Thare are three key goals when automating a workflow. Provide consistency: First, we want to provide consistency. Lack of consistency in how a task should be performed often leads to confusion. Different people develop different ways of handling the same task and you get inconsistent results. Maybe some of the required data is being missed. Maybe steps are being skipped. If the workflow is not clearly defined, the outcome of the process is uncertain. Any task that is performed regularly should be performed the same way by each time. Optimize your efficiency: Providing consistency goes hand in hand with optimizing efficiency. When your employees aren’t spending time trying to figure out how to perform their tasks, their time is more productive. When a task is not performed consistently, at some point in the process, the information will need to be normalized. Someone is getting stuck filling in the gaps, chasing down the information, figuring out where a task has gotten hung up. For our documentation process, that person was me. I would spend time scrolling through a huge spreadsheet, looking for documents that should be moving forward in the workflow, emailing and IMing the people who were working on the documents to find out why a document had not been completed. With an automated process, the same data is being provided, the same steps are always completed, and time is saved. Another bonus to automating workflows is that, during the workflow review and analysis phase, bottlenecks in the process are clearly identified. Clear those bottlenecks and efficiency improves. All of these steps lead to faster response time which equals better service to your clients. Reduce errors: Manual processes often mean manual hand-offs and that can lead to missed tasks. Someone overlooks an email, doesn’t check their voicemail, accidentally buries the Post-It note on their desk, etc. Or the task is given to the wrong person. Automated processes move tasks automatically to the correct next step. Automated processes also generate notifications of a pending tasks which reduces overlooked tasks. Tasks that don’t move ahead are still clearly visible in the work queue, signaling that there is still work to be done. These are the three main goals of workflow automation. Let’s talk about some of the things to watch out for while designing a workflow.
Analyzing workflows for possible automation provides the opportunity to solve current workflow problems and improve processes that you didn’t realize needed improvement. For instance, workflows designed early in an organization’s lifetime should be reevaluated as the organization evolves. Roles and responsibilities may have changed enough that the old workflow process may be hindering productivity. Also, when new resources are added, their impact on the workflow should be analyzed to see if a process review is in order. New technology combined with an outmoded process can be an ineffective use of resources. There are things to watch out for during the workflow design process: If it’s a manual process, consider how to avoid duplication of effort (more than one person performing the same task because they are unaware that both of them are doing the same thing) and potential delays caused by miscommunication. For an automated process, beware over-designing to the point that the process gets bogged down. Sure, it’s going to be great to be able to capture all kinds of data you never could before, but think about how burdensome that data collection will be. I’ve seen processes that start with so many fields that must be filled out - some of the fields asking for information that it’s impossible to know that early in the workflow - that people start to avoid the process altogether. Or, they’re told to just fill out the bare minimum and come back later to update this information once they know it. That never happens. No one is going to come back after their part of the task is done to make sure all the fields were filled out as accurately as possible. Once they are past that step, they are done. So, what are our ultimate goals when we are automating workflows?
First of all, we want to reduce duplication of efforts by making it clear who is responsible for each part of the process. Then, we look at simplifying the process. We want to focus on the core data and simplify the form being used to collect this information. We develop the workflow to avoid delays generated by manual processes. We want to remove those manual hand-offs that lead to tasks getting overlooked - those missing emails and buried Post-It notes. If there are approval points in the process, are there times when they can be automated? We look at enhancing data collection. How can we make the data collection consistent? What data do we want to be able to analyze? When we follow all of these points, we reduce errors. Reduced errors save time. It improves service to your clients, whether the process affects external clients or internal clients. The bottom line is, with a well-designed workflow process, you save money.
Which brings us to Red Badge’s experience with automating our own workflows. We aim to provide excellent service to our customers in the most cost-effective way possible. Turning the magnifying glass on ourselves: When we looked closer, we realized our documentation process was not meeting those goals. We have a documentation team and anyone of us can request a document be written, can write that document or can edit a document for someone else on the team. Then, our documents are passed along for a final edit and approval before being delivered to the client. With our manual process, we were tracking all of our documents via a spreadsheet. The person who wrote the document would add it to the spreadsheet and then send an email to the team asking for an edit. The document might be passed back and forth for editing before an email was sent to the final editor notifying him that a document was ready for approval. Again, an email would be sent to the team to notify us when the document could be delivered. So, every step was requiring someone to send an email and then go to the spreadsheet to update it with the latest information about where that document was in the process. Recognizing when a process needs improving: We realized this process was not working for a number of reasons: There was no indication that a document had been started. It wasn’t logged on our spreadsheet until it was ready for editing. Tasks getting dropped when emails were overlooked. Documents piled up. People were forgetting to update the spreadsheet. And no data capturing happened automatically. The only way to get metrics was to spend a lot of time gathering information by hand. And that’s what I did. I spent time with that spreadsheet trying to figure out how much the process was breaking down.
Our preferred completion time for documents is within 10 days. Any document not completed within 10 days wastes time. There’s backtracking to figure out why this document is still sitting here. We have to re-edit and fact-check it to make sure it is still accurate. This is time for which employees have to be paid but clients can’t be billed. Documents that don’t move forward in a timely manner cost us money. Once we extracted the data from our spreadsheet, we found that only 64% of our documents were being completed within 10 days. Fourteen percent were taking between 11 and 20 days. This wasn’t ideal. But a full 22% of our documents were taking over 20 days to complete. That was a huge waste of time and money. More than one third of the documentss in our pre-automation world were outside our targeted range. We clearly needed an automated workflow process to better control our documentation delivery.
Our first step was to analyze the old process and diagram a new workflow: We looked at the steps we were following currently and determined what the core functions of that workflow were. Then we thought about what functions were truly required to complete the task and what kind of data we wanted to collect along the way. I realized our manual process was missing the beginning of the process - we had no information on who requested a document and when. There was no information on when that task had been picked up. It missed the request and writing portion of the process. Our manual process tracked only the editing portion of the workflow, so our data was incomplete. Next, we decided which workflow system to use: We needed a tool that was scaleable for our processes and projects and would deliver the functionality we required. Once Andy found KiSSFLOW, we could start building a process. Build the process: I took the workflow process diagram and built a KiSSFLOW process to match. Along the way, as we tested, I learned how to take better advantage of the KiSSFLOW functions and adjusted our workflow accordingly. For instance, I learned that the fields that were completed in a previous step should be left editable, because sometimes we needed to go back and update information as document requirements changed. I also learned that, if I wanted to control the type of data we were collecting, I needed to limit the free form text fields. Free form text fields invite nonconformity which hampered data collection sometimes. The good thing was that any drop-down choice lists could be rapidly updated as needed. Train our employees: Once the process was built and tested, I unveiled it to the rest of the company during an hour-long screen-sharing demo. They weren’t just learning the new process; they were learning KiSSFLOW - how to initiate tasks, how to track them, what data they can see; then I taught them specifically how this new process worked and what the email notifications looked like. Provide support and documentation: Written instructions on how to fill out each step in the workflow process was provided. As the initial tasks were being created and moved through the process, I answered LOTS of questions. Some questions were basic “how do I?” and other questions were “where did that task go?” or “how can I tell it’s moved forward in the process?” It didn’t take long to settle down to a routine. Any time a new document is needed, we “KiSSFLOW” it.
Integrated seamlessly with Google Drive: We were starting a major documentation project that was being done exclusively with Google Docs. This integration was a huge plus. Hunting down of documents went away. The document was attached to the task. Simplified process design: The KiSSFLOW process creation tool stepped me through each phase of the design. I could go back and forth between the steps, and revise the process as needed during testing. One day, I had been sharing my screen with a coworker and he saw me building a process in KiSSFLOW. He exclaimed that I was getting to do the fun part! It’s true. The process creation tool is definitely the fun part. Centralized and standardized data: The fields we needed were already part of the KiSSFLOW process. It was just a matter of picking what type of data we were collecting. Provided metrics: The Reports function made it possible to quickly review the data we were collecting. It really brought home how labor intensive our manual process was when it came to measuring our performance. Responsive support: And any time a question arose during the process design and implementation, KiSSFLOW support responded quickly and kept my workflow automation project moving forward.
As I covered earlier, our manual process was leading to almost a third of our documents being completed outside our goal time frame of 10 days. After automating our documentation editing process, the number of documents produced outside the 10 day range dropped significantly. We were now producing 85% of our documents within 10 days. The number of documents taking between 11 and 20 days had been reduced to 10% and only 5% of our documents were taking over 20 days to deliver. I still wasn’t happy with any documents falling outside 20 days, but after looking closer at those particular tasks, each one had been delayed based on client requests. A combination of smart internal consulting – applying our own workflow expertise to our internal process, plus choosing the right tool lead to a major improvement in our performance. We were saving money. Our employees were happier because I wasn’t nagging them all the time about documents not being completed, and we had satisfied customers receiving documentation in a timely manner.
Why You Should Automate Workflows by Red Badge Consulting - A KiSSFLOW Community Initiative
Why on Earth Should I
Automate My Workflows?
A webinar to discuss the need for automating
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Why Automate Your
Perils and Pitfalls
in Workflow Design
Multiple failure points in
processes impede work
of Workflow Automation
Avoid delays in
From Service Provider
Turning the magnifying
glass on ourselves
Recognizing when a process