Captain’s log, stardate 20190326
Reader Mike Wolfe wrote in about my 10-Day Systems Challenge. He and I had an email exchange that I think you'll find useful if you're interested in systematizing your business (shared with permission):
I'm a big fan of this. I've been doing it for years.
I spent 10 years as the secretary and treasurer of a tiny borough. The job paid $1200/yr; it was basically a community service.
I didn't want to keep doing it forever, but felt guilty stepping aside because I knew the borough would struggle to fill the position. To make the position easier to fill (and to reduce my guilt when I stepped aside) I started making step-by-step lists for all my duties, reports, etc.
The idea was to ease the transition for my successor. I was not expecting it to improve my own productivity as much as it did. It was mind blowing.
Since then I've applied the same approach to my day job. Until I saw your email, though, I never considered it as a noteworthy business practice.
As for the secretary position, I passed the torch on that last January. And I handed my successor a 50+ page PDF printout of my DokuWiki SOP.
Thanks for listening,
P.S. I love DokuWiki for this for a whole bunch of reasons, but I've rambled long enough. I'll gladly share them if you're curious, though.
Thanks for your note, Mike! I'd love to hear more about why you like DokuWiki :)
I think wikis generally work well for the following reasons:
They're online, so instantly available on all my devices
I use a lot of internal links; e.g., I have a "Calendar" page where I link to recurring annual tasks broken down by the date/month each task is due
I'm constantly tweaking my notes; like compound interest, lots of little improvements result in big gains over time
The revision history allows me to keep the current info uncluttered without losing old notes
I can easily share access to the info with others
I settled on DokuWiki over some of the other options for these reasons:
I was already using it for client software documentation (this is its raison d'être, as reflected by its name)
It does not require a database, simplifying setup and maintenance
The pages are saved as markdown-esque simple markup text files (unfortunately, it's not actual markdown; the syntax is straightforward and logical, but it is different)
It works extremely well with version control; I have the entire wiki--PHP code, text content, and media--inside a Mercurial repository
It's open source and actively developed; I don't worry about it going away or getting expensive
It's got lots of great plugins and custom plugins are straightforward to develop
Using plugins, I can export the entire site (or just specific pages) to PDF to produce hard-copy
It produces the best print version of any website I've seen; the print media CSS rules make full use of the printed page to display content and include subtle niceties, like printing the URLs of embedded links
Code is easy to embed and includes syntax highlighting for every language I've ever used
All that said, I don't know that DokuWiki would be a good choice for most non-technical users. It requires setup and hosting and there's no built-in WYSIWYG editor (plugins are available, but I've never used them).
See here for more info: https://www.dokuwiki.org/features
Out of curiosity, what are you using for your SOPs?
Wow! Amazing answer!!! Lots of very compelling reason there.
Right now I'm just using plain text docs in Dropbox, which is dead simple, easy to share, and automatically versioned... but I don't love it. I'll take a look at DokuWiki, thanks!
BTW is it okay for me to share this thread?
Sure, no problem.
For what it's worth, I think your approach is a fantastic starting point for most people. It lets them start applying the SOP principles right away without having to learn a new tool. If they stick with the approach, they will eventually run into the limitations of using text files. At that point, though, they will have a set of pain points they can use to guide their search for a replacement tool. And those pain points are likely to be different for every user.
Agreed! Thanks again :-)
So to recap... to get started with SOPs, maybe just use Dropbox and plain text files. When you're ready to go nuts, take a look at DokuWiki.