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Improve Productivity by Creating Workflow Systems with Technology

Finding flow. Economies of scale.  Doing more with less. Capitalizing on your current assets. Piggybacking. Utilizing all available features. Looking for similarities and redundancies. Tapping into technology. For our purposes here, the concept of systematizing is easily summed up with a number of common catch phrases. I’d argue every one of us has a process or program currently in place that can be enhanced or revamped in order to save money, or time, or frustration.  And, if we invest a little time up front really studying our “this is the way we always do it,”  we’re likely to realize some measurable gains.  Putting solid systems in place is an excellent way to become more efficient.  And, importantly, revisiting our systems with a discerning eye is where we’re going to find the compounding gains in productivity.

Pieces and Parts

When I begin working with a new client, I often find situations where several linkable applications are being utilized independently.  For example, the client might be using Excel to record entries that are later inputted into Zoho CRM.  This same client may be using applications like Gusto for payroll, and Quickbooks for accounting.  Maybe Sandy in sales is recording her widget sales in Excel.  Manager Marvin is forecasting future sales in Zoho CRM.  And then, Patty in payroll is processing commissions and salaries for Sandy, Marvin and the entire team using Gusto with inputs from Sandy’s Excel spreadsheet.  The functional areas – sales and payroll – are working together as a system, but are there ways to trim out some steps in their process by linking some of these apps together? Absolutely!

Consider the Number of Touchpoints

A good way to analyze a system is to consider the number of touch-points a given business action requires.  In the example above, we have three different people recording a sale in a different format – Sandy in sales, Marvin in management and Patty in payroll.  There are some excellent tools available to automate parts of Sandy, Marvin’s and Patty’s tasks. Many of these tools have specialized versions designed for specific business models, such as commission-based sales, widget-based accounting, time-based revenue capture, etc. Tools such as Salesforce and Quickbooks, just to name two, have programs that allow for the input of the widget sale, the automatic calculating of several accounting components and the follow-through with a plug-in for accurate payroll processing.

Capitalize on Technology To Increase Efficiency

Continuing with the cliches, sometimes you have to slow down to speed up.  Sandy may be most comfortable using her Excel spreadsheet to track her progress, and then maybe she sits down weekly to update Zoho with Marvin.  Marvin may be a Zoho pro running all sorts of reports for management to review. And, maybe everyone feels just fine leaving Patty to work her Gusto magic because, after all, they’re getting paid on time.  But, if Owner Olivia, invests a little money in, say, QuickBooks, and everyone invests some time in QuickBooks & Zoho training, the overall enterprise can knock out some redundancies and eliminate opportunities for human error at each point.

The example I have used is a basic one. Each enterprise will have its own nuances and most will have additional components to consider. A creative agency, for example, will have a project management component that involves moving the “widget” through many levels, i.e. storyboarding, graphic design, copy, print, etc. They might benefit from a project management system like Trello. Some companies take their widget from order to production, testing, quality control, etc. so a specialized program management tool might accommodate them best.

When analyzing, don’t forget about communications. There are fantastic applications available to address email and messaging needs. And, don’t overcomplicate things. Sometimes simply devising a custom template (check out Evernote for template ideas) for your team establishes an efficient internal system. In each case, the key is to study the current process, look for redundancies, research the modern solutions available and apply technology, where applicable.

Unsure of which Apps to Choose?

Unsure of which apps can help your operations? Simply Google “team sharing,” “lead capture,” “inventory tracking,” “project management” or whatever the solution is you are looking for. Or, try visiting with others in your industry or a consultant in your field. You can read about some of my favorite apps in this article on Top Productivity Apps.

The great thing is just about every modern program has a video or online tutorial available for new users. The vast majority of them are excellent. Utilizing online training resources can cut your onboarding time in half, or more. You might try delegating someone on your team to be a project leader. Their assignment should include researching the technology, testing it for your business and working with a consultant to create a comprehensive solution. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try partnering with a productivity consultant. Simply having a fresh pair of eyes take a look at your programs and processes will yield gains. They can quickly assess the situation and provide tried-and-true recommendations.

Are you getting the most out of your current enterprise? Just because it is working doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. Eliminating the number of touchpoints in your business process can reduce the opportunity for error, and make the workflow more efficient. And, although the parts are humming along ok as it is, connecting the dots and creating linkages will boost productivity. Compounding gains by reducing individual effort is a great way to get more out of your business.

Sara Genrich is a Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Certified Consultant and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop.  She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.

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