Of Dirt Roads and Workflows

Shivasankari Bhuvaneswaran

May 30th, 2018 workflow  

What is your business?

Is it the people? A group of people might as well just be a social club.

It is a product? No, that’s just what you sell.

Elon Musk says a business is “a group of people pursuing a goal”. If you take a deep look into what your organization actually does, what do you see?

Movement. A whole lot of it.

Things move from one place to another. Raw materials start at a point and move through conveyor belts until your product is produced. Data starts from one section and moves to all respective stakeholders, to help them achieve your business goals. At the end of the day, all this movement drives your business in the right direction.

Workflow Process

Now let’s get back to the question. What is your business?

At its heart, every business is the sum of all this movement. Those small movements of your business units, and the choices made by your stakeholders, matter. But, what about the roads that facilitate all this movement? The stream that keeps things flowing from one place to another?

Those are your workflows.

What Are Workflows?

Just imagine the state of your business without the roads to make movement convenient. Everything halts in its tracks. Your people sit around idly on remote islands, and your data slowly decays. Without a sturdy bridge or even a dirt road to connect them with each other, there will be no movement, or progress.

So, workflows are your business.

In a nutshell, your business is not just the people, products, and data, but also the roads that connect them all.

Without movement, your business doesn’t operate. The people-and-system gap widens, and eventually, things start to fall apart. Workflows are the bridges and roadways that connect the stakeholders and your business units with each other. They are critical to every business, whether it is an SMB or an enterprise.

Managing Workflows Manually

Most workflows are handled manually. This means that, in order to a material or data to get to the next stage of processing, it must be pushed or carried there. This could be in the form of walking a paper form over to someone’s desk, or sending an email. If it’s manual, then the last person who touched it is responsible for getting it to the next stage.

This is like building dirt roads from one place to another and giving someone a bucket full of data and a good pair of walking shoes. Data can get to the next phase this way, but it sure takes a lot of work to make this happen.

Some roads don’t have proper signs to let someone know where the data is supposed to go. Sometimes, when the person gets to the next stop, they find out they brought the wrong bucket, or there’s something missing.

Eventually, the buckets start mounting up, or get stacked in the wrong places because it’s too much work to figure out.

When manual workflows are mismanaged, you might:

  • Cause communication gaps
  • Skip critical steps
  • Miss deadlines
  • Delay deliverables
  • Offer unauthorized access
  • Increase data redundancy

Myths About Workflow Management

If workflows are so central to a business, why are they so hard to follow and travel on? Why don’t organizations manage them better?

To start, there are a lot of long-held beliefs about workflows that we need to get over.

  1. Workflows have to be manual

For many people in the office, the concept of digitizing a workflow is as foreign as trying to digitize a piece of paper in the 1950s. Using a word processor to create a document seemed unthinkable at the time. Many have the same hangup with workflows now.

  1. Manual workflows are fine

Adopting an ‘It ain’t broke so don’t fix it’ mentality, and assuming any and all challenges are ‘just part of life’, only makes the problem worse.

  1. Our processes are dynamic

Things change so often and contexts are so unique, that doing anything other than manual workflows would be impossible.

  1. Workflow management solutions are expensive

Ten to twenty years ago, only large enterprises could afford tools that would update workflows. Today, the cost of technology has come down drastically. HBR’s employee review claims that lack of proper technological solutions can cost organizations almost $350 million annually.

Solving the Workflow Problem

Back to our road example, when disconnected communities with bad roads and signs complain that they can’t get where they need to go, what do you do?

  • Blame the people for being lazy?
  • Write up a long instruction manual that people must carry as they travel down the road on foot?
  • Give them a super-fast scooter to zoom down the shoddy dirt road filled with potholes?

Or do you upgrade the roads?

Why Use Workflow Management Systems?

Imagine if, instead of the road system, a train came to pick up your bucket as soon as you were ready to send it. You place the bucket on the train, and it automatically analyzes it to make sure it is complete and calculates where the next stop is.

Sound like something out of science fiction? Well, that is exactly what workflow management systems do.

Workflow management softwares automate repetitive manual processes to help businesses improve their overall efficiency and productivity.

The system can be programmed with the right contextual logic to know exactly where to go at any point of time. If a bucket gets rejected, it can zoom back to the point in the workflow where it needs to be fixed.

No one has to remember where to go anymore, and the entire process is mapped out.

On top of that, a workflow management tool will give your buckets a big upgrade too. You can collect any type of data (text, currency, tables, images, attachments, location, signatures, etc.) and the bucket will even shrink and morph to only show the relevant data depending on who’s looking at it.  

And one of the best parts is that with a simple click, anyone in your system can check on the status of any bucket. Administrators can even make edits from afar.

Features of a Workflow Management System

Here are the features that every workflow management system must have:

  • Auto-update and synchronize with a cloud-based database
  • Track, record, and monitor every step in the workflow
  • Provide an audit trail and role-based access to ensure security
  • Easy-to-use with drag-and-drop features
  • Seamless integration with third-party applications
  • Inbuilt reporting engine and interactive dashboard

Benefits of Implementing a Workflow Management System

Contrary to popular belief, workflow management systems do much more than cost-cutting and automating routine tasks. A solid workflow management tool:

  • Improves visibility
  • Highlights redundant processes
  • Improves accuracy
  • Reduces process time
  • Enhances flexibility
  • Facilitates collaboration

Summary

If your business is still using dirt roads to connect workflows, you are at a severe disadvantage. Making your team travel down dilapidated pathways every time is tiresome, time-consuming, and costly. Upgrading your infrastructure to an automated system has incredible benefits and comes at a cost that you can’t pass up.

Try a tool like KiSSFLOW to automate a single process in your company, and see what kinds of benefits you find. When you start to see the difference it makes, you’ll realize how essential workflows are to your business, and (probably) want to make a total makeover.