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Focusing on the important. How to know which tasks to do yourself and which ones to outsource

Focusing on the important. How to know which tasks to do yourself and which ones to outsource

by Carlos A. Vázquez   |   December 12, 2017   |     9 min read

Outsourcing has its fair share of cautionary tales, where one thing is promised between the company and the outsourced party and another delivered. However, setting your business up for success with outsourcing is not as easy as it sounds.

Solving a problem starts with diagnosing, analyzing and finding out what needs to be addressed in the first place. If it’s a medical condition it is essential to know the details about what is wrong and how it came up. In outsourcing different factors come into consideration. One of the most important being: “Which tasks should I outsource?”.

Your ability to answer this question is directly related to how well documented your processes are and how well structured your company is.

This post will provide insight on how to go through all the stages of mapping your processes to answer the mentioned question. If you feel that you’ve already done some of these feel free to skip to the part that interests you the most or that matches your current situation.

Mapping your processes

If you haven’t mapped your processes already, you are missing out on plenty of productivity insights. When you outline your company processes, you get a clear idea of the steps you need to follow in order to execute it successfully. What’s more, you can understand which steps are using more resources than needed — such as time, money, equipment, or anything else that could be put to a better use within your organization.

Once you have broken down the process into individual steps, you proceed to define the needs and requirements for each of them to happen.

For example, if one of your processes was to create a User Interface (UI) for the blind and visually impaired, but your designers were not familiar with accessibility protocols and needs they have, it would take them days of research before understanding it and being able to prototype something useful.

However, if you bring a consultant to help the designers with the research portion, it would drastically reduce their research time, and they could focus on designing.

“The devil is in the detail”

In other words, you need to know the details of your processes to eliminate useless tasks and decide if executing them in-house is better than outsourcing them.

In the example above, our designers could have benefited from learning about online accessibility for the blind and visually impaired. However, if accessibility is not your company’s main line of business, bringing in a consultant makes more sense.

Dig deep into your processes and remember to consider the intention behind them as you are mapping them out. Once you have this clear, you will be able to define which ones are worth solving in-house.

For example, if one of your differentiators were related to customized products or experiences, outsourcing the customer service part could be risky since you would be leaving in a third party’s hands a core fragment of your business, and they might not provide as great a service as you might.

The outsourcing decision matrix

Developed by David Barnes to help managers and entrepreneurs to categorize tasks and decide whether or not they should be outsourced.

Once your processes are mapped, you can place your tasks in these quadrants and take a better decision.

When we find a task that makes a big contribution to our operational performance, but its strategic value is low, then we can outsource it.

If we have a task with high strategic value, but a low contribution to our operational performance, we can also outsource it. For example, by doing staff-augmentation.

“Eliminate” is a vital quadrant of any organization’s health. Although not the focus of this piece, eliminating tasks is as valid as retaining them.

Using the outsourcing decision matrix

Retain

In the top-right quadrant, which delineates high strategic value and high contribution to operational performance, we place the tasks we should retain in-house. They represent your core business.

For example, if you have a business in architectural 3D modeling, you “won’t” outsource such tasks. However, if you are hired to model a bridge (more focused on the civil engineering side), then you could outsource it.

This quadrant encompasses the vital tasks that define our business. They represent that which really matters.

Form strategic alliances

On the top-left quadrant, we put processes that are vital for the company, but could be done by someone else.

For example, hiring a marketing agency to run a campaign for you. Many companies outsource bookkeeping and HR tasks. Both of these are crucial for the well-being of an organization but can be handled by a third-party.

Some stores such as Mod or GoldieBlox, “form strategic alliances” with delivery companies. An important process in a customer’s experience and one that can influence whether they become repeat buyers or not, but it’s still outsourced.

Eliminate

Self-explanatory. As you map your processes, the value that each task contributes to your final result comes up. When you find a task that leeches resources, creates bottlenecks, or interferes with others, it’s better to eliminate it.

However, to eliminate a task doesn’t mean to completely remove it from your processes. Such tasks could also be modified, restructured, or replaced.

Outsource

Lower-right quadrant.

Tasks that fall into this category are highly mechanical and, most likely, repetitive. Think of an architect hiring a contractor to build a house.

In essence, the architect’s job is to design and plan. Even though an architect could hypothetically build, this architect can make much more enjoyable work, and money, if someone else takes care of the building part.

Identify such tasks in your company and hire someone ASAP to take care of them and get that load off of you.

Self-analysis and solutions

Mapping and identifying processes and tasks can be a lengthy endeavor. However, it’s a process you’ll likely have to do only once and then revise every year.

Revisiting this map of activities will give you certainty of action and direction.

With a matrix as the one suggested by Barnes, you can easily define the nature of your processes and tasks and optimize them.

Remember, those tasks that don’t fall into the “retain” category, can be outsourced in more than one way.

Urgent vs. Important

Another aspect to consider is the time you invest in solving urgent matters.

These could be taking your attention away from important things and building up trouble for the future.

Former U.S. President Eisenhower, quoting Dr. J. Roscoe Miller, said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” This is known as “The Eisenhower Principle”.

The difference between the important and the urgent is as follows:

  • Urgent: Tasks that have an almost immediate effect, they tend to be demanded by a third-party. Because of their nature, most people focus on them without hesitation.
  • Important: Tasks that relate to the long-term achievement of goals. They lead us to achieve our goals, whether professional or personal.

The Eisenhower Principle

Here’s another matrix:

In essence, tasks that fall under the third quadrant should be easily outsourced. Those encompassed in the second quadrant should be analyzed closely to see if it would be better to outsource them or take care of them in-house.

A personal note on mapping and optimizing

Depending on the size of your company and the intricacies of its processes, the mapping can take from a few hours to a few days.

I have seen CEOs shocked by the realization of how much time and money they are investing in non-essential tasks. It is common to see the time of some processes reduced by more than 50% once you’ve mapped and optimized them.

It’s not complicated to get people on board with optimizing processes if you explain its importance and the expected outcome. Also, don’t forget to coach the heads of your departments on doing this, so that they can get into a cycle of constant improvement.

To summarize

Without exception, trying to do everything in-house is suffocating, and it can drown your operations if you don’t pay close attention.

Even though outsourcing is an optimal solution for tasks that could be draining too many valuable resources, it should be approached with a defined thought process.

The matrices above are great simple tools that can help you make a well-informed decision.

Be aware of how you define urgent and important, as they can drain your valuable time. We are not implying that urgent matters shouldn’t be addressed. If your building is burning, you need to get out, but you also need to call the firefighters (outsource!). Let’s just hope this is not a repetitive situation.

In a nutshell, identifying that which absolutely matters and focusing on it boosts your productivity, raises morale and, ultimately, increases income and meaningful work.

At CodersLink, our final goal is to help your company become the best version of itself. We hope this article can help you get a step further.

Thank you for reading.

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