Do you ever feel like your company is kind of just ‘winging it’? Are your processes plagued with with bottlenecks, information silos, miscommunication, or low productivity? Or, maybe your company pretty much has a good workflow going already, but finds it difficult to be flexible and pivot when everything doesn’t fall perfectly into place.
If this is the case, then you may very well struggle with workflow issues. Many businesses both large and small struggle with workflow optimization. However, fortunately for you, we have the solution. This article will guide you on the various ways in which you can become more efficient by leveraging technology, tools, automation and more in order to fully optimize your business processes.
So, what exactly is workflow management?
Workflow management essentially entails breaking down your your current operational processes into bite-sized chunks so that you can gain better control over your workflow outcomes. Workflow management really just boils down to organization. Organization of processes into stages, of stages into tasks, and also — organizing which individual teams or team members are responsible for performing which task, within what timeframe, and in what order.
What are the benefits of workflow management
There are numerous benefits associated with workflow management. For one, workflow management provides you with freedom. We’re talking freedom from stress, conflict, bottlenecks, low productivity and confusion associated with mismanaged and disorganized business processes.
With a streamlined, well-organized workflow, everyone is aware of exactly what role they play, their unique responsibilities, their deadlines, and how exactly they fit in the larger picture.
Workflow management also helps boost productivity. When stages, tasks, roles and responsibilities are made clear, people become more productive. As a result, you’re able to capitalize on your manpower and mitigate redundancy, confusion, error and inefficacy.
Furthermore, streamlined workflows promote agility and make it easier for your business to scale and remain competitive in your market.
How do I get started when it comes to improving my business workflows?
In order to begin the process, you’ll have to think both large and small. An effective workflow cannot be had without clarity on your overall business goals and strategy. Each and every single stage and task must be properly aligned in order to achieve a specific goal.
Furthermore, equally as important is the ability to be detail-oriented. The bigger picture is just one side of the coin. Workflow management entails organizing your operational processes down to the task level in order to be truly effective. As a result, you’ll also have to have a robust understanding of every aspect of your business’ operations.
This is why workflow management is a team effort. An executive may understand the big picture, but do they understand the day-to-day tasks handled by each individual contributor at an innate level that are necessary to keep the business running? No one is going to provide better insight into these steps or how to optimize them than the individuals performing and overseeing them on a daily basis. And no one is better situated to ensure that workflow tasks and stages properly align with an overall business strategy and goals, than those in management and at the executive level.
How do I get started when it comes to deconstructing my workflow processes?
First and foremost, you want to visually document your workflow processes from start to finish. This will give you and your team something to reference along the way and also provide you with a product which you can continually review, reflect, and improve upon as necessary.
So, for example, let’s say Company A is a SaaS business looking to optimize their sales process to more efficiently and effectively meet their goals. So, the team gets together and breaks their sales process down into five essential, basic stages:
- Prospect Engagement
- Prospect Nurturing
- Client Onboarding
- Service Delivery
This is the first step. However, if we stop here, there’s still a lot of ambiguity surrounding what happens in each individual stage. This ambiguity needs to be eliminated in order to provide your team with clarity on roles, responsibilities, and timelines. Deconstructing stages down into individual tasks/steps also helps to provide you and your team with a solid level of control over outcomes of each stage along the way.
So, the team then begins by breaking each stage down into various tasks. Let’s say the Prospect Engagement stage is initiated when a prospect emails the company requesting a demo. What happens next?
- Prospect reaches out to company
- Person A records prospect information in CRM
- Person A forwards prospect information to Person B in sales
- Person B then contacts the prospect to set up a time to meet and schedules this meeting in their calendar for records.
- Person B conducts demo and discusses next steps to move forward
If the prospect still needs convincing, then the company would move forward into the Prospect Nurturing phase. This phase would entail another set of tasks or steps designed to convince the prospect to move forward in doing business with them.
If the prospect agrees, the company would then move into the closing stage, and so on and so forth.
The key here is to break your operational processes down into bite-sized chunks so that you are able to optimize your workflow at each and every step. But bear in mind that it is very rare to perfectly build out a workflow at the task level on the first try. So, don’t be discouraged if you run into the next cycle (or two, or three) and find that you need to make some additional adjustments or revisions along the way.
What technology or tools can I use for workflow management?
There are numerous tools on the market available to help assist companies with workflow management. Interestingly enough, some of the most popular and most widely used tools are actually packaged and sold as project management tools. Tools such as Monday.com, Asana, ClickUp, Trello, Kissflow Workflow, Zapier and Nintex are all used by companies both large and small.
What features should I look for in a workflow management tool?
When it comes down to it, each business is going to require something different in order to meet their needs. But, as a general rule of thumb, there are a few common features that serve as extremely useful regardless of your company’s size or industry.
Everyone needs due dates to keep their workflow on track. When choosing a tool, make sure that you’re able to assign due dates and deadlines at the task level to ensure your processes remain on track. It’s also extremely helpful to have a tool which additionally offers you the ability to select date ranges, as some projects are best organized by due dates, and others best organized by a timeframe.
Workflows tend to be most effective when they are documented in a visually organized manner. But, you may find that some individuals work best with task lists while others work best with kanban boards or calendars. As a result, it’s important to chose a tool which has multiple layout options.
Many tools on the market also allow you to flag specific tasks with a priority level (i.e. high, medium, low). This is a useful feature to have to keep your team properly focused on what is most important.
The ability to list assignees to specific tasks is also another useful feature. This helps provide clarity on roles and responsibilities, eliminates ambiguity, and prevents tasks from falling to the wayside due to a lack of understanding on who was to initiate them.
Another extremely useful feature to have is task progression. This helps keep everyone on the same page when it comes to understanding exactly where a certain stage or task is currently situated (i.e. Not started, in progress, deferred, completed).
Many workflow management tools also give you the ability to synchronize tasks with each other so your team is aware of the exact moment when a task or stage is completed and moving forward.
For instance, let’s say that a website manager finds that their data developer is troubleshooting data visualization functionality prior to integrating the visualization onto the website. When the developer does this, they often also have to do another round of troubleshooting once it is integrated onto the website, because it is now in a different staging environment.
The website manager might then decide the best way to prevent this extra unnecessary work is to clarify in their workflow that troubleshooting should not happen until the data visualization is integrated onto the website. So, they sync the troubleshooting task by making it dependent on the site integration task so that it doesn’t kick off prematurely.
Most workflow management tools are sold in various tiers based on type of features offered and the number of users on the account. When choosing a tool, make sure to compare pricing and how it relates to collaborative features.
If you’re a small business and have just a handful of individuals on your team, then you may be able to luck into a more cost-effective tier. However, larger businesses will need to price compare and ensure that the amount of users allowed on the account is sufficient to meet their needs.
Let’s face it, no workflow management tool is a one-size-fits-all, out-of-the-box solution. As a result, it’s important that your tool offers customizations so that you can tailor your workflows and user experience to meet your team’s unique needs.
When choosing a tool, you’ll want to keep adaptability at the forefront of your mind. Is it easy to change up workflows and make adjustments as you move forward along the way? If it’s not, you’ll find it harder to pivot when issues arise.
Integrations and automation
Automation and the ability to streamline repetitive processes is key to scalability. And you can’t have automations without 3rd party integrations. Does your tool connect with Gmail so that your team can receive email alerts for workflow updates? Can it integrate with Zapier? What about your company calendar, your email marketing platform, your e-commerce software, social media, or Zoom?
There’s nothing worse than running into a technical issue only to find that your workflow management tool doesn’t have a customer service number, takes forever to answer queries via email, or has extremely limited hours of operation. Before you move forward with choosing the best tool, check out their customer service specs, and if possible, ratings. Do they offer 24-hour service seven days a week? Is there an active community surrounding them where you can get troubleshooting assistance? Do they have a robust set of FAQs? Keep all of this at the forefront of your mind when making a final decision.
Whether your company is just getting started or already an established small-to-medium sized business, the truth of the matter remains that you cannot continue to stay competitive without efficient workflows. Workflow management provides you with the tools you need to achieve growth and productivity at a scalable level. However, in order to remain truly effective and impactful, it’s imperative that you keep in mind that designing and optimizing your operational processes is a team effort that should ultimately be viewed as a non-linear process. That’s because at the end of the day, there’s always going to be room for improvement. So, it’s best to embrace every little revision, update and tweak along the way as putting you one step closer to your version of operational perfection.
Are you interested in taking your business to the next level by getting started with workflow management? VisioneerIT has spent years helping companies optimize their workflow processes so that businesses just like you are better positioned to meet their goals and be more competitive in their markets. If you’d like to hear more about the ways we can help you, schedule an appointment with us today.