January 8th, 2014 • workflow
Do you love the thought of making huge strategic decisions in an instant over a coffee break? Or would you rather build and program a great system that can handle your organization’s challenges for years to come? Do you care if you know how many reams of paper you ordered last week (because you know the answer was one)? Or would you spend half a day examining the impact of sending out couriered documents twice a day instead of once?
There is no right answer to these questions. Every person is in a different context that determines what is most important.
But sometimes our context changes without us knowing…
Here are four states of Workflow Management your organization might be in. Which one sounds the most like you?
A Bubble Workflow is when everything happens within a bubble. There aren’t clear lines of hierarchy, and everyone has access to everyone else. There are no forms, no written approvals, no gatekeepers – just conversations.
Bubble workflows are common when:
You could see Bubble Workflows in small organizations when an employee can walk up to his manager to get an oral approval for requests. It can also take place in large organizations when the process involved is non-critical. If you need the conference room, you have to call Bob at administration. You don’t fill a form, you don’t talk to your manager, you just call Bob.
In this state, there is a high amount of mutual trust and flexibility in exchange for virtually no traceability. Things just get done.
As organizations grow, they develop processes to address or prevent errors. Let’s say that Bob let you in the conference room for a sales call, but fifteen minutes later, the executive team walks in for an impromptu meeting. Now, Bob requires you to send him an email to reserve the room ahead of time and he keeps a spreadsheet of who is using it.
In this state, the ‘departmentalization’ of the organization begins and each one needs its own processes and workflows. Finance puts in place a process for budget approvals; Procurement establishes a process for ordering inventory; HR starts tracking vacation approvals.
Communication and process step completion are still informal like the previous state, but people are trying to implement a standard process at least. The need for liaising between departments becomes important.
Before, if Dave from Engineering wanted a new laptop, he just told everyone and used the company card. Now, he puts in a request to Katie in Finance, who checks the budgets and cash flow. Katie then sends a request to Rob in Procurement to get the laptop to Dave.
As these processes continue to grow, bottlenecks start to appear. Dave ends up spending 30 minutes of every day trying to track down where his laptop request is and how to move it along. Katie has to prioritize all the new requests coming to her and she starts looking for someone else to help her sort through them. Email usage exponentially grows and people begin to get used to starting the day with a triple digit unread count.
At this point, people like Katie, start looking at a workflow management system. They may start with a Google or Wufoo form. Katie experiments with an electronic form for all purchase requests so that she can start tracking the data and examine where the holes in the budget can be plugged.
Now Dave doesn’t have to start every day calling Katie. He just submits the online form and it goes directly to someone from Katie’s team who quickly cross checks it with the budget before approving. Her workflow management system automatically sends the approved request to Rob and his team to get the laptop, and Dave can check in on the process himself.
Organizations in this state value traceability, transparency, and the structure of the workflow. People start to get replaced by roles. It’s not Katie who approves requests any longer; it’s Finance.
As a workflow management system matures, patterns begin to emerge. For example, in the manufacturing context, if the shop floor runs out of a certain raw material, Finance doesn’t need to approve the purchase every time because it is expected. They only get involved if there is an usual change to the pattern.
This is characteristic of a Fully Automated Workflow Management System. Business roles are replaced by pre-configured computer algorithms, and human intervention is required only when there is some abnormality involved. This can be applied to many mature functions in your business, even down to automatically scheduling tasks when a Board Meeting is set like cleaning the conference room, ordering lunch, and producing reports.
So which workflow state is best for you? Are you good with Bubble Workflows for now, or do you need to start creating some processes? Do you need to grab data from those processes, or are they non-critical? Do you have mature processes that you can predict a series of typical requests and approvals without any need for human intervention?
If you are ready to start to see the power of creating your own workflows, try a free 14-day trial of Kissflow and see if it may be time to step into a new state!