Think of everything you have to do—for work and your personal life.
Did you suddenly get overwhelmed, a panicky feeling that dropped your heart near your stomach? Or did you mentally tick through an organized checklist, aware of all that you have going on and its order of priority?
If left to our own devices, whether we are naturally organized people or not, we tend to figure out our "To Do" lists—even if, when you think about them, you become anxious. But when we're working as part of a team, letting content get done when it gets done or having it fall into place in terms of priority is a recipe for disaster. We need to know who is working on what content (or piece of the content) and when it is due. Multiple people all working on several content pieces at one time requires some type of order. And that order is a workflow.
The Marketing Workflow
A workflow will look different for every team, but the core idea is the same: What is the process from which a piece of content goes from conception to execution?
If you are with a company that is really organized, you'll likely have written documents that outline what the process is. Having documentation that describes the workflow is great for helping to ensure that everyone abides by the workflow and doesn't skip steps.
A lot of them time, a workflow is just a known (or for new employees, learned) process that everyone follows. There is not necessarily documentation, but regardless, team members typically follow the workflow and everyone is in sync. Still, disagreements about the processes may arise, and in such situations, written documentation would help settle disputed.
A Jammed Workflow
Workflows are a necessity for any group of individuals conducting work. Without it, chaos can ensue: team members aren't quite sure who is responsible for what, deadlines are missed, clients are unhappy, and stress levels rise.
And if there is any jam in the workflow, the above issues can also occur.
How do you avoid these issues? And how can you ensure that your workflows benefits your team, not hinders them?
We'll provide an overview of how to analyze the workstream(s) in place at your company. But first, we need to understand the ingredients that make up an effective workflow.
What Makes an Effective Workflow?
A workflow that is effective is one that is implemented in all of your work streams and diligently adhered to by all team members. Additionally, a workflow must:
Reduce Project Manager Oversight. No one likes a micromanager. Successful managers are those that allow their employees to execute their work tasks without constantly checking up on them or telling them how to do the work. These types of managers also understand that they best serve their team when they give their team the tools they need to be successful. One of these tools is the workflow. It is a guideline that the team follows; they don't need their project manager to tell them who needs to do what by when because the workflow outlines it for them.
Increases Efficiency. An effective workflow will make a team more efficient. Clear deadlines and work assignments keep everyone on track. They are better able to prioritize and manage their workload when they can see what is expected from them and when their contributions to the project are due.
Consistency in Project Execution. Have you ever skipped a step—in anything—due to lack of time? You were taking a math test in college and were running out of time, so you didn't answer some of the more difficult problems. You got up late, so you didn't floss like you normally do. A client needed the first draft of your report ASAP, so you didn't send it to the editor for an initial review.
Having a workflow in place allows for consistent execution, no matter the project. By doing it the same way—in full, no skipped steps—each time, you are achieving two things: Your team will be conditioned to conduct their work in a certain way, meaning the process will become natural to them, and you ensure that all projects are given the same attention and care.
Analyze Your Workflow
Now that you know what goes into a successful workflow, you can start to analyze your own. To help you during this analysis, it will help if you write down your process. Draw a diagram or a simple list, whatever best visually conveys your workflow. We know that each workflow is unique to each project, so for the purposes of this exercise, use your "template" or standard workflow.
Now, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the workflow appropriately implemented and followed?
- Does this workflow make each team member feel empowered?
- Is there any ambiguity accidentally built into the workflow?
- Does each new workflow have an assigned lead?
- Is the timeline realistic?
These questions will help you analyze your workflow's effectiveness. Your answer indicates if your workflow is working hard or hardly working.
The Question: Is the workflow appropriately implemented and followed?
If you answered…
- Yes, then your workflow will work for you. It can't work if it isn't implemented or followed!
- No, then you won't be getting any of its benefits. First, if a workflow isn't implemented, then of course it won't work! It may take some time to get used to, but your team will begin to understand the steps taken to execute a project. Is the workflow not being followed? You need to ensure your team understands that it is non-negotiable: This workflow must be followed in its entirety when conducting any project work.
The Question: Does this workflow make each team member feel empowered?
If you answered…
- Yes, then your workflow is benefitting your team. Remember, an effective workflow helps limit management oversight.
- No, then it's time to see why it is not. Your workflow should guide your team so they can execute their job responsibilities successfully. But if they still feel lost, or if there is still a lot of micromanaging occuring, then there is an issue somewhere, either with the workflow itself or in some other area.
The Question: Is there any ambiguity accidentally built into the workflow?
If you answered…
- No, then that means your team is clear on what needs to be done without second guessing. They are able to conduct their work without pausing to figure out next steps.
- Yes, then you need to rectify any part of the workflow that is not immediately clear/readily understood. Issues and delays occur when the workflow is confusing. It must directly state the task, the responsible individual, and the deadline. If these are not defined, responsibilities are passed off and steps are forgotten.
The Question: Does each new workflow have an assigned lead?
If you answered…
- Yes, that's great! You need someone to manage the workflow since it can only go so far on its own.
- No, then you need to assign leads immediately. Once a workflow is created, it doesn't go untouched; its status is updated by the team. And if a situation were to arise that could impact the workflow—the project scope is changed or a key member of the team leaves part of the way through—it needs to be modified. A workflow lead would manage such modifications.
The Question: Is the timeline realistic?
If you answered…
- Yes, then you're on the right track! You need to run a tight ship and adhere to deadlines but not to the point where your team is stressed or rushes and presents sloppy work to meet a time constraint.
- No, then you need to rethink. Are you demanding too much of your team in an unrealistic time frame just to appease your client(s)? A workflow helps keep everyone on task in order to meet deadlines, but it is not meant to make the team efficient for the purpose of meeting impossible goals. See where you can add in some breathing room. What parts of the process take more time? Add some extra cushion. Can two tasks be started concurrently to save time? How can you make your workflow work for you and not against you?
These are only some of the questions you can use to analyze the effectiveness of your workflow, but they are key in identifying some situations that can turn into significant issues.
Start Your Workflow Analysis
If your workflow has been more of a work trickle and you're not seeing the benefits that you should, there are one or more issues at play. Take time to evaluate your workflow to identify any possible issue that prevents your workflow (and therefore your team) from working effectively.
Once you do, implement the modified workflow and monitor its progress. Do some or all of the same issues persist or are you starting to see improvements? And even if it improved, it doesn't hurt to evaluate the workflow every once in a while to prevent running into more issues.