Many projects involve repetitive elements of work that take some inputs, run them through a series of processes and deliver an integrated output. Standardising these elements of project work can create efficiencies and minimise errors. A couple of examples include normal ‘sprints’ in an Agile project and the monthly updating of the plans and reporting in a major project. Workflow management sit one step above individual processes (particularly standard operating procedures) linking them into an optimum sequence of work.
Workflow management means to oversee the creation of a deliverable from beginning to end. The management aspect is to be able to identify the people who need to be involved in each process within the work flow and to ensure the ‘flow’ allows for input from all required parties in the right sequence. The key questions that need answering to create a productive workflow are:
- What is the optimum sequence of processes?
- Who needs to be involved in each process? This includes knowing what inputs are required to start the work and what outputs are produces to finish the work.
- How to keep the momentum going within each process and the overall workflow (and the timely identification of blockages)?
A workflow can be simply designed on a piece of paper (or white board) to show the flow, who is responsible for each process and how the tasks are accomplished; or automated.
The key advantage of developing and using a workflow is you can expect similar results from the accomplishment of the work at each iteration, even if the people involved change. It reduces errors and provides consistent results.
Agile projects use the concept of ‘done’ at the end of a sprint. A common definition of done ensures that the increment produced at the end of sprint is of high quality, with minimal defects. Teams define the series of steps needed to reach ‘done’, and implement them routinely through each sprint. The steps to get to ‘done’ may include:
- Code Complete
- Unit tests written and executed
- Integration tested
- Performance tested
- Documented (just enough)
Build these steps into a workflow and everyone benefits – particularly if the workflow is reviewed and updated to incorporate learned experience on a regular basis. The art is to keep the workflow as simple as possible but not so simple that it becomes simplistic.
So next time you wade through the tasks needed to create your monthly report or any other repetitive job within the overall management of a project think about documenting the work flow – it will pay dividends over time.