Workflow seems one of those informal terms that should be pretty self explanatory - like timeshare or throwback. But actually, workflow is an formal management term with its own definition in the Oxford English Dictionary:
workflow /ˈwəːkfləʊ noun 1. The sequence of industrial, administrative, or other processes through which a piece of work passes from initiation to completion.
You might be thinking, “oh yeah, I’m already doing that”. And you’re not wrong - if you run a business, manage a department, or execute in the field, you’re part of a workflow. But what we’re talking about is the formal workflow document and, more importantly, the process of creating it.
At Aimsio, we have to be pretty obsessed with workflows to make sure our product works well for our clients. Over the years we’ve spent hours in scoping meetings, breaking down the steps to understand how a company executes their business. Once we get started on the process of documenting the workflow, it’s common to discover simple ways to streamline the steps.
Let’s take a look at the ins and outs of workflows:
A workflow is the progression of steps that occur to get stuff done. The steps can be a task, paperwork, or a meeting. Workflows span from the office to sites in the field. Some steps are sequential and dependent on each other - some can happen at the same time. Every business has a unique workflow, like a fingerprint, so there’s no off-the-shelf template to use.
Ok, if you’ve been operating without analyzing your workflow all this time, you might be wondering, “Why take a look now?” If it ain’t broke...
We get it. The are so many competing demands involved with running a business - it’s difficult to get the chance to take a high-level look at your workflow. But, in our experience, amazing things happen when we need a client to spell out how they operate and it is so worth it. They experience one aha moment after another. A virtual aha party, if you will. Documenting a workflow often leads to gains in these crucial areas:
- Retain operational knowledge
- Onboard new hires faster and easier
It also is a great time to address any pain points - from the high-level perspective, sometimes solutions are more obvious.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but start at the beginning. What triggers the work to start? What forms are involved? While we’re on the subject of paperwork - it’s an ideal time to make sure the flow of paper in your workflow is smooth. Working with forms is our favorite part because it’s kind of our mission to digitize them all. Muahaha. We often see redundancies or antiquated practices that no one realized was clogging up their flow. Heck, we’ve even seen a dot-matrix printer or two.
The key to the “how” step is asking the right questions:
- What is the job exactly?
- What is the desired outcome?
- Who is responsible?
- How does it link to the next step?
- Can it be improved?
- Is it adding value?
The Who (Not the band, though)
It’s really important to have someone from every department take part and not just managers. The really good stuff always comes from the workers: whether they are executing in the field, or entering timesheets in the office, they’ll have first-hand input on what works and what causes problems.
Getting departments together has its advantages, too. It can be the first time that grade foreman Ted realizes Donna in accounts payable isn’t trying to drive him crazy, and Donna finally understands that Ted isn’t deliberately evading her requests. In fact, between the two of them, they may figure out that vendors could email invoices directly to Donna - cutting out a step and reducing lag. Win-win.
It can help to have a third party involved as well. Maybe the IT guy has noticed a few things or perhaps you bring in a management consultant. Or maybe it’s Aimsio. Part of our job is to streamline workflows, so we have a clear vision of where we’re going, and how to get there.
The sooner, the better. The construction industry has struggled to find ways to increase efficiency for decades. However, opportunities do exist - we’ve seen how embracing technology can have a big impact. At Aimsio, we specialize in minimizing gaps between the office and field crews. A big part of what we do is automating workflows so that one step seamlessly leads to another. Aimsio software can be implemented up to three times faster than similar companies, so our clients start seeing better margins very quickly.