How to define Business Workflows? Part III
Author Kestutis Skrodenis
In my previous blogs I wrote about workflow elements and structure, with some examples.
Now I’m going to share the method of defining workflows and some insights on how workflows can help in business process improvements.
8 steps workflows definition technique
So, we have all the prerequisites as per my previous blog articles – asset finance business process defined and capable lease accounting and administration software in place. Configuration of people workflows may look easy and not worth much of attention. However, before deciding that, one should ask themselves these questions:
- How to minimize possibility of human errors?
- How to make sure the task goes to the right position?
- What if the lease officer is not available at the moment and how the system will know that?
- How to make sure that workflows are consistent and will handle every exceptional situation?
- How to keep it simple?
- How to engage people in the process improvement?
Following workflow design techniques may help you to address these questions:
1) Identify tasks or Actions
2) Identify human Decision Points
3) Arrange people into Teams, per type of actions they can do or decisions they can take
4) Map tasks and decision points to Teams (not to individuals)
5) Identify Triggers for workflows. Can be either external or internal or system triggered.
6) Workout minimum set of Workflow Templates, with clear names, like “Request for loan variation”
7) Within the template, define Workflow Steps (i.e. possible actions and required decisions)
8) Build step Transition Matrix, i.e. for each step identify possible next steps. You can only transit to the next step if the output of the first step equals to the required input for the next step.
As you see, in this technique we don’t have words “substitute” or “manager” or “approver”. That’s because concept “if Albert is not available then Brian must substitute” will not work. More reliable way is to have Teams of minimum two persons, and direct workflows to the Team. Then either team leader shall distribute tasks to people, or team members would proactively take ownership of a task.
How to deliver Workflow Tasks to people
Next consideration is how to deliver Workflow Tasks to people. Start with the question – what is your “first page”? Is it ERP system, CRM system, or Email? Deliver tasks to the user’s “first page”. In some cases tasks are instant, in some cases tasks may queue. Consider sorting of task list, so the person would handle highest priority tasks first. Sorting can be smart, depending on the Officer, for example – Senior Collection Officer has higher exposure tasks on top of the list, while junior officer has lower exposure tasks on top. Or, “my region” customers come first and other regions follow, so when I am done with “my” North customers, I can help to empty the queue of South customer requests.
It is an advantage if a person can act in multiple positions (i.e. to be member of several teams if segregation of duties allow). “Switcher” persons are good for load balancing. For example, leasing company has task queue for “Credit Team” where common tasks are credit application received for assessment and has another queue – “Customer Service Team” where diverse variation requests come in. Flow of incoming tasks are not even, so workload may vary. To balance that, Switcher person (member of both teams) must follow rule like this “if Credit queue is above 50 tasks, then switch from Service to Credit Team. When Credit queue falls below 30 – switch back to the Service Team”. Of course it would take some time to work-out optimal parameters for the rule.
3 indicators to measure your business process efficiency using workflows
In order to continuously improve your business process, you need to measure it and here workflow automation can help. Simple measures are:
1) Length of queue (in number of workflow tasks queuing for particular team to handle)
2) Number of steps processed.
As workflow moves from one team to another, we should count workflow steps processed by a particular team – completed, or referred back to the sender for a reason. This is you will measure the team’s performance.
3) Timing of underlying process.
For example “Time to decision” (in minutes from credit application received until approved or declined), “Time to documentation” (from the time the Application is received till the Contract is signed). This measure is most relevant to the continuous process improvement.
How to improve your business process?
You can set targets or SLA, for example “90% of small-ticket deals must be approved/declined within 1 business hour”.
Why not 100%? Because in real life exceptions happen, e.g. there might be a need to refer the credit application back to the introducer if it is incomplete. You have two parameters to measure this target – percentage of deals and SLA timing – so you have two ways for improvement:
1) see how to reduce number of refer-backs
2) see how to speed-up credit assessment and credit decision process.
Most effect you can get by simplifying people-centric workflows. People-centric workflows are interesting because this is area for improvement. The way to simplify your workflow – automate tasks and decisions as much as it is possible. Once you have smooth business process in place, facilitated by well-defined workflows, running and being measured – you are half way to automation (assuming, your systems are flexible enough, as custom development may be required).
From methodology perspective, in IT projects, “evolution” approach is often safer than “big bang” projects. This is especially true for decision systems, as exceptions happen in real life, and system may need to refer for human decision, so people-centric workflows still needed, ideally, in two cases:
1) To handle exceptions of main process (and you continue to measure workflows and reduce number of exceptions)
2) For customer-facing tasks, as you may choose to take advantage of verbal communication instead (or in addition to) automated letters.