Process Design: Prepare Your Team for Your Extended Leave

Earlier this week, I took baby Poppy to meet my coworkers for the first time. It was so nice to get out of the house and see my work family again! It was also satisfying to know that everything at the office was being handled and I didn’t need to worry about work. But this wasn’t an accident. At Manual Makers, we’re big believers in planning and process and an extended leave of any kind is certainly something to plan for.

Managing Partner and Parental Leave in the Same Month

When I was eight months into my second pregnancy I was named as a Managing Partner at the Manual Makers. It’s exciting to have two life-changing events to look forward to, but I knew I would need to really get my team ready for my leave and that my added responsibilities made preparation vital.

As the date of my leave got closer, I made a checklist to help me cover all the bases.

My Leave Checklist

  1. Decide who will be your main backup.
  2. Talk with your backup about the best way to provide instruction for them. Don’t assume which tasks/processes they do or do not feel comfortable with. Determine how to document the instruction – this will save a lot of time for everyone.
  3. Have your backup shadow you on parts of the job they’re not familiar with. Discuss questions and determine new action items afterwards.
  4. Make sure the people working on your projects have the proper permissions to shared folders, accounts, mailboxes, etc.
  5. Provide a detailed client contact list in a shared space that everyone has access to.
  6. Have a meeting with the coworkers that will be working on your projects to discuss the status of each one, how updates will be communicated, and any special exceptions or variances that apply. I highly recommend using collaboration tools like Trello and Slack.
  7. When documenting processes and/or procedures, include best practices and ask your coworkers to add theirs. The collaborative effort makes the training documentation more robust and ensures everyone is aligned on the process. Remember, it’s not possible to over-communicate in this situation.
  8. Introduce your backup to your clients. Provide details on how long you’ll be out and who should be contacted.
  9. Introduce your backup to any third-party vendors/contractors and describe the details of the process so everyone knows what to expect.

How I Implemented My Checklist

Step One: The Backup

We established one person to be my backup and point of contact while I am gone (the multi-talented Brett Wyatt). Brett’s a great choice because he knows the projects and the clients and he’s ready to step into a larger role. I made sure Brett knew that I had chosen him for a reason and wasn’t just dumping extra work on him. Because he’s one of my direct reports, it made sense to give him this responsibility, which showed my belief in him.

Step Two: Meet with Your Backup

I met with Brett and we talked about the best way for me to leave instructions for him. My goal in that conversation was to learn which processes/tasks/duties he was already comfortable with and which ones he was not as familiar with. That is how I determined what needed to be documented. I didn’t want to waste time by documenting things that aren’t necessary.

For the things that needed to be written down, I asked Brett how he would like to receive this information. Does he need a step-by-step instruction list? Are existing emails and documents sufficient to serve as templates to use for upcoming projects, or do I need to create templates from scratch? We then determined what existing documents would be used, where they are located, and what items needed to be created.

Step Three: Shadowing

I had Brett join me on discovery calls with new leads and client meetings. After each call or meeting, we would talk about our process, the status of the project, and I would answer any questions he had. This also helped me to uncover any tasks/duties that I had not yet thought about that Brett would need to handle.

Step Four: Permissions

I made sure that Brett and the team had the proper permissions that they needed in order to access the appropriate documents. We use Dropbox as our internal file sharing system. I made sure to create a folder that the entire team can access to house all of my maternity leave documents.

This way if Brett is unavailable or needs to delegate some tasks, he doesn’t have to be the gatekeeper. I also made a list of the folders, repositories, accounts, mailboxes, etc. that Brett would need access to and ensured he was given the proper permissions.

Step Five: Client Contacts

I updated my client list and made sure to save it in a shared folder that the entire team has access to. I added some fields to designate which time zone the client was in so Brett could be mindful of that when he scheduled calls or meetings. I also included some notes on how the client likes to communicate (some prefer phone calls to emails, etc.).

Step Six: Prep the Whole Team

At Manual Makers, we use collaboration tools Trello and Slack for project management. I really like these tools since everyone has access to the status update board in Trello, and we have set up auto-notifications in Slack for when any Trello project cards are updated. I have apps for these tools on my phone, so I don’t need to be logged into my laptop to find out what’s going on (vital during middle-of-the-night feedings).

Before I left, I made sure that Brett and the production team had access to all project boards in Trello and were invited to each project’s Slack channel so no one missed any communication. We held a meeting to talk through the status of each project, what everyone’s bandwidth looked like, and how tasks would be assigned in order to move projects forward.

As we talked through each project, I made sure to mention any exceptions to our usual process like special billing or grandfathered items in the scope of work. It felt great to have everyone on the same page.

Step Seven: Document Processes

We determined there was one process that I would need to document from scratch: how to prepare for and execute a boot camp session with a client. This was a process that I owned and had been refining for almost a year. I had a lot of knowledge in my head, but needed to write it down. I knew I couldn’t over-communicate, so I tried to be as thorough as possible.

I created a document that described an overview of the process, including objectives. I made a checklist of things to do prior to and the day of the boot camp. I provided samples of documents that are utilized during the sessions. I also included best practices and tips such as closing any programs on your computer that would create pop-up notifications while you’re sharing your screen with the clients.

I included things I’d learned the hard way to make it a little easier for my coworkers. I shared the document with the team and asked them to review it and add any best practices of their own. This is a great way to create training documents for team members who take on new responsibilities or for new employees.

Step 8: Clients

I sent out emails to all my clients and copied Brett to make virtual introductions. I provided the dates of my maternity leave and Brett’s contact info. I made sure to send these emails two weeks prior to going on leave to give clients enough time to ask any questions or resolve any outstanding items before I left.

Step 9: Vendors

Lastly, I made sure that Brett was aligned with our third-party vendors for any processes that he needed to handle. I made email introductions like I did with our clients. I made sure to spell out what the process would be and who is responsible for making decisions.

How It’s Working Out

I worked up until the day before my daughter was born. On that last day, Brett and the team felt very confident that they could handle whatever came their way while I was out. It was also a huge sigh of relief for me so I could focus on my family and my recovery. I check in with the team and I’m available on Slack and Trello if they need anything. I still have a few weeks of leave remaining, but so far taking the time to plan and prepare has paid off and I know I’ll be coming back to a happy team that took care of business while I was out.

I hope this checklist and process is useful for you, no matter what kind of leave you’re taking.

 

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