Every organization has some elements of workflow occurring in its daily operations. Even though an organization might not have formalized the very structure of its processes, we know that nothing can happen unless there is a sequence of actions that arrive at a desired result. In colloquial terms, it’s called, “Getting Stuff Done.” In our vernacular it’s called “Getting Stuff Done through Workflow.” And while stuff always gets done, making sure it’s the right stuff, done at the right time, with the right people requires a more structured action plan.
One of the first steps towards business efficiency is recognition. That recognition might be as simple as “Something has to change!” or just the awareness that there’s a potential to do things better. This is important because it goes to the heart of what the people in companies actually value. We understand that there is a huge difference between a company that was ‘sold’ a workflow software solution versus one that was seeking a workflow solution for business process improvement in some specific area of its business. For those organizations that want to find a tool to serve as the basis of a better way of doing business, workflow software can be an incredibly effective asset.
Establishing a “Workflow Process” doesn’t begin immediately after you sign a purchase order. It starts by establishing a culture that looks to its workflow tools as an operational foundation (the place to start). If your organization is ready for that mindset, you are already a step ahead. (You would be surprised at how many companies buy workflow software, yet have a very limited concept of how to use it). The fun starts once you begin building your guidelines and requirements for implementing what the ‘workflow mindset’ in your organization.
Based on working with hundreds of customers over the past 10+ years, we have observed that there are four steps that, when followed, tend to ensure workflow success. There is also a recommendation: that your implementation team includes both IT and business leaders. The more closely aligned they are, the faster the road to success:
Here is our list:
1. Write down the steps: Yes, this may seem obvious however you want to be clear about the actions, people and decisions that need to occur to arrive at a desired result. Be aware not to make the mistake of thinking that workflow takes care of itself. Workflow is incredibly effective, but only if it is provided with the proper steps.
2. Anticipate changes: Workflow is not something you set up once, then leave it to take care of itself. Workflow is meant to be responsive to your business and the people involved with it. If you have no intention of ever changing what you do, when you do it, or who does ‘it’, then you could set up your workflow and leave it. But we all know that business needs change constantly. Your workflow and processes need to be equipped to be easily changed and updated so they remain in alignment with your goals.
3. Predict outcomes: Do you know what results you are trying to achieve? A workflow is wonderful only if it improves results by delivering a result faster, better, or more efficiently. The key for you and your business is knowing what that “thing” is. You should give serious thought to the results you are currently achieving— and create a model for what a post-workflow world would look like. Make intelligent, thoughtful predictions about the improvements you will see, then measure whether or not you are actually achieving them.
4. Analyze: For workflow nerds (we are among the more dedicated), the REAL fun comes when you have time under your belt and look at the results: Are projects being accomplished faster? Did you eliminate time-consuming steps? How is workflow contributing to your company’s overall efficiency and effectiveness? Remember to think about the metrics that will demonstrate the improvements you wanted to achieve — then analyze your processes to determine whether or not workflow is helping you reach them.
Workflow is neither simple, nor complex. It is a methodology and it is a tool. Workflow can be used in any number of ways you to help your organization. It is not, however, something that should be implemented once —then left to run in the background. Leave that to your high six-figure ERP systems. Workflow can help you to accomplish something constructive and useful. Make sure that you apply it with that in mind for your organization.