Workflows Part 2 – implementing workflow management

 

In Part 1 we looked at the optimisation of workflows – essentially the elimination of wasted time and resources, reducing costs and increasing productivity – part of the wider topic of workflow management, essential if you intend to stay ahead of your competitors. In this article we look at workflow management, how it is implemented and how it differs to business process management and project management?

What is workflow management?

Workflow management is the supervision of all the tasks that comprise what an organisation does, ensuring all the processes and people involved work in an efficient and productive way. Put simply, it is the management of all the processes and procedures by which tasks are completed, maximising the benefit to the organisation. As we saw in Part 1, a workflow is a set of tasks that when combined together form a business process – something that transforms materials, information or services – and all the business processes taken together define what the organisation does.

Having decided on the goals of an organisation, managing workflows is necessary to ensure better results are achieved in relation to those goals. It concerns itself with the work done by individuals as well as those tasks that are automated, and consists of the creation, documentation, implementation, monitoring and developing of the various workflows within an organisation.

 

Workflow management is itself a part of the wider business project management, which looks at the management of internal business projects, the client being the business. Project management is the planning and organisation of the resources of an organisation, its tools, knowledge and competencies, to meet the specific requirements of a project.

Business project management

Business project management is the supervision of specific projects to ensure they deliver maximum benefits to an organisation through the allocation of resources sufficient to meet the budgets and goals set by stakeholders. It involves the management of tasks and resources, including personnel, throughout an organisation.

All business projects have two characteristics – each are individual, i.e. distinctive from other projects, as well as being not permanent: they have a time frame (which can however extend over a number of years) and are not replicable.

As mentioned above, the projects have the business as the client, they have costs but do not generate revenue, and as a result their success is not measured in terms of profit margins.

There are essentially three types of business project, namely

Operational: projects that benefit the business concerned with, for example, the design and management of services, products and processes, including the movement of a product or service from supplier to customer. An example might be the introduction of a new CRM system.

Recurring: whilst happening regularly, they are still individual and not permanent, and consist of a set of tasks repeating on a regular basis. An example would be the production of a quarterly newsletter – each quarter is unique and lasts only until delivery.

Strategic: these are undertaken to improve the organisation and are aligned with strategic goals, they encompass the “big picture”. Examples could include buying a complementary business or closing a loss-making subsidiary.

 

Project management

Project management is essentially the planning and organising of resources to move a specific task or event to successful completion within agreed parameters (timescales, budgets, etc.). Contrasting it to general business management, the project being managed has a finite timespan, i.e. is not ongoing, with specific deadlines and deliverables.

A project will be regarded as successful if it delivers its objectives on budget, within an agreed timescale and in scope. Scope defines the project’s boundaries, what it should cover and the output it needs to deliver.

Choosing and implementing a workflow management system

An important factor in the success of an organisation is the workflow management solution it adopts, helping it to get organised and streamline processes, increasing efficiency and reducing costs. Such a solution helps with the setting up, the performance of and subsequent monitoring of tasks, summarising the workflow process as well as allowing the automation of repetitive tasks within workflows.

 

Before a system can be selected and implemented, an understanding of what parts of the business are to be managed is needed, in other words to then be streamlined, automated etc. This will allow the system to be adapted to meet your specific requirements, and are likely to include the following:

Human resources: the goal is to get the best out of your personnel, which will mean automating and managing tasks in order to allow staff to focus on those activities that add the most value, eliminating those that do not, that waste time. Employee performance measurement will enable managers to identify opportunities for improvement.

Efficient use of time: as previously discussed, the objective here is to eliminate time wasting, manage time in such a way as to maximise productivity.

Customer relationships: an effective Client Relationship Management (CRM) system will not only assist in increasing sales and reporting thereon, but it will also provide business insights and strengthen the management of sales staff.

Teamwork: centralising processes will enhance collaboration.

Financial management: being able to manage costs and payments, revenue and debt collection as well as being able to monitor the financial performance of the business as a whole.

There exist many software applications for managing workflows, and the question is: how do you choose between them? The application should be easy to set up, easy to use and have some serious reporting features, ones that will allow you to quickly identify where your attention needs to be directed.

 

There are many products on the market, so having searched on a current list of the most highly rated workflow management systems, in order to produce a shortlist look for the presence of features such as the following:

Design tool that is easy to use: an intuitive interface that is easily configurable to suit ways of working throughout an organisation.

Integration with other apps: being able to use it with your existing software applications, increasing their value, and enabling information to flow easily between individuals, teams and departments.

Collaboration: teams working on different projects should be able to work together as necessary, for example approving documents and sharing files.

Support: excellent support from the software vendor, at times you expect it to be required, is essential.

Cloud based: this will allow access from any location, particularly useful with remote working, or some hybrid form thereof, being common these days.

Strong reporting features, KPI-based: the system should provide a record of all that is happening and at the same time insights that will allow the optimisation of all activities. Such features should be able to spot obstructions/bottlenecks without delay and determine where attentions should be focussed.

Notifications: for example, email or push notifications when approvals are needed, thus avoiding bottlenecks appearing.

Access controls and security: built in security features that provide control and the ability to keep sensitive information private where necessary.

Total cost of ownership: the cost of a workflow management system can be significant, and it is important to fully understand the implications of such an investment at the outset – ensure there are no hidden charges and that pricing is transparent.

Adequate number of simultaneous users: the software that you select should be able to accommodate all those that will need to use it, with the flexibility to encompass future growth.

Conclusion

The advantages of using a workflow system include the following:

• reduction in costs
• reduction in wasted time and resources
• increased collaboration of teams and departments
• definition of individual responsibilities
• increasing efficiency and productivity
• information transparency and availability
• improved customer satisfaction and relationships
• highlighting of those activities that add value and those that do not

The successful implementation of a workflow management system will result in multiple benefits to your organisation – careful choice, one that can handle all your particular needs, will most definitely deliver a boost to your business.

 
 

A few words about CompassAir


Creating solutions for the global maritime sector, CompassAir develops state of the art messaging and business application software designed to maximise ROI. Our software is used across the sector, including by Sale and Purchase brokers (S&P/SnP), Chartering brokers, Owners, Managers and Operators.

 

Through its shipping and shipbroking clients, ranging from recognised World leaders through to the smallest, most dynamic independent companies, CompassAir has a significant presence in the major maritime centres throughout Europe, the US and Asia.

 

Our flagship solution is designed to simplify collaboration for teams within and across continents, allowing access to group mailboxes at astounding speed using tools that remove the stress from handling thousands of emails a day. It can be cloud based or on premise. To find out more contact solutions@thinkcompass.io. If you are new to shipping, or just want to find out more about this exciting and challenging sector, the CompassAir Shipping Guide might prove to be an interesting read.

 

Contact us for more information or a short demonstration on how CompassAir can benefit your business, and find out how we can help your teams improve collaboration and increase productivity.