I recently visited a doctor who asked me what I did for a living. Upon hearing that I consulted with organizations who wanted to improve their workflow and better manage business processes, she asked me where she should start. I don’t think she was kidding. She went on to say that she couldn’t afford to automate her small practice and I told her she didn’t have to. Re-engineering workflow and improving the throughput and quality of workflow don’t require automation. Finally, I told her “the best place to start is a plan.” Workflow initiatives should be strategic, have a vision, goals and objectives that are unique to the organization. As it happens, her goal was to figure out how to disengage from insurance companies and gear up for cash-paying clients only. Who’d a known?
Planning for Workflow Improvement
Planning your initiative is not only the most basic and common-sense thing to do, it establishes clear goals, lines of communication, buy-in and relieves stress. Time and again, through the grapevine, I hear that certain people fear workflow initiatives. For those of us who are gung-ho, we have to remember that efficiency gains can mean a reduction-in-force to some people. Workflow initiatives represent deliberate change (as opposed to opportunistic or accidental change). By virtue of deliberately setting out to manage change, you have the unique opportunity to accomplish the following:
- establish a new mind-set and culture for change based on open communication, clear objectives and inclusivity
- focus on the customer’s needs, preferences and experience
- develop a well-rounded team of workflow change agents
- align roles and responsibilities accordingly
- develop structure and governance rules that control change (so people don’t go off half-cocked)
- solicit the involvement of a strong executive sponsor who believes in what you’re doing
- choose the most appropriate project. This one is key! If you start with a winner and demonstrate some real improvement in efficiency, output, quality and performance, all of your future efforts and initiatives will be embraced (as will the culture)
- manage expectations. You’re not going to re-build Rome in a day so this is your chance to plan for modest progress and realistic outcomes. Project management fundamentals are crucial at this stage
- select a desirable method. This can mean swimlane diagrams and a rapid Lean approach
- provide training. In the spirit of project management basics, once you’ve identified a method, obtain some professional training before you begin tinkering with your workflow
- set goals and profit from your initiative. With careful planning, you can establish clear goals and continue measuring your progress until your goals have been achieved. Having met your goals, you’ll be better positioned next time you look for an executive sponsor. It doesn’t hurt to show how your initiative improved the bottom/top line for the organization!
Plan to Win
When you take the time to develop a logical plan, a methodology, some tools, training and a strategic approach to workflow improvement, you beat the odds that you’ll abandon your effort half-way through. Don’t assume you know what your objectives are until you’ve been through a thoughtful planning process.