In the back of your mind, it always seems like a good idea to document workflows at your property management company. However, many companies don't systematize this process. As a result, they'll have multiple, convoluted systems for understanding what gets done.
This becomes an issue when:
- A method is inefficient, ineffective, or otherwise leaving money on the table.
- A process is in question between two employees who both think their way is right.
- A process isn't happening at all because the employee who understood it has left.
- A process is making an employee feel unsure or unclear, contributing to turnover as well.
All of these examples ultimately lead to fewer doors or even the loss of doors you currently have! With all these potential problems springing from unclear processes, why wouldn't one take the time to document workflows?
If you've never documented a workflow for your property management tools before, we're here to walk you through the process. It can be overwhelming to start putting a process to paper and finding out where it doesn't make sense or what the process needs to work better.
Don't try to do it on your own—and don't quit when the process seems muddled or frustrations arise. Take a deep breath and follow these steps to start your workflow documentation.
How to Get Started
Get as many team members as you can into a room for a meeting (or on a virtual meeting) and set your agenda clearly: which workflows are in question on this particular day?
Don't expect to document an entire team's work in one go! Tackle one workflow at a time. Assume you will need multiple meetings with similar formats to understand all the processes that the company goes through in the course of property management operations.
Once you get everyone together and on the same page for the task at hand, it's time for Step 1.
Step 1: Identify and Delineate Your Processes
First, delineate what is (and isn't) part of the process—and name it. Try to avoid spending time debating what constitutes the "beginning" of a process. If there is a disagreement, make an executive decision: "X step is going to be the last step of Workflow Y, not the first step of Workflow Z." Name the workflows clearly, and write those names on a whiteboard or shared cloud-based documents where everyone can follow along.
At the same time, it is helpful to choose a process workflow that will feel natural. Team members may feel more comfortable if they see clearly why their projects and various property management tools are considered to be part of specific processes and not needed in others.
Some workflows conclude and trigger new workflows—meaning not everything is part of the same workflow even if one person's completed task triggers another person's task. However, to start, you'll want to document one thing at a time and get more complicated once your team becomes accustomed to the process.
Step 2: Determine Roles, Inputs, and Outputs
Usually, the aspects of roles, inputs, and outputs are essential to the process, but they don't always determine the order and what is done. When tasks or roles are out of order, yet critical to completing a workflow, you need to rearrange them into the most effective order.
Use this step as a time to brainstorm about this process:
- Who is usually involved?
- What are all the things they need to accomplish their work?
- Do they need permission to access certain cloud-based documents?
- Do they need photocopies of the right rental agreement forms?
- What resources are they missing to complete the job at hand?
- What outputs are required to conclude the process?
- Do background checks have to come back?
- Do you need someone to put the stamp on the envelope to send a notice?
- What other final outputs are you expecting?
By evaluating all of these things before you list out the steps, you start to show people potential inefficiencies from the start!
Manage the Process—Not the People
When exposing problems in a process, it can unintentionally damage team morale. It's important to encourage team members that an "inefficiency" in the process doesn't make the person inefficient. A primary goal of documenting workflows and using property management tools more effectively is to support the efficiency that already exists in your employees to help them serve your clients better!
No one can be efficient when operating within an inefficient or infective workflow.
Remember, the documentation process itself can be part of your drive for efficiency. When six different employees are involved in a project that could quickly be done by there people, that lower level of complexity will benefit everyone. When three people suddenly have more time to do their "real" jobs better because there's one less workflow on their plate, your team wins—and your clients win, too!
Step 3: What Steps—and in What Order?
Once you identify everyone involved, and what their inputs and outputs are, start thinking about the tasks that must be accomplished. It may be easiest to put these on note cards or sticky notes (or the digital equivalent if your documentation meetings must take virtually).
As you discuss the order of the tasks in the workflow, notecards can be rearranged into the ideal process order. Again, documentation may breed innovation: perhaps just switching two stages in the process will instantly relieve some headaches.
- Discuss the current arrangement of tasks, as well as ideal orders that could be reproduced over time.
- Realistically, some team members are bombarded with other requests and leave the next person in the process twiddling his or her thumbs.
- Identify these things as much as possible, because you can sometimes avoid a bottleneck by reassigning a task.
- Settle on the order in which you want the process to go. Be certain its direction is realistic and achievable in the near term rather than some kind of pipe(line) dream.
Step 4: Verify and Publish Your Process
Once you've gotten everyone on the same page, make sure there are no lingering individuals who don't understand the process. Type it up in a way that allows it to be shared if it wasn't already in that space, and publish it! Publishing refers to making newly-documented workflow available to all necessary employees.
- Make it an "official" version of your workflow, and assign a "keeper" of the document.
- This eliminates problems with multiple people making updates to the process and a variety of interpretations for a documented workflow.
- A documented workflow becomes one of your most valuable property management tools! Encourage management and employees to refer back to it in the case of bottlenecks or inefficiency.
Project management automation and software can allow your team members to check off their part of the process each time they complete one and digitally relay the project to the next person. This can be especially helpful if that fits with the culture of your property management business.
Step 5: Automate
An efficient, well-defined process is a tremendous amount of work! You'll quickly experience the benefits of eliminating redundancies, creating efficiencies, and documenting your workflows, so your entire team understands and operates with the same process.
What could make it any better? Automation! It's the ultimate tool to get more out of your full kit of property management tools.
Just about any workflow can be automated. You should consider automating just about every workflow after you make it through Steps 1-4. If you find a process that just can't function well in an automated environment, that's okay. But give it a chance! You might be surprised at what you can (and should) automate to maintain effective workflows.
What Do We Mean by 'Any?'
Routine property management tasks are perfect candidates for automation. That doesn't mean a robot shows up to do your makereadies! However, when automated, the process of scheduling vendors and every task required to prepare for a new tenant happens like clockwork.
What other workflows can property managers automate? Try these:
It can be time-consuming to document various workflows, but it's a one-time process that will boost your property management company's efficiency—and profitability!
Set It up and Press 'Go'—but Don't Disappear
There's an idea that an automated process will run forever without any human interference. In theory, that's true! However, you don't want to disappear entirely from a process after you've automated a workflow. You need to know if something isn't working correctly before it automates its way out of control.
Check on your newly-automated workflows from time to time!
- Touch base: Get updates from the team member involved in the workflow. How is it working? Do we need to adjust anything? Don't fix it if it isn't broken, but make sure it's working well!
- Check-in with clients and leads: Automation doesn't erase the need for human contact with your property owners and tenants. Quite the opposite: automated processes should give your staff more time to build relationships with your clients!
- Evaluate your metrics: Did the documented workflow accomplish your goals? Did automation take it to the next level? Are you closing more deals, boosting profits, and delighting clients better? The answer should be "yes" to all of those questions. If not, review your workflow and automation and make adjustments.
A documented workflow and the automation to help it run smoothly aren't set in stone! Beware of adjusting too much or too often—but don't be afraid to optimize your workflows as your property management business grows or your needs change.
Automation Help Property Managers Optimize Operations
As a HubSpot Diamond Partner, we know how to craft optimal, agile, and automated workflows for any size property management company. Our business runs on documented workflows and the automation that drives each process to better success. We truly understand the benefits of the documentation process we've described here—and we know it can boost your business, too.
Do you need some assistance with making your property management firm lean and effective? Contact Rent Bridge today!
Updated and republished 6/18/2020.