Workflow design: is this the cornerstone of effective projects?
To be successful in project design and delivery, we need to think about how we build a capability I call ‘Organisational Readiness’. This is the fluid state where workflows are designed to create consumer-like experiences for our external and internal customers. It creates fertile ground where projects can flourish more quickly and remain closely aligned to top-level organisational objectives.
It involves deconstructing the work an organisation does so that the relationship between what must be done, who can best do it – and how – is reconstructed. This new formulation can put any business ahead of the pack – and keep it agile enough to stay out front. To get there, we must make decisions based on the macro- and micro-objectives we face.
This is not about up-ending project methodologies. Far from it, the aim is to ensure that the workflows that support projects and business-as-usual activities alike are consciously designed around the kinds of objectives sponsors and stakeholders want to see. The redesign of workflows and structures is itself a fascinating and transformative change project.
To frame those changes, we need to develop a new role: work design architect. This is someone who understands, designs, and gives strategic advice on the best way to get work done. The role requires an ability to comprehend business objectives – and turn those goals into a structured workforce architecture and framework to deliver them.
A work design architect:
- Partners across the business to deconstruct ‘old-fashioned’ job descriptions and help leaders rethink tasks and outputs.
- Defines people’s roles in the context of the organisation’s success.
- Designs processes that give workers a consumer-like experience – raising productivity and motivation.
- Understands which tasks can be automated, and partners with IT to get that done.
- Analyses performance metrics to design new ways of working.
- Uses a hearts-and-minds approach to change traditional mindsets.
Obvious synergies exist between this role and that of an architect in the construction industry. Architects analyse sites and create plans for construction, remodelling, additions or repairs. They care about the style of the finished project – while ensuring it meets all building codes. Or take a quantity surveyor, who uses the blueprint of a house and calculate which resources and materials are needed to build it. They create a critical path analysis and time frame for each stage of a project, plus a cost/time/quality-versus-risk profile. A work design architect, in other words, is a change project manager focused on workflows.
There are six steps to achieve improved work design:
- Deconstruct projects and assignments
First, go department by department and list the major functions they perform. In HR, for instance, they might include talent acquisition and employee admin. You can then create a Work Design Architecture Model* to help your leadership team connect the organisation’s business objectives to those workflows. What is a task being performed? How is the work being done? Use this model to simplify the lexicon for how the company gets work done.
- Map the match of current talent to work
Analyse those segmented job summaries to understand how efficient and effective current hiring decisions are; and to see where improvements can be made to better match the work to workers. This is particularly important when considering which tasks can be automated. Who is doing the work now? And how well? What technology is being used? What part of the process works well? What part needs improvement?
- Define how each job role meets overall business goals
This requires cross-departmental conversation, with outcomes that will guide HR and Procurement. Linking positions or assignments to larger objectives reveals how individual actions come together to achieve them. This also shows which job skills produce which results. With that information, those who are hiring can seek competencies, rather than rely on raw qualifications or experience in similar roles elsewhere.
- Streamline and improve work processes
By now, you have surveyed or had informal talks with your employees about how work works. Let them guide you on which tasks are redundant, less efficient, or a pain in the neck. Then huddle with project leaders and managers to redefine workflows. Here, you’ll see real performance shifts. If you’ve made the right changes, productivity will improve. If not, you’ll see where a new approach is necessary.
- Evaluate your talent pipeline for its ability to achieve your goals
Just doing the groundwork for work redesign delivers valuable transparency. The next stage will help you map your talent ‘holdings’ by skill set, and having enumerated which skills are needed to complete the steps toward your business objectives, you can answer this crucial question as often as you need to: how do we assemble the talent to achieve that?
- Create a maintenance schedule for re-evaluation
Comprehensive workflow redesign is not a one-off project. You need to build re-evaluation into your schedule. You’ve already been through the process and know what has to be done – but do it each time as if for the first time. Preconceived ideas will inhibit the gains you can make in redesigning workflows around new people, technology and objectives.
Understanding your workflows reveals where you stand in your talent supply and demand. If you can’t answer whether your workforce design architecture is enough to achieve a particular goal, take another look at how the work is getting done.
Likewise, to successfully compete for talent with the high-demand skills to achieve desired outcomes, organisations must keep their process options open. Periodically examining work processes with a completely open mind will help your company reach this state of organisational readiness.
*Work Design Architecture Model as published in Redesigning the Way Work Works by Bruce Morton (2019)