Success Sooner: How Automated Workflows Make Your Projects Nimble

Introduction

Projects either can lumber along in the ether, or nimbly keep everyone on task to bring important work to fruition. Whether in construction, oil and gas, publishing, scientific labs, or nearly any other type of environment, project-based teams benefit from automated workflows.

Ask yourself:

  1. Are you able to quickly incorporate last-minute specification changes so that all team members understand the new tasks and priorities, in real time?
  2. Have you pro-actively accounted for bottlenecks?
  3. Can you respond effectively to impromptu status reports from executives?

If you answered “no” to any of the above questions, then you should consider implementing automated workflows for your project. Once you’ve gotten through the planning stage, automated workflows handle the day-to-day task completion and tracking. The right workflow will

  • Organize and manage the actual tasks of your team, at each step
  • Connect a sequence of tasks into a workflow
  • Streamline work by automatically generating next-step tasks at each process step
  • Track and manage any issues
  • Capture centralized discussions, file sharing and versioning

Automated workflows are “where the rubber meets the road;” that is, they take the project design that you’ve created and implement it with actual tasks for the right people, at the right time. This means that the workflow is more than a “dead picture,” but is actually a computed process that goes to work automatically generating tasks, keeping track of their status and moving things along the queue.

Here is an example of a workflow

Choosing the Right Solution

When you evaluate the tools out there, be sure to choose a system with comprehensive functionality to scale with you. Here are some tips:

  1. Find a task management system that is embedded in a familiar interface so your people don’t lose productivity
  2. Look for a system that combines nearly any sequence of tasks into a process
  3. Your task management and automation should be hand-in-glove; look for integrated solutions because almost all task management and workflow management solutions are not integrated so team members have tasks in two places, not a good thing
  4. Yours might be a small team right now, so you shouldn’t need a programmer to automate your workflows. Look for something with a visual workflow builder and “drag and drop” commands
  5. Since content is closely tied to tasks and getting stuff done, you should also find a workflow automation tool that includes embedded versioning
  6. Find something that is accessible via a web-browser and integrated with email systems, like Microsoft Outlook
  7. Make sure you can modify processes “on the fly”
  8. Finally, you should be able to start using it with a single click

Designing a Workflow

Once you have the tool for you, keep the following in mind as you design your first workflow:

  • The workflow must focus on overall organization goals, not strictly on making users more “productive.” It is important to take time to think through what is most important and what the overall goals are so that you can design a work process, an exercise that doesn’t come automatically for most people. Ask yourself and your team detailed questions and encourage carefully thought-out roadmaps, specifically seeking to turn your project planning into sequential implementation.
    1. You likely already have some sort of informal process in place for getting tasks to team members. Seek out the honest answer to this question: “Where are our existing processes ineffective?”
    2. Bravely consider, “Which of these steps could be automated?”
    3. Once you have clear answers, you can produce a graphical representation of what you discover. But don’t settle for a “drawing” of the process, which is what most tools offer (think Microsoft Visio, or PowerPoint, or even dry erase boards still used by lots of teams). What if you could make a visual representation of your process that actually creates tasks at given moments?
    4. Implement the workflow with a few work items and see how it’s going.  If you’ve chosen a flexible tool, you won’t have needed to make the initial process design “perfect” because you’ll have the option to easily make changes “on the fly.”

Look into automated workflows to make your projects nimble and effective.  This is a live process that takes into account everything we’ve discussed here, and can be used in any department, on any type of project.

If you’d like more information about a favorite tool, check out www.comindware.com

About the author

Kamille Nixon writes about how growing businesses solve their problems with tools built on a variety of types of databases, both graphical and relational. One of her articles made #5 of Information Management’s Top 10 Stories of 2011.

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