Automate your repetitive processes.
Identifying all repetitive tasks in a process is a great way to quickly surface opportunities for automation.
Consider templates, checklists and rules in Outlook, Gmail, OneNote, Keep and other applications as a non-programmers option for automating. With increases in communications, an automated process for client contacts can save a team a bunch of time. Scheduling applications like Fullslate, AppointmentPlus, Acuity, TimeTap and Bookings (free in MS 365) can save everyone on the team countless hours playing phone tag and emailing people with new appointment options when you work with external clients or vendors whose schedules you can't see.
Check to make sure work is being done at the right level.
Work has a way of creeping up the chain of command when everyone is busy. It often begins when a well-meaning manager hangs on and completes the work because their team is already at capacity. Now, since they are doing less complex work, they eventually do not have time to do the high priority or strategic work that is necessary. This can continue upwards and create significant bottlenecks at senior levels and can only be addressed by evaluating where each level of work could be pushed back down.
Create a playbook with team agreements for collaboration.
Most processes suffer from some weak collaboration markers around how we make decisions, solve problems, hold meetings, etc. I listened to the complaints of a team I worked with last week and soon realized that the culprit of the issues was an unclear change process. Some people felt like they could change things whenever they saw a problem and others felt they needed to call the whole team together and involve them in both the decision and the plan to make the change. They had never clearly identified it as a difference in thinking, so it caused confusion and at times, conflict. By simply identifying it, they were able to create a decision making model, document it in their playbook and all agree to use it going forward.
Don't forget the transitional parts of the process.
For every process analysis I do, more than 50% of the bottlenecks and process failures occurred in the transition points between the clear responsibilities of each team, function or role. This can be fixed with 2 steps:
· First, meet and re-clarify the roles and responsibilities with regards to the process. You may find unnecessary overlap, duplication of effort and even items that no one has taken responsibility for. Each team member feels it falls squarely in the others area. Time to shake that out and get it settled.
· Second, identify situations that land in the mighty grey area. Create a process for taking ownership and accountability for each new grey area item. With the pace of change, this bucket of work is growing. We simply see more things every day that we didn't anticipate and assign, so we need to know someone will inbound it, assign it (or take it), communicate to the rest.
Workflow effectiveness is measured with KPIs.
You focus on what you measure and you get what you measure. I learned this lesson early in my UPS career as the keeper of the measurement systems. Without at least a few measures, most processes go largely unchallenged. We have an operational process that includes our whole team and culminates in materials being shipped to a site 2 days before a program. When the process was getting delayed in a few spots, we realized a simple measure of how often we had to pay expediting fees to get the materials onsite would keep us looking at the barriers and working to eliminate them.
Each individual has efficient work process for their part of the workflow.
Many a process is foiled by weak execution at the individual team member level. If you've gone to trouble of doing many of these other things, but you haven't made sure each person has a solid process for surfacing their work from each project and process, you're likely wasting your time.
I worked with a organization not long ago that had completely revamped their project planning process. We spent a year showing them how to take a project from idea to fruition and they made amazing gains by using our Priority Project Planning Process. When they called 6 months later to report they had 2 different projects slipping and missing deadlines, we traced the problem back to a weakness at the individual level. People had no way of integrating their project tasks back into their day to day operational tasks and since the operational tasks were always more urgent, they always took precedence.
If this problem feels familiar, it's probably a good idea to focus your training at the individual level with our next public Working Sm@rt program.