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Workflow audits: The how and why

The adage ‘old habits die hard’ resonates deeply in the fast-paced business world. Our tried-and-true methods, honed through years of repetition, provide a comforting framework for daily tasks and business operations. Yet, this reliance on the familiar can be both a lifeline and a constraint.

As entrepreneurs, we stand at the crossroads of tradition and innovation. The bedrock of our professional ethos is built upon lessons from mentors, educational institutions, and early career experiences. These principles guide our decision-making and shape our understanding of efficiency and success. However, therein lies the challenge: the tension between ‘what I know’ and ‘what could be’.

The security of the known can lull us into complacency, hindering growth. Fear of the unknown often keeps us anchored to well-worn paths, preventing exploration of new avenues. But actual progress lies in striking a delicate balance. It’s about honouring the wisdom of past practices while embracing the openness to fresh ideas.

How does workflow affect us?

As business owners, we understand that every cog in the organisational machine matters. Inefficiencies within our work processes ripple through the entire system, affecting not only individual performance but also the overall health of our venture.

So, how do we optimise our workflow? By weaving innovation into our routines. We must cultivate a mindset that values tradition without stifling creativity. Let’s reimagine our daily tasks, challenge assumptions, and seek novel solutions. In this dance between tradition and progress, we discover the best path forward. This path leads not only to productivity but also to personal development and entrepreneurial success.

4 areas with great impact value

1. Operational Costs and Morale Drain:

A suboptimal workflow is akin to a leaky faucet—dripping away resources. It inflates operational costs, eroding profit margins. Worse yet, it dampens employee morale. Picture this: tangled processes, redundant steps, and unnecessary repetition. The result? Frustration, wasted time, and a workforce yearning for streamlined solutions.

2. Quality and Timelines:

Complexity breeds delays. Projects stretch beyond their due dates when tasks lack clarity or processes resemble mazes. Quality suffers—a compromised output that tarnishes our reputation. Customers notice, and so does the competition. Our edge dulls.

3. The Burnout Quagmire:

An inefficient workflow is a breeding ground for employee burnout. Unclear expectations and inconsistent procedures sap energy and enthusiasm, and high turnover rates follow suit. The cost is not just monetary—it’s the erosion of company culture, the loss of knowledge, and the need to recruit and train new talent constantly.

4. Innovation and Adaptability:

A rigid workflow stifles innovation. We become prisoners of our processes, unable to pivot swiftly. Market trends shift, opportunities arise, but we’re anchored in the comfort of ‘this is how we always did it’. To thrive, we must blend tradition with agility. Let’s embrace change, empower our teams, and stay nimble.

The path to success lies in optimising our processes—balancing the old wisdom with the hunger for progress.

Steps for conducting a workflow audit

Here are some ideas of what to include in a comprehensive workflow audit that addresses your business’s key areas.

Document Every Process:

Create a detailed map of all current workflows, from answering customer queries to disposing of manufacturing waste.
Identify and list every task and subtask in the various sections.
Use flowcharts or process mapping tools to visualise the workflows.
Ensure all team members contribute to this documentation for accuracy.

Time Tracking:

Measure the time spent on each task to identify time sinks.
Implement a time-tracking system, either manual logs or digital tools.
Train staff on consistent and accurate time recording.
Analyse time data to find tasks that take disproportionately long to complete.

Review the data:

Identify redundant and duplicated tasks.
Determine the necessity of each task in the process.

External Perspective:

Gain unbiased insights into workflow effectiveness by engaging an external consultant.
Encourage the consultant to question every aspect of the workflow.
Compare internal and external audit results to identify discrepancies.

Cost Analysis:

Understand the financial impact of each employee’s role in the workflow.
Calculate the cost of each employee’s time based on their salary and hours spent on money-generating or support activities.
Assess the return on investment for each role in the workflow.

5 Methods to Enhance Workflow

1. Lean Management

Lean management is a systematic approach that aims to maximise efficiency while minimising waste. It originated in manufacturing but has since been adopted across various industries. The focus is on identifying and eliminating waste activities within processes and emphasises continuous improvement, employee involvement, and customer value.
The benefit is that it streamlines processes by eliminating bottlenecks and reducing unnecessary steps, optimising workflow. This provides cost savings by reducing waste and lowering operational costs while providing a better-quality product or service.

2. Invest in Training

Investing in employee training pays dividends in productivity and expertise. You and your employees are equipped with up-to-date skills, allowing for more diversity in duties and efficient workers. Opportunities to learn are one of the key questions asked when people apply for new positions, so you are more likely to retain your staff if those needs are met.

3. Workflow Automation

Automating repetitive tasks accelerates processes and minimises errors. By identifying and automating repetitive tasks, you can reduce the time spent on them, eliminate human error, and provide the opportunity to scale your operation.
Invest in software, tools, and expertise to automate routine activities. This will give you more time to focus on your core activities, which in turn will increase profitability.

4. Outsource Staffing Needs

The general idea is that only administrative tasks can be outsourced. With the recent change in thinking and remote work becoming more prevalent, there are so many more options available to you. Outsourcing gives you access to skills you do not currently have, with flexibility in rates and only providing the hours required, as opposed to employment that takes extra management from you.

5. Follow through and follow up

Create a detailed plan outlining the steps to implement the identified improvements. Ensure your plan includes measurable targets and timelines for execution. Once you have implemented the changes and improvements, you must revisit the systems for a checkup and fine-tune your changes. Start with a short assessment after a week, then another after a month. Keep checking on it periodically to ensure that decisions made in theory are effective when put into practice.

By following these steps, you can conduct a thorough workflow audit that improves efficiency and enhances the profitability of your business operations. Remember to document all findings and create a report to guide future improvements.

Conclusion

In the journey toward operational excellence, the path is not always clear, and the steps are only sometimes obvious. Yet, pursuing a streamlined, efficient workflow is a universal hallmark of successful businesses. It’s the silent pulse that powers innovation, drives productivity, and creates an environment where both employees and profits can thrive. Consider the untapped potential within your organisation’s current processes. The opportunity for growth and improvement is immense, and sometimes, all it takes is a fresh pair of eyes to illuminate the path forward.

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