Bragging that you’re working a ton of hours is a very weird flex. Brick and mortar business owners, online entrepreneurs and traditional corporate professionals wear the amount of time they spend at work as a badge of honor. I’m not sure if it’s a play to garner sympathy or a way to demonstrate professional superiority over your peers/competitors but it is nonsense. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be proud of your hard work and the time it takes to produce something truly valuable. I’m just saying I don’t get why people define themselves and their success by the amount of time they spend “working”.
It’s the obsession with hustle porn that really gets me fired up. Or rather, people leaning on it instead of focusing on being effective. What’s hustle porn? Hustle porn is a term said to be coined by Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian and he defines it as “the fetishization of people--particularly entrepreneurs or employees in the tech industry--overworking themselves.” (Here’s a whole Inc.com article about it if you want to see for yourself.)
Overworking yourself for the sake of showing how hard you’re working is bad enough but, what I think is really happening is that people are pretending to be overworked so they can share their flavor of hustle porn with the world. These are the millions of people trying to scoop up their piece of the social influencer pie. There’s a big difference between someone like Gary Vaynerchuk (who I’d consider the father of the modern hustle movement) who both works long hours and is super effective for the love of the game and your average hustle porn addict that claims to be on the grind hundreds of hours per week with little to know efficacy to show for it.
It’s a real problem! It’s a problem because these pretenders are giving advice, attempting inspire and sometimes, unfortunately, huck their products or services on the backs of their busy = success facade.
This long ranty introduction is to help me set the stage to give you a tool that will help you be more productive and effective. I want to help you make better decisions and be able to audit the work that you’re doing so you do more with the time that you do have so you can best match your ambitions for your business to the action you take every day. Best part, this isn’t some proprietary and untested advice from a guy writing on the internet - it’s a tool taken right from the management science of Six Sigma. Today we’re talking SIPOC.
SIPOC is a process mapping framework and it’s also an acronym. It’s an exercise you can really do at any time and it can do a few things. First, it can give you an overall and high level view of all the important bits of work that you do in your business. Secondly, it can expose each of the moving parts of each of the individual activities you’re doing everyday. Doing this will help you identify problems and find things that create waste or add little value in your business. Both of which will help make you more effective long term.
Here’s what SIPOC stands for:
Supplier - These are the providers of the inputs in a process. They can be people, things, sources of information, etc.
Inputs - These are the materials, information and other resources you need to get something done.
Process - This is the recipe for getting something done. What are each of the steps required to go from idea to outcome or result in an activity.
Outputs - These are the products, services, or outcomes as a result of following a process.
Customers - These are the people, businesses, audiences, etc that receive the outputs.
Now that you have the breakdown here’s how to use the framework via a cooking analogy… mostly because I’ve been binge watching Bon Appetit videos on YouTube.
Before we start you need a place to keep you organized. You can use a SIPOC template, a pretty good free one can be found here at goleansixsigma.com, or go freehand but you’re going to go topic by topic and brain dump as many parts of the activity in question (or business as a whole) as possible. It will look like a recipe when you’re done. I’m going to be moving fluidly between individual activities and looking at the business as a whole because this framework can and should be applied to both.
And away we go!
Start with Suppliers.
Before you can start cooking anything you need to go buy ingredients. The Supplier category are all the places you’d have to go to pick up the particular ingredients for your dish. Sometimes you luck out and have the ingredients on hand, sometimes they’re all common enough to be found in your local supermarket and sometimes you have to drive to specialty grocers or order from Amazon. Your Suppliers in your process are all the places you need to go for the stuff you need to get your activity done. They don’t have to be physical locations or goods either. Often times with service businesses you start with doing a bit of research for a client, where are the places you go to get your information - those are also your Suppliers.
Next we look at the Inputs.
These are your ingredients. In a single recipe it will be the specific ingredients and their proportions. The same goes for a specific activity in your business. If you’re looking at your whole business then you need to think a little bigger. Inputs here are the materials, people, roles, equipment, IT systems, software, information, etc that are the MOST important in you delivering value to your customers.
After that is the Process.
In our recipe these are literally the steps. Things like bringing the water to a boil, cooking pasta for 8 minutes, heating oil to a shimmer before adding the garlic are all specific things you need to do to prepare a dish. Do the same thing for whatever specific activity is on the chopping block in your business. If you’re auditing your social media posting process it can be the steps that start with the idea for a post, to opening the right app, to posting with the prewritten caption. The more granular here the better because it will force you to get real about the actions you’re really taking when you do something. Recipes are very specific for a reason because they want you to finish with a very specific dish at the end and plus, no one likes burnt garlic. In your business you’re looking to identify as many individual processes as possible and the granularity bits apply here too. If you gloss over or over generalize the work that you do every week how can you expect to identify which processes can be improved, eliminated or delegated to make you more effective with the time that you have committed for your business.
Next are the Outputs.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of over simplicity here. In a recipe the output is not just the food you’ve created at the end of the cooking process. It’s the dirty dishes, the plates you serve the food on, the utensils you need to get to eat, etc. It’s everything that comes after the cooking part. What are the outputs that your specific activity produces? If it’s a product you’ll have a pretty easy start but with a service you might have to get a little more creative with what gets delivered and all of the process adjacent things that come with the delivery of that service. For your business these can include all the paperwork, approvals, data, and tasks that are created after your business delivers what it promised it would to the end consumer.
Lastly we have the Customers.
These are the people that, in this case, will literally consume the fruits of your labor. These are the recipients of each output of your process. In the cooking example it’s all the smiling faces that get to try your recipe. For a specific activity it can be the person or people that will benefit from what you’ve produced. It can even be delivering value to an audience if we’re talking about a social media or content creation process. In most cases every output should have at least one category of customer. I mean someone has to be responsible for the dirty dishes or at the very least be in charge of loading a dishwasher. For the business as a whole your customers can be internal and external. Not every process will directly correspond to the customer but the outputs may serve as an input for the next process that gets you closer to delivering value. An example would be a creative team that’s working to create assets for your business. The content gets created, then approved, then shared. Each of those are individual process and only one of them ends with the external audience.
Ok so by now you’re probably a little hungry and have the basics of a process mapping tool ready to go. So what’s next?
I would recommend that you start by running this exercise on your business as a whole. This will help you get a really good idea about all the work your doing in your business. The trick is that you have to be brutally honest about the work, the time, and the resources that you put into growing your business. Then once you get a handle on the high level view of your business I would challenge you to try to trim the activities that aren’t serving you and go deeper on the ones that are by running the exercise again on the individual activities. Most importantly you HAVE TO BE HONEST.
By being honest you’ll be able to really see what’s going on and how you might be able to better deploy your time and energy. One of the other best bits here is that you can run this exercise over time to help you tighten up the work your doing in your business. I know that it’s easy to get and stay busy and I also know that scope creep is real when you’re in the early days of getting customers and squeezing every ounce of value out of every dollar you can in your business. All that intensity can sometimes lead you and your business away from the core values you had envisioned when you started the business. This is an opportunity to check in with yourself, as a CEO, and decide if the recent direction of the business is still in line with your values.
And finally, you’ll be able to worry less about the pressure that hustle porn hucksters put on you and more about doing the work that really matters in your business.