Boost your Productivity with a Process Management Platform

Key Take-Away: If you’re looking to put effort into documenting your organization’s standard operating procedures for the error-prevention and efficiency gains that such systematization enables, set your sights higher than a static intranet solution. While wikis are wonderful for hosting reference resources (well done, Wikipedia!), for maximum return on investment, workflows belong in a proper process management platform.

Where do your key organizational processes live?

For far too many organizations, the answer to that question is, at least to some degree, “in our employees’ heads”.  When key institutional knowledge exists only in the mind of an employee, inefficiencies and bottlenecks disrupt everyday operations. When that critical employee gets busy, gets sick, or goes on vacation,  productivity plummets along with profitability and growth.

Perhaps your organization has already felt these constraints and documented standard operating procedures (SOPs). If so, congratulations—you’re ahead of most companies! But how useful is your documentation system, really? How often, and how well, do your employees use it to streamline productivity and ensure excellent service to your clients?

Choose your SOP documentation system carefully, lest you invest a great deal of time and funds implementing a system that is underutilized and ineffective. Here’s a cautionary tale: I recently met the CEO of a venture-backed startup who just made this transition. As her company sought to scale operations by adding locations, she realized the need to (in her words) “SOPify” key processes like hiring, onboarding, and sales, since their informal approach to standardizing business processes was leading to wasted effort, internal turmoil, and poor results. This CEO realized that defining, documenting, and disseminating their procedures would create smoother, more coordinated, and more consistent execution, helping facilitate company growth—and set about the time-consuming task of Writing Everything Down. Like many facing this situation for the first time, however, she chose to store her newly-documented business processes in a shared wiki, a collaboratively editable internal web site. In this particular case, she chose Atlassian’s Confluence enterprise wiki platform. (For other popular choices, check out the DIY Distribution article in our Documenting in Detail series.) Though I commend her “SOPification” efforts, her company could have done so much better than just throwing up a wiki!

While a big step up from having no formal procedural documentation, keeping SOPs in static content repositories like a wiki is still a far from ideal choice. Why? While such distribution systems give employees easy and immediate access to up-to-date work instructions, they provide no workflow coordination benefits. Employees are left to their own initiative to look up and follow the procedures (which they often feel too busy to do) and forced to use other systems to track completion, communicate status, and collaborate with coworkers. In addition, management has no visibility into process execution and compliance, leaving important questions unanswered: Are procedures actually being followed? What’s our throughput? Where are our bottlenecks?

By contrast, a workflow/process management system can do all of the work of a wiki or other static publication system while also providing a great number of additional beneficial features:

  • Centralized, secure, workflow documentation sharing: Just like a wiki or other shared electronic document, workflow management software offers the ability to document and securely publish standard operating procedures. While wikis offer easy editing and flexibility in format, navigation, and presentation, making them suitable for many types of documentation, workflow systems are optimized for procedural documentation, typically offering built-in ways to represent discrete steps and substeps in workflows and embed relevant training.
  • Instant job tracking: Unlike wikis or other static content repositories, workflow software allows you to assign a documented procedure, creating individual, trackable instances with specific task assignee(s) and start/due dates—like a traditional work order, service request, or support case, but with the advantage of integrating documentation for task completion, allowing the status of each step to be individually tracked in real-time.
  • Just-in-time training: Since workflow management software makes work instructions—along with linked manuals, video, or other training resources—part of the work order/service request, it enables delivery of just-in-time training to employees who need it. No need to hunt help articles when completing a process, when the service request itself includes the step-by-step instructions and, for those who need an introduction or refresher, the training resources for completing each step.
  • Team task coordination: Process management software does for ongoing operations what collaborative project management applications do for one-time initiatives: It scaffolds process execution by laying out the structure of the workflow as individual tasks visible to all assignees to the workflow, helping avoid “dropped balls” in the human hand-offs between steps in a process. Process responsibility and completion can be communicated instantly as assignees update task status and team members can collaborate on individual process steps with the help of threaded discussions at the task level.
  • Auditable procedure compliance: Since an individual work order/service request is an instance of a documented procedure, such completed assignments create records that automatically serve as documentation of procedure compliance. Each task status update and comment is recorded for later reference and reporting.

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