Back to the Basics: How to Build a Workflow
Here’s something we all know: Workflow software is awesome. It breaks down the tangled knots of daily processes into smaller, more understandable threads that can be conceptualized and modified as needed. But here’s something we might not all realize: While workflows are powerful tools, we sometimes get so caught up in our own operations that we forget how these workflows are best utilized.
So, it’s time to get back to the basics. A workflow is defined as a sequence of processes through which a piece of work passes from beginning to end, often including various degrees of approval, edits, and updates. But how do you create a workflow? We’ve got a step-by-step process for how to create the optimal workflow for automation:
Step One: Brainstorm a Process Map
Brainstorming is critical for understanding your process. No matter how well you know your procedures and protocols, it’s important to start by considering the process from beginning to end. Think about every document, form, and contact that is included. Examine each step individually and in relation to one another. This is a great time to get into the details a bit.
For example, which tasks can be done in parallel and which must be handled sequentially? Account for the flaws and cultural “steps” in your system as well. For example, if your organization routinely gets worried about deadlines after a certain task is completed, record it. It could be important. Make sure to challenge everyone involved in the brainstorming session to identify areas for improvement.
Step Two: Observe Behavior Relative to the Process Map
Once the first brainstorming session is complete, spend some time observing your organization. When an action is taken, consider how it relates to your process map: Is your map accurately summarizing the behavior? Is it missing a piece? Is it exaggerating any particular step? This is your chance to make sure you are on track to an effective workflow.
While observing behavior, consider alternative choices. For example, a client might choose to delegate an approval to a team specialist. Therefore, consider specifying a protocol for delegating an approval within your workflow. This will make your processes more consistent and allow you to eliminate wasted email chains or phone calls.
Step Three: Finalize Your Process Map
Once you have brainstormed your processes and had time to consider it from a different perspective, place it on a whiteboard visible to the whole team. Leave it on this board for a while and encourage team members to leave notes or ideas on the board for consideration. This way, everyone is involved in the process.
Once everyone has had a chance to make recommendations, seriously consider each one. Even if a recommended action is impractical in itself, it will help you better understand potential areas for improvement in the process overall. For example, an employee may claim there are too many meetings in a particular process flow. While each meeting is too important to simply cut out, you may consider ways to combine a few meetings or cut back on required attendees.
Step Four: Build Your Workflow
Here comes the fun! Build your workflow in your workflow automation software utilizing the workflow designer. Make sure you have all of your forms, documents, and policies on hand. The process will go much smoother if you know exactly what you want and have the pieces ready to go.
Once you’ve created the workflow in the software, run a test of the workflow by yourself. You may have missed an item or made an error during creation, and creating a few tasks and running them from start to completion will help catch these in the upfront. Once you finish, test the process with other colleagues. From there, take feedback, make tweaks, and optimize the system.
Step Five: Educate and Launch
It’s (finally) time to implement your workflow! But it’s not enough to just hit the “go” button. You’ve got to make sure your team understands the new system and why it was implemented. Host a few workshops to go over the process from at a high level and with a few examples. Additionally, let your team know that they can come to you for a one-on-one session to go over their specific components within the workflow. Make sure everyone knows about the change at least two weeks before implementation to ensure a clean transition.
Step Six: Post-Launch
At first, there will be the growing pains of a new system. It is entirely commonplace for team members to misuse the new system or for there to be miscommunications. In the early days, hold fast to the new process. Give it time to marinate and settle in. Often, those who are new to something reject it simply because it is different. Once they get more familiar it, they will adjust and likely be happy that they did.
With that in mind, it’s important to listen to criticisms and suggestions. Just as your business is always growing and changing, your workflow should be evolving to match it.
As stated earlier, there’s one thing we know for sure: Workflows are here to make your life easier. Good ones make complex procedures crystal clear, while bad ones pollute already murky waters.
If you’re building a workflow, make sure to follow these steps. Remember: Workflows make your life easier, not harder. So put the time in now to ensure you’ve got the best processes in place.