Organizational Change Christopher SmithOctober 25, 2021

The Complete Guide to Creating a Workflow Optimization Strategy

The Complete Guide to Creating a Workflow Optimization Strategy

The right workflow optimization strategy can dramatically impact your organization’s performance and the bottom line.

Let’s look at a few techniques, tactics, strategies, and metrics that can help you optimize and enhance your workflows.

What is Workflow Optimization?

Workflow optimization is just what it sounds like – improving workflows in terms of variables such as:

  • Efficiency
  • Cost
  • Time
  • Resource utilization
  • Waste

On the surface, workflow optimization may sound relatively straightforward, but there are many factors to take into consideration.

Factors that can influence workflow performance

For instance, workflows can be affected by a number of factors, including:

  • Employee morale
  • Employee skill levels
  • The enterprise digital ecosystem
  • Business process design
  • Organizational culture
  • Management
  • The work environment
  • Employee compensation

Improving these can have a dramatic and positive impact on the organization. An organization is a complex machine, so it is important to analyze this carefully before making any changes.

The benefits of workflow optimization

The factors mentioned above can impact business outcomes such as:

  • Performance
  • Effectiveness
  • Employer branding
  • Bottom-line profits
  • Innovation
  • Agility
  • Efficiency

These are the strategic areas to focus on and think about when designing workflow optimization programs. Workflows, however, are tactical and technical – they exist at the “lowest” level of the organizational hierarchy.

Tactics for improving business processes

Improving the areas mentioned above, requires implementing tactical changes to the actual steps involved in business processes.

To illustrate what this means, lets look at a few examples of HR workflows that can be optimized:

Each of these examples is an HR process, or workflow. 

That workflow can then be broken down and optimized in terms of variables such as those covered above – efficiency, cost, time, waste. 

As we will see below, however, it is important to set goals. Those goals, after all, will define your overarching strategy. A strategy aimed at reducing waste, for instance, would vary considerably from one aimed at improving innovation.

An example of workflow optimization in HR

Continuing with the HR example, here is an illustration of the steps an HR manager may go through when optimizing HR workflows. After deciding on specific workflows to improve, an HR manager may consider adopting tactics such as:

  • A structured strategy to business process optimization, such as lean or Six Sigma
  • Recruitment software, such as an applicant tracking system (ATS)
  • A strategy to improve employer branding
  • An employee management plan
  • Improved recruitment tactics such as marketing and outreach
  • Software, such as digital adoption platforms (DAPs), to improve efficiency in key HR workflows, such as onboarding and training

The same steps could be applied to any other business process, inside HR or any other department.

Steps to go through when optimizing workflows

In general, initiating an organizational change should follow stages that include:

1. Assessment of business needs.

During this stage, Stakeholders will evaluate the workflow in question, problems associated with the workflow, solutions to solving that problem, and so forth.

Examples of steps to take during this stage include:

  • Analyze the existing process
  • Identify deficiencies, errors, and needs
  • Identify potential solutions
  • Perform a business gap analysis
  • Identify challenges to change

All of this information, in turn, will be used to inform the subsequent steps in the optimization process. 

2. Strategizing and planning.

Next, with the information collected in the first step, the appropriate managers will develop an overarching strategy and a change management plan for achieving a specific set of goals.

During this stage, managers will:

  • Set overarching goals
  • Develop a strategy and a plan for achieving those goals
  • Create objectives, metrics, and KPIs that are tied to those goals
  • Assign roles and responsibilities

Up until this point, all of the steps taken will be considered preparation. This is perhaps the most vital part of the entire initiative. Improper preparation can lead to inefficiencies, poor outcomes, or even failure.

3. Execution.

Finally, it’s important to execute, manage, and optimize the plan.

Here are steps to take during this stage:

  • Implement the roadmap developed in the earlier stages
  • Monitor and optimize the optimization plan
  • Collect data in real-time
  • Use data to stay agile and pivot strategies if necessary

Even after completion of an optimization strategy, however, it is important to finalize and revisit that project.

4. Review

Here are a few final steps to take once the project has been completed:

  • Compile the data and results
  • Analyze and review that information with key stakeholders
  • Reinforce new processes and training
  • Maintain accountability
  • Continue to adjust processes over time if necessary

By breaking down the process into these core stages, And addressing old dimensions and variables that impact the workflow in question, it will be possible to optimize any business process in any area of the organization.

Finally, it is important to distinguish between a discrete optimization project and ongoing continual improvement.

Continual Workflow Optimization

Although it is important to perform one time optimization projects such as those discussed above, it is also important to embed process optimization into the organization. 

Continual workflow optimization after all, can generate ongoing improvements to productivity, performance, agility, innovation, and all of the other factors mentioned above.For that reason, it is important not only to implement a short-term improvement project, but also longer term business process improvement methodologies such as Six Sigma, lean, or Total Quality Management (TQM).

If you liked this article, you may also like: