The Checklist Operations Manual

ChecklistEvery business should have an operations manual. This isn’t just some training binder for new hires at large companies. When an operations manual is done right, it holds within its pages the systems that run your business. It can be used for training. It can also be used day in and day out to make sure each task is being done correctly. It can get everyone on the same page. It can get the business out of your head and into executable steps.

Position to Grow

Having your business “written down” will position you to grow. By having an operations manual full of your small business’s system, you are one step closer to having a business that can easily scale up. When you hire a new person, you will be able to provide them with a roadmap for their job, rather than having to spend lots of time with them trying to transfer your knowledge into their brain. Transference doesn’t work in training. Transcription does.

Having systems written down in an operations manual also means that people can fill in for each other in a pinch. So if the secretary is made active out of the reserves, or the warehouse manager gets pregnant, you won’t have to scramble and try to figure out exactly how they were doing their jobs. It will all be written down.

Writing down the systems also helps by showing you how you can become more efficient. Work with your people (and yourself) to write down everything you do for each task. In the process, look for ways that you can cut steps and save time. If you have enough employees, do workshops for each task to try to find ways to make it more efficient.

Starting From Nothing

The problem you may face as a small business owner is that you don’t have anything to start from. Creating an operations manual out of thin air can seem like a daunting task. Where do you begin?

What I suggest is that you break your operations manual into many individual checklists. Each checklist should pertain to a specific task. Try to use less than a page for each checklist. If its too long, break it down into several checklists.

Your checklists should be simple and easy to follow. The goal is to provide step by step instructions for each of your businesses tasks. For more complicated tasks, you may need to add notes or training materials to go along with the checklist. The checklist should be for day to day use. If you need to train someone on how to use a machine, you can have a separate checklist on how to conduct the training, and then assume the employee has the knowledge in place for the production checklist.

The best place to start your operations manual is with the tasks that you yourself do. If you pay the bills, write down each step that you do and put it into a checklist format. Sure, maybe you don’t plan on having anyone else pay the bills any time soon, but that doesn’t matter. If you are creating a business, you need it to be repeatable and scalable. Plus, if you go out of commission, even for just a few weeks, can you be sure that things will run smoothly without you?

Get Someone to Record Everything

You can create a checklist operations manual internally. However, you may not have the time to write down a checklist for every single task. It might be more time and cost effective to hire someone to come in and write your checklists for you. Before you do, get the formatting the way you like it first. Create a checklist for that person to follow when writing checklists.

Once you know exactly what you want accomplished, you can hire someone temporarily to do the job. Alternatively, you can task one of your employees to do it. Just free up their time so they can focus on writing the checklist operations manual until it is done.

You can hire someone for this stage because all you are doing is recording what is already being done. The recorder should be able to sit with each employee and go over his or her various tasks one by one. You may want to have your employees start notebooks with a list of all of the things that they do. Let them record their list of tasks for a month before you have someone come in and start recording. That way, you will be sure not to miss anything, even the once in awhile tasks.

Refine the Checklists

Once you have all of the checklists written down for all of the various tasks at your business, you can take a moment to congratulate yourself! You now have a working operations manual. But you are not quite done yet.

You are going to want to organize the operations manual into job description categories. Each employee should receive a focused operations manual that has checklists for each of their tasks. Everyone doesn’t need the big master operations manual. Encourage your employees to refer to their operations manual when performing their tasks. Its true that many of the tasks will be memorized, and that is fine. But some tasks are complex and it is nice to have a step by step process to follow.

You are not quite done yet. You need to spend time with each of the checklists. Bring in some employees and go over each checklist. Is it accurate? Can it become more efficient? Could a new person understand and follow it? Refine your checklists until they become simple, efficient, and easy to follow.

When you want to change a task or add a new task, do it via the operations manual. Come up with the checklist first, then do the training. The employee will then have their operations manual to fall back on until they have mastered the new task. Just understand that as they do the checklist, they may be able to suggest tweaks. Always be flexible. The nice thing about these checklists is that they are very easy to change.

Its Easy

Getting an operations manual for your business is pretty easy if you follow my advice for checklists. This is what I use in my own business. The checklists can be compiled quickly and when you have them, they are easy to follow. Don’t hide important information in dense paragraphs of a never looked at operations manual. Bring them to life by keeping instructions simple and visually appealing in a checklist format. That way, employees can mentally check the individual tasks off as they move through their job.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Christy C

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Bradford Shimp is the publisher of All Biz Answers. He is also the co-creator of Idea Anglers, a place to see your ideas come to life through collaboration. Follow on Twitter @bradfordshimp. Let Bradford help you with your business – visit

Bradford Shimp is the publisher of All Business Answers.

2 Responses to The Checklist Operations Manual

  1. I remember reading about this in “Emyth”. Great advice! Thanks for breaking it down!
    .-= Arthur Pledger´s last blog ..An Incomplete Education =-.

  2. Kathy says:

    liked what you said Brad, but can you give me an example of a check list?

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