Sunday, March 2, 2014

The holy grail of workflow solutions

Let's say you have a work process that is tedious, repetitive. Tasks get dropped and forgotten. Approvals get hung up. You are constantly having to go back through your pile to check on the status of your work. It seems with all the electronic gadgetry we have available today, someone should have made an app for that. By now. Surely!

The software solution you are looking for is workflow, and it is an add-on feature of many products including collaboration software (ex. Sharepoint, Alfresco), financial software (ex. Deltek), records management software (ex. OpenText) and others. Workflow is not required of the application but it is a nice-to-have. Developers have also built custom applications based on industry, such as contract signing (ex. Docusign) and facility management.

Simple Accounts Payable Workflow

Countless times I have seen a software demonstration culminating in a workflow example, usually in accounts payable. Oh, so smooth it looks in demo, like watching a knife demonstration at the county fair.
Why is it so difficult to take this concept and apply it to our real-life examples back home? Here's the missing piece you absolutely cannot overlook. You have to know what it is you do now. Excellent software solutions abound where there are standards and a programmer can write to that standard. But what is standard about routing paperwork? Every business does things a little differently. It is our own ignorance of our processes that will send the project down rabbit trails and back.

Do your implementation team a fair service and be clear how you want the workflow to work. Keep it simple. When it does what you wanted it to do, call it good and be done. For a while.

Excerpt from a reddit conversation:

What's something you can talk about for hours on end?
–]jayzee124 33 points ago
conspiracies, cars and trucks, and the universe and how mind [blowing] it is.
[–]Screwbit 7 points ago
you and I could never be friends.
[–]SharkPanda 3 points ago
Yes but can you talk about all of them at the same time?

Watch for scope creep. Let's say your first shot at workflow solves one irritant. Once you get a good look at what it can do, horizons open up at all the other things you could automate. Tinkering and broadening the scope can kill an otherwise great solution. Take pauses, enjoy the changes and give the new way time to work out its bugs before you automate the next big thing.