A looking glass and a finger cursor, representing a workflow audit
How to Perform a Workflow Audit
A looking glass and a finger cursor, representing a workflow audit

How to Perform a Workflow Audit

Maybe it started when you noticed a particular team wasn’t hitting their deadlines. Or a certain process always causes grumbles when it’s brought up at lunch. Either way, there’s something about the way your organization works that isn’t quite right. It might be making projects tougher, causing alignment issues, or even creating friction between teams. When this starts happening, it’s time to do a workflow audit.

Before jumping into the audit itself, it would be wise to hammer out the details of what we’re discussing here.

What is a workflow?

A workflow is a map for getting things done. No matter what department you’re in or how many people are in your team, you’re relying on workflows in your day-to-day work. Every step from the planning stages of a project to the delivery and the follow-up steps are part of it. Project managers, team leads, and department heads are typically all aware of the workflows that involve their teams, but they’re not always necessarily equipped to audit and fix them.

How do you know you need a workflow audit?

A workflow that runs smoothly is just like good film editing; you barely know it’s there. You can focus on getting your tasks done, hitting deadlines, and working with the people you enjoy. 

But when your workflows have a few hiccups, you absolutely notice. Those hiccups might color your relationships with coworkers, stretch out your workday, clog up your email inbox, and more. Here are a few ways you can tell your workflows need some help:

  • Projects frequently go over budget or past their deadline: No plan survives first contact with the enemy, so it’s normal to have to adjust expectations throughout a project’s lifetime. But if a certain team is consistently missing deadlines or stretching their freelancer budget, there might be an issue with their workflow.
  • The same blockers pop up repeatedly: All projects have their obstacles. Sometimes they’re an unexpected curveball, while others come up again and again. If the latter is true of your workflow, an audit might be in order.
  • Teams are frustrated: Sometimes you can’t avoid busywork, and no one enjoys it. But if the very idea of working with a specific team, or doing a specific task, elicits groans and protests, there’s room to make improvements.
  • Communication is tough, or non-existent: Keeping teams aligned is always tough; people who work together frequently need to have ways of communicating effectively. If critical information is frequently getting lost in transit, something needs to be done.

The 5-step workflow audit

Now that you have a better understanding of the warning signs of a problematic workflow, how do you go about fixing them? With our step-by-step guide to auditing your workflow, of course!

1: Write down every single step and map them out

What has to happen to get a project from “idea scribbled on a napkin” to “champagne-toasted success?” Take a moment to think of every step along the way, from big kickoff meetings all the way down to individual emails. Are approvals required along the way? What are the names of key stakeholders? What communication channels need to be used? And which tools are you using? These are just a few of the questions you should ask yourself when mapping out your workflow. Write down the answers, then find a way to represent your workflow visually.

2: Look for chokepoints

Now that you’ve got a visual representation of your workflow, you might already have an idea of where hiccups — or even blockers — are happening. Is there a specific person whose approval process is particularly long? If so, you’ve already found a place where you can improve your workflow. What about communication channels? Does seeing “print project report and take to the office” make you shudder? If you’re working with this workflow every day, you can probably spot these issues quickly.

3: Find steps that need an upgrade

Chokepoints slow down workflows because they’re inefficient. But they’re not the only places that can benefit from your attention. Beyond finding those places where work slows down, try to look for opportunities for improvement. For instance, you might find redundancies in an approval process involving multiple stakeholders, and cutting that process down to one of them might improve things. Maybe acquiring a piece of software would accelerate parts of your workflow, which you can bring up with your team. Don’t hesitate to ask your team for their input; they might have out-of-the-box ideas you would have never thought of.

4: Implement your strategy

Once you’ve figured out your workflow’s rough spots, it’s time to smooth them out. Maybe you’ve decided to use a workflow management solution like Unito to connect the multiple tools your team has been using. If that’s the case, you can use the platform to map out your workflow and streamline the flow of information between projects. Or maybe you want to try reshuffling your team and their responsibilities to streamline their work. Either way, it’s typically best to try implementing one change at a time. This makes adoption faster and easier, which gets you better feedback. And that feedback is crucial when it’s time to…

5: Analyze the results of your workflow audit

You’ve made a big change to your workflow. Maybe you’ve eliminated your team’s reliance on printed documents or you’ve added a completely new tool to their process. The workflow audit process doesn’t end when the change is made; it doesn’t even end when the change is adopted. Instead, you should take the time to observe the impact it’s had. Be sure to get a mix of qualitative and quantitative data; detailed feedback from your team is great, but you also want to know how many hours and dollars the change has saved the business. Are things running more smoothly? How much more smoothly? Once you’ve established that the change was positive, you can move to the next change in your strategy, and repeat the process until you’ve got the best workflow around.

Your team deserves better workflows

Every team has fallen victim to a rough workflow once in a while. But usually, even the most troubled workflow can be brought in line with a bit of time, energy, and creativity. When you take the time to perform a workflow audit, you’re going to come out with a better understanding of how work gets done as well as ideas on how to fix things. Your team — and the people they work with — will thank you.