Typically, workflows are evaluated on how they save an organization money, save time, or increase consistency. This evaluation is valuable because it enables an IT group to make a financial case for adding process automation.
However, bringing in process changes can be challenging for employees, and the benefits listed above may not create sufficient motivation or excitement around the change. We have found that being selective in what we automate can create benefits beyond typical return-on-investment measures and ultimately free employees to take on more interesting and valuable roles in an organization.
One example of this comes from about a year ago, when an individual working for one of our clients approached us with a business problem and workflow solution in mind. Each week, she would contact representatives from thirty departments to find out who was going to be available that weekend. Most times, people would respond promptly. Sometimes she needed to follow up. Every Friday she would send an email out to everyone at the site that would contain a spreadsheet with the names and contact info for the people on call.
Usually when we start to build a workflow, we take some time to understand the reason this solution is desired so that we can help the business prioritize activities or identify opportunities for collaboration. In this case, we learned that she would spend about three hours each week collecting this information.
If we were looking at this through a strictly financial perspective, this project may not have been worth the cost. The opportunity for an additional three productive hours each week balanced against the cost of implementing a new workflow, form, page and lists may not have made financial sense.
However, through our discussions, we discovered that she was moving into a new role at the organization, one that would put her on a different schedule that would mean that she wouldn’t be available to collect and send this information every week.
In short, this workflow wasn’t just saving her three hours, it was enabling her to take a promotion.
The new workflow solution would:
- Send an email to each department head requesting employee availability information
- Automatically follow up if needed
- Provide a centrally located list where anyone could view the information submitted
- Generate an email containing this information that was sent out to the company every Friday
- Escalate stale tasks so that administrators could follow up if necessary
When asked “What part of your job sucks your time away?” we have found that many people in administrative and management roles have aspects of their jobs that are repetitive, time-consuming, and straightforward. Reflecting on this through an individual development lens, we see that there is a potential value to workflows that address this, where the benefits can’t be measured through dollars alone.
Speaking with the users involved in a process gives insight into the roles that people value performing and also helps to assess if parts of a business process should be automated. We find that the aspects of roles people tend find the most interesting—judgement, analysis, coordination, communication—are the most challenging to implement and ultimately less of a fit for a workflow solution. Finding the balance of what to automate and what to leave as-is can ultimately increase consistency, save money, and create better employee experiences.