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I’m often called on to identify the issues that are preventing a business from growing easily. It might seem like this would be straightforward: make a checklist of all the things a healthy business needs, and see which ones are missing in the client’s business. But if it were that simple, running a business would be very easy – and possibly a bit boring! In fact, every owner knows that it’s much trickier than that to develop a robust, resilient operation that can easily handle all the daily challenges that come up. A checklist is a great starting point, but as your business grows in complexity, it may not be enough.

When I’m called in to do an operational assessment, it’s generally because the issues are more complex than a checklist can uncover. I use an investigative approach, identifying potential areas to explore and digging deeper on those until I understand the root causes. This process draws on my twenty years of past experience with a diverse set of clients; I know the wide range of “normal” and “healthy” operations, and I’ve seen a huge variety of issues and their root causes as well. In addition to this business experience, I also use the skills I developed as a former Master Gardener and research scientist. That may seem like a stretch, but let me explain.

When you have a plant that isn’t thriving, you have to figure out what’s going on. Master Gardeners are trained extensively in a scientific approach to help people diagnose their plant problems. As this Ohio State University Extension article explains, similar plant symptoms might result from very different causes, and the list of possible factors is long. Although you could develop a checklist that might cover a lot of common factors, it would be so long and unwieldy that it would be very hard to use. So the Master Gardener training focuses on using plant knowledge and observational skills to quickly zoom in on what the problem might be, and then test each possible cause until you find the answer(s).

The diagnostic process involves gathering information, looking for clues, using these to narrow down the possible causes, and then using a process of elimination to diagnose the root cause(s). For example, yellowing leaves are a clue; further investigation might discover the cause to be over- or under-watering, poor soil, temperature extremes, insect infestation, or even a carbon monoxide leak in the home. Or maybe a combination of these! It’s a complex process, and it requires objectivity: it’s easy to fall in love with a possible explanation, only to discover that the explanation just doesn’t fit all the facts. This is one reason why getting an objective outside opinion is so valuable, whether from a fellow owner or a consultant.

Just like diagnosing a plant problem, diagnosing the root cause of a business operations problem is a complex process. I rely on my training in lab research and as a Master Gardener, as well as my knowledge of business operations across many industries, to notice both the obvious and the hidden clues and to dig in to discover the root causes. Once I identify possible causes, I do some more discovery to confirm (or disprove) what I suspect, and then devise practical solutions that will work in the company’s environment. 

So when are checklists useful? Checklists are often helpful as you build your business, as a way to identify straightforward gaps in your operation, or tools that you might be ready to implement. If they’re well designed, they’re a good way to benchmark how you’re operating, compared to other typical businesses in your industry or situation. But no checklist will fit your business 100%, so when you need a more nuanced approach, get a knowledgeable advisor involved. This could be a mentor, a fellow business owner, a mastermind group, or a professional advisor, such as a consultant or coach. 

If you’re growing your business and you need more than a checklist to help you past the inevitable bumps in the road, schedule a consultation to see whether Dunathan Consulting is the right fit for you.