A new framework for describing knowledge-based businesses
Any business should be able to communicate what they do and for whom.
Really successful organisations have similar clarity in why they exist and how they operate.
I’m a big fan of the business model canvas. It’s the most accessible and communicative version of a business plan I’ve found so far.
But it’s a broad catch-all approach. It needs a bit of translation to fit the business models of digital agencies and consulting firms.
So what would a framework for describing businesses like ours look like?
Here’s my approach:
In the words of Simon Sinek, Start With Why. Why does your company exist?
Your mission is the purpose, cause or belief that led you to start your business. It should be at the centre of all that you do.
For Tall Projects, my mission is to help everyone deliver successful, stress-free digital projects. Every time.
This is your answer to the question ‘what do you do?’. It’s what you sell and to whom in terms your customers understand.
In practice, I do a wide variety of work but it all fits under one (or both) of these offers.
Defining your offer in this way doesn’t limit you. There may well be interesting opportunities that fall outside your offer. That’s fine. But it’s important to realise when these are outside your normal offer. They may come with greater risks and need different delivery processes.
Your delivery processes are the checklists, templates, tools, people and partners you use to deliver your offer.
I have a master checklist I use for scoping every digital project I manage. This currently has over 80 points I consider each time to ensure nothing’s forgotten.
Standard processes are the bedrock of successful digital work. They:
- ensure consistency in service and quality for each project,
- minimise problems and improve efficiency,
- enable continuous ongoing improvement,
- make it easy to bring in new staff and get them working effectively.
Operations covers the processes used to run your business.
These include things like accounting, marketing, people management, payroll – and of course reviewing and improving your offers and delivery processes.
My view is that businesses should be built to be independent of their founders. If they’re not it significantly limits the growth of the business and the future options of the founders.
At Tall Projects I have a master operations manual. This describes regular daily, weekly and monthly tasks. It also includes other items that happen in response to specific situations like starting a new project.
The Tall Projects operations manual provides step-by-step instructions for our workflows. This ensures consistency and accuracy each time, and provides a framework for scaling the business.
Measurements are critical to continued success. Without measurements there’s no way to determine if you’re getting better (or worse) at what you do.
In any type of business it’s important to know how much you’re putting in and what you’re delivering as a result. For knowledge-based businesses like digital agencies the primary input is people’s time.
Love ’em or hate ’em, this is why timesheets are important. Without an accurate record of how your primary resource is used, you’re effectively working in the dark.
This is why I keep timesheets at Tall Projects. (Thankfully tools like Harvest make this easier).
Reviewing how my time is used against the corresponding financials and softer measures such as customer happiness is a scheduled monthly task covered by operations. This frequently provides useful action points for making Tall Projects a better company.
...and that’s it.
A simple yet powerful framework for describing modern service businesses such as web agencies, design firms, software developers – and of course a project management consultancy like Tall Projects.
This is the model I use when working with businesses to improve processes and operations. It’s working well, but like all good processes is constantly open to further improvement.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below or get in touch.