The Discipline of Workflow Schedule Management

Business operations seemed more chaotic than ever.  The economic swings seem bigger; the labor pool is tighter, more diverse, and more geographically dispersed; the amount of information is enormous; and at the end of the day management has just become darn harder.

What is a manager to do?

Keeping Everyone’s Eye on the Prize

Knowing the objective and motivating all the moving parts in a coordinated fashion has never been easy, whether in the battlefield, sports field, or on the business floor.  Add the distractions and information deluge presented to employees today and it’s easy to believe keeping projects “tight” and completing them on time can be very trying.

Micromanagement Versus Freedom Management

The effectiveness of previous approaches, especially when overseeing organizational workflows, differs considerable.  But the constant has, until most recently, been the management of corporate employees who resided in, or mostly resided in, a business office.  This has changed.

Remote workers means keeping the pieces together now requires additional skills, including scheduling and operating through virtual meetings, considerably more telephone and text communications, and reliance on secure access to centralized company systems.

Adding to management complexity have been uncertainties in supply chain operations and the availability of applicable staffing.  Not having required resources when needed, or trained staff, complicates workflow management, forcing managers to reform historical processes, schedules, and even responsibilities.

This has required a slightly different management process to ensure project and workflow progress and completion.

So, what are Managers to Do?

The current sub-optimal environment requires a slightly different approach to getting daily processes performed effectively and on schedule.  We call this “management by guardrail.”  As we figure out the new management landscape, the management oversight of major workflows needs to change to a greater sense of pushing processes back to the “line” as deviations, delays, modifications, and resource change outs occur.

By consistently nudging the process back to normal, workflows can continue to be managed towards successful and timely outcomes. The issue is knowing when the process is significantly deviating and in need of corrective actions.

Technology Can Help

Better focused organizations adopted systems to aid in designing, monitoring, managing, reporting, and analyzing workflows.  Using a workflow management solution to execute these organizational workflows provides managers with real benefits:

  • Definition of participant roles and the ability to assign individuals to those roles
  • Identification of task requirements such that participants are clear what efforts are needed to be completed and opportunities to reach out to other workflow participants online, for further clarification
  • Identification of a clear schedule, with milestones and dates and times, with an easy option to escalate or reprioritize tasks
  • Inclusion of all needed files, data, and information for participants to complete their jobs
  • Audit trails of all actions taken and completed by each participant with the ability to reconstruct the workflow progress
  • Online and email notifications automatically generated by the system to alert participants of workflow changes, priority escalations, scheduled due dates, and other relevant workflow items
  • Mobile and desktop commenting and markups to documents to allow fora continuum of discussion
  • Approval management and routing for documents and tasks.

Even More Intangible Benefits

Organizations that work with well thought-out, detailed workflows always have better execution outcomes, meet schedules more frequently, and can review and improve existing procedures and policies more easily.

Part of these details are the identified schedules, milestones, and due dates associated with workflows.  The mere visibility of milestones and due dates is a motivator to many participants, as moving towards dates provides a focus and goal.

Experience also shows that providing collective attention on workflow tasks and milestones increases on-time completion rates, as well as the quality of the performed efforts (the old “heat and light” principle).

Disciplined Workflows Come with a No Excuses Attachment

With workflows thought out and detailed, with participants appropriately identified, and with workflow tasks and projects adequately specified, participants don’t have any excuses as to not being able to execute per schedule.  Especially for remote workers, where not being in the office presents the opportunity to say they were not aware of needed steps or did not have access to needed data and files, the “I didn’t know” excuse becomes more difficult.

Give People Flexibility but Make Sure They Know the Workflow

Managers love to be flexible and give their team discretion on how and when they should get their job done.  But as workflows get more complex, more workers are at home, more supply chain disruptions occur, managers are facing more deviations from plan, often causing delays, rework, miscommunications, and frustration.

If the team understand the workflows, can visually see them, can understand their impact to overall performance, and have an easy way to communicate with other participants, these deviations can be minimized and mitigated.

Scott Brandt

President and CEO of eQuorum, provider of one of the first engineering workflow and document management SaaS systems. Scott has more than 30 years of operating and finance experience in growing technology and SaaS companies.