Nearly half of all businesses experience a project failure each year. The story is familiar: over budget, missed deadlines, out of scope. It’s never a good feeling.
But do you know what’s worse than having a project fail?
Not learning from it.
You can’t repeat the same process and expect different results. However, many businesses stick with failed methods and technology instead of taking time to acknowledge, analyze, and address the real issue at hand.
Is your workflow failing you?
A project workflow consists of a series of steps that result in a desired outcome. It includes a clear division of responsibilities, methods to communicate project specific information to each team member, and provides a basis to estimate task length. It’s how you get stuff done. A formalized process is important because it can be repeated to obtain consistent results.
Unfortunately, a flawed system works the same way— only it creates repeatable, undesirable results, i.e., failure. Symptoms of a poor workflow include:
- Communication mistakes
- Skipping important steps
- Unfinished deliverables
- Untested products being approved
- Inaccurate time estimates
These are just a few examples. If you have a great team but your projects are still unsuccessful, follow the steps below to identify — and improve — problems in your workflow.
Step 1: Map your current workflow
It’s easy to get stuck in familiar habits. To enact change and create an ideal workflow, you’ll need to take a step back and start from the beginning: what does your current process look like? Identify every phase of the process, how work transitions from one person to another, and who authorizes those transitions.
To make an accurate map, you’ll need to walk through the process a few times to determine:
- What tasks need to be completed?
- Who completes them? How long does it take?
- Are there any inefficiencies or bottlenecks?
- What forms are required along the way?
- Who approves the finished product?
- What happens after completion?
Talk to team members who perform each task since they know the current workflow best. You’ll need to identify any variations of the process, as well as what causes shortcuts or workarounds. Be sure to obtain as much data as possible on your current workflow to help define expectations for the redesign.
Step 2: Analyze and redesign your process
Now that your workflow is mapped out, you’ll need to pinpoint problems and determine their root cause. Analyze each of the following:
- Sources of delays and duplicated tasks
- Unnecessary steps or errors that cause extra work
- Lack of quality standards or controls
- Misinformation and undefined responsibilities
If you find any immediate fixes that can be resolved today, go ahead and implement them and update your workflow map. Finally, see if you can identify ways to automate or improve any processes with technology.
Step 3: Implement new workflow and enforce process with software
Though your process likely includes some manual procedures, modern project management software can help empower your team and improve efficiency. Using your new process maps, identify the specific functions you need for different use cases. These requirements should be used to select a vendor and build out your new workflow during implementation.
Your new workflow should do three things:
- Align the team: A clear process will reduce confusion, and communication tools help increase collaboration. Email and to-do notifications, preconfigured workflows, and automatic info distribution help keep everyone on the same page.
- Provide transparency: Project management software provides reporting across workflows and lets everyone know at a glance if things are moving as planned or if adjustments should be made. This provides a digital record of authorizations and sign offs, which helps ensure steps aren’t skipped and handoffs are smooth.
- Keep you on schedule: By automating steps in your workflow you maintain progress by ensuring that stages for each person are tracked and uncompleted tasks are followed up on. Tasks can automatically be assigned to the right person, team members can see relevant tasks on their dashboard, and helpful visuals (such as progress bars on large tasks) can identify bottlenecks before they cause delays.
Step 4: Celebrate (and continuously improve) your new process
Once the software is implemented, the workflow management isn’t over. You’ll need to test, test, and retest the new processes, as well as train your team. Using data and analytics, continually assess your process for improvements and document all new changes.
Acknowledging that your process is flawed is often the hardest step. But remember: failure is the best teacher. What can you do to learn from it?