Workflow! (is there a perfect one?)

Is there a perfect workflow?
Well that comes down to how you define the word “perfect”.

The Oxford Dictionary defines it as: Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be. This definition spells out the key point of perfection in a really succinct manner i.e. as good as it is possible to be.

What we’re trying to achieve with any workflow is a process that covers the bulk of our work in the most efficient manner. i.e. as good as it is possible to be. However, many a project has gone awry from trying to cover every possible scenario (a near impossible feat for most companies!).

As an example, let’s take the perfect workflow for a signage company, with a fabrication department working in conjunction with the printing department. This could appear to be a poor fit for a fast-turnaround online digital shop. Would there be similarities? You bet there would. However, some of the superfluous processes may appear as roadblocks at first glance.

There are many factors that come into play when scoping a workflow, variables such as, market segment, geographical location, and company size (to name but a few), that render a single “perfect” workflow a ‘seemingly’ impossible feat. However, what’s not often realised is the simplicity with which an existing workflow can be adjusted to fit within the parameters of a tried and tested, or out-of-the-box workflow. In fact, this is often the best scenario as you’re not reinventing the wheel.

Make no mistake there are many occasions where a custom workflow is the best option. In fact, I’ve been involved in the implementation of quite a few. However, the extra expense is not always warranted when it is often redundant processes that are being replicated for the sake of history. Unfortunately, there is a tendency for people to try and replicate existing processes for no better reason than “we’ve always done it like that”.

Whenever I hear that particular phrase my heart sinks (just a little) because there’s often no reason to replicate a dated process. Don’t get me wrong, some companies need something specific to fit their business processes. However, in most cases the overhaul of the current processes will show many steps to be simply workarounds that are no longer necessary.

“How do I avoid making the mistakes that others have made?” I hear you asking in unison.  It really isn’t as hard as it might seem if you ask a simple question, such as: What are we looking to achieve? i.e. What is the “Prime Objective” of the project?

For all you Trekkies out there you’ll be aware of the Borg and their collective mantra: “resistance is futile”. If we could implement a strategy that delivered to our Prime Objective without resistance, then our jobs would be made indubitably easier. However, whilst the Borg are Sci-Fi fantasy (or are they?) the need for people to resist change is definitely not fantasy.

I’ve seen projects fail due to a number of reasons. However, what has become glaringly obvious to me over the years is that two things generally combine to derail a project. Firstly a project without a clear vision of the outcome will fail – period. The project must have a Prime Objective that once decided upon, should be followed to conclusion. It is a relatively simple process to define the steps required to achieve the prime objective once everyone is on the same page.

The final piece of the puzzle is overcoming the resistance of a particular type of person; those that resist change because it is their very nature to resist. These people can pose a real problem if not managed throughout the transition. It is these ‘resisters’ that are often tied to redundant processes for no good reason.

So the key points to implementing that perfect workflow are more about what you do rather than what you purchase. You just need to have have a Prime Objective and a team that backs it. And remember the Borg mantra: “resistance is futile”.

– Mick Rowan

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