Management Articles


Beyond Workflow Management

By: Terri Roeslmeier

Terri Roeslmeier is president of Automated Business Designs, Inc., software developer of Ultra-Staff, a full-featured staffing software solution with components for front office, back office and the web.

Beyond Workflow Management......

Software used to be all about workflow management. We're beyond that now. It was the "big buzzword" of the 80's. In the 80's our company was the first in our market to talk about "workflow management" in our ads. It still has its place it's just that workflow management has taken on a totally different meaning. Today, workflow management pertains to the individual and not a set of rules that we set for others. It is also simply one of the components that lend to successful software use. There is much more than workflow management to talk about and put into place for successful business operations today. Today, it's about everyone having their own personal style of working.

Current management focuses at a "goal accomplishment" level. If goals are being met, it really does not matter what gets done first. It's the manager's job to help enhance and utilize the talents and strongest qualities inherent in each individual that is hired. Some software takes workflow management to an extreme level of checklists and items that need to be done by the employee in a certain order. One can't skip a step which can lead to problems in adjusting to a situation at hand. This is the "old" way of workflow management. It does not allow for any decision-making "out-of-the-box". This can be detrimental and frustrating for individuals attempting to finish a task and meet the customer's needs. It slows down the process, does not allow for any free-thinking, and can mean a lot of lost business. Often what looks good on paper does not necessarily work all of the time in real world situations.

Employees today are different. They come to us with a more sophisticated talent set and ideals. Management style has changed in order to accommodate the interests of the new workforce. Everyone we hire is different in personality, likes, dislikes, talents, habits and style. Today's employee comes to us as a more complicated resource that is and should be able to handle day to day business based upon a set of parameters provided by the company. Traditional management methods are adjusted. Companies that implement changes to adapt to business and employee environmental changes are more successful long term. In order to keep up with the pace, we too must change or be left behind.

We need to train new employees by teaching them what needs to be done and how to use the software tools that can help them accomplish them. The next step is to use software to monitor activity to ensure that goals are being met. The old way of thinking was to provide another subset which was "workflow management". Workflow management was a series of steps that needed to be done in order to meet business goals, usually to be done in a specific order and in a specific way. The problem with this is that the sequence of steps did not always model what was going on in the "real life" business world. Customers were losing out on good service and businesses would lose sales.

Currently, we take on a more adept approach of providing business tools in order to get the work done, but highlighting an individual's personal style and situation. This approach allows the individual to adjust their workflow according to the needs of the customer, thus CRM (Customer Resource Management). It's all about the customer. Business software solutions should focus on customer management, data warehousing and business intelligence. Collecting data is critical. Everything you can know about a customer gives you extreme posturing over the competition. You will not know anything, unless you document it in your software solution.

It goes beyond data collection though. Collecting data without tapping into it is the equivalent of saving things in your basement for 20 years that you have not used or even looked at. It's useless. You need tools to quickly and easily retrieve the information for effortless analysis. Retrieving it can take place in several different contexts. You can choose to look up information using one or many different methods, some of which include: screen views; user dashboards (very popular); graphs and charts, reports and spreadsheets, etc. Modeling the information the way you want to see it is the main component of this process. The ability to export information from your application and slice / dice it according to your immediate needs is invaluable to managing and forecasting. "Canned reports" do not let the user get what they need when they need it and thus are getting exceedingly unpopular.

So, how does this all fit into an individual's personal style? Instead of making users follow a "traditional step-by-step approach" of using software, you show them the tools available and they use them when they need them. This allows the software user to decide when and if it is appropriate to use a specific tool. The one thing you must impose is that they use the tools in order to manage their work. The old approach forces the customer to work according to your needs and not theirs. CRM is about enhanced customer management. We document, follow-up, customize, communicate, satisfy needs, and meet goals all in the interest of serving the customer.

Familiarize employees with what information must be captured in the software as they proceed with their day-to-day activities. Always provide formal instruction on the use of the software. Not just the basics. In order to effectively manage business today, users must have access to software that will allow them to complete "all" of their work, not just some things. The goal here is to capture as much information as possible in the easiest and least time-consuming way. Don't accept that if employees have to fill out all of the information you want them to that they will not have enough time to sell. Building up your business intelligence solution means a treasure of information at hand to close business - unequivocally. Without information your company will only make a marginal impact in your target marketplace while others use business intelligence and CRM to forward their business goals.

By encouraging personal workflow management, incidentally your people are more productive and everyone wins. You win because your company is more productive and profitable. Your customer wins because they are getting top-notch service and satisfaction. Your employee wins because they make more money and have greater job satisfaction without restrictions so they can perform their work effectively. They simply need to use the tools when they need them. If they like their job they will stay with your company longer and benefit from the business intelligence that they helped to build. Once they see the benefits, they will want to do more.

© Copyright 2007, Terri Roeslmeier

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. ManagerWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. ManagerWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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