At its core, workflow is the set of protocols and processes that are defined, documented, repeatable, and auditable. Workflows are everywhere. They hide between the departments that run the business. They lurk in the production departments. They hover in sales and marketing. They guide shipping and receiving. No matter what business you are in, you have workflows.
In the printing and customer communication solutions industries, when you sell a product or service, there is a workflow that guides the steps of engagement, sale, and fulfillment. That workflow will have several branches as the sale is lodged in the business systems and is set on a path to fulfillment. Sadly, there can be bottlenecks at every touchpoint that require more time and effort than the task should require. Those bottlenecks absorb time and money with little return. Whether you sell printed products, software and hardware to support the production of print or software to support digital customer communications, tightening your workflow adds efficiency and keeps more revenue in the business.
For each of your workflows, you will need a baseline. How do things work today? What are the known bottlenecks? What tools are available to guide the processes? Who uses the tools and who goes their own way? How much time does it take from the point of agreement with a customer to the point of job onboarding? These are the high-level questions that form the foundation of the state of your workflow.
The perfect place to start is with a comprehensive assessment to see where you are. You can start with a self-assessment to get the lay of the land but be sure to look at all of your workflows. The start of the process should be a list of your workflows, who is involved in them, and what other processes and workflows they touch. For example, when something is sold, how is that information transmitted to the business accounting team? How is a new customer set up, and how is a sale to an existing customer lodged and executed? For products that need to be built, including printed products, software packages, and hardware, what are the steps and where do they intersect with accounting, inventory, execution, and delivery?
Once you have a good roadmap, it’s time to dive in and begin your assessment. In each workflow, you are looking for efficiency, effectiveness, use of best practices, and the team’s ability to move through the workflow without loops and u-turns. If you have done previous assessments, either on your own or with a consultant, layout the results and compare the recommendations against your current state. The goal is to create an assessment plan that you can execute without disrupting the flow of work.
Consider these items as you create your business, production and sales workflow assessments:
- Time from the sale to lodging in the business systems: How long does it take from the time a salesperson brings a signed contract to the point where it is visible in all business dashboards? If there is a lag, what is the reason?
- Time from delivery to invoicing: The key here is not just invoicing per the original sales order, but updated invoicing information if there were requested changes. How long does it take to ensure that the invoice is correct, and is that a step in the process?
- Visibility: Can all of the managers see the things they need to see through a central dashboard? Transparency in the basic business measurements keeps things moving. Still it has to be part of the culture to be watching so that when things start to go pear-shaped, they can be caught before they become a disaster.
- Time to onboard work: How much time and how many steps does it take to get work into production? How many loops do you see? Is everyone working to the same process, or does everyone do their own thing?
- Time to make ready: No matter the product, there is always time needed to prepare it. In printing this is makeready and prepress. In software, it may be building executables and license key sets. Hardware has its own challenges, especially when the equipment is built to order and not maintained in a warehouse. How much time and how many steps are involved? How many loops and delays are considered normal?
- Time to produce: This is more than the time; it’s also the number of steps. How many are manual steps that take people handing off tasks to people? If you have automation, where is it and is it used as intended? Does everyone in the flow use the same tools, or have the processes migrated away from standardization?
Time to prepare a sale: How many steps and touchpoints go into codifying a sale? How many people are needed to pull quotes, prepare sales documents, and verify offers? How many sign-offs are required?
Time to finalize a sale: From the point that a quote has been given to a customer, how many touchpoints and steps are needed to finalize the sale and get it lodged into the business systems?
Paperwork: How much of the paperwork is manual and how much of it is automated? How many systems are involved? Is there visibility to the status of the sale?
These are the basic starting points, but there is so much more. Come back for more in later blogs!
McGrewGroup offers onsite and crucial assessments to help you begin the year! Have a question? Send it over here.