Workflow - a Definition

Workflow can be described as the flow of information and control in a business process. All organizations have numerous business processes, and some of these business processes are of crucial importance and key to the survival and growth of a business.

By managing these processes more efficiently, companies can reduce their costs and improve their product and customer service, giving them an important competitive edge.

Some basic examples of advertising business processes are estimating, purchasing, media planning, scheduling, time sheets, expense reports, production procedures.

Worflow is a plan that is meant to complete specific tasks that have at least two parts, first is the person or multiple people who perform the task or operation, the second is the mechanism, materials, software or hardware with which the activity is completed.

The combination of all these processes make up the ‘infrastructure’ of a company. Usually, this infrastructure is not documented, but just ingrained in the way people work. New people joining the company are simply taught the procedures and in turn when they leave the company, they (hopefully) teach their replacements.

Needless to say this is a less than desirable way of dealing with a company's infrastructure. To further improve and enhance the workflow process, it needs to be documented first, so that it can be reviewed and later updated and used for workflow management.

We look at workflow to:

· Streamline how work gets done, and applying individual skills to where they would work best.

· Decrease the cost of doing business by examining repetitive or similiar functions that can be combined or eliminated

· Provide accurate and current information, where computerized systems can be substituted for manual processes.

· Speed up the work processes to deliver faster service, without overworking the system. Introduce effeciencies can be introduced to reduce expenditures of time, money or materials.

· How supervision can be applied more proactively.

· Track, control and adapt the system as the company changes. Identifying bottlenecks that can be eliminated.

· Identifiying key cross-training opertunities, so that missing employees do not let production come to a halt.

· Streamline inter-department relationships.

My approach towards reengineering workflow and how work gets created can be summed up with the creating a system that is stable (i.e. easy-to-use) and scalable. I believe that by creating a stable streamlined environment to create art and ideas and by combining it with a scalable workflow system companies can handle almost any situation profitably. The workflow system within the agency should be easy enough to use so that at anytime you can increase or decrease staff without affecting the performance of the entire agency.

While there are many project management systems (online), the truth is it doesn't always have to be über complex or complicated. (Heck, one of the best systems I worked with in over fifteen years just utilized a massive whiteboard that everyone contributed to).

Simple systems can work if they help you, track key variables (not just milestones, but profitability), it keeps the team informed, and you update your internal stakeholders and your client.

Looking to make changes?

We all know what it's like when the lines of communication break down. It may have been a simple message, or a missed email that caused a catastrophic event; in any organization there is a strong need for solid communications.

Depending on your approach, the effort to improve information flow within your company can be a smooth or bumpy ride. Don't be quick to make impulsive changes. Write down and flowchart your current workflow. Although your agency might have a "flat hierarchy", in reality, you do have employess who often fullfill very specific roles. Identify who is responsible for each step in the path as it moves along toward fulfillment. Search for the gaps in function, tasks and positions. You'll find that sometimes, simply adjusting a key position, can move a long way toward correcting or shaping an employee into an effective communicator. Examine the need for positions or tasks that your agency might be missing, or should do without.

Many agencies simply don’t take the time to teach their staff how things are done within the agency. Build a strong employee initiation program to make sure your new employees understand what’s expected of them. Take the time to train and update your current employees. At all times remembder that your agency has it's own unique existing culure, be mindful of how any changes you are going to introduce are going to effect the cultural norms within the agency.

With larger adjustments set realistic goals. Breakdown long-term milestones into smaller steps. Be dynamic in your approach and set clear guidelines and time-frames. Build a strong core of key communicators within your agency who will "own" the new process. Also, invest the time in studying your environment, what works in one agency may not work within your company's culture.

Although agencies are organic beasts, they can benefit greatly by adopting an improved, or at least defined, workflow. A strong commitment by everyone to adapt the company's culture will improve morale, the quality of the work environment and above all the agency's bottom line.

Here are some key elements that can make the restructuring ultimately successful.

- It must have the support of top management. Make sure they are committed to change and will support the process. Be certain they see the scope of what needs to take place; outline everything that needs to change clearly.

- If you haven't already, seriously look to move away from a paper based workflow system. An accounting system that has built in production, media and time-sheet systems are key elements in shortening the time it takes for your jobs to be completed. Up-to-the-minute financial reports at the lower project levels, mean greater profit and loss analysis earlier on.

However, when looking at workflow solutions you don’t have to stop there. Tie-in the agency's regular workflow to a central system in which everyone has access to the same information. Every agency has some form of job jacket, estimate, media schedule, purchase order, client change form and general ledger. Moving these forms to a computerized system is crucial to accurate information exchange. Although the technology can be an expensive undertaking, a computerized accounting and workflow system that is accessible to all departments can easily increase your profitability to cover more than just the cost of the new system.

- Information exchange on the creative side is also key in shortening the approval process. Is the agency using pdf files for client approval? Do you have an online client approval system or virtual workspace? Although these types of technology systems are sometimes more difficult to introduce into the culture of the agency, you'll find several agencies out there who could not live without them.

Remember, no matter what you do, take care of your core staff. These people will make or break whatever new systems you put into place. Know that when you implement new systems that there is a time period of adjustment, a little confusion and some uneven starts.

In many cases these new systems will also mean staff cuts or changes. With fewer people working the newer system, make sure they are well taken care of. Reengineering is tough enough, but much tougher without the good will of your staff. Keep everyone informed, set clear goals and the world of change will happen at a much smoother pace.