Written By Roberto Ongaro, Lead Clinical Systems Trainer
Imagine a workplace where everything flows seamlessly from inception to production, congruent with the vision and goals of its leaders. Utopian? Perhaps, but not entirely out of reach and very well worth pursuing. The catalyst for achieving a high level of performance in virtually any business can often begin with a brutally honest workflow analysis by a disinterested, third, or neutral party; take your pick of party descriptor. None-the-less, what’s needed is an unbiased entity to dissect the business and report the good, bad, and indifferent of day to day processes in an effort to bridge efficiency or quality gaps, if any, between business goals and actual product delivery.
Just recently an out of state project manager visited my work site and led me through a workflow analysis. I discovered a few inefficiencies that I didn’t know existed…hence the analysis. The success of my business practice as a clinical systems trainer depends on delivering the goods in the most timely and efficient manner.
Acceptance of constructive criticism is also essential for improvement. Pride in your work is crucial but not to the extent that it blinds you from real or potential problems. Don’t let yourself or your organization fall victim to thinking that there is nothing else to learn, no areas to improve, or no time to save.
One of the benefits of workflow analysis that was emphasized to me was time savings. To me that alone was the most valuable. Time saved by working smarter opens the door to other options, usually discretionary. I like to build relationships with my clients, it makes me more approachable, and the more approachable I am the more they’re apt to seek and trust me. In the end, I’m in the people business…but aren’t we all?
At least that’s the way I see it.
The following paragraphs illustrate the inner workings of a workflow analysis.
Note: The outcome might include recommended changes, however, change can be frightening to some employees so you must communicate clearly and seek input from all stakeholders to increase “buy in”, but that’s another topic.
Defining Workflow Analysis
Workflow analysis is fundamentally carried out with a basic view in mind to review all the processes that take place in the business and finding out all those inefficiencies that are making the process weak and inefficient. Once such inefficiencies are found, some recommendations are devised in order to improve the current situation of the business. The analysts that analyze the processes of the business then communicate with the employees who are directly or indirectly linked with the process and information is taken from them to document the process properly. Once the documentation is done properly, the final stage is to recommend all the changes that a process requires for the overall productivity of the task and the performance of the business to improve. Such changes can vary from process to process; some might require automation while others might require some additional security controls.
Why businesses require workflow analysis
A business that seeks to remain competitive in the market and that wishes to improve its productivity, efficiency and performance would want to carry out workflow analysis. There are two basic reasons for a business to undertake workflow analysis and reap some benefits from it.
- Technological advances: The world today is advancing technologically rapidly and there are many businesses out there that are still devoid of such advancements. It is quite obvious that such advances will improve the business processes. Workflow analysis can successfully identify which areas of the business process require upgrading of the technology.
- Legacy processes: Legacy processes are those that have been attached with the business for quite some long time. If some processes are attached with a business for a significant amount of time, then it does not mean that they are inefficient or unnecessary, but it also does not mean that such processes are effective and not replaceable. It is important to highlight such processes and find out better alternatives which will improve the resource allocation of the business.
How to carry out workflow analysis
The first question arises regarding who will carry out this analysis. It is often advisable that outsiders conduct this analysis since they are neutral and unbiased. If a sales manager does a workflow analysis of the sales process then it is quite likely that he would not want or like anything to change in the process, which will just make workflow analysis a waste of time. The following are the steps that need to be followed in carrying out a workflow analysis successfully:
- Interviewing the top management: The first step of the workflow analysis is to interview the top managers. In these interviews the managers explain how they view the business and whether the business is performing well or not. Once the analyst knows what exactly the top level management expects from the workflow analysis, the actual work can begin with the goals of the managers being kept in mind.
- Employee interviews: Once the interview of the top management is taken, the employees’ interviews are then taken. In these interviews the aim is to gather information about the process. They are asked exactly how the business is done and how the process works. It is important to take copies of documents and paperwork which might assess in further analysis of the process.
- Flow charts: Once enough information is gathered regarding how the process works, it is time to make a flow chart of the process. For example, a purchase process might involve making a purchase requisition, purchase order and several approvals for such documents. All such steps of the process need to be mapped on a flow chart where one can learn how the process moves and which parties are involved.
- Why things done this way: Once the flow charts are made with proper understanding, it is important for analysts to ask the employees why the process is being carried out in the way it is. If employees give proper justification but that justification does not match the goals and visions of the top management, it is important to question the employees on how the process can be made better.
- Analyze resources available and best practice: At this point the analyst has to analyze the resources that the employees have and how well the resources are being used. It is possible that the employees do not have sufficient resources which make the process inefficient. In this case, the analyst will have to advice the management to fund some more resources. But if the employees do have resources but are not using them well, it is better to recommend how those resources can be used in the best possible way.
- Needed changes: Once the shortcomings of the process are documented, it is time to make some recommendations which might help the management in improving the performance of the company by making the process efficient.
- Reporting: Once the changes have been recommended, it is time to present the report to the management of the company.
Benefits of workflow analysis
There are several benefits of workflow analysis to the business and the employees, and they are as follows:
- Efficiency: The main aim of workflow analysis is to identify weak areas of processes in the business and then improve them. By bringing improvements in each process one at a time, the business can start its journey on becoming efficient.
- Time savings: This is a huge advantage for the business and the employees as well. Consider a situation where employee has to deliver purchase orders to the manager for approval, and this could be happening because of non-existence of automation. With automation, the process time would be reduced significantly and the employees’ tasks can also be made easier.
- Better allocation of resources: Workflow analysis detects whether the resources used in a process are utilized effectively or not. By finding out underutilized resources in the process, a business can benefit from workflow analysis by utilizing such resources to their full potential. If one process for instance does not require a computer, then the analysis can clearly detect that the computer is not needed and could be used somewhere else, or be used in the existing process for increased efficiency.