WORKFLOW

Workflow is the definition, execution and automation of business processes where tasks, information or documents are passed from one participant to another for action, according to a set of procedural rules.

Organizations use workflow to coordinate tasks, with the aim of improving organizational efficiency, responsiveness and profitability. Workflow may either be sequential, with each step contingent upon completion of the previous one, or parallel, with multiple steps occurring simultaneously. Six Sigma and Total Quality Management (TQM), are two process improvement philosophies that have been embraced by organizations around the world. TQM is a structured approach to overall organizational management where internal guidelines and process standards reduce errors. The goal of Six Sigma is to reduce defects through quality control. (Investopedia)

Some of the benefits of using workflows are the reduction of project risk, management of organizational changes, improvement in process changes, increased access to data and information across units, improvement on project timeline estimates, better focus on strategy, and understanding of rules set by company. One of the most important benefits of a well thought and planned workflow allows managers to have a system that is running smoothly, avoid spending time on operations, instead have the opportunity to focus on key parts of the operation that promote business growth, cost savings, and ultimately revenue.

Teams that use workflows don’t set goals and simply hope to reach them; they create checklists (workflows) to make sure they reach their goals. The following provides a list of subjects that workflows will immensely assist teams:

      • Procurement Process
      • Issuing Purchase Orders (POs)
      • Vendor Selections
      • Contract Reviews
      • Invoice Payments
      • Contract Negotiations
      • Sourcing of Materials

The mentioned are a sample of processes that companies will tackle which should be a key part of the training program for all employees. For instance, what is the workflow to purchase office supplies or raw material to be used within the manufacturing process? What is the approval process for purchasing standard or non-standards items? What is the workflow for maintaining warranties and asset tagging (software & hardware) after purchase orders are issued and items received?

Workflow Improvement Theories

Smartsheet, a software as a service (SaaS) offering for collaboration and work management put out a great post titled Save Time by Taking the Time: Creating Workflows. In it, Smartsheet conveys that there are many theories that businesses can use to improve workflow processes. The basic philosophies of these improvement theories take into consideration the company’s: experience, needs, and input to create the most targeted workflows. Some of the popular ones are Six Sigma, Lean Systems, Total Quality Management (TQM), Business Process Reengineering (BPR), and Theory of Constraints. The mentioned are presented on many resources however, what do they really mean? How will your organization consider the utilization of such concepts? Does your organization possess the talent and knowledge base to utilize such concepts in creating a workflow plan based on need and to ultimately cutting cost and increasing revenue?

Smartsheet, further provides a great list of features that may be considered when it comes to choosing a WMS/WfSM, such as:

      • Offers automatic processes
      • Adaptive and flexible (Can you change your workflow case to case?)
      • Offer unlimited dependencies
      • Allows parallel execution of steps and branches
      • Cloud-based
      • Grid-based (local only)
      • Kanban boards
      • Offers different ways to visualize your workflows
      • Leverages current infrastructure
      • Integrates with Microsoft Office Products
      • Integrates with SAP and other services
      • Integrates with Java/Unix/Oracle
      • Intuitive to learn/use
      • Modeling
      • Measurement – dashboard metrics
      • KPI-based – provides analytical reports
      • Notifications and alerts to staff
      • Role based access and controls
      • Audit trail
      • Cost and cost schedule
      • Open source (options)
      • CRM
      • Time-tracking and timesheets
      • Resource management
      • Tracking profitability
      • Client Portal
      • Create invoices and forms
      • Budget forms and tracking
      • Compatible document management software
      • Gantt charts

Workflow Diagrams

Types of Workflow Diagrams, also referred to as Flowcharts or Business Diagrams:

      • ANSI flowchart (American National Standards Institute)
      • UML Activity (Unified Modeling Language)
      • BPMN (Business Process Modeling Notation)
      • Swimlane
      • SIPOC (Supplier-Input-Process-Output-Customer)

Workflow Management System (WMS)

Neil Miller wrote a fantastic blog in Kissflow titled 10 Features Every Workflow Management System Should Have were he defines Workflow Management System (WMS or WfMS) as a software tool designed to help streamline routine business processes for optimal efficiency. Workflow management systems involve creating a form to hold data and setting a sequential path of tasks for the data to follow until it is fully processed, and it will automatically route the data to the predetermined tasks.

Workflow Management System should also include the following:

      • Graphical Representation
      • Form modeling
      • Role based accessibility
      • User reassignment
      • Cloud omnipresence
      • Report generation
      • Document integration
      • SLA indication
      • Workflow pattern flexibility
      • Email notification

Workflow Management System (WMS) Market

The WMS market offers a great deal of options to be considered by managers such as Monday.com, Nifty, Creatio (formerly bpm’online), KiSSFLOW, Comidor, Pipefy, Samepage, Synergize by Microdea, Integrify, Wrike, Workflow Max, Accelo, Nintex, Zapier, Serena Business Manager (now Micro Focus), ProcessMaker, ProWorkflow, dapulse (now Monday.com), Comindware Tracker, TRACKVIA, CANEA Workflow, Widen Collective, Paperwise, Process Street, Flokzu, Cflow, DoneDone, Hive, WorkflowGen, Formstackv, Asana, InMotionNow, and Intellimas by Singletree Technologies to mention a few.

Capterra, an online business-to-business provider that helps businesses find software solutions for almost every process of a business list 373 products in relation to WMS software market.

STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE (SOP)

A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is a set of step-by-step instructions compiled by an organization to help workers carry out complex routine operations. SOPs aim to achieve efficiency, quality output and uniformity of performance, while reducing miscommunication and failure to comply with industry regulations. Furthermore, SOPs are important to save time and money, provide consistency, improve communications, hold employees accountable, and to establish consistency across business departments.

BusinessDictionary defines SOP as written procedures prescribed for repetitive use as a practice, in accordance with agreed upon specifications aimed at obtaining a desired outcome.

Divestopedia describes SOP as the documented processes that a company has in place to ensure services and/or products are delivered consistently every time. When a company is growing, it is often highly dependent on the owner for all major decisions. As the company reaches a certain size, this form of decision making can limit its capacity to grow further since the owner cannot possibly make all decisions properly. Additional management and documented SOPs are required to allow the company to continue growing and establish a succession plan and train the growing employee base.

How to Write a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)

First, gather information that is pertinent to the task at hand, plan the process and format, start brainstorming and writing down results, review the first draft, ask key team members that fall within the process to review to come up with a final draft, and finally maintain and update the process as objectives and business processes change. How many times have you started a job or a new project only to find out that the SOPs have changed and are outdated? SOP’s are “living” documents and should be reviewed and adjusted to continuously improve a company’s ability to deliver mission critical services to clients. In accordance, writing a SOP document involves more than just writing a simple process or step-by-step procedures. It takes a great deal more to come up with a SOP that addresses the needs of the business and fine-tuned by all and finally accepted by all. As consultants, one of the main areas that we always find opportunities regarding the needs of our clients is the lack of having clear and concise SOPs. SOPs come down to one thing: consistency.

Dean Scaduto, a Forbes councils member wrote a brilliant article titled The Lowdown On Standard Operating Procedures. According to Dean, “An SOP is analogous to the do-it-yourself instructions that come along with Ikea furniture. SOPs can include one procedure or many and can be as detailed as you want them to be. They can be text-only or multimedia. They can be used to train new hires, create scope of project deliverables and make repetitive tasks easy to replicate and manage as you scale your business.” Furthermore, a SOP is a single process how to guide. Its core purpose is to describe follow-along, step-by-step instructions that make complex processes simpler. For instance, a collection of SOPs can be used to:

      • Provide consistent employee training
      • Systematize company processes through cheat sheets and guides
      • Remind users how to perform tasks
      • Perform quality checks by providing a checklist for standard company procedures
      • Organize and launch projects and services by documenting the steps that go from concept to completion

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