Workflow Analysis Shoots Holes in Your Business Processes

Arunkumar Balakrishnan

October 19th, 2017 workflow  

You’ve created your own automated workflow. Great.

Now what?

There’s no point setting up a workflow unless you know the benefits you are going to get and how you can improve it. Workflows that are never examined get stale quickly and become part of a legacy system.

However, if you have hard data and feedback from stakeholders, you can use workflow analysis to find several easy ways to improve on what you already have.

What is Workflow Analysis?

Workflow analysis is breaking down the flow of tasks in a process and looking at how they perform in the real world. When you first create a workflow, you design it as you think it should be. Workflow analysis gives you the chance to see how it really functions and what changes you may need to make. Using workflow analysis, you can effectively gather the data required to analyze and inspect a workflow process completely.

Workflow Analysis

Here are a few steps to help you do your own workflow analysis.

Step 1: Collect Hard Data

Take a report of the workflow you want to examine. Analyse the statistics and see which ones are performing as required and which ones aren’t.

What kind of data do you need? Start with this list:

  • Number of items in that workflow initiated over a period of time
  • Number of items completed
  • Number of items rejected
  • Average, min, and max time is taken to complete each task
  • Number of times a task is sent back or rejected
  • Number of times an item requires extra clarification

Let’s take an expense report workflow as an example. Looking back over the last month, you may find that you had 68 expense reports submitted and 55 had been completed, but none rejected. You have a four-step workflow: initiator, manager approval, department head approval (for reports over $1,000), and finance processing. The average time for finance processing to complete is just 6 hours, and the department head approval is 4 hours.

However, there’s a lot of chaos at the manager approver task as the average time is 3 days. Delving in further, you see that most tasks are completed within a day, but there are several items that have been pending for more than a week.

Look for workflow analysis tools that can give you all of this information.

Step 2: Collect Soft Data

To further your workflow analysis, you need more than just numbers. Now you need to go and talk to the people who use the workflow tool most frequently. Start with those who fill out the form.

Your sales team is responsible for 80% of the expense report submissions, so you talk to them about their thoughts on the workflow. Are they pleased with the ease of the form? Do they have any complaints about submitting their requests or their reimbursements not getting approved on time?

Suppose, your Sales VP says he loves being able to quickly zip through approvals on his phone and doesn’t have to worry about logging in to a system. The Finance people also say they are happy and have everything they need; most of the sales managers are also satisfied. But what if a few among them complain that they don’t have all the data they need to approve the request. They send emails to the sales reps to get more details, but it usually takes time to get a response.

This is an extremely important information when performing your workflow analysis. Workflow analysis tools usually only focus on the hard data, so this gives you a chance to take your analysis to the next level.

Step 3: Ask the Hard Questions

The next step of workflow analysis is to really ask the questions that guide the workflow. What is its purpose? Who is it supposed to serve? What defines a good process? Some workflows are created to minimize errors. Others are meant to speed up the process.

In our example, the workflow exists because the Sales VP felt she was spending too much time approving expense reports through emails. She also wanted a better alternative to ensure accuracy and speed of processing.

When you keep the big picture in mind as you are doing workflow analysis, you can ask questions like:

  • Is this step really needed?
  • Can it be converted from an approval to a notification?
  • Does everyone have enough data to perform their task?
  • How can we bring in more automation?

Going back to the earlier example, a few expense reports might not be making it through on time because one sales manager feels that there is certain data lacking. The sales manager isn’t using the workflow system correctly and rather than sending items back to the person through the system, he is sending emails.

The best solution to fix this problem is by making changes to the workflow form so that the manager feels he has everything he needs (perhaps adding a new parameter or making a field mandatory) and also providing some refresher training on the system.

Using a combination of workflow analysis tools and in-person conversations, you can come up with the right solution.

Step 4: Implement the Changes and Follow Up

Once you’ve identified all the changes that came from your workflow analysis, implement them in your system. Notify all stakeholders of any change, and let them know if there will be any downtime, or how to handle items in the middle of a changed workflow.

Workflow analysis isn’t just a good way of identifying if there are any changes that need to be done with a workflow. You can also prepare useful reports and see which workflows and which aspects of a particular workflow are helping your organization grow.

Great workflow analysis tools ensure that you can get all the data that you need to perform the analysis. A good tool helps you identify which processes are running smoothly and which need work. Using that information, you can move ahead and find out where to make changes and where not to.

All the best for your workflow analysis!

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