Workflow Systems that Work: Part Two

My first post about workflow systems talked entirely about my first rule: simplicity. Simplicity is such an important rule because it’s really easy to make the system complicated. Our job is to make it as simple as possible.

Now for the next rule: Make your systems completely transparent.

It’s true. The systems that guide workflow have to be completely transparent. Everyone should understand each element, understand how they connect to each other, and be able to use the workflow system components to understand what everyone on the team is working on. In the post on simplicity, I outlined some of the workflow components we use and on a number of these components I record team members’ names. If he/she is lead on a project, there’s an “x” in his/her column. Everyone knows who’s doing what.

Some people ask about how this impacts team dynamics. How do team members feel about having other members of the team knowing about all of their work? And how do team members feel about providing updates in a group where they have to let all of their colleagues know the details on what’s happening? Well, quite frankly, I think we all love it.

We can’t be a team if everyone’s working in isolation. We can’t be a team if we don’t know our roles on projects. When we come together and give updates, we also brainstorm and get ideas from each other. We’re completely open about our struggles and our triumphs. These workflow guides allow us to jump in and out of projects efficiently because of the transparency. It also opens up conversations about who’s working on what and why. People have different interests and different skills.

That’s another question that often comes up: But what if someone on your team doesn’t like something they have to work on? What if they’re upset someone else gets a cool project? As much as I’d like to think all our projects are cool, it’s true that sometimes we have to work on projects that are less fun than others. (Although, we’re pretty lucky to get to work on mostly great projects.) But hopefully transparency about all projects and roles allows us to think more effectively about what projects are on the horizon and how we’re best equipped as a staff to meet those needs. Open the dialogue. I’ve been amazed at what I’ve learned and what it’s meant to the team. People love working on different types of projects and that’s a tremendous asset. We can learn what motivates and stimulates our colleagues and match skills and interests as much as possible.

Does this transparency result in some sticky situations when you’re scheduling new projects? When someone approaches me with a request for a project, such as needing development time or needing graphic design assistance, it’s an open conversation. During that conversation, after talking through project goals, I open the exact same documents that the person asking can open to look at the schedule of projects. I can schedule it accordingly and it becomes information that’s immediately available to my team. As I mentioned in the first blog post, my team members can also add to this task tracking sheet, which helps keep me informed of progress and additional needs for projects that have evolved.

Sometimes one of my team members does bop into my office going “Hey, what’s this project I’m working on next week?” and vice versa. More often, my team works on the current projects and waits for my “Friday List” I referenced in the first blog on workflow systems to see the new things coming down the pike. At our group meeting the following week, we’ll talk and they’ll get the framework of the project. We know and trust the process. We also trust each other. (Of course, this trust is not all because of our workflow systems, some of this is also because my team is so amazing.)

Transparency helps eliminates stress, facilitate conversation, and builds a whole lot of team. There’s no confusion. There’s no surprise. We are consistent with our process and everyone can always refer back to the workflow system components to get reoriented with our plan. Transparency builds stronger, more efficient teams. And I’m really grateful to work in one. In the next blog post we’ll look at rule number three for workflow systems: accessibility.

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