The Workflow Trap
Jul 13, 2021
Recently I shared a blog about the time-suck that email can become.
Unless it's well-managed it's something that can easily chew up 5-10 hours of time per week you could better spend elsewhere. However, there's another area, and it can be even more problematic.
Let me give you some background.
If you've not seen the movie Zero Dark Thirty (starring the outstanding Jessica Chastain), it's worth watching.
It's the story of the capture of Osama Bin Laden and, whilst the topic matter may not be everyone's cup of tea, the film is good, and there's one scene that I always remember.
Picture the scene...
It's dark night in Northern Pakistan. It's barren, rocky country. We see a compound of sorts, amongst an otherwise unremarkable village. High walls pocked with crumbling holes...
Suddenly we see them. It's a Navy Seal team, moving silently as one. All night vision goggles and crouch postures you know they could keep up for months.
They're on their way to the compound to capture Osama himself. They're sneaking past the guard, avoiding detection aided by a team way back in Washington!
There they are (Jessica included) safe and sound thousands of kilometres from the scene, standing together in a dark control room with a panel of TVs in front of them.
We see the screens. We understand that they can see everything.
Satellites in orbit show the location on a global scale.
A silent drone shows heat signatures.
Helmet cams from each and every Seal make it look like THAT scene from Aliens (Game over man! Game over!).
...and then you notice the way they're working together.
The Seals do not flip open laptops. They do not log in to Windows 10. They certainly don't manoeuvre past the challenge of what's my password again? in order to tick off a bunch of tasks once they're done (Sneak past guards - tick. Take out control tower - tick).
Instead, they're being fed information from the control room (thousands of miles away) and, in turn, they're feeding the information back verbally.
It makes total sense.
After all, why wouldn't the people who can see all those monitors direct traffic? Why would they be opening up laptops on a soon-to-be battlefield?
The people in the control room are running the show. They're telling the people on the ground what needs to be done, when it needs to be, and then updating the system when it's done.
And you realise this is how workflow should work.
Often it doesn't, sometimes due to an unstated and non-agreed expectation that everyone should use workflow - or more specifically, workflow/ task management software the same, except...
- Not everybody has the same opportunity to be sitting in front of a computer and
- Some team members are critical to a process in different ways (e.g seeing clients).
This is the big mistake that is often made when it comes to workflow.
The tech might be right, but the way the tech is used is wrong.
This gets to the heart of the fact that workflow is not primarily a tech problem.
Workflow is a communications problem first,
process problem second,
technology problem last.
It's kind of impossible to dive into this area without talking about systemisation too.
Systematisation. Documenting processes. How you do things. Creating training resources. Implementing it all into a workflow management tool.
If you're serious about coming through what we call the dangerous middle as fast as you can (and you don't want to linger in there), building a business that is no longer dependent on you as founder for operations and/or growth, they're things you'll need.
Systems and processes are the things that will save you from getting stuck in that busy but unproductive phase where everything feels like 200kmh, until you see the output is more like 60.
Yet so many leave it until they really badly need them, by which time they don't have the time to get it done fast enough.
There's an old Chinese proverb that says simply, "The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second-best time is now".
The best time to start building processes is before you need them. The second best time is as soon as you even sniff the fact you might.
There's more to this, but as you can guess, it's not always the sexiest areas to talk about.
It is however one significant thing I see separating those who build valuable businesses that operate without them from those who struggle to break through.