Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be discussing workflow systems, including the sort of things that you can get a workflow system to do to streamline your business.
Part 1 – What is workflow?
For anyone who has worked in a larger office, you’re probably all too familiar with workflow, even if you call it by another name.
Workflow is simply completing a job by assigning it from team A, to person B, to team C, each doing their part towards getting the job completed. Usually the knowledge of where things need to go within an organisation is considered company knowledge and is either written up in a formal training manual, or more likely simply passed on between staff members when the need arises.
The problem with having workflow as a manual process is as people leave the company that knowledge is lost, and when new people join the company there is a training period required. There is also difficulty if you need to make changes as often people are set in their ways or simply forget the new process. A change to workflow could be to mitigate a risk or to assist in customer service. Changes could easily have an effect on the bottom line, and to miss them could have a detrimental effect.
This is where a workflow system is essential, especially in businesses with more than just a few employees. Workflow systems are configured to know which person or teams need to be involved in certain jobs. The system then automatically assigns the job to the required person or team, who is then responsible for completing their allocated tasks. Once their tasks are completed the system will forward the job onto the next team until the job has been completed.
A major advantage in such a system is reduced training costs, and less scope for error when new employees start. There is less resistance to change if a business requirement changes as the change is made behind the scenes in the workflow system. Your employees would at most only need to be given a cursory email rather than a new set of instructions. This both reduces the risk that a team, such as legal, is accidentally missed on a job, and it reduces the time when jobs are assigned to now redundant teams who will simply send the job back or worse ignore the job altogether.
Workflow systems can be configured to have a defined path, e.g. from A to B to C. Alternatively they can be configured so that an administrator keeps tabs on what is going on, assigning tasks out to teams as required, where what is known as micro-workflows make sure the job follows the right path.
Both methods have their advantages and drawbacks, but best of all, they are not mutually exclusive. There is no rule that says you can’t have both a defined path and an administrator to manage the jobs in the system.
Finally, there is no rule with workflow that states that only internal people and teams can be involved. There is nothing stopping you from involving external parties, such as lawyers or specialists as assignable teams within your workflow system. They could be set up to directly access your workflow system from their own computers over the internet, or alternatively your workflow system could simply notify them of an assignment via email.
Over the next few days, have a think about what processes your business has which rely on company knowledge, which could be better handled by a workflow system.