Workflow stacking

An Introduction to Workflow Stacking: Rule Based Processes

Why Process is the most important element of your business

When Science and Religion come together, we often call it Business, assuming we make money. Think about it. Science is the act of coming up with a hypothesis, performing tests and measuring the results until we have proved that the hypothesis either right or wrong or we have altered the hypothesis enough to match the results. Religion, on the other hand, is the act of following a higher power to carry out an ideal greater than our own self, for the sake of that higher power.

Religion is the solution that your business provides, Science is the structural rule-based method to bring it to fruition.

When a business is moving forward, that implies that they are taking steps in a direction. Those steps are not haphazard, intoxicated, and inconsistent missteps. Rather they are well-thought out and generally well planned.

Your business will FAIL if it does not have well thought out steps to take in order to drive the company forward.

WHY?

The growth of a company is proportional to the value that it brings through its services or products to another business or individual. Process not only creates enhanced value, but helps to maintain it. 

Before you can make money:

Your company needs to have something to sell. What sells, adds value. To create value your company must have a process to deliver that value. Without a process that value will not be delivered. The more efficient the process, the faster value can be delivered.

Customer service, Finance, Accounting, Data Entry, and Marketing all rely on proper processes. Without rule-based processes these responsibilities at a company cannot be consistently performed. Without rule-based processes, you don't have a system by which a Customer Service Rep can make an appropriate decision to serve the customer in the way that your company wants to provide its unique customer service.

At the most basic level, money can not be counted, unless someone knows how to count. Then with process improvement, a counter can more efficiently count money.  If the process requires the repetition of simple concepts, it can then be automated. Hence we now have money counters. By creating rule-based processes you can then "weed out" particular processes that can be automated until the only processes that are done, are the ones you need a person for.


Your customers want a specific value out of your services. What product, or service can your business provide to them to solve a problem they are having. This also applies when you are offering your service or product to businesses. Businesses are people, and if your business provides a substantial solution to their problem(s) you can add value to that company. The value that your product or service adds to a company is worth something because of that value which it adds. Though you may need financial compensation to continually provide your "value-added service", you need to CONSISTENTLY provide that value-added service.

Why would any client use a service that solves their problem, sometimes? To put it a different way, WHY would a client keep a service that only PARTIALLY solves their problem?

Sometimes I like to make a visit to McDonalds, not because I like their food, but I love their process. Where else could I go, where I KNOW that I can get the same service each time, resulting in the same food? On the other hand if I go to a sit-down restaurant where I have to pay 5-10 times more on my meal, I generally have no idea how my food will come out; not to mention I have no idea how long it will take.

If you have read the EMyth by Michael E. Gerber, you know where I am going with this.

If a sit-down restaurant like Outback Steakhouse could consistently cook the steak I want, on a consistent time frame, they could have my five stars. But how does any business, provide that consistent of a service with so many variables that can affect the final product? Well, they do not do it by marketing an inconsistent product. Outback Steakhouse is not trying to add value by saying that I will consistently have a unique steak, no their menus include photos taken by professional photographers showing me the steak that I want to have.

If I go skydiving, I do not want to have a "unique skydiving experience", I want my parachute to open each and every time.

How does any business, provide that consistent of a service with so many variables that can affect the final product?

Governments make laws, businesses create logical rule-based processes.


Intro to Workflow Stacking: What are rule based processes?

Rule based processes are "contexts"(Generalized Tasks) organized within a schedule(Macro-Workflow), whereby each context requires certain tasks to be performed and a "micro-workflow" determines the method used to perform those tasks.

Some Definitions:

  • Macro-Workflows: A daily schedule of generalized tasks.
  • Micro-Workflows: A workflow contained within a generalized task/context.
  • Generalized Task: A scheduled duration of time aka "context" during the day that an employee works on a "project".
  • General Guidelines: Guidelines pertaining to a Generalized Task, and/or the micro workflow contained therein.
  • Context: A Generalized Task, for instance, "emails", "job site", "blogging", "Marketing". It could be considered a moment of time where you have a list of items to complete.
  • Contextual Task: A task performed within a certain context or Generalized Task. How a Contextual Task is performed is governed by the micro-workflow.
  • Stage/Step: One step within a Micro-Workflow
  • Process: The workflows, contexts, decisions and rules that go into completing a task contained within a project.

Rule-Based Processes can be compared to the teeth on the gears of your business. Where each department in your business carries out specific tasks within a "Micro-Workflow" that moves operations along on a "macro" level. Or to put it a different way, tasks such as: answering an email, moving information from one software to another, making a phone call to a client can all be compared to the teeth of a gear which moves a larger connected gear. These all tie in to the "macro" level "machinery" that makes a business operate.

This is an example of the "Workflow Stack". Where a schedule determines what Macro Workflows to perform and each Macro Workflow contains its own Micro-Workflow.

This is an example of the "Workflow Stack". Where a schedule determines what Macro Workflows to perform and each Macro Workflow contains its own Micro-Workflow.

 

Rule-based processes generally have these 5 basic elements:

  • Where a Generalized Task should be done(hence why it can interchangeably be called a "context")

  • When a Generalized Task should be done

  • Why a Generalized Task should be done

  • Who is performing that generalized task

  • How the Contextual task(s) within that Generalized task should be performed step by step(Using a Micro-Workflow)

Most importantly, these questions and their answers are generally contained in an employee training manual but they should ideally be contained in an cloud based, easy to access, VISUAL "workflow" that your employees follow religiously on a daily basis.

Arrange macro-workflows into a series of Generalized Tasks in the format of a daily schedule for each employee. You could include the micro-workflow relating to each Generalized Task within a notes section. As an employee is going about their daily routine, they will start a Generalized task, review the micro-workflow, and perform any work within that context using the instructions provided.

The consistency of your businesses results, depends on the granularity of your processes. A company only needs to be as detailed with their micro-workflows as necessary to guarantee consistent results. There is a balance between too many "rules", and not enough. If you make your processes too granular than you can hurt the efficiency of your team. If your processes are not detailed enough your consistency will suffer. Simplicity however is importantThe Stacked Workflow Method is meant to simplify work by reducing the amount of work needed to remember how we need to be doing something because we are operating using the rule-based processes.

A brief on Workflows

What a workflow should not look like:

  • An Employee manual: Because employee manuals are static, and not easily accessible
  • A programming language: Because it may be hard to read and understand for new employees.

What a workflow could look like:

  • A Google Calendar with generalized tasks such as "emails" or "marketing" that are at distinct scheduled times
  • A mind map with generalized tasks that need to be done
  • A workflow diagram
  • A form to fill out
  • A line of text such as "Do this->Now do this->Now this"

Schedule Example

calendar_example

A schedule can contain contexts/generalized tasks. While working in a context, tasks are completed according to the micro-workflow process.

Macro Workflow Example

Macro-Workflow Example

Created in the Cloud Based Software, Mind Meister, this is a simple example of a Macro Workflow with Generalized Tasks. Each Generalized Task "bubble" contained notes pertaining to that Generalized Task.

Micro Workflow Example

Altisource Vendor Estimate Creation Workflow

The process used while performing a task contained within a Macro Workflow

Macro Workflows and their associated Micro Workflows are often maintained and accessed via cloud based software.

Cloud based software allows Business Owners, Managers, and Executives to adjust how a company performs work "on the fly". If an adjustment is made to a Macro or Micro workflow, a simple notification can be disseminated to the relevant parties informing them of the adjustment, rather than going through a process of Employee Manual reprints, Meetings, and Memos.

 

linkedinMicroworkflow

Reminders can be placed right on each relevant stage within the micro-workflow so you can remember small details

The real power of workflows can be realized when a company parallels a group of employees macro-workflows. As a company, you should have complete control over the macro and micro workflows of your employees for the sole purpose of having the capability to perform small tweaks for process improvement. For instance, when a manager observes a bottleneck in the group/department they are managing, they could rapidly change the layout of the macro or micro workflows to overcome that bottleneck in the future. As another example, they could see that a certain client is not being served properly, so they could adjust the structure of either type of workflow to better serve that client. Again this advantage is really only possible using Cloud based software.

When are rule based processes applicable?

Answer: When you are performing a repetitive process, expecting a consistent result, usually centered around the delivery of a service or product by your company.

But your company prefers to be "creative" rather than "restrictive":

Every business has, or needs to have rule-based processes. Even businesses that are more creative in nature. Without paint first, a painter could not start their painting. Without an idea first, inventors could not begin inventing. The only difference between the workflow of a creative, and a non-creative is that a creative generally has less rules within each micro workflow. Allowing the creative to be free, while having a focus on completing the process.

 

But all of this sounds more complicated?

At first glance it may seem more complicated. However when you are creating your Macro and Micro Workflows, you only need to be as detailed as necessary so that the work will be done consistently and properly. The workflow examples provided here are actually more simple than other techniques used in examples like Getting Things Done, and the EMyth, both of which inspired this technique. However one of the major differentiating factors between using a complicated workflow, or using a simple workflow, is the type of labor that will be completing that task. The more granular that you make a workflow, the easier it is for that workflow to be done by a less educated, and more affordable laborer. 

The more granular that you make a workflow, the easier it is for that workflow to be replicated. 

The more granular you make a workflow, the easier it is to use Automation to complete certain portions of the workflow, or complete the workflow all together. There may be several tasks or workflows right now that you are doing unnecessarily.  Our service can help you both create Workflow Stacks, and/or Automate the current workflows your company has.

Aaron McKeehan

Founder of Paradigm. Passionate about simplifying business processes so businesses can become more productive, and save time.