3 Free Tools to Streamline Your Back Office

There is an ancient Chinese proverb that says: “To say is to forget. To write is to remember.” Here at Shopventory, we make it a point to write important things down. If we don’t, we can safely assume it will be forgotten. That’s not just a Shopventory thing, either. It has to do with how the brain works.

This is where documentation comes in. I don’t mean dry user manuals no one reads, but real, usable information your team won’t be able to live without. There are different types of documentation we keep, but here are a few of our most useful recommendations to help you write and remember most effectively:

1. The Checklist
 

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Our favorite by far is the humble checklist. It seems rudimentary, but it’s really a game-changer when used correctly. A checklist makes sure everything that needs to get done actually gets done.

So, for example, instead of asking an employee to clean the restroom and wonder if they know what it means to actually clean it, you can hand him/her a checklist that says:

  • Apply Lysol to toilet and scrub
  • Mop using Clorox
  • Refill paper towel dispenser … etc.

A checklist makes it impossible to forget a step. There’s also just an innate human satisfaction in marking a task as complete. 

You can laminate pages or use a whiteboard in order to save paper, but an initialed checklist makes accountability a cinch! We strongly recommend Atul Gawande’s book, The Checklist Manifesto if you’re looking for a great read on just how usable these little lists can be. There is a wealth of inspiration for businesses of every size!


2. The Flowchart (aka ‘Decision Tree’)

This is great for visual learners or for describing more complex operations. Here’s an example:

The beauty of a flow chart is that it lets your employees make decisions using your criteria and execute the right process. Don’t hesitate to use flow charts for customers as well. A good flow chart will be easy to read and follow. 

Keep in mind that there should always be a clear endpoint, no matter which path is taken. The more complex the process, the more important it is to have a roadmap that’s easy to follow and either concludes neatly or outlines the next action step. 

Color-coding processes, questions, endpoints are all great ways to make sure there is a consistent, logical flow. At Shopventory, we use LucidChart for our diagrams and flowcharts. The tools are easy to use and they’re reasonably priced (they do have a free tier as well)!


3. The Binder

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An old-fashioned three-ring binder can work wonders… or wreak havoc. If a binder is well-organized, with tabs and alphabetization, it can be a huge help for employees. It should address any and all topics that are not role-sensitive and that don’t come up often.

For example, the phone numbers and emergency contacts of the team might be a helpful page to include or a list of your maintenance vendors and service providers in case something breaks. Or how about a page with a list of things a new team member should know? 

The binder should be updated at regular intervals (once per year/quarter/etc.). It could include a copy of all your checklists and flowcharts as well, but beware of making it into an intimidating mass of paper. No one wants to go looking for answers in a 20lb heap.

Depending on how much information you need to document, it may even make sense to use software that’s purpose-built. That way, it’s searchable and you can include links as well as share information internally. Think of it like your business’ own little Wikipedia!

Conclusion

It’s best to think of the brain as more of a processor rather than a hard drive. In other words, the brain is great for solving problems, but not for remembering those solutions and storing them permanently. Given the amount of data the average person gets bombarded with during a typical day, it’s probably best to store the important stuff outside the brain.

Studies are finding our brains have gotten much better at remembering how and where to locate information than just remembering the information itself. For instance, you probably don’t know the years Ulysses S. Grant served as president, but I’ll bet you know that typing “Ulysses Grant President” into a search engine or Wikipedia will get you to the answer.

Those tools mean I can take a person who’s not very knowledgeable and turn them into a judge at a trivia contest. In business, if I have good documentation, I can take an unskilled, untrained employee and they’ll have the same access to our corporate knowledge as my other employees. It’s just not in their heads quite yet.

It’s now easier than ever to join the managers holding their teams accountable. Shopventory offers plans for as low as 79¢ per day. Right now, you can sign up for a 30-day full-featured free trial of Shopventory with no credit card required. We also back Shopventory with a 30-day money back guarantee. That means a total of 60 days risk-free!

You can start a trial today to start answering the important questions and optimizing your inventory!

 

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