BUSINESS WORKFLOW BASICS

Workflow is simply about ensuring the right information is in front of the right people at the right time. 

So how do you recognise and take advantage of the benefits of a workflow solution? Our Managing Director Hamish Howard breaks it down. 


“I’ll repeat myself to try and point out what we see as obvious logic –  if you don’t have the right information, in front of the right people at the right time in your business, then by definition your business doesn’t have good workflow.”

Demystifying Workflow is our goal

Confusing lingo is one of the many ‘gifts’ the business management and consulting industry have showered on companies over the years, and a particular favourite is ‘workflow’.  Quite simply, automated workflow systems are about transforming the way companies operate.

Next to staff, workflow and documentation management is quickly becoming recognised as the lifeblood of a well managed business – a good workflow solution gets management consultants all excited by facilitating the rapid flow of information, breaking down barriers between people and processes, and boosting productivity.

SO WHAT IS WORKFLOW?

At its most basic level workflow is just the fancy schmancy name for GSD (Getting Sh*t Done) in an efficient manner.  Expanding on that very relatable definition we turn to the oracle that is Google for something a bit more official – “Workflow: the sequence of industrial, administrative, or other processes through which a piece of work passes from initiation to completion”.

So if you pick that apart you can see it’s about a ‘start to finish’ process for moving work (documents, requests, ideas, paper, etc.) through an entity.

Enough of the definitions! Why should you devote valuable intellectual horsepower to considering a management consulting term like workflow?

WHY WORKFLOW?

The obvious commercial imperative in workflow is that good workflow saves time and money and enhances the customer experience.  Bad workflow achieves the opposite.  This statement should attract the attention of the money people, the people people, the operations people, the selling stuff people, and the doing-the-actual-work people.

I didn’t even make the above stuff up and have actual research to back it up.  You can read it here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/cost-savings-higher-productivity-why-arent-nz-listening-hamish-howard

Companies who’ve both invested in an automated workflow platform and realised its potential reckon these are some of the benefits:

  • Improved collaboration between people and teams
  • Fewer errors
  • Shorter response times
  • Less manual intervention
  • Greater visibility throughout the organisation leading to better decision making
  • Increased general efficiency

All of the above help to eliminate bottlenecks – another great management term meaning those things preventing actions or progress are identified and eliminated with a good Workflow system.  Then managers are provided with real-time analytics that provide valuable data which can help identify further improvements to productivity.

Staff can also be involved in this and are often great innovators when armed with the correct information and the opportunity to put forward better ways of working.

“Workflow automation streamlines manual and paper-based business processes so teams can spend their time concentrating on important, as opposed to redundant, tasks – ultimately improving a company’s bottom line.”

So hopefully the following tips of what to look for in a workflow system are ones you can relate to your work, or in the experiences you’ve had as a consumer of services and how well the process “flowed”.

After all, as that wise Chinese chap Confucius said – “I hear and I forget.  I see and I remember.  I do and I understand”.

THE ESSENTIAL THINGS TO LOOK FOR IN A WORKFLOW PLATFORM

When choosing the right workflow platform, there are a few key elements that need to be there so the system’s potential can be maximised.  Kick to the curb anything calling itself a workflow solution unless it has these essentials:

  1. Reporting and management

 Management should have a complete overview of the organisation and what is happening at any time – looking through a “single pane of glass” , to use management speak. This means reporting and management tools should also be readily available to identify where improvement is needed, provide instant access to relevant policy, guidelines and advice, and to quickly respond to customer needs and industry conditions.

Such data and insights will provide you with areas that are both performing and others where attention is needed. Boards particularly like the information a good workflow platform can provide on various returns on investment such as those from IT etc.  This prevents a favourite phrase of governance leaders over the years – “IT managers – sneaky!”  But I digress…

  1. Consistency

 An effective workflow management system should provide a consistent set of processes that are implemented at all levels of your organisation. This means actions are repeatable and performed by the right person at the right time.

For example, the Ministry of Education used Assura Workflow to create an automated system to identify, manage and monitor referrals from more than 2000 schools. Information relating to an individual student including incidences of truancy, follow-up actions and referrals are now easily found – ensuring processes and procedures are correctly and consistently followed.  Bad luck, kids.

  1. Usability

 A workflow system platform needs to be designed and applied so that everyone, regardless of technical ability, can understand and competently use it.  It should reflect and support the culture, not dictate it. This also means this more intuitive way of working is more likely to be accepted and even appreciated by the team.

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) have worked with Assura to install an easily accessible and centralised tool so it now provides faster, accurate and consistent information to customers. NZTA staff have since adopted it as ‘their’ system, named it personally,  and now consider it much more than a mere administration tool. “Savage”, as my 12 year old would say.

  1. Configurability

 There is little value in implementing a platform that is not easily adaptable to your specific business and unique requirements. Forget about trying to stuff system square pegs into workplace round holes.  Just as your business may grow and change, so will your workflow needs. Your platform needs to be flexible enough to handle any prospective procedural changes without delay or expensive add-ons down the track.  Do your bit to prevent a future finger-wagging finance manager!


At Assura we keep things simple – that’s more than just a reflection on the guy leading it. That means less of the ‘geek speak’ and more of the practical tools and knowledge that allow you to focus on the things that matter. Talk to us about demystifying the workflow challenge, and download our top tips for great workflow whitepaper.