my tool stack last month, and I, I cut 120 bucks out of it a month, but $120 a month times 12. That’s the $1,000 a year. So Right.
It’s significant. And we don’t feel like it is because it’s $10 here or $15. There. But it’s really worth keeping an eye on those things in our budget, and really reevaluating, if there are tools we are using or are enjoying to use.
Yeah. And I I know we’re talking processes. But just as a side point, anybody who has the house has a family should look at stuff like that in streaming services, because all bet you that there are many families out there that have all these streaming services that they’re not really using. And they forget to unsubscribe from I mean, I’m going through that with my mother in her business. And she’s got three tools that I know she’s not using. And I keep saying door. So why haven’t you cancelled this? Well, I mean, they get around to it. And I said, Yeah, but every time you don’t get around to it, you’re costing yourself $30 here and $20 here, and you start to multiply that over six months, it starts to add up, right. So
I mean, I hate to say that this is the equivalent of the Small Business cup of coffee, but it kind of is and focusing on your cups of coffee is not going to make you millions of dollars. But being aware of your coffee consumption certainly still helps your bottom line.
Yeah, it’s so true. And people need to think about that. Do you have any other quick tips for people and trying to put down processes?
You know, I think I come back to what creates friction. And how do you eliminate that friction and for entrepreneurs in particular? I really encourage you to not look just at your business, but to look at your personal life as well. Because the cost of outsourcing your laundry is minuscule compared to the amount of time you spend doing it. The amount of money you will spend on a house cleaner, or someone to help manage your household finances is significantly less than the time it takes you to put off doing those things. Because you just don’t want it in the first place. And figure out where friction is in your life and in your business. And then find somebody else who likes to do those things.
I agree there was a smart man that once said, If you don’t like to do something, find somebody, somebody to do it for you. If you’re not good at doing some find something, somebody to do it for you and concentrate on what you’re good at. And what makes you money. I mean, there’s, there’s no question on that one.
Well, the more you get rid of those things, the more time you actually have to focus on the things that will make you money. And that’s that’s where the genius is.
Yeah, and no less stress you become. Because you don’t want to touch this test that you don’t like doing like, I I’m going to be honest one, one of the things I hate doing in our lives is grocery shopping. And what did I do when the pandemic started, I moved to an online grocery delivery service. And it’s the best thing I did. And I’m not going back, never ever
going back to shopping in the grocery store folks, not picking out my own produce, not dealing with social distancing, or proper spacing, or people who aren’t wearing masks. None of that. It just shows up at my door. And I wave. It’s lovely.
Yeah. And we all know what the Amazon monster is like, don’t wait him. We all know why. Because even in Toronto, I can jump online and say I want this memorial and send it to me and I don’t have to spend an hour getting to the store, I don’t have to deal with the store. I don’t have to deal with an outlet that doesn’t believe in customer service. And it just magically shows up at my house in front of my door. And here you go. And you’re done. And I and I freed up all this time that I didn’t have to go get it.
You know, from a moral tech perspective, if you cannot shop at Amazon, maybe don’t shop at Amazon, I like Instacart. I have several local food providers that do menu type things, I have one because they are local, I can give them my own containers, and they will pack up my food in my jars. It’s absolutely incredible. So there are options if you look for them, that allow for you to be more conscious and sustainable if you choose not to go with Amazon. But again, figuring out ways to make your life easier is often about what is easier.
Yeah, it’s so true. And if you did that, then your business life gets easier. And people don’t realise that you can no longer keep your business and your personal life separate. They all intertwine and they all overlap. And that’s a big issue. Right?
Yeah, I mean, I think that more people need to be honest about the fact that they are building lifestyle businesses and not companies. Because if you’re building a company, the goal should be at some point in time to sell that company to someone else. Otherwise, it’s a lifestyle business, and that’s fine. But we should call it what it is. And if we’re calling it what it is, then we are not just optimising our business, but we have to optimise the pieces of our lifestyle that coincide with that as well.
That’s true. And and then and if you’re building a company, you probably want to set it up differently. You want to set up your domain name differently. You want to set up your business name differently. You want to set up your business assets differently. Because if you’re looking to get bought, nobody’s gonna buy breyer.com I hate to tell you, it’s just not happening. Right? So and that and that’s a consideration when you’re doing all this and people need to think about which way they want to go.
That’s really important too. And you can always change your mind later. You can always build a company and then decide you would like to pivot it back into a lifestyle. The reality of building a business is that we have a lot of personal freedom and the ability to make these choices. So we should be making good choices. That’s kind of what process is just making choices
and making the right choices for you. And the choices for you might not be the same choices for me. And people need to realize that there’s no right or wrong answer to this stuff. There’s a multiple ways to, to skin a cat, and people need to realize that and realize there’s not a right or wrong answer.
Thanks for joining me today. If somebody wants to get a hold of you to talk about work or processes or anything else you do, what’s the best way?
Well, since I’m mostly lifestyle business at this point in time, you can find me at Briar@briarharvey.com. And I would love to chat with you more. Mostly I work with neuro diverse folks, so My door is always open.
Thanks for the amazing chat Briar. Have a wonderful day.
Thank you so much. This was fantastic. Thank you. Bye bye.