Productivity Hacks

Successful Workflow Management Tool Implementation

Workflow Management Systems come into play when projects are complex. Efficiency can be gained by automating tasks and sharing out responsibility and tasks across individuals or even teams. There are a lot of different workflow management system options available ranging from using a custom excel sheet on sharepoint with granting access to different users to a simple web-based board organization, creative review tools, etc. All of these tools fulfill a different need.

On an enterprise level – no matter what solution you are deciding on, you’ll likely choose a product that offers some level of customization. Rarely does one shoe fit all as organizational structures, reporting needs and processes are unique to every company.

The paradox is that

Where a workflow management system can provide the most value is also where it is the most difficult to implement.

Complex processes including multiple approvals and additions across numerous groups, a large number of users to onboard, different user roles and group and reporting needs. This is where a workflow management system can make the biggest impact bringing down lead times, service time and resource utilization. Implementing a workflow management tool is more than just signing up to a tool subscription. In most cases it requires a dedicated resource often aided by a third party consultant to design the customization and manage through change.

Here is our guide for successful workflow management tool implementation

1. Work with an expert

This can be an internal experienced change & project manager or a third party consultant. The saying is true that you don’t know what you don’t know until you know. And the risk is high with a cross-team workflow management tool that is not well thought-through. Working with a business expert may leave some gaps on the technical side – database design, architecture, security and user logins, just to name a few – that are difficult to revert later. On the other hand, working with IT can lack in business understanding and process design which could render the tool useless.

The ideal partner combines technical know-how, business insights and business process creation as well as experience in change management.

2. Engage your stakeholders early

Ultimately the stakeholders are who will be using the tool and who will hence determine whether it’s successfully used or not. Most stakeholders will be sceptical to any change to the existing processes and tools. They will be concerned that this will add another step for them and create more admin time and work. It’s important to fully understand the stakeholders needs and select and implement a tool that will support them being more efficient. Take workload off, rather than adding just another admin step. ensure that the tool is providing maximum value to the users.

Including them in conversations along the process will ensure that the customized end tool will be of value to them. Added bonus – by being engaged early, the stakeholders will feel valued and can turn into your biggest supporters for adaptation and roll-out!

3. Think through big data

A workflow management tool is particularly powerful when combined with the right reporting. This can be operational reporting on service or lead times or resource utilization. Or depending on which area of the business this tool is being used at, this can extend to commercial reporting. Either way, it is important to think through the data collection and database setup right from the beginning with the desired reporting in mind.

Reporting is not an after-thought just because it comes at the end of the process. Everything else leading up to it will impact the reports that can be pulled.

You can’t report on data that you don’t collect correctly or not at all.

4. Choose an agile platform

If one thing is for certain, then it’s change. Team structures change, other data input tool usage might change. Responsibilities shift, business needs change and business responses adapt.

In order to stay relevant and supportive to the business it’s necessary to select an agile platform that can accommodate changes. This means giving users options to update business processes easily. This means working with APIs to connect with different applications as and when required.

5. Think through the daily maintenance and support

The work isn’t done once the workflow management tool is rolled out. The first few months will be needing a lot of attention as users are starting to engage with the tool. Users will have questions – some technical, some business related. Users will have feedback as things that have been well thought through, mapped out and implemented may not work for them as they had intended.

Growing FAQs will help adjust some of the concerns, and it is important to keep an active feedback loop and follow-up on these, too. This will keep engagement up and prevent frustrations and eventually stakeholders finding ways to work around the workflow management tool.

There are different ways to manage this – an effective way is by assigning ‘super users’ in specific areas of the business who can provide assistance and support.

 

 

cloud automation

The opportunities of cloud-based automation in the hospitality industry

There are two words in the term cloud automation (or also ‘cloud-based automation) – CLOUD and AUTOMATION.

Let’s start with the slightly easier one – AUTOMATION. This refers to making routine and manual tasks run more efficiently by putting tools and processes in place. Say for example consolidating different reports coming in different formats at the end of every months and creating an executive dashboard view. Or getting sales leads and inputting them into a system where they are trackable. Of course it takes a bit of time to set up the automation but there is a break-even point for every repetitive task at which point the manual continuation is highly ineffective. Automation isn’t new, and it no longer is an optional benefit. Snooze and you’ll lose out to the competition with inefficient operations and heavy overhead.

Then there is the word CLOUD. Cloud can mean anything from a big server center in Delaware to a machine installed down the hallway allowing you an internal cloud in your own data center. What all different solutions have in common is that applications are no longer run via an installed software on your physical computer. Instead the applications are accessed via the internet. This is the software subcription or software as a service model.

Benefits of cloud automation

Basically you are outsourcing soft- and hardware. It’s the easiest hands-off approach. All you do is pay a monthly subscription fee, and the supplier will service everything else.

This includes any kind of maintenance and updates. Your supplier will make sure that hardware updates are done and they will also be the ones on site for any trouble-shooting. And with hardware outsourced, of course this also means a low cost of entry. No hardware and infrastructure setups required.

Cloud computing also means that data storage is outsourced to the cloud. And this is a good thing. Especially when you’re talking about cross-team collaborations. Collaborations and document tracking are so much easier when facilitated via the cloud instead of individual machines. Or think about hardware damage or loss. Your team member’s laptop got stolen? Yes, too bad for the hardware but more importantly no confidential data is lost or compromised. What does cloud automation look like in application?

Applications of cloud automation in the hospitality industry

There are as many opportunities for cloud automation application as there are work processes and teams, no matter what industry. Below are some examples of the most common uses that we have seen working with our clients in the hospitality industry.

1.Campaign Report automation

A marketing campaign is often multi-channel. And with that reports are coming back in different formats. Some will be in excel, some will be in pdf or ppt. Reports will be for different time periods, using different metrics. To fully analyse the success of a campaign and present this to senior management, those reports will need to be consolidated and put into a dashboard. It can take a FT resource a day or even more to get this done. Valuable time that could be spend actually growing the business!

2.OTA crawler

The potential uses here are multi-fold. One of the biggest pain points we hear is rate parity. Due to single hotel deals or OTA decisions, the rate displayed on an OTA doesn’t always mirror your brand website. This is especially problematic if inventory is closed out oryour rate is undercut training the customer to continue using OTAs for ‘special deals’ and undermining your brand value. It is impossible to manually check all rates on all channels.

Another use of OTA crawlers is to monitor your market. Keep an eye on rate developments and availability of your comp set and beyond. Get price alerts, understand who the competitors are from a consumer perspective and keep an eye on their rate development and package inclusions.

3.Booking translations for hotel conversions

No doubt, converting a hotel is no small task, and one of the daunting and time-intensive ones is the translation of every single booking into the new system with new rate codes and room descriptions. This is often handled by the central reservation team and with the volume of bookings also comes with a high error rate.

Cloud based automation can take care of this is a much shorter time period than manual labour could do freeing up reservation agents for business growth activity and also allowing for a smooth transition. Booking translations are now possible even the day before the conversion instead of multiple weeks prior.

3.Rate loading

It is only human for errors to happen when manually loading rates. Some errors, however, can be detrimental if not spotted early enough. Like rates being available for $0.99 by mistake! And you know whoever spots this will spread the word online and before you know it your hotel is booked up with this error rate. The check-and-balances process can be automated which means a very thorough check as well as a very fast check. Never show wrong rates again compromising your ADR.

The common threat

See one of the issues in running a smooth operation is that we use many different systems to achieve a lot of different things. And those systems don’t always (not to say rarely) talk to each other. Which leaves manual interaction to spend time to copy paste things from one interface to the other. The efficiency we gain in using those applications is lost when adding the inefficient use of resources. And this doesn’t even take into the account the cost of losing time and focus on business development instead.

Not only is this not the most effective use of your team’s time, it can also be demotivating and is prone to human errors. This is one of the many fields where cloud automation can step in and take some burden off your shoulders. Nobody has time for this if there is business to go after!

data triangle

Don’t Pay More For Data Analysis

When running an efficient team or business, constant improvement is paramount. This of course involves reviewing activities, testing activities and taking hard decisions. And while there certainly is a place for intuition, you also want to make sure to make an informed decision based on your past learnings. After all, this is how grow happens.

These learnings are manifested in data, and the easier it is to digest, and the more specific it is to answer the right question, the more value you get from it. This match of data and decision is not something that just happens. It needs to be well planned from the onset. In the most basic sense you want to have a measure of success or no success to decide on whether to continue a specific activity or not. But there are also questions of: What should be tweaked? Where does failure or success come from? What do we need to do more of? The good news is that recent technological development have made a range of ready-made tools and custom capabilities possible. The bad news is that it’s not often used to the max.

Most businesses don’t maximize their tools to support analytics and decision making

We often see clients approach data the wrong way around. The questions they are asking are: What data do we have available? And what system should we use to collect and store data? A few months later, the question of reporting then becomes relevant with questions like: What views can we pull, how regularly can we do this? At this point, the capabilities are often very restricted and additional efforts are necessary for retrofitting. This can quickly become resource intensive and cost you a lot of money.

 

start with the decision

 

Once a system is implemented and a data structure is set up, any modification will be resource intensive. The right approach therefore is to first ask the question: What decisions need to be supported? Only once you have an answer to this question you can start addressing questions like ‘What data needs to be captured when?’, ‘How does data need to be stored?’, Hence database design, supporting system, set up and reporting mechanism and format will be determined and will now be thought through and mapped out before implementation with the end goal in mind.

Now in reality, most companies are already working with multiple legacy systems. Nevertheless, the right starting point remains the question of what decisions need to be supported. You can THEN start working through what you can do within your current setup and whether your current setup is appropriate or not within the context of the decision goal. In order to save money in the long run, data usage must be crystal clear. The paradigm needs to shift from ‘What do we have’ to ‘What do we need’. Otherwise you will continue going from interim solution to interim solution which might be a good short-term fix but will cost you long-term.

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do you have enterprise wide consensus on big data usage?
  • Was the business working together with the IT team to own and manage the data design process?
  • Is the analytics team well integrated within the strategic leadership?

If your answer to any of these is ‘No’, you may want to start looking a bit more closely as this could be a symptom of an non integrated approach that might bubble up soon.

How do you get from your strategic questions to big data design?

Thinking through big data from end to beginning can be an overwhelming tasks, that’s why you will usually work with a consultant or data specialist to work through all details before implementation.

At a minimum you want a vendor to set up the technical side for you. This means that it’s up to you to define and lay out the design. This might work if you have a strong analytic team and they are deeply connected to the business. Otherwise working with a strictly technical vendor really isn’t enough. You need a partner who can guide you in translating decision needs into reporting formats and data setup requirements, meaning somebody who can bridge the gap between business and data into a connecting story. If these resources aren’t available in-house, you need to make sure the vendor you’re working with is bringing this capability.

Why? Because you are maximizing your learnings. Because you are keeping knowledge recorded and within the enterprise. Because leadership can confidently take decisions quickly and move the company forward. Because you are not wasting time producing reports manually trying to compare apples to apples. Pretty powerful stuff.

The data triangle

There are three components to big data: A) Reporting B) Data capture which mostly also means a user interface and C) Database structure.

data triangle

These elements all work together. You can’t report on anything that you don’t capture at some point – be it along a workflow process, be it via manual entry, be it by connecting to other data sources. All data you capture (which ever method) needs to be held in your central database, the central source of truth, in a format that you can report on.

For extra complexity and a reality check – add on the matter of data quality if there is manual input at any stage along the process.

Let’s look at the example of an international marketing team for example and go through the three elements of this triangle.

Reporting: 
The most basic report that is relevant here is campaign success. How do you measure success? Depending on the nature and objective of the campaign it could be total or incremental revenue generated, clicks and views, unprompted recall, etc. You will want to look at consumer behavior by channels and by customer segment to enable tweaking and optimization of campaigns moving forward. Maybe there are even other inter-dependencies like campaigns that are running in parallel or macroeconomic impact of different geographic regions.

Data Capture:
Now you will be working with multiple data sources here. Most likely it’s a combination of new data capture, integration with other internal systems and then external data sources.

New data capture can be fed by a workflow management system with which different stakeholders along the process interact. Data will manually be input along the process – requests will be submitted, approvals will be given. Note here that user interface design is paramount in determining the quality of data you will get in this process.

Then the marketing team might want to integrate with the email system for example, in order to match any specific campaign to different email sends. This is important to correctly attribute opening rates, click rates and other engagement reports. The same is true for external data sources. Most likely any marketing team will be working agencies (for example PR, paid search) to activate and execute a campaign.

It is important to work with your agency and internal teams to discuss requirements and make adjustments on both ends to reports created. The alternative to this is having to spend a full day of manually pulling reports and reformatting in MS excel and ppt for a presentable report that tells the whole story and thus allows decision making.

Database Structure:
This is your single source of truth. A database needs to be sustainable, meaning it needs to be able to grow with you. This is in terms of amount of data captured and stored, this is in terms of speed of returning and capturing data to sustain your workflow management system or other user interface, this is in terms of allowing new kind of data captured as reporting requirements change, and of course in terms of enabling reporting.

Requirements here are individual depending on your reporting and process needs. But these are the generic attributes you want to be looking for.

  • mandated formats to capture text, date, numbers, currencies
  • as little duplication as possible
  • connection to third party data sources
  • security, maintenance, backup

You can see that reporting and the underlying data availability is a complex topic bearing unlocked opportunities. Make sure you think about reporting needs proactively from the outside view and you’ll be able to A) drive your company forward and B) make savings in the long run.

 

workflow management system

Choosing the right workflow management tool

Great so you did the hard work of defining the business processes and mapping out workflow management as well as responsibilities. Now you can take the next step of hyper-charging this optimized process by employing a workflow management tool across your team or your organization.

(Check out our previous blog posts on the importance and components of defining business processes and an introduction into methods of business process mapping.)

There are many options available from simple task sharing apps to customized workflow management systems. Here is what you want to look out for when evaluating which one is the best fit for you.

How do you choose the right workflow management tool for you?

No matter how advanced a system you will end up using, the below are key functionalities you want to be looking for in your tool. Depending on the complexity of your organization and your process, some will be more important than others for you right now.

Key functionalities of any workflow management tool

Key functionalities of workflow management tools

1. Clearl role definition

Most tools will allow you to assign different roles. There is a spectrum from differentiated user access and edit rights to facilitating individual work queues and email notifications. No good or bad, it really depends on the size of your team and the complexity of the work flow.

When you’re working in a small team clear role definition might be less crucial as team members sit next to each other and can quickly communicate. It’s when you work across a large team across multiple offices that responsibilities can be more confusing.

2. Data storage

Workflow management systems enable you to house documentation in the tool and make it editable and accessible to the right stakeholders. This way you can avoid having various versions of the same document floating between laptops and email and can work off the most up to date document at any given time.

It sounds simple but this is very powerful when it comes to sharing information and keeping everyone up to date.

This doesn’t mean you can’t keep different versions of your documents locally on your hard drive, but you want a central source of truth for all documentation.

3. Communication

Some workflow management tools will enable automated communication that notifies team members of tasks fulfilled or tasks due. Rules can be set up of who gets notified when to make sure nobody gets left off any communication by mistake. In some tools, due deadlines and due dates can be assigned to specific tasks which goes along with reminders to the task owners.

4. Reporting

With each step being captured in the tool and the tool holding up to date true documents, progress is transparent and can be shared with business leaders and team members alike. For example this can be used to show how the team has successfully accomplished 20 tasks in this month.

5. User interface

Any workflow management tool comes to full fruition when used by all stakeholders. The more intuitive the user interface is, the less time you need to spend on training and the easier user adoption will be. Getting future users involved in dashboard design can be useful if you’re designing your own interface.

 

Still unclear? See how we approach workflow management systems here at Business Performance Solutions in this video.

workflow processes toast

Business processes and … toast!

In an earlier post we talked about the importance of business processes in efficient communication. This blog post will introduce a fun talk on a few methods of optimizing these very business processes using simple visualization.

Workflow processes often stem from long-formed habits over an initial need to get something done. So these processes aren’t built with efficiency in mind but with a singular task in mind. Add on that people working together making unspoken assumptions and this leads to misunderstandings and energy lost backpaddling and adjusting direction.

Visualizing processes and aligning understandings is very powerful in making your team run as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

Take something as simple as making toast. Something we probably all do in the morning. You may assume there is only one way of making toast and your colleague making toast will look the same as when you do it. But think again! There are so many variables. What do you do first, how long do you toast the bread for? What do you put on it? What kind of toast do you use?

In this inspiring and fun Ted talk, Tom Wujec shares his findings of the many methods of identifying the toast making process through visualization using real life examples.

It’s all about breaking down complex processes into simple steps and re-assembling them in the right order into a good process. Be this by using simple drawings or in a team using sticky notes.

Making toast might be an easy everyday example and you can easily see how this gains relevance and importance to business processes.

How many different interpretations of the same process are in your team?

What angles can the individual team members bring to enrich the process?

Does everybody aim towards the same outcome?

effective communication

Clear workflows for effective communication

In an earlier blog post, we talked about the three most important components for efficient teams – workplace flexibility, team communication and challenge team members. In this post we will explore the importance of clear workflows for effective communication.

Miscommunication means that individual team members might be having different interpretations of the task at hand. Worst case scenario is that everybody is working towards different goals. But miscommunication can also mean that everybody does things differently and makes assumptions that aren’t true. Or things are left undone with no clear responsibilities and it’s only discovered late in the project. Things like this can cost you over $26,000 a year*.

In the midst of every day business it’s not always easy to have oversight of everything that’s going on in different parts of the team. Tight deadlines, fire fighting. One exercise to help you put on top of your teams efficiency is to draw out work flows with individual tasks and team members involved. Putting these together take some time in the front but will uncover things you weren’t aware your team was spending time on. It is very powerful to compare all tasks side by side and understand how they create a workflow with inter-dependent processes.

Business rules are the foundation for any workflow management

Before we go talking more about workflow management tools, it’s important to highlight that while the right tool can be very powerful in enabling team efficiency, it has to be based on sound business rules. The workflow management tool is the facilitator, the katalyst. It can only accelerate what you define. Therefore understanding and defining those business rules has to be the first step.

workflow katalyst

Implement a fancy tool and use non-optimized processes? You will turbo-charge the non-optimized business.

The thing is: you already HAVE workflow processes and rules in place. These processes and rules may have been intentionally set or most likely have been created ad hoc and are often outdated. Out of need to get work done day in day out, employees and team members started using and following some kind of processes and in the absence of set rules found their own way of making things work. Often these rules are created with a single task in mind and don’t have the foresight of creating efficiency.

To improve efficiency, it is important to identify and map out those existing processes into a workflow. Seeing this in all together will enable you to identify areas of opportunities and conflict. The next step is to define and implement solutions and improvements by adjusting those processes. These are the theoretical steps. Practice may be a bit more complex as it involves team dynamics, natural resistance to change, big organisations and different team objectives.

 

Important things to look out for when going through the exercise of defining business processes and workflows:

business processes

  1. Neutral facilitator (internal or external) with experience
    Often the easiest way is to work with an outsider to help navigate the process as he/she comes without historic baggage and has a neutral relationship to all parties.
  2. Working with all stakeholders early on
    The key to easy user adoption is early engagement. Though it might not be looking forward to having potentially uncomfortable conversations with your own team and other teams that you’re working with, it’s best to get everybody on board and on the same page early. Working in silo and getting buy-in later is near impossible, while you’re more likely to getting support for working together towards a solution that will help everyone’s pain points.
  3. Documentation
    Avoid any potential misunderstandings by documenting processes and workflows you discuss and circulating them post-meetings. A cross-team meeting might also be a good platform to share the step by step progress and outcomes.

team productivity

The most common symptoms of an inefficient team

Do any of these symptoms sound familiar to you?
– Finger pointing within the team
– Falling behind and missing of deadlines
– Rushing from one meeting to the next
– Team members constantly putting in overtime

If any of these criteria ring true to you, you might have opportunity to increase team efficiency. Running an efficient team for sure is an acquired form of art.

Here is what we have learned about the softer aspect of team management in our 20 years of experience in the field as well as in our own business.

1. Workplace flexibility

What really matters in the end are the results, not the fact that your team member showed up to the office 9-5 Monday to Friday.

team flexibility

Set up parameters within which your team has the flexibility to make their own choices regarding when, how and where they work. Elaine on your team might take an extended lunch break to go to the gym and come back revitalized and being more productive in the afternoon than Jane, who sits in the office from 8 to 5 but has a major productivity slump in the afternoon. Paul on the other hand might travel a lot for work and rather than spending 1 hour each way to go to the office it might be better for him to work from home on his traveling days in order to make the most of his desk time and reduce the stress of commuting.

The key here is that different solutions work for different team members. So it’s important to give choices to accommodate this. Employees who feel like they have more control will be more engaged and thus more productive at work.

2. Clear communication

Productivity loss based on poor communication can quickly become expensive with an estimated cumulative cost of $26,041 per worker, per year*. Without clear communication strategies and tools you run the risk of misinterpretation which then leads to mislead actions and efforts to recover those very actions to get back on course.

cost of team inefficiency

To avoid these easy pitfalls, set up a clear strategy of when, how and to whom communication will occur and provide your team with the right tools. This might be a weekly team call following a project management template which is housed on a shared platform or this might be a workflow management system with set rules of engagement, depending on the complexity of your team’s engagement.

3. Challenged employees

Engaged employees are key to your teams productivity. Giving flexibility and having clear communication with an open team culture are great first steps towards an engaged team. What we live by and believe to be a game changer though is to continuously challenge our employees with interesting work that helps them expand and grow.

team enthusiasm

We all know that sometimes things just need to just get done, and that might include some repetitive or admin tasks. But if this becomes the majority of a team member’s day at work, this quickly becomes disengaging and demotivating and brings down the productivity and efficiency of your team to progress.

This is one of the things we focus on here at BPS as we believe in technology as a catalyst to enable your team to run efficiently and minimize repetition.

We are passionate about enabling you and your team to achieve maximum productivity. Technology itself is never the answer to any problem but it for sure has an important role to play in facilitating change and making you run more smoothly.

To get you going, here are 5 of our top productivity apps – some of them are even free and you can get started today!