Documentation, Education

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Trainual's How to Build a Business Playbook Masterclass

I recently watched Trainual's How to Build a Business Playbook masterclass since it is related to documentation, and I hope this overview, summary, and takeaways are helpful!

Contents of this post:

What is Trainual? Why did they make this course?

Trainual is training and onboarding software used to streamline documenting and organizing standard operating procedures (SOPs), policies, training materials, and other forms of documentation. The company serves businesses in over 170 countries and has been recognized on several Best Workplaces lists.

Trainual's course page states they created this business playbook course to empower people with the knowledge and tools to build a solid foundation for their businesses. "We've gone through the many ups and downs involved in our own businesses, and we want to share that experience with entrepreneurs and business leaders hoping to do the same. Our goal is to share valuable insights, proven strategies, and practical techniques that help businesses thrive in today's competitive landscape," they said.

Who are the instructors?

Daymond John is a fashion industry pioneer, founder of the $6 billion fashion innovator FUBU, a Shark investor on the Emmy Award-winning TV show Shark Tank, a best-selling author, branding guru, and motivational speaker. He was the keynote speaker at Trainual's first annual small business conference, Playbook, in September 2020.

Chris Ronzio is the founder and CEO of Trainual, host of the Organize Chaos Podcast, author of The Business Playbook, speaker, and entrepreneur. He is a two-time EY Entrepreneur of the Year® Award finalist and Phoenix Business Journal 40 Under 40 Awards recipient.

What is the format and length?

This is an on-demand video course delivered inside Trainual's software (in-browser, no app downloading is required).

Each chapter includes key takeaways and recommended resources under the video.

The course is about 90 minutes long in total, with each video averaging about 11 minutes.

What is the cost?

This is a free course.

What are the main topics?

The course is divided into chapters:

  • Chapter 1: How To Build a Business Playbook

  • Chapter 2: Creating a Winning Business Playbook

  • Chapter 3: Beyond Wikis and LMS: Understanding the Power of a Business Playbook

  • Chapter 4: Crafting Your Company Story: What Makes You "You"

  • Chapter 5: Growing Your Business: Understanding Roles and Responsibilities

  • Chapter 6: Writing the Unwritten Rules of Business: Employee Policies that Guide Success

  • Chapter 7: Scaling Your Business Processes: The Power of SOPs in Training

  • Chapter 8: The Business Playbook Blueprint: Scaling People, Culture, Systems, and Processes

Summary and Takeaways:

Chapter 1: How To Build a Business Playbook

What is a business playbook?

A business playbook is a collection and record of knowledge, experience, and structure of a business. This manual outlines how your business does what it does, including each role, responsibility, business strategy, and differentiator. 

The biggest risk in business is having this information only stay in your mind and not accessible to others.

A business playbook is essential for setting expectations, eliminating assumptions, preventing conflict, ensuring clear communication, training new team members, and allowing you to hand off responsibilities and grow your business.

How is it different than documentation, standard operating procedures, and other types of instruction?

The business playbook includes more than just the how-to instructions of processes. It is put together in a particular order, and it is centrally located all-in-one place. The four main sections in order are:

    1. Profile: Your company story, history, mission...
    2. People: Roles and responsibilities, org chart...
    3. Policies: Rules and expectations
    4. Processes: Step-by-step how-to's for the work that runs your business

When should you start building your business playbook?

  • When your products and/or services are in high customer demand, and you need to scale your operations
  • When you've got at least 3-5 employees, which means you're starting to carve out different departments and roles that you want to add to — meaning, you need a documented and concrete way of how you do things

What is included in each section of the playbook?

  • Company profile -- think of it as a dating profile or social media profile...If someone discovers this business, what do they need to know?
    • Founding story
    • Why you exist
    • Why should the team should come to work and care
    • Core values, culture
    • Behaviors
    • Customer personas
    • Products, services, pricing
  • People -- the differentiation of the company
    • Roles and responsibilities
    • Departments and locations
  • Policies -- like an employee handbook
    • Rules
    • Cultural norms, what is OK and not OK to do
    • Communication types and tools
    • Dress code
    • Office, hybrid, remote
    • Government rules and benefits
  • Processes
    • How-to, step-by-step, of how to do everything (the main type of documentation I teach about)
    • This processes section will be the biggest part
Processes are where people are tempted to start, but Chris believes the other three sections are needed first. Processes could be mostly similar across companies, and companies could still see some success, but the other three sections are more unique to each business and harder to copy. The first three sections are the foundation of everyone being on the same page, it will add direction even without documented processes.

Chapter 2: Creating a Winning Business Playbook

  • Create your playbook in this order: Profile > People > Policies > Processes
    • Start with content related to why first.
  • For most businesses, about 50-80% of their processes are documented in the business playbook. The rest of the processes may be in the innovation and experimentation stage.
    • (My note - document these experiments so you don't repeat the mistakes and you know what changes created success, and so you can repeat the successful experiment and turn it into a new process! Though documenting these in a place outside the business playbook sounds like the recommendation here.)
  • Daymond said that having these systems in place creates a feeling of fairness and equality so everyone knows where they stand
  • Make it interactive with visuals and multimedia. But remember that the best format to start is the one you will actually keep doing. You can add additional formats later -- Get it out of your brain first.
  • Involve other people, since you won't know how every process runs and so other people feel included and bought into using the playbook. This also spreads out the work to make it more manageable and not all on one person's shoulders.
    • Use a bottoms-up effort: ask each individual person to outline what they do and know, surfacing information and feeding it into one central repository
  • Your business playbook will never be "finished," since you're constantly adding, revising, and improving it, but you should still have a launch date for when you want to roll it out to the team for the first time 
    • Maybe the deadline is the next new hire's start date

Why don't most companies create playbooks? 

  • Founders start the company to concentrate on the service or product, not to work "on" the business doing this type of work, so the skills and priorities may not come naturally to create an internal playbook instead of focusing on the product. They may also expect someone else to do this work since they are busy running the company, but they never explicitly assign it.
  • When the company is small, more communication happens, people are doing more cross-functional work, and everyone is more easily aware of what is going on, so a playbook doesn't seem necessary. Your founding team members also likely believe in you and the company mission, so it's easier to be on the same page.
  • When a company gets larger, maybe 20-30 people, that communication breaks down without thoughtful intention, and people might just be there to work and not because of the mission or you. It requires changes, such as policies and other content in the playbook, but people may resist the change and consider this as "cracking down" and not fun anymore. This could be why they don't have a playbook.
  • People misunderstand the intention of the playbook is to be a good communicator. Communicating changes is a form of fairness; it saves confusion and turnover and keeps the team members passionate. People are human beings, and they may be upset because of something in their life that has nothing to do with you. If you have systems like the playbook in place, it eases the pain when change happens. If someone doesn't understand this, they might not make a playbook.

I also wrote about a few other reasons from experts in the "Why is documentation important?" blog.

Chapter 3: Beyond Wikis and LMS: Understanding the Power of a Business Playbook

What are the main differences between a business playbook and traditional knowledge management systems?

Wikis are one way to write things down and capture info about the business, but without proper organization and management, they can be a dumping group for everything. The business playbook has a built-in organizational structure. (There was also discussion of how wikis don't track who viewed or updated anything, and a playbook does track that, but that depends on the software you are using for either of those formats and depends on the other communication standards you create such as including the date of the last update on each document.)

A learning management system (LMS) contains courses and training. It can be great for accountability to track what employees have completed each course. It is generally for larger corporations since the tools are expensive and require a larger team to manage and create the classes. The class content is often only reviewed once, while a business playbook is living documentation that will be referenced often and adjusted by many people when the company changes. 

Project management tools are often for doing the work, not learning how to do it.

Online documents are best reserved for work-in-progress documents and collaborating, not really for training or tracking.

A checklist is useful for doing a task but not really for teaching it first.

What are the attributes of a business playbook?

    1. Accessible where and when you need it 
    2. Searchable so you can find and surface content 
    3. Collaborative because every person on your team can record their own roles, responsibilities, and processes
      1. Also, one person designing training for business their way for the way they personally process info does not work
      2. Knowledge is crowd-sourced best practices and feedback into a central location so everyone is on the same page
    4. Instructive to optimize your training and actually teach people to perform their roles efficiently, guiding them through the business
    5. Fluid so anyone can update and edit content 
    6. Structured, so it's easy to find everything
    7. Trackable to keep your team accountable

Why should you spend the time to make a playbook?

A business playbook allows your business to become a machine — everyone operates at the same cadence to deliver consistent results, and to achieve your business goals faster.

It will take time to create, but that time is an investment because it is time you'll save later when you avoid repeatable errors, customer complaints, and common roadblocks. 

When your team grows, at a certain point, the owner or founder can't teach them 1-1 about how the company runs and all the context that led to current processes. You will need a continuous system to train the founder and people to train other people. Having a playbook can save 20-30% of a founder's time when training the team.

Many businesses never scale to success because they don't take the time to write the playbook, they think writing is hard, but if you want to stay around for the long haul after those other businesses have closed, create this structure now.

Chapter 4: Crafting Your Company Story: What Makes You "You"

Chris told his company story of starting a video production company at 14 years old, which grew to have camera crews across the US. They had to emphasize training and standard operating procedures for all those crews to work well, and similarly, He sold that business and started consulting on packaging processes and systems in other companies. He started delivering operations manuals and began calling them business playbooks. He wanted to differentiate his consulting, so he created Trainual software for the business playbooks. That's the story he tells all new employees when they start.

What are the key elements that make your customer story compelling and effective?

  • Your company profile in the business playbook contains stories from your past, present, and future
    • Where you come from (your origin story)
    • What you're doing today (your core values and decision-making principles)
    • Where you're going (your mission and your vision)
  • Paint a picture for your employees of what your business actually does, why it exists, where it has been, and where it's going. This is one way to convince them this is where they want to work and capture your passion for your business so they can share the excitement.
  • It could include your target customer, industry, products and services, etc.
  • Don't worry if you don't have all the elements figured out yet, share the mission and other parts as they evolve. "The path is not always clear and will need adjustments along the way," the instructors said.
  • Also, we're human and we forget, so remind people it exists and keep people informed of changes for these important parts of your company.

Chapter 5: Growing Your Business: Understanding Roles and Responsibilities

What are roles and responsibilities?

  • Role: Your title in the business
  • Responsibilities: All the things you're expected to do as part of your role

What's so important about clearly defined roles and responsibilities?

  • As the business grows, it can be confusing to know who is responsible for what
  • People may no longer be doing what they were hired for
  • If there is a gray area of responsibilities, that leads to pointing fingers, and people thinking someone else was going to do it
  • Roles and responsibilities provide accountability. If you know who does what, you know who's accountable for specific tasks, outcomes, and results.
  • They create a sense of alignment between employers and employees

How do you start documenting roles and responsibilities?

  • Have every person at your company write down what they think their responsibilities are
    • Cross-reference their list with the tasks or responsibilities you think they're responsible
    • Talk about any gaps between the two lists
  • Make sure to continue to KEEP documenting and updating as the business grows and roles and responsibilities change. People will take on new responsibilities ans pass old ones to other people, new hires will join the team, or employees might take on more specialized roles. Make sure everyone always knows what is expected of them and who to ask questions.

How do you build a role chart and org chart?

  • An org chart is a structure of your organization that shows who reports to whom, tracking headcount (Specific people)
  • A role chart shows the roles within your organization and shows which roles report to other roles, tracking the number of roles. (Titles)
    • Great for businesses where multiple people hold the same role, or where one person holds multiple roles. 
    • People and roles may get narrower, less general, as the business grows
    • You can also create a future version role chart to work towards, then put in the current people who fill those roles to see who is (or will be) spread too thin
    • Use it to talk about employee career paths and growth
  • Update both every time a new hire starts and when someone changes titles

Chapter 6: Writing the Unwritten Rules of Business: Employee Policies that Guide Success

  • Policies sound like government and bureaucracy, which can create bad feelings
  • Maybe someone started a company to get away from the rules, but then they have to make them while resisting them
  • Communicating the why behind the policies can help overcome these mindsets

Why do you need policies?

  • Policies set guidelines and expectations so people know what is OK and not OK
  • They are a way for people to be comfortable in the environment, setting behavior expectations and cultural norms so they and their coworkers are not behaving poorly, they are behaving as expected. Everyone doesn’t necessarily have the same common sense, we all come from different work cultures and backgrounds.
  • They answer questions from your employees in advance — what are they supposed to do (or not do) in certain situations?
  • They prevent you from having to spend time and energy to address issues caused by not defining these boundaries
  • Policies can also give freedom if you create a system for people to act entrepreneurial. Create training on it so they don't go rogue and so you still keep them as employees
  • Avoiding legal risk

How do you create effective company policies?

  • Make them clearly understandable - no jargon! 
  • Only assign the policies to the people who need them, such as part-time vs full-time employee policies
  • Explain the story behind why the policy exists in the first place. Communicate how the policy can be helpful instead of restricting, so the team is thankful it exists and is shared
  • Write flexibility into certain areas (when legal)
  • Ask the team to weigh in on policies before finalizing (when possible, probably not for legal ones)
  • No policy should last forever, kill outdated or seldom-used ones

Chapter 7: Scaling Your Business Processes: The Power of SOPs in Training

What are standard operating procedures (SOPs)?

Why do you need standard operating procedures (SOPs)?

  • Continuity is important for services or products, your customers and teams want the same experience anywhere and everywhere, no matter who is completing the work. This consistency and reliability build trust, which creates strong teams and happy repeat customers. 
  • You can only do so much by yourself, and this documentation helps other people perform the work the same as you would, and deliver consistent results. If you have trouble delegating and scaling your business, your instructions are likely to blame.
  • Some people resist them since they think processes are the opposite of innovation, so create a process and SOP for innovation, how to try new things and run experiments
    • Explain the process as the low watermark or baseline standard, work is done at least this well, with room for improvement as outlined

How do you create a standard operating procedure?

  • Elements to include:
    • Process name
    • Owner -- who should be held accountable that the process is done correctly
    • Date of last update
    • Frequency of the process
    • Time the process takes
    • Tools needed
    • Examples of what this process looks like when done correctly.
    • Context -- why this process matters in your business.
    • The actual steps of the process
  • To get started, use the format that works best for you — whether that's written, video, or screen recording.

How do you measure the success of your SOPs?

  • Measuring the effectiveness of your documentation relies on your role, department, or company's key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • In the document itself, point to the KPIs that best reflect that measurement of success and track wins

Chapter 8: The Business Playbook Blueprint: Scaling People, Culture, Systems, and Processes

Make your business more valuable

  • You now have a system for how your business runs. documented instructions for how to run your business if someone else needs to take over (such as if the business is sold, if you're on vacation, or if you are injured)
  • If you don't, you're making it up every day, relying on people's (unreliable) memories. Get your business out of your brain.
  • Making processes helps you learn and improve the business processes

Prevent risk and disruption

  • Daymond said the biggest disruption to your business is when people leave and take all their knowledge with them. You'd have to start from scratch with the next person hired.
  • One of the biggest risks in business is letting all your knowledge stay in your brain. What happens if you suddenly can't work?
  • Building a business playbook is all about being intentional about building the best version of your business 
  • The playbook puts guardrails in place to control the factors that you can throughout the ongoing challenges 

Create a company where people want to work, that is less stressful for you

  • A founder, owner, or leader's job is growing the business and creating an environment where people like to work. 
    • The playbook produces a systematic approach to scaling and fostering a culture where people thrive.
  • If you want an easier life, a more organized business, a more aligned team, you must let go of responsibilities, by documenting and delegating 


You can take this free documentation class, How to Build a Business Playbook, from Trainual here.

Topics:   Documentation, Education