Using Workflow Analysis to Improve Business Processes

What is workflow? In the simplest sense, it is the daily routine we follow to perform from the simplest to most complex tasks. It can involve a single task by a single person or multiple complex tasks completed by various individuals or teams across geographical locations. For the complex transactions, workflow is built into enterprise systems such as SAP, PeopleSoft, and the many Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. Each transaction has a defined flow for information to go from one desk to another desk based on defined rules.

On an individual and personal level, workflow can enhance a worker’s productivity. Many sites, such as lifehacker, and books, such as David Allen’s “Get Things Done,” provide recommended workflows to enhance productivity.

Workflow analysis also provides a further opportunity to hone and tweak current processes. Let’s take a common task and go through a workflow analysis: Responding to an e-mail.

A Workflow Analysis

Here is a potential workflow for responding to e-mail. While it’s complex and broken into many steps and processes, the reality is that we respond to e-mail without putting much thought into it. When we do break the processes down into individual steps, we can determine if there are duplicate efforts or processes that can be incorporated.

  1. E-mail arrives in inbox.

  2. Determine if requires action.

  3. Determine level of effort required to respond.

  4. Delegate, defer, or respond.

  5. Determine if the response need to be sent to other interested stakeholders.

  6. Develop initial draft.

  7. Quality assurance process.

  8. Send.

  9. Determine if additional steps are required.

  10. Close out processing.

The gist of my e-mail response workflow is determining if a response is needed, the level of risk involved, and effort required before sending the response. In all instances, I perform close out procedures, such as archiving the conversation, flagging it for additional follow up, etc.

While this may seem like overkill, it’s actually a useful technique to map out our daily tasks and determine if it’s redundant or if certain steps can be avoided.

motion gears -team force
Creative Commons License photo credit: ralphbijker

Lesson learned

While this example yielded a very basic analysis, it provides a visual explanation on workflow mapping. Advanced software tools, such as Ravenflow, can provide better mapping of processes. In my example, I use OpenOffice presentation tool. When work tasks result in flaws, mistakes, or failures, a workflow analysis can identify holes that may cause or lead to negative results. For example, if you constant forget what happened at meetings, develop a workflow for initiating the meeting, confirming invitees, setting the agenda, and recording and distributing the minutes. On a more micro-level, if the meeting minutes are not accurate, perhaps a process can be included to vet the minutes to the participants before formal distribution.

Who else can workflow be used to enhance your work?

Presentation Slide Mastery: No Dull PowerPoint

Two major skills are essential for business: writing and presenting. The first, requires entire blogs and books dedicated to the art and craft. The latter, is through practice, experience, and inspiration. Most blogs rarely feature slides as a medium for presenting information. However, I recently ran into SlideShare, a youtube of slides on a variety of topics. It’s a great resource for inspiration

The presentation below is a great introduction on designing better slides. Follow through to SlideShare to find more presentations, on a variety of topics. There are many great presentations and many bad horrible presentations.

See the Steve Jobs iPhone presentation after the jump.

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Building Networks Can Help You Enhance Your Marketability

As a young professional, building a personal portfolio of knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA) is important to sell yourself for a promotion or for a new position elsewhere. Young and inexperienced Gen Y’s have to quickly build those KSA’s or risk being stuck in a rut. How else can we leverage our expertise in social networking and web tools?

Building Networks is More Than Just LinkedIN

Building an online network is easy. Just point, click, and wait. But with Twitter, Facebook status updates, posts, pictures, applications, it just seems to be a shouting match. Eventually, it’s questionably spam.

As we go from one job to another job, we bring more and more experience and proprietary knowledge. We learn company methodologies, techniques, and materials. While I don’t condone “stealing” confidential information and jumping ship to share company secrets, your thought process is inspired by the newfound knowledge. Furthermore, during your tenure at a company, build relationships, both with your internal staff and with external clients as well. Foster those relationships, even if you go work somewhere else.

With this “black book” of contacts, you will be much more valuable to the new firm. It provides business relationships and possible new clients. Alternatively, those contacts can be resources for you to tap into for subject matter knowledge.

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Don’t Regret Buying iPhone 1.0

What’s new with the new 3G iPhone? Well, 3G of course and GPS. There’s a list of slightly incremental enhancements such as the black back, flush head phone jack, rounder shape, and so forth; but there’s still a few key missing features:

  1. More disk space – same 8 and 16 gig versions
  2. Better camera – same 2MP, no autofocus camera (which is almost useless for advanced features)
  3. No video recording – which might be able to be upgraded via software
  4. No MMS – are you serious?
  5. Copy and paste – a huge mistake but again, possible via software upgrade.

What is good about the 3G iPhone?

Other than the 3G and GPS as stated above, it has better battery life. 10 hours on 2G vs. 8 hours on old phone; and it has 5 hours on 3G. Oh, one more big thing, ATT is subsidizing it. The iPhone is now:

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An “Owner’s Manual” … for Your Blog?

As a shareholder of Google, I read the Owners Manual for Google Shareholders. Both Larry and SergeyGoogle Logo emulated the same technique that Warren Buffett employed with Berkshire Hathaway in his owner’s manual for shareholders. Essentially, it is a manifesto of their guiding principals for their business. It solidifies their long-term approach to business decisions and their pledge to their shareholders. It is also where the infamous phase, Don’t be Evil, came about:

We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served—as shareholders and in all other ways—by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains. This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared within the company.

How does this translate into starting a blog?

The ease and low barriers to entry inevitably equates to lower quality of information, often rippling throughout the blogosphere. Content is often copied in summary or literally in plagiarisms, and pasted into the thousands of blogs on the Internet. As such, it brings to question the validity and quality of information presented in these publications.

Here is a short list, but not complete, of ways that having an Owner’s Manual for a blog may help bring forth credibility to a blog:

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Google Reader is the Tivo of Blogs

I stopped using browser bookmarks. Reading blogs by visiting the site is comparable to watching TV live. Using an RSS reader, particularly Google Reader, I am able to pull the posts and “aggregate” them into one simple to use interface. While this isn’t any particularly new technology, the new site designed for the iPhone is amazing.

The site is still in beta so visiting Google Reader on your iPhone won’t get you there. You’ll have to type in this link directly: http://www.google.com/reader/i/

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