Organizations depend on their business processes for the smooth, orderly flow of all their activities. But as companies evolve, the workflows they have relied on may not necessarily have evolved accordingly, and this can limit an organization’s ability to grow and adapt. The shelf life of most workflows is fairly limited, especially in a business climate that never stops changing. This is where workflow analysis comes in.
Workflow analysis can provide major benefits because it identifies where workflows are either outdated, need to be re-worked, or where a process requires an entirely new approach. The process takes apart the workflow in order to identify where there are issues of inefficiency and where changes within the process demand corresponding changes in the workflow. Going through this exercise of workflow analysis identifies bottlenecks, users who are no longer stakeholders, redundant tasks, and uncovers where improvements can be applied.
Ultimately, a well-performed workflow analysis will provide an organization with three key outcomes:
- Elimination of manual and redundant tasks.
- Application of automation where it is currently not being used.
- Gaps in the workflow that prevent it from being optimal.
Once identified, an organization will be able to use its human and technology resources more efficiently, which reduces costs and speeds the delivery of time-dependent processes. Even small improvements save costs and time, so workflow analysis should be a regularly scheduled activity that businesses create a discipline around. To initiate an effective analysis, an organization should take into account these considerations:
Create the Workflow Analysis Structure
It’s best to have a team of reviewers that is made up of representatives from different groups. This will provide perspectives from those with a stake in certain workflows, as well as independent thinking from others. This team should have a cadence of regular meetings, a communication tool like Slack, and a set of requirements by which they will conduct their analysis. The workflow analysis should consider the impact of a workflow in a variety of ways, including these:
- Is it efficient by impacting the speed and/or efficiency of how tasks are accomplished?
- Are stakeholders able to automate repetitive tasks by using it?
- Is it directly improving business goals?
- Does it improve my organization’s ability to be compliant?
Creating an Inventory of Workflows
Collecting all the workflows you want to review may be harder than you might think. Organizations with good process discipline will have a repository of their workflows, but in many organizations, these are created in an ad hoc fashion and are not necessarily accounted for in any type of orderly way. The discovery process will require input from stakeholders across the company and will initiate the review process, so be prepared to have either an individual or team who leads this effort and can be the key decision maker.
Initial Workflow Review
After having an inventory of workflows, it’s best to start reviewing to determine what you should keep and what is no longer relevant. For some, this may take a deeper analysis of the current and future viability of certain workflows, but for others, you’ll know what can be eliminated when you see it. Those that don’t make the cut should be officially taken out of practice. Stakeholders should be made aware of next steps on these workflows - that usually means alerting about removal for some, while for others, it may mean that a replacement will soon follow.
Workflow Analysis and Data Discovery
Workflows generate all kinds of data, most of which should provide insight into usage and efficacy. A workflow that might appear to be really effective may have not been used in many quarters; this data might help you decide to eliminate it. Or perhaps the data will demonstrate that there is a task within a certain workflow that takes an unusually long period of time to complete — that might be an indicator of where the workflow needs a reformatting.
Consider reviewing for this type of data:
- How many workflows have been initiated over the previous two quarters?
- Of those workflows, how many have been completed, and how many are still in process?
- Average of the time taken to complete tasks.
- Length of time to do reviews.
- How many are currently using forms?
Involve Stakeholders in the Workflow Analysis
Armed with data, you can begin to get a better sense of what you’re dealing with, and it can act as an important filter. But the data may not tell the whole story, which is why you need to now get out of your office and talk to people to determine how workflows are being used. Identify stakeholders from different teams and groups and consider evaluating based on these types of questions:
- Start with getting a general sense of the workflow; ask them to walk you, step-by-step, through the processes they go through.
- Find out where they are frustrated by the process.
- Get a sense for whether or not they are getting things done faster and/or with greater efficiency.
- Ask for their input on how a workflow could be improved with the right workflow tools (it’s usually those closest to the problem that have the best solutions). Encourage them to be specific on this point; is there certain data they need, is there a problem of automation, do they get the notifications they need, etc.
- Consider using the Net Promoter Score (NPS) methodology by asking, “On a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being ‘most likely”), how likely are you to recommend this workflow to a colleague?” The answers may give you insight into both the necessity and efficacy of a given workflow.
Regroup and Assess
Now that you’ve collected data and put boots on the ground, the review team needs to go through workflows again and determine their state, which should fall into one of these categories:
- Eliminate the workflow
- Re-design the workflow
- Replace the workflow with a new workflow
Beyond the Workflow Analysis
At this point, you should have the beginnings of a blueprint to start moving forward with the next phase of your workflow design and implementation. With a focused team and the right tool, you will now be equipped to make better decisions about what you want to achieve and how your workflows can help you attain those goals.