All businesses strive to become more efficient, effective, and productive in their work.
Why? By achieving the same (or better) result in a shorter timeframe and with fewer resources, they can tackle more projects and generate more profit.
However, in practice, improving productivity and efficiency is often very challenging: managing and coordinating work across different team members is always a big headache. Even worse, the bigger the organization, this challenge will also grow even more significant.
The solution? Appropriate implementation of work management.
Without work management best practices in place, you’ll face many performance-related issues like projects not staying within the agreed budget, missed deadlines, products delivered below their requirements, and others.
So, how should we implement work management to improve efficiency and productivity?
Let us begin by discussing the concept of work management itself.
Work Management: The Concept
The term “work management” in a business setting can refer to two things.
First, the discipline or effort of mapping, analyzing, and optimizing work to ensure it is as efficient as possible. The second is software solutions and tools that facilitate the work management practice.
So, a work management software solution will enable organizations to systematically map, manage, monitor, analyze, and optimize all kinds of work.
It’s crucial to understand that “work” can be further divided into several different types:
- Task: the smallest unit of action forming other types of work
- Process: predictable and repeatable tasks involving transforming raw material to processed goods and raw data to the processed form. (i.e., a marketing agency’s approval process)
- Project: typically a one-off sequence of tasks that executed a specific objective. The steps required are predictable but, in most cases, not repeatable. (i.e., a marketing agency developing an advertising campaign project for a client)
- Case: similar to the process, but the required steps are not apparent at first; only when more data is gathered as the work is executed will the steps present themselves. (i.e., handling customer complaints, the steps won’t be apparent until the customer provides additional information).
As we can see, while the term “work management” is often used interchangeably with “process management,” “business process management,” and “project management,”
among others, they aren’t the same. Work management deals with all kinds of work: a process, a project, or a case.
Work Management Implementation: Step-By-Step
While the actual implementation of work management will vary depending on the organization, the process involved, and other factors, all work management practices will affect three core phases:
- Workflow mapping: visualizing work into a comprehensive workflow diagram
- Workflow analysis: analyzing the mapped workflow to identify inefficiencies and areas for improvement
- Workflow optimization: implementing changes and optimizations to improve the efficiency of work
Further, these three phases can be achieved in just five main steps:
Step 1: Picking a process/project/case to optimize
Your business might only involve a single, relatively straightforward process, but many companies involve various interconnected processes, projects, and cases.
While ultimately we’d want to optimize all of them, we should start and focus on one.
You can pick a process or project/case based on three different approaches:
- Strategic: the work that matters the most to your business’s performance
- Reactive: a work with visible inefficiencies and/or issues
- Customer-centric: a process or project that, when improved, will positively impact customer satisfaction
Step 2: Collecting information
Once you’ve picked a work to optimize, the next step is to gather as much information as possible about this specific work.
To do this, you can interview team members and stakeholders that are directly involved in the workflow and collect information, including:
- How the process starts and ends (sometimes they are not very obvious)
- The requirements of successfully completing the work
- The tasks/actions required to finish work and the exact sequence they must be executed
- Who is responsible for each task
- The deadline of each task
And so on. The more information you get, the better.
Step 3: Workflow mapping
The next step is to visualize the work in a comprehensive diagram.
While you can use various methods for this purpose, the most common way is to use the basic flowchart, where you’ll use shapes and symbols to visualize the workflow.
Here are the most important symbols in a workflow diagram:
Terminator: oval shape, represents the start and end points of a process
Operation: rectangle shape, represents a specific task that is performed
Decision: diamond shape, represents a point in the process where a decision must be made (i.e. Yes/No) before we can move on to the next step.
Arrows: the arrows are used to connect different shapes in the workflow, representing the flow of information.
Focus on ensuring the workflow diagram is as accurate as possible representing the work as is (as it is currently executed).
Step 4: Workflow Analysis
Once the workflow is mapped, the next step is to perform analysis on the diagram while considering:
- The objective of the process/project, and track its progress against these objectives
- The reason behind each step and task
- The roles of different teams and individuals involved
- Whether the tasks are really needed or can be substituted/eliminated
- Whether some steps can be automated
- Whether everyone always has enough information in each step to accomplish the task and/or make decisions
Identify inefficiencies and bottlenecks, and develop an improvement plan to optimize this workflow.
Step 5: Workflow Optimization
Once we’ve identified how to improve the workflow based on the workflow analysis, we can start implementing the planned changes to the workflow.
Our job doesn’t stop here. Get your stakeholders and team members to review the changes and check whether the workflow is more efficient after these changes. If not, be prepared to go back to the drawing board.
It’s crucial to embrace the fact that the workflow won’t be perfect, and we’ll need to analyze and improve the workflow again and again continuously.
Work management is about mapping, analyzing, and optimizing work to ensure it’s as efficient as possible. By ensuring we execute the work efficiently, we can accomplish it while using fewer resources (and time), and so we can be more productive in tackling more projects and performing more business processes every day.