The most common strategies for optimizing workflow are:
1. Agile Workflow
The Agile workflow strategy can especially benefit companies that are a part of dynamic and rapidly evolving industries (e.g., tech industry, software development).
The principles of the Agile strategy allow businesses to streamline their workflows in a way where they become more driven, iterative, responsive, and customer-centric. By adopting the practices of the Agile strategy, companies are able to achieve better results while continuously improving upon their various business processes.
The main principles of the Agile workflow optimization strategy are:
- Incremental work organization – All business processes subject to workflow optimization are broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces that allow for continued adjustments and improvements.
- Customer-centric – Delivering value to the end-users (i.e., customers) by promptly addressing their needs, curtailing their concerns, and focusing on their preferences.
- Collaboration – Encourages communication between teams, supports the sharing of information and insights, and promotes collaboration in various optimization and other business processes.
- Adaptability – Companies that implement agile workflow optimization are responsive, or sometimes even welcoming, to changes in the market. They have the capacity to look at both the internal and external factors that may impact their workflows, analyze them, and adapt accordingly.
2. Business Process Improvement
Business Process Improvement (BPI) is a workflow optimization strategy that focuses on identifying work processes that are the least efficient and productive and the most prone to errors and less favorable outcomes. After identifying these processes, the goals of the strategy are to improve them and streamline them, all the while reducing costs and increasing productivity.
The main aspects of BPI workflow optimization strategy include:
- Process identification and analysis – Identify and record business processes that need to be improved. Grasp the entire scope of a specific process, and map out its objectives and any stakeholders connected to it. Analyze those processes to identify inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and waste.
- Setting goals – Establish clear and measurable goals for improving workflow and business processes. Clearly define desired outcomes (e.g., reduction of costs, improving customer satisfaction, increasing productivity, etc.).
- Integrating technology – Use software and digital solutions (e.g., time-tracking apps) to optimize work processes. Implement new tools to foster automation, focus on data analytics, and make data-driven decisions.
- Simplifying – Focus on reducing and eliminating waste by lowering the complexity of the work process in order to increase productivity and efficiency. Includes automating or balancing the workload to better utilize all available resources.
3. Lean Workflow Optimization
Lean workflow optimization strategy focuses on, as the name would suggest, keeping things lean. The main goal of the Lean strategy is to regularly identify wasteful areas and remove them from the equation.
These can include inefficient practices, such as unnecessary administrative burdens and meetings that decrease the overall efficiency of the business processes.
The five main aspects of lean workflow optimization are:
- Identify value – Identify what the customer considers valuable. Understand the needs, preferences, and requirements of your desired customer base.
- Map out the value stream – Ascertain all the processes, steps, and activities involved in delivering said value to the customer base.
- Generate flow – Create work processes that ensure a smooth flow from one step to the next (towards delivering value to customers).
- Establish pull – In a pull system work, customer demand is what drives and initiates work. Meaning no goods are produced and no services are provided without the actual customer need. This aims to reduce the risk, costs, and waste associated with inventory management.
- Pursue perfection – Continuously improve on the main aspect of the Lean workflow optimization strategy. As new technologies are developed and better ways of performing work emerge, try and foster a culture of constant improvement through incremental changes.
4. Six Sigma
The Six Sigma optimization strategy focuses on a data-driven approach for identifying and eliminating the main causes of process inefficiencies. The main goal behind it is to increase the levels of quality, productivity, and efficiency.
The Six Sigma strategy uses statistical information to give ratings to every business process. These ratings help figure out the risks and chances of a specific process becoming inefficient, producing waste, and disrupting budgets and costs.
The key aspects of the Six Sigma workflow optimization strategy are:
- Customer is king – Clearly define customers’ needs and wants early in the workflow optimization process. Keep in mind that the customers are the ones that define what quality service/product is.
- Gather and analyze data – Collect various types of data (i.e., using time-tracking or project management software) and analyze it to determine KPIs to more accurately measure performance and discern the root causes of process deficiencies.
- Develop and implement solutions – Use the collected information to make data-driven decisions about improving and optimizing workflows.
- Ensure sustainability – Make certain that all the optimization processes are sustainable, allowing room for growth and a constant overview of work productivity and efficiency.
5. Theory of Constraints
The Theory of Constraints (TOC) is a workflow optimization strategy centered around the idea that every company has certain types of constraints that limit its ability to effectively achieve business goals. These constraints can be connected to work processes or resources. Managing them effectively is what TOC is all about.
The key principles of the TOC workflow optimization strategy include:
- Identify constraints – The main goal is to ascertain which types of systemic constraints are negatively affecting the workflow.
- Allocate resources – Rearrange and reallocate resources to quickly and efficiently deal with or remove the identified constraints.
- Continuously improve – TOC is not a one-time solution; it is an ongoing process that continually strives to manage and reduce constraints as they pop up.
6. Business Process Reengineering
Business process reengineering, or BRP, is a workflow optimization strategy that focuses on rebuilding work processes from scratch. After analyzing the current workflows and identifying inefficiencies in them, with the BRP strategy, the next step would be to create entirely new workflows that better fit the company's goals.
BRP, unlike most of the strategies that we’ve mentioned, is not about making incremental improvements but is about completely rethinking all the processes involved in performing work.
Key aspects of the BRP workflow optimization strategy include:
- Redesign – A complete overhaul of current work processes from the ground up, done by analyzing and reimagining how these processes should look like ideally.
- Meet customer expectations – the BRP strategy puts customer requirements and what customers consider as valuable at the center of its redesigning efforts.
- Streamline and simplify – The strategy aims to simplify and streamline work processes by removing unnecessary steps, tackling bottlenecks, and using tools and various other digital solutions.
- Use technology – Leveraging technology to automate new work processes is another key aspect of the BRP strategy. These could involve using time-recording apps, messaging or project management software, and the like.
Things to Consider Before Optimizing Workflows
Optimizing workflows is a tough ordeal and can take time. Before you attempt it, you should carefully consider:
- The scope – It can determine the amount of time and resources you’ll need to invest in the workflow optimization process.
- Needs for and the costs of technology – Try and figure out if you need new tools and software to streamline workflows, and more importantly, how much those tools are going to cost.
- Laws and regulations – Make sure that whatever you do to optimize workflows, you don’t end up inadvertently breaking government rules, laws, and regulations.
- Data security – If optimizing workflows involves dealing with sensitive information, make sure to take into account the privacy and security of that data.
- Overall costs – Analyze the costs of implementing new workflows. Take into account the initial and recurring costs. If optimizing specific workflows doesn’t pass the cost-benefit analysis, maybe it’s best to reconsider it.
- Performance review – Create new systems that allow you to regularly analyze and review optimized workflows. This will, in turn, help you discern and deal with new issues that arise more quickly and efficiently.
Tips for Workflow Optimization
Streamlining processes and optimizing workflows, especially if they consist of multiple steps and involve collaboration between different teams or departments, won't be an easy feat. Just trying to figure out how it all works, where the connections are, and which links in the giant chain are weakest will require a lot of time.
That’s why we put together a list of tips that will hopefully help you make the whole process go a lot smoother.
Use Time Wisely
Time, or more precisely the effective use of time, is one of the most crucial aspects of any workflow optimization process. Planning work schedules and avoiding multitasking and distractions will not only help reduce stress and prevent burnout but will also ensure every cog in your company is as efficient as it can be.
Utilizing modern technology for time-tracking can significantly help with this. It can give you a deeper insight into how much time each individual task takes to complete, which employees are performing at a high level and which are not (and possibly require additional training), various bottlenecks and project delays, and more.
With this information, you can more easily discern process inefficiencies that you can later analyze, optimize, and continuously improve upon through whichever workflow optimization strategy you choose to go with.
Make Customers Priority Number One
The customer is always right is not always a given, but ensuring high levels of customer satisfaction will most definitely make any company more profitable and competitive in the market. That’s why it’s important to continue putting customers (their preferences and requirements) as number one, or as close to number one as possible, on your company’s list of priorities when you’re implementing a new workflow optimization strategy.
Reduce the Number of Meetings
Team and company meetings can be a good way to get everybody on the same page when going through the workflow optimization process. They can also improve morale and collaboration and make it easier to work out solutions for various problems. But, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Unnecessary and unproductive meetings can, in the end, be more disruptive to workflow and ultimately cause a myriad of new problems.
According to a report from Dr. Steven G. Rogelberg, Professor of Organizational Science at UNC Charlotte, unnecessary meetings can cost big companies in excess of $100 million per year.
So, the best way to avoid that is to ensure that the meetings you organize are well-planned, have set time limits for each topic that’s going to be covered, and include only the necessary personnel.
Collaborate With Team Members
Collaboration is an important part of any successful workflow optimization process. Including employees, team members, and various company personnel in the process and encouraging them to share their feedback and thoughts is a good way to conduct workflow optimization.
By having everyone in the company take part in the workflow optimization process, you’ll not only get additional information that you can use to make the whole process go much smoother but will also help improve team cohesion and morale. Employees will feel more valued and will be more willing to participate in it.