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Building the bedrock of smart initiatives: Digital Workflows

2020/06/04

Digital workflows are the bedrock of any smart working initiative

On Wednesday the 3rd June 4PACK UK rounded off our Digital Accelerator Series of webinars with the third installment Migrating digital workflows in 4 easy steps: Improving productivity and reducing your level of risk. For this webinar we covered four simple steps to migrating your workflows into a digital process in order to improve productivity and reduce your compliance risks. 

We looked at:

  • Why you should invest time into mapping,
  • The importance of defining responsibilities and actions,
  • How you can optimise your workflows,
  • And, how to make it all digital.

But firstly, why should you focus on digitising your workflows?

Digital workflows might seem like standard project management, but they are the bedrock of any smart working initiative. When we talk about digitising workflows, we are really talking about moving away from email handovers and the use of multiple documents, often stored in disparate folders and servers 

It’s important to stress that digitising your workflows is not the same as just using collaborative software tools e.g. Microsoft Teams, Slack etc. Many organisations are using these tools which serve as an instant communication channel to teams but do a different level of complexity to product launch projects because the information is still siloed and gets lost in long discussion threads.

Digitising workflows is about creating a structured, digital process that makes it easy for individuals and teams to input, output and reference information efficiently, smoothly, and consistently. Digital workflows mean that key processes are defined based upon a set of dependencies, that drive activities that need to be automatically adhered to – these should reflect how you want to operate as a business to optimise efficiencies.

Consistency is key to compliance on multiple levels. 

Issues with poor process compliance become compounded when stakeholders are not all in the same office or site, or part of the same organization, so managing these co-locations is a crucial reason for putting robust digital workflows in place.

Poor process compliance also exposes your business to a great deal of unnecessary risk. Especially when you’re relying on email trails and multiple documents being passed around, there is a much greater chance something will get missed and slip through the net. 

Moving to digital workflows ensures that all the right information is in one place and has been through the corrects steps and checks. Digital workflows allow you to measure and track progress of projects much more effectively; they also provide you with a fully searchable and auditable history. Finally, digital workflows in and of themselves typically speed processes up considerably (in many cases, up to 40% faster!).

Digital workflows provide an added benefit, in that they allow you to make continuous improvements to your productivity – by identifying where key bottlenecks may be happening so they can be eliminated for example, or by automating the flow of approved content directly to outputs such as packaging artwork.

 

#1 Map the process: 

What we recommend that you set aside a little time (hours not days) to really understand your current end-to-end process, steps and activities involved in launching or updating a product. So, this means getting people around the table, probably virtually at the moment and physically drawing out the individual process steps and sequence – so how they connect together.

This exercise is not a difficult one & neither does it take a long time, but the investment will absolutely pay off in the long term. In our experience, the mapping phase is invaluable, in terms of internal engagement. It gives you chance to take stock of your current process & invite others to comment and contribute before you undertake any digital transformation. 

How do you do it?

In order to draw out the process flow, you’ll need a facilitator, someone to stand at the digital whiteboard while your experts discuss the steps and flow. You can facilitate it yourself or you can consider using someone from outside your organisation to help you. It’s important that it’s someone that’s not heavily invested in the process; a software implementation consultant would be an ideal here someone who brings their experience of digital workflow also to the meeting.

In terms of tools to do this it can be low tech, a flipchart and Sharpie approach or you can take advantage of one of the many free & easy to use online process mapping apps/tools to help you – ideal if you are planning to do this remotely. To map the process, work with key representatives from stakeholder groups to help you build the full picture and make sure nothing is missed. 

The key is to Just outline the steps at this stage and the order they should be executed– any detail can be added later. Keep it light touch and start small – start with a small element or stage of the process and work outwards. Here’s an example: 

Fig 1.1

Bring it together 

Once you have mapped the different stages of the process, you can connect them up to give you the full end to end process. You will have now a single version of the process created by a team which encapsulates all people’s knowledge in one chart or document. Involving stakeholders here is key, means that your mapped process will be credible within your organisation, and you will have achieved buy in for your digital transformation from key actors in the process. 

Finally, it can be enlightening too! You’ll be surprised how many people will only know their part of the process and will be relatively unaware of the activities that surround them. Once you have captured the steps & flow of the process, your skeleton workflow, now is the time to add some more details on responsibility and key actions

 

#2 Define Responsibilities & Actions:

For each step in the process, work out & agree who is responsible for each step and make note of any procedures or instructions they need to complete their actions. This means walking through the process you created in step one: Label the actions. Work out the purpose of each step – is it to add information, to extract information, to attach files or download files and, or both? Here’s an example of what I mean. 

Fig 1.2

Here we have detailed a number of steps from a pack copy & artwork stage including the relevant actions, responsibilities. What we are trying to do is get a clear picture of how information, data and documents flow through the process; who enters information, when is this added, who acts on it.

It’s important to also consider who needs to be informed of decisions made within the process. And lastly, don’t forget to consider external as well as internal stakeholders in this exercise; testing labs, accreditation bodies, retailers or graphics agencies for example are all collaborators in a process & can be included in a digital system.

So, we now have our steps, flow, actions & responsibilities. We have clearly identified the control points in the process; the validation steps. We will have listed out the resources and departments who are touched by the process, which helps you plan the change management side of your transformation, in terms of communication, training and roll out.

Once the steps are identified, with actions and responsibilities, this puts us in the position of being able to optimise our processes.

 

#3 Optimise workflows

This where we are going to build on the process we have mapped. The key here is to take a step back before we digitise our workflows and focus on the to-be process with a digital system. Your team may have already identified some potential optimisation in terms of business process itself as part of the mapping exercise. Now’s the time to take stock of all those ideas and also build in digital automation. 

How do we approach this? 

When we think of a to-be digital process, it’s clear that some steps are must-haves – the steps that MUST be present in the digital version of the process. What we mean here are the key touch points and “gates” of the process, where one person or team’s job is done, and the responsibility is transferred to a different user or group in the flow. Another area to consider first are also the key validation or approval steps and the return points, these will form the digital loops (visualising these loops really helps).

Once the critical steps & loops are added, then add other supporting activities in your process - where data/documents are added or extracted. Be careful not to fall into the trap of just digitising your current manual process. A system can help you be more efficient by condensing manual steps in one action or directing actions to different people in parallel.

Think about which processes or stages could be more effectively automated, for example, any type of document or file approval. If you are handling this offline you will probably be sending documents/files by email to different approvers. And typically, you may be waiting for the first person to review before routing to the second, because you want to collate comments on one master file.

In a digital system you will be able to distribute this content in parallel so that all approvers work on the same master file at the same time. This can lead to time savings of weeks.

However, some of those possible automations might include taking data directly from supplier’s systems or from your own ERP system, or as another example, outputting product information directly into a dynamic artwork template, which potentially removes an unnecessary external step at the packaging graphics stage.

 

#4 Make it Digital
It is not just thinking about the how but also who you should work with. 

It is essential that you select a software partner that is not only going to deliver the appropriate functionality to meet your project needs but just as importantly is able to work seamlessly with your business and teams to ensure a smooth transformation process. Bringing a team to the table that really instils confidence in the change process and that the teams feel they can work with.

Where do you start?

The first step is to centralise your information and data as far as possible. There are a whole host of benefits that doing so will deliver; we’ve talked before about what a game-changer centralising your information within one platform is in terms of gaining control over your processes, reducing risk, accelerating your speed to market and taking unnecessary cost out. It’s also a core foundation to digitising your workflows effectively.

The second step, while it may sound obvious, is to make sure everyone who needs to be connected in ‘is’, and has the right tasks associated to them. To make this as easy and timely as possible for users (coming back to improving productivity) they should have a clear, centralised view of what tasks they need to perform each day, with notifications as to when an action has been placed into their stage of the workflow. 

This will have all been defined within the discovery and scoping workshops then translated into the system. Being able to see a consolidated history of other people’s inputs against each action is also really helpful and means that people aren’t having to spend time tracking down other relevant information. 

Many people ask about their existing data when it comes to digitising workflows. The good news is there will probably be a lot that you can migrate in. However, when it comes to migrating existing project data, it’s important you don’t also bring over any legacy bad habits! For example, where those product specifications we talked about earlier are incomplete, use this exercise as an opportunity to bring everything up to a good standard. 

Start with clean and consistent data. A software solution will facilitate your business process and helps drive a best practice way of working but it will always remain the responsibility of people to ensure that good data goes in to ensure a successful output. The job of a digital solution is to have the necessary checks and balances to ensure it controls what needs completing and when.

Lastly, to enjoy the process! it is a unique opportunity to spring clean your ways of working and polish your information.  Don’t feel overwhelmed, your software vendor should hold your hand throughout the entire transformation and remove the heavy lifting

Imagine the satisfaction, never mind all the major time, cost and compliance benefits your organisation is set to gain by ‘Going Digital’. 

 

Q&A

Q: Everyone in my department seems to work in a slightly different way, so not knowing where to start has stopped us from moving forwards – do you have any advice?

A: It’s a very common situation, one especially we find in companies that have grown organically. 

The goal has to be aligned ways of working to a certain extent to achieve a level consistency and control. Having common milestones for example, will improve process visibility. Once the process has been mapped as we explained earlier it will be easier to see where different individuals/teams are working differently today.

With any digitisation it is important to allow some degree of flexibility where required. A digital workflow does not have to be 100% rigid, it needs to be flexible to accommodate different situations. What we would suggest is to start to map the process with the team so that all variations can be considered. This will help you see the common steps and also provide a good foundation for you to align ways of working going forwards.

 

Q: With teams working remotely….is it possible to implement a new system?

Yes, definitely! System implementation follows three phases:

Scoping/Discovery – This is where we understand your requirements in depth. This can be done via a series of online workshops and/or offline questionnaires.

Configuration/Test – Cloud systems are by nature set up remotely so will not require any on premise installation. In addition, to test system, all that someone needs are internet access and all advice can be given online or by email.

Training – Training also can be delivered remotely either as group webinar or 1:1 approach, here, online docs and training videos also help.

 

 

 

4Pack exists to help Food & Beverage manufacturers and brands of all sizes to push innovative, safer products to market across channels quickly. If you want to turbo charge your product launch process, book a demo with one of our experts.