”Best practices” is a wonderful theory, but in practice too many people use it as an excuse to adopt one specific methodology they then refuse to change until forced to do so. They forget “best practices” aren’t “final practices,” an attitude that can break them if the rest of the business world changes and they don’t.
Best practices at the workflow level must transform as surely as caterpillars transform into butterflies, ideally with results just as wonderful – though unlike butterflies, workflow never stops changing. Here’s a good example: for about ten years, the best way to get a letter to California and back was by Pony Express. It was surprisingly fast and efficient, but it wasn’t cheap; and it definitely wasn’t as fast or cheap as the trains, trucks, and airplanes that followed. Though the Pony Express workflow was the most efficient continental mail possible in the 1860s, it would never work today.
You may not have to face such extreme changes in your own workflow … but then again, you may. I’ve lived to see offices shift from cumbersome business machines to sleek personal laptops and tablets that do everything the old stuff did and more. It’s not inconceivable that we are on the brink of another giant leap forward, though I can’t predict what it might be.
Meanwhile, keep an eye on your workflow processes and make sure they keep up with reality. Here’s what I recommend.
1. Review your workflow regularly. First, agree on what “regularly” means. Under current circumstances, quarterly may be the longest you want to go without reviewing your workflow. If you’re very busy, you can push it to twice a year or annually, though I wouldn’t go much longer between reviews. Check how well your workflow process and sub-processes work, identifying what needs fixing and why.
2. Define each stage of your workflow. This may need to be the very first step in your first serious workflow review. Yes, it takes extra time, but it’s worthwhile. If you haven’t already, break down your workflow process into its natural tasks and subtasks, delineate the development of each, determine any resource and approval requirements, and decide, without any ambiguity, who is responsible for what. Once you’ve done this, you only need to revisit this step occasionally, either to make sure everything is still stable or when you know you need to make changes. To demonstrate and simplify your understanding of the process, create flow charts showing how the process should proceed, given the circumstances encountered at each step.
3. Implement stop tasks. Stop tasks are just what they sound like: By Laura Stack tasks you must complete before you can continue. You may have to do research before you can implement a new task, or the editor may have to sign off on a white paper before it can move forward. Don’t consider these bottlenecks; write them into the workflow as caution points encouraging you to jump on the task and get it done.
4. Discuss any changes identified in Step 1. Decide how to move forward on each change, who will perform it, and what constitutes completion. Then implement.
5. Streamline the approval process(es). Waiting for permission before implementation is sometimes the most annoying and wasteful part of any workflow process. But feedback fatigue, overwork, and similar factors may make it no picnic for the permitters, so make it easy for them. Give them a simple situation to handle, and an easy out with a “no word means go-ahead” option.
6. Publish the process so everyone stays on the same page. Put the process, complete with flow chart(s), on the company intranet, or distribute it as a paper document. Make it a part of your team and organizational SOPs, with a new update published whenever your team decides to do so. You may not need an update every time; you may decide at Step 1 you’re still good to go for the next period.
Time in a Bottle
It seems every productivity suggestion, strategy, tip, and trick out there is another time sink, and to some extent, that’s true. But when you take the time to do something like this right, the real work happens only once; everything else is an update, with an occasion overhaul. As Jim Croce so charmingly sang in his classic song, this is one way to “save time in a bottle” so you have more time for all the important things in your life.
Laura Stack is a high-energy International Keynote Speaker. Bestselling author of six books. Leading Expert in performance and productivity. Audience favorite for thousands year-after-year. Go-to resource to increase sales. Build teams. Grow customer bases. Nurture leadership. And help people achieve more in less time with more balance (and less stress) than ever before. Fun, dynamic, and driven — and perfect for your next event. Contact her at www.TheProductivityPro.com.
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