Ever go on a surveillance?
Probably a silly question. Most investigators have at some point in time, and many do it routinely. When you’re about to go out on a surveillance assignment, do you know exactly how much and what kind of film you are going to take, how many and which cameras you need, how you are going to approach the project, what additional resources (i.e., people, vehicles) you will use, how long the project is likely to take, etc. etc.? If you spend time running around trying to figure this out for each case, you’re really not that unusual. But if you go through this process for each surveillance case, you’re also really not that efficient and, in reality, you really don’t have a “process.” Or, more precisely, the process becomes the job itself, and it controls you.
To take your career to a sustained level of high performance, you need to systematize massive areas of each assignment you take on. Otherwise you are using your brain power, your energy and, most importantly, your time, just to accomplish relatively simple organizational tasks. I’ve heard it said that “A failure to plan is a plan to fail.” I completely agree. This is true in many aspects of your life, and absolutely true in every aspect of operating your investigative business. Because as you establish your processes, your systems, and begin to regularly use them, the results will be a seamless procedure that enables you to focus on and respond to, the specifics of each case, rather than on the business of running the investigation.
The Process of Establishing Processes
Let’s stick with the surveillance example for a moment, although, as we will see, processes can and should apply to many aspects of operating an investigation business. The first time you go on a surveillance, you are not going to know half the stuff you need. But what you want to do is to look for patterns within the job and establish a checklist of everything you could possibly ever need: high-speed or low-speed film; black and white or color; van or car; a variety of clothes in case you need to follow on foot in several locations and change your appearance; additional people; phones or walkie-talkies; food and beverages; etc. Let’s say your initial list contains 20 items. Then, on surveillance, you think of item number 21. Immediately add it to your list. Don’t give yourself the opportunity to forget it and not have it next time. You can also talk to other investigators and learn from their experiences. All the time you are creating a master list that you can go through each time you are hired for a surveillance, and it is this list, this process, which literally lays the foundation for you to do the job easier the next time. It is an absolute necessity that your list be a printed list, not just something in your head. It makes it both real and easier to use. Even after you reach the point where you think you have a complete list – or process – it is important that you review it at least annually (preferably semi-annually) to make sure it is still complete and current.
Again and Again
Compounding the problem of not having a process is the reality that most investigators handle a wide variety of cases. While this may be a necessity at the start of operating your own agency, as you are fueled by the fire of making your own way and making ends meet, and even at times throughout your business, it is not the best way to operate. (We’ll explore the topic of specialization in a future article.) But the key point is: develop your precise process for each type of case. It is bad enough to be floundering about everything you need to handle one particular type of case. You cannot afford to be swimming in a lack of processes when you handle a wide variety of cases. You will surely drown.
Furthermore, establishing processes manifests itself in all aspects of your business. Take billing, for example. I know of people who spend all day on Saturday just to generate three invoices. They spend time recalculating how many hours they spent on this, and how many minutes they spent on that, and whether or not they can bill for the time it took them to write an interim report. Instead, they should have a system in place that they use throughout the investigation that allows them to almost instantly generate these numbers. Then plug the numbers and details into your process, print and seal the envelopes, and go play some golf.
Your investigative career is an evolutionary process. You will always be developing new skills, adding new technology. And that’s as it should be. Consider Sam Spade. Years ago he was a successful gumshoe. As such, the techniques, equipment and personnel handling all have to change in order for him to succeed in today’s market. The manual typewriter – can you imagine starting a business with that? Or the way he talked to his secretary – “Sweet Heart” – in today’s reality that’s begging for a civil suit.
So right now is the time to make a commitment to establish processes for yourself for all key aspects of your investigative business. You’ll be more efficient, be able to devote yourself more energetically toward the relevant details of each investigation, save time and make more money.