When discussing the benefits of workflow, a great deal of focus is placed on standardization, optimization, and automation, with good reason. These are the building blocks of business process improvement (BPI) and workflow and productivity enablement solutions.
During these discussions, one word always seems to be missing: customization. One fact is routinely overlooked when discussing how workflow and BPI increase capacity and support growth: workflow needs to be customized to achieve maximum ROI.
Customized doesn’t mean taking an out of the box solution, tweaking a couple of checklists, and calling it done. It means assessing each of your major department components and functions to streamline, optimize, and standardize processes. As an example, let’s consider an accounting firm.
This firm is heavily tax-focused with a tax-focused workflow. While the workflow has improved efficiency and increased capacity, the tax practice is running into an issue. Because the workflow was designed around the individual tax team, the corporate tax team is unable to realize the same levels of visibility, control, accountability, and flexibility.
The corporate tax team has been forced to implement manual workarounds, ignore alerts, and utilize trackers outside the workflow system. There are complaints of delays and not knowing the status of projects – no one knows where to go for the information. Due to inaccurate and incomplete workflow reports, the corporate tax group has started sending daily team-wide status update requests via email.
In an attempt to combat these issues, corporate-specific tasks were added to the individual tax workflow, co-mingling requirements, and creating additional steps for the individual tax team. Now, both the individual and corporate teams are suffering from productivity decreases and complaints of irrelevant tasks.
While the firm I am describing is fictitious, its struggles are not. Each of the issues I described has come from challenges experienced by our implementation team. From multiple Excel spreadsheets on multiple drives with incomplete data, to irrelevant and inaccurate control sheet information, to co-mingled tasks, they’ll tell you they’ve seen it all. And they’ll also tell you that to fix this problem, you need to categorize and customize your workflow.
Realizing that your organization is having similar challenges? Start customizing your workflow with modifications in these areas:
- Categories. Assess each department and what major functions occur within them. Assign separate categories to each major function. If your existing workflow solution doesn’t provide you with this flexibility, contact their product development team, and ask when that feature will be available. Or, take a look at XCM’s workflow solution, which allows for up to 20 different categories.
- Workflow. Each of the categories created should have a unique workflow. If you have an existing workflow, use that as a building block.
- Task Lists. Separate the task lists by category rather than having lists with co-mingled tasks to increase productivity.
- Control Sheets. Follow the same logic as the task list bullet when separating the sections by category, and ensure that only relevant information appears.
- Reports. After implementing the changes listed out above, run all available reports for each category to ensure that only relevant information for that category is included.
If you couldn’t tell, each of the actions in Workflow, Task Lists, Control Sheets, and Reports all come back to the category. Without customization on the major function, or category, level you’ll have everything co-mingled, and much like our poor accounting firm, see less than maximum workflow ROI.
There seems to be an assumption that workflow is plug and play; purchase a workflow solution, install it, and voila! Instant productivity increase. Does this happen? Every day. Are organizations seeing productivity increases? Absolutely. Would these same organizations see additional benefits by customizing their workflow? Without a doubt, there is growth potential left on the table.
Especially in turbulent times like this, why would you leave potential profit on the table? Make no mistake; that’s what’s happening when your organization chooses not to make a change that can increase productivity.