Whenever you go down the path of doing something new the end result will most likely end up somewhere other than you intended. Hitting the mark and meeting expectations is harder and harder to manage and working with technology is no different. The concept of using workflow can be a very powerful tool but there are some things that you really need to consider and some groundwork that needs to be done in order to capture the essence of how a workflow will make teams and individuals on those teams better. Here are some of those considerations that will make a difference in whether your execution will be meaningful or messy.
CAN IT BE MANAGED? The first and most important thing to understand about workflow is that there needs to be clear definition of what the desired outcomes are at the back end and who the players are in the process you are trying to streamline. In the consulting world it is not uncommon for us to see that our customers will run us through a process only to find out that there are actually three or more workflows within a process that have distinct outcomes along the way. And the other common occurrence we see is that people often try to control elements or people in a way that is either too fluid or people that do not work directly for the firm.
DOES IT ENCAPSULATE YOUR CULTURE? There will never be a substitute for people and what they do to make our companies great. When you look at companies like Amazon and Zappos their passion for the customer comes through with an obsessive and relentless pursuit of getting the customer whatever they need. Part of an individual team member’s ability to do that in those organizations is that people are empowered to say “yes”. The relevance to workflow is to understand that the premise is generally to lock processes down or limit where a process goes and what outcomes can be reached. We often see the best systems inlaid with flexibility in workflow to handle business exceptions.
ARE YOU PREPARED FOR CONSTANT CHANGE? The final danger to think through is to understand that workflow involves the process of mapping. It is analogous in the technology world of building sidewalks between buildings on a college campus. If you have spent any time on any of this nation’s beautiful campuses one of things you will usually see some level of construction happening almost all of the time. The reality is that from the moment one of those sidewalks is put down the countdown has started to the day that sidewalk will get moved, rerouted or ripped up completely. This is an important lesson for workflow as the pace of change in our daily business lives means that we must also put in proactive evaluation and a process for changing. Remember that every technology has a shelf life and unfortunately process management is one of the shortest.
Realistically, there are other dangers regarding workflow but if you try to focus on too many things at once it’s hard to be successful. If you use these guidelines and tenants in how your approach workflow you will be more successful. If handling these basics aren’t met, however, it will be nearly impossible to have your team embracing all of the positive aspects of what workflow can actually do for your company and your customer engagements.