How valuable is the way you organize your work and projects?
Or another way of putting it: how much are you wasting on inefficient workflows and projects each year?
What if there were a way that your employees could become more efficient with an improved workflow? How much would you save? How valuable would that be to you?
One firm estimates that companies could gain up to $15,000 per year per employee with better communication and workflow tools.
If you have 1000 employees, that’s $15 million per year.
If you have 100 employees, drop a zero, but still: $1.5 million.
And those are both considered medium-sized companies. If you’re at a larger company, wow–the numbers will be mind-blowing.
Now, just stop for a minute: what would you do with that amount of extra cash at your company?
Experiment with a new product feature? Pour it back into customer acquisition?
But how do you move that number from theory to practicality? Is there a way to realize significant savings even if you don’t quite reach that number?
It all starts with improving your workflow management, business processes and your projects. How your team communicates, shares files and moves tasks forward will impact your productivity.
Improved workflows mean faster projects. Which means more productivity and helps you as a leader and manager check more items off your list.
What I’m about to share with you are proven methods for improving your team’s workflow, collaboration and communication.
But here’s a warning: this will take some getting used to.
It’s hard to change your team’s habits overnight. Your team does things a certain way. So it’ll have to be a conscious effort.
1. Be Ruthless With Your Process
What is slowing you down? Is it too many approvals? Too much research?
If you’re new to a company, than it makes sense to have a few more approvals in place. But as you grow as a person and a company, these safeguards could be slowing you down from truly achieving rapid progress. Also, think about the risk of each project in regards to the the processes you have in place.
- Is it worth having every element professionally designed or re-edited?
- Can that interior blog graphic squeak by?
- Is there a way to change text on your banner ad without sending it back to the designer for small tweaks?
Or maybe implementing a new element to the process would actually help you move faster. For instance, maybe your sales team schedules demos for discovery and then follows up for more in-depth calls. Is there a way to prep your sales team to handle both type of calls?
Or can your inbound sales rep help out with appointment setting and save time for your AEs?
Should you add a wireframe program to your tech stack so your product manager can take charge of that, instead of leaving the sketch to your top designer?
Here was a process for a big whitepaper I was working on at a previous job:
- Meet with the creative team about potential designs
- Do the research
- Write the paper
- Have the marketing manager review it
- Have the VP of Marketing review it
- Have the CEO review it
- Have the Creative director review it
- Make all the edits
- Do steps 4 through 8 on infinity
- Get the designer to design it
- Work with the creative director on edits
- Work with the designer on edits again
- Get approval from the creative director
- Do steps 4 through 8 on infinity again
- Ship it 4 months after I started
What you see above may be an exaggeration, but trust me: it wasn’t. How could I have improved the process above? Probably by starting with an outline to give a clearer picture of everything to be covered.
Re-evaluating your process, dismantling it down to the barebones will help you move faster and realize your goals sooner than you ever expected. Creating a checklist of the right steps with who is responsible for it solidifies the process and creates accountability for each item that needs to be done. Once this is complete, you can save the checklist as a template to ensure that each step of the workflow is there for future tasks.
Checklists empower a collaborative approach to the multiple steps that a task may require for completion because you can assign each step to a specific member of your team.
2. Get Pre-Approvals
Remember my whitepaper process from above? Look at how many people were involved: One writer (me), one designer, one creative director, one marketing manager, one VP, and the CEO. That’s six people analyzing one whitepaper: repeatedly.
That last point is the most important: repeatedly. I don’t necessarily think that too many people were involved, they were just involved too often.
What could have happened differently? More people needed to be empowered and fewer people needed to be involved.
In that situation, maybe I could have worked with the marketing manager to get the idea pre-approved, and then worked on the outline. Much of what the VP of Marketing and CEO wanted to ensure was that the right information was being conveyed, not necessarily the fine points of my wording.
This would have solved two things: a clear direction would have been established by the outline, and the approval process would be shorter. The VP of Marketing and/or CEO would know what was coming, and we could have worried about the fine print.
For this reason and more is why the agile development process is taking off like none other–it’s a lean way of creating products with cross-functional teams where each person on the team takes ownership for their work. They’re empowered to do their jobs, growing in their skills as they do it.
To help you do this, use task templates. Similar to checklist templates, these templates store task assignees, details and checklists so that you can use them over and over. This means that if you need certain things approved, you can automatically notify those stakeholders without repeating any steps of the process.
3. Plan The Work, Work The Plan
It’s not enough to have a great project plan (though that’s certainly important). Everyone has to be on board with the plan and the process and your refined processes. If someone was hurt because they were left out of the approvals process, then there wasn’t enough communication around the benefit of a streamlined process (i.e., to help you get things done faster).
And once you’re on board, you don’t want anyone jumping ship. To keep that from happening, you may need some regular reminders and updates about the importance of the process and keeping your project management tool up to date (more on that in a second).
To successfully do this, you should go beyond screaming “WHY AREN’T YOU FOLLOWING THE PLAN???” and instead gently steer one another back on track. Remember, you’re trying to improve communication and workflows, not scare anyone from ever saying anything again.
According to a recent study by the Project Management Institute, 60% of the organizations they surveyed had some sort of process to refine their project management practices.
Sixty percent? That sounds pretty good, right? But here’s what is hidden behind the data: this is a survey of professional project managers. That means that only 60% of the people whose job it is to ensure proper understanding of the workflows are actually doing their job. 40% of the professionals aren’t doing it, which means that probably 80% or so of the rest of us aren’t doing it either.
And if you’re anything like me, you’re not a professional project manager, but you’re still setting up tasks, projects and timelines to finish projects.
So most of us aren’t up to speed on how well our processes are going, even though it’s vital to our efficiency and bottom line.
In this next part, we’ll talk about ways to successfully do that:
4. Have a Central Place to Store All of the Information
Much of what slows teams down in their workflow management, is the lack of a central place for information.
Switching from email to your document storage to your company knowledge system to the folders on that one person’s desk is a chore. Hunting down work is part of the work. But it doesn’t have to be. With one central location to find files, images, specs, presentations and more, your team will have a go-to place for information. Even if you’re across time zones or offices.
Take for example the invoicing process for a small manufacturer (bear with me, this is important stuff!). Traditionally, the company has sent invoices, scanned paper into their system, sent it to finance via email and then saved it somewhere else whether payment was paid or not.
Hot Tip #1: Scanning paper is super inefficient
Hot Tip #2: Scanning paper and then not storing the file in a central place is doubly inefficient
Putting that (digital!) invoice in one place where the finance, sales or management teams can access it will save everyone loads of time. And you’ll eliminate the friction on switching between so many different programs and tabs.
With lists that include a group of tasks, you can add attachments, comment to have a conversation, and add appropriate details so your whole team knows the context (without resorting back to email!)
5. Avoid Catch-Alls
In my house, I have this big box in my pantry.
You know what we do with this box? Dump everything in it that doesn’t have a place. This mostly includes mail and random papers I’m not sure what to do with.
In case you haven’t figured it out, this isn’t a good way to store info (I know, I know, I’m trying to improve).
In addition to being ruthless with the steps in your process, you also need to be ruthless with how and where your team communicates.
One of the reasons here at ClickUp we like the Get Things Done methodology is that there is no room for inaction. Every task that comes your way needs a response. There is no catch-all sitting there.
Many organizations use their Slack channel, internal messaging system or email as that one catch-all for tasks and information. Or what’s worse is the “just stopping by” and then they unload all of their thoughts. Interpersonal communication is important (no doubt!), but the conversation shouldn’t end there. The conversation should end with: “Thanks for your feedback, can you please add that into ClickUp?”
Disorganized comments, ideas and feedback is essentially throwing away all that contributes to the millions your company is potentially losing as a result of poor communication.
With a project management solution, you are in control no matter what gets thrown your way. New tasks can be created, feedback can be linked to it and your can prioritize what’s most important. You can quickly sort through what’s important and rank what has the highest priority. Then you can immediately tag or assign comments to work on the project or task.
Why Are We Doing All of This Again?
I can see beyond your flat little digital device. Your eyes are glazed over thinking about how wrong and wasteful and inefficient all of your projects are.
You’re asking, “Why are we doing all of this again?”
And so let’s refocus.
You’re trying to be ruthless with your processes.
You’re trying to be more efficient and less wasteful with your company resources.
You want to be a high performer to advance your company and your career.
How do better workflows help you be a better performer and rockstar?
Because efficient, repeatable processes help you create bigger results quickly. You want your process to be crisp no matter the size of the project, so as your scale and scope grows–you’ll be ready and disciplined. You won’t be scrambling and fretting; you and your team will be prepared. You’ve already planned the work and worked the plan with a ruthless process, so you know it works.
A consistent, refined workflow is how you minimize waste and achieve more for your company. The game-winners don’t come without mastering the fundamentals, and having a lean workflow helps you to do that.