flow

Broken workflows are death traps that lure employees and customers alike into a tangled mess of processes. As much as smooth workflows make everyone feel like they are floating down a lazy river, inefficient workflows set your nerves on edge and make you feel like you are trying to push an elephant over a wall.

But, even today, too many organizations are muddling around with mediocre workflows. This lack of effective workflows explains why few things seem to get done on time or within budget.

Your new hires are sitting idle for a long time. Why? Because the admin team failed to allot necessary resources. The marketing team extended the free-trial period, but failed to inform the product team, which led to a slew of emails from irate customers. The result? Chaos and customer dissatisfaction.

Considering these workflow dysfunctions as a part of the process will only come back to haunt your organization. Rather than patching up your workflows and processes, it would be better to do a complete overhaul and fix them once and for all. But how do you spot a broken workflow?

Well, here are some telltale signs to look out for. If any of these seven signs seem familiar, you’re dealing with broken workflows and it’s about time you fixed them.

Sign #7: Lack of Ownership or Accountability

This is the most overlooked sign. Most business processes have multiple touch points and intricate approval mechanisms. When the process flow is not standardized, everyone keeps waiting for the other person to approve or sign-off before they complete their part.

Stakeholders become sitting ducks for instructions that never come and end up dragging the deadline way too long. Blame games and finger pointings ensue. Sketching out a clear process flow that lists out all stakeholders and their corresponding actions will reduce pointless confusions and time delays.

Just imagine how peaceful your workplace would be if only everyone had a clear understanding of their role in the workflow and were empowered to make those decisions within specific parameters.

Sign #6: Too Many Process Bottlenecks

Your compliance-laden processes get stuck every so often at the exact same point. Be it passing multiple approvals through the same person or using the same template for all processes, something creates a roadblock. Once the pile of requests starts stacking up, your processes will break down and inefficiencies will take over.

In an attempt to avoid process bottlenecks people will try to find the path of least resistance, skipping steps they deem unnecessary. This individualistic approach will stir up compliance issues. By streamlining their workflows, organizations can instill a sense of structure in their messy processes and ensure that people don’t ignore or bypass rules.

Sign #5: Little to No Process Transparency

The most common reason workflows break is that no one has a clue as to what is happening. To find out the status of a task at a given time, you send a group email to all stakeholders and hope someone takes responsibility for the delay. Except, that no one ever accepts their mistake on a group email.

When your employees don’t have visibility over what they are supposed to be doing, it can cause frustrations and stall productivity. With visibility, process owners can easily spot what’s causing the holdup and take measures to solve it.

Sign #4: Frequent Process Delays

Process delays are a common occurrence and no one takes a deadline seriously. Whatever the deadline is, people just complete what needs to be done at their own sweet pace. There are no explanations as to what’s causing the holdup. The umpteen checkpoints that cross-check every step tend to drag the process longer than necessary.

Delays in day-to-day tasks don’t just impact the productivity of your employees, but also knock down an organization’s profitability. But who’s responsible for these delays? Is it the people who stall the process, or muddled processes which have no sense of direction, or outdated tools that do more harm than help?

Sign #3: Paper-Driven Processes

Paperwork is the major pain point in any workflow. Just the thought of moving a purchase order from the specific department, to the purchasing team, and back up to the finance department, only to be forwarded back to the department head for authorization, and then back to the purchasing team for process manually can make anyone go dizzy.

Walking around departments with a paper file in hand to get the necessary approvals is a waste of time. There is a lot of movement and the paperwork passes through a lot of hands. There’s a high probability for the paperwork to slip through one of the process cracks. Even emails and online forms do very little to keep track of documents properly.

Sign #2: Data Duplication

Nearly all organizations maintain multiple systems for record keeping. They enter customer details in the CRM, the sales tool, the accounting software, and many other places. On top of that, the data is entered manually into each system. If a specific detail is modified in one interface, then it is manually altered in all other software.

When data duplication is done manually, there is a high risk of error. Inconsistencies pop out of the blue. You may have to hire quite a few people to manage the data entry and duplication. All these issues could be solved only if organizations integrated their systems with each other. Cloud-based applications which include built-in API integrations make it easy to maintain a single version of records.

Sign #1: Too Many Errors

The major symptom that gives a broken workflow away is the number of errors. Be it typo errors in a printed document, incorrect order specification, or merely incomplete information, correcting them will eat away considerable time. If left unaddressed, these negligible errors can stir up a lot of trouble like compliance lawsuits, customer dissatisfaction, and more.

Identifying the source of errors can be hard, since it is a combination of a number of factors like process bottlenecks, shortcuts, insufficient visibility, manual intervention, data-duplication, and so on. While the process of streamlining the workflow to reduce errors may seem daunting, if done properly it would be worth the effort.

However, outsourcing this process might not be the right way to deal with it. No one knows the highs and lows of a process like business users. Rather than wasting away precious working hours on consultants who don’t understand the depth of the issue, empowering business users with the right tool might facilitate the way and cut process times in half while saving costs.

Summary

The signs mentioned here are neither groundbreaking nor something new. People encounter broken workflows on a daily basis, but they have gotten so used to these inefficiencies to the extent they barely notice it anymore.

To prevent severe consequences, organizations need to untangle their messy workflows. If these symptoms look familiar, look for a less manual way to manage your workflows. Technology has grown leaps and bounds. Today, there are a number of workflow management software options to enforce workflows efficiently and pass on tasks from one stakeholder to another.

So, bid adieu to your paper forms and manual workflows, look for technological products that will let you automate and optimize your business workflows. You don’t need to do a major overhaul. Tackle your broken processes one at a time and see how things progress.