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Workflows and Collaboration: Allies or Enemies?

The importance of workflows that help to structure business processes and let employees be more productive is unquestionable. Let's explore!

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Workflows and Collaboration: Allies or Enemies

The importance of workflows that help to structure business processes and let employees be more productive is unquestionable. To elaborate on the subject, we’ll try to find out if the rigid nature of workflows fits 100% of business cases. Also, we’ll tap into their weaknesses and answer a much-debated question: is collaboration a friend or an enemy to your workflows?

Squeezing out Collaboration for Effective Workflows

The introduction of workflows aims to minimize human collaboration. To visualize the process, you can compare workflow automation with a squeezer: you take a business process and start to squeeze thoroughly all the human interaction out in order to get a pure activity not mixed with human communication. Why is it a necessary step? Human collaboration usually makes the entire working process much slower and sometimes leads to unexpected mistakes and delays caused by communication gaps and misunderstanding.

Having squeezed human collaboration, you get a refined workflow that can be split into separate actions fulfilled by a responsible person who doesn’t deviate from the prescribed process. This way a workflow represents an accurate sequence of actions that all together allow achieving the ultimate goal.

If any problem arises and the given conditions contradict the possible workflow scenario (e.g. with the established limit of $200 per stationary order for a department, a procurement manager gets the order for $415), the further action can be rejected with no serious impact on the enterprise’s activity.

Such a filtering of workflow conditions forms a new corporate culture, as employees understand business logic better, thus become much more organized and consistent in their work. Moreover, well-structured workflows help to eliminate inefficient processes, which usually lead to the consumption of extra resources.

Why Can It Go Wrong?

Indeed, transforming your business processes into a line production where every employee strictly follows workflow stages greatly contributes to effectiveness, reduces costs and eliminates the possibility of mistakes. However, such a rigid and dried-up process has its weaknesses.

Let’s analyze a typical situation. A procurement manager working in a biotechnology company gets a request to buy a new freezer. As an experienced employee, the manager knows that the company uses -86°C ultra-low freezers and decides to purchase one more. The procurement manager buys a freezer with a discount (thus saves the company’s money) and get it delivered with no delay. Unfortunately, at the last moment he learns that there was a need for an -150°C ultra-low freezer, as it was intended to start new types of research.

Was the workflow completed successfully? Yes. Is the result positive? No. Why the biotech company faced such a problem? It can be explained with a range of reasons:

  • Software gaps – e.g. a request form doesn’t provide enough place to leave comments and describe order in details.
  • Staff negligence – e.g. the head of research who made the request was in a hurry and forgot to indicate the needed parameters.
  • Lack of collaboration - e.g. the head of research forgot to contact a procurement manager to provide the order details.

This is an exaggerated example, of course, but, in reality, similar situations happen every day causing considerable financial losses to companies. It also proves that building up a well-structured workflow is not always enough to achieve the goal.

So is it possible to avoid this ‘wrong-freezer’ situation without interfering into the workflow structure itself?

Collaboration Life Buoy

To answer the question, let’s go back and revise the stage of squeezing collaboration out of workflows. Yes, it’s a needed measure to make employees more process-focused and task-oriented. However, the reality shows that in some cases workflows without collaboration are inefficient or, at worst, even fail.

That’s where a collaboration platform like SharePoint can be helpful. SharePoint collaboration features are unique, as the platform allows to build up effective collaboration that won’t break the workflow logic but support workflow participants at any stage of the workflow cycle. There are at least two opportunities to smoothly add collaboration to your workflows.

Task-centric Collaboration in SharePoint

If you already manage workflows in SharePoint, then adjusting it for collaboration is a no-brainer. You only need to address your requirements to either qualified in-house SharePoint developers or to turn to SharePoint consultants who will tailor the platform to your new business needs (learn more on SharePoint capabilities here).

Just to give you a hint for a feasible solution: collaboration spaces can be created as a part of workflow tasks to function in line with current workflows. This way, every task will be provided with a link directing workflow participants to a dedicated collaboration space where they can discuss workflow-related issues.

Considering the possibilities to store and share documents generated during a workflow, as well as to adjust notifications on workflow-related events, you can manage the entire workflow on a SharePoint site without being forced to switch to another system, which contributes to better structuring of working processes and greatly saves time.

Collaboration via Integration

Provided you use an industry-specific solution or an enterprise system (ERP, CRM), integration is what will allow you to marry the two platforms and enrich your enterprise system with independent collaboration spaces for workflow participants. Using a dedicated collaboration space linked with an enterprise system, employees are able to share their ideas and questions, share documents and discuss problematic issues with colleagues with the opportunity to go back to their enterprise system immediately.

The biggest advantage of integrating SharePoint collaboration with your enterprise solution is that you preserve the rigid workflow structure and provide employees with collaboration spaces accessible only for workflow members, which makes the working process not only targeted but also secure.

In order to ensure great enterprise collaboration in your organization, you can use an easy formula from our SharePoint experts that includes the most important components such as user convenience, data protection, and reasonable price.

Conclusion

Right, so are they allies or enemies, workflows and collaboration? The answer should always depend on business processes that determine specific workflows. Very often automation requires minimizing human-to-human interaction in order to achieve better results and enhance employees’ productivity. However, in particular cases, the lack of collaboration can cause unexpected barriers and even workflow failure.

SharePoint can become a real life buoy for your workflows, as its collaboration features allow preserving workflows’ rigid structure and, at the same time, support employees and help them to manage their tasks more efficiently. SharePoint collaboration spaces can work as an integral part of your enterprise system, adapting to particular needs of your business.

Discover the warning signs of DevOps Dysfunction and learn how to get back on the right track, brought to you in partnership with CA Technologies.

Topics:
collaboration ,sharepoint

Published at DZone with permission of Sergei Golubenko, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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