Nailing software products

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By Tom Baeyens

When to choose workflow management software

I’ll start by stating the obvious: having the right tool for the job is crucial. A bicycle is great to go to the park two blocks down the road. And an airplane is the better option to travel between countries or states. In software, it’s much harder to understand which is the best tool.

That’s because in software there are thousands of options. And you can’t get your whole company to work fluent with all of them. What separates a good manager from an average one is the ability to find and use the right software products for each individual task.

Different kinds of work

Business managers get a lot of different problems on their plate. They have to deal with all the problems that pop up in their domain of responsibility. It takes a completely different approach to tackle a unique problem that will only happen once versus repetitive work. Let’s break down the different types of work we do.

  1. Unique tasks. These are problems that need to be addressed just once because of specific situations. For example in a lab, the refrigerator that cools an ongoing experiment breaks down.
  2. Recurring work. For the sake of argument, let’s say this means between three times per year and once per week. For example, one of the sales people reports a laptop or tablet problem.
  3. Repetitive work. This is the type of work being done continuously. It’s so standardized that all people involved know what to do. For example: handling expense claims in a large organization.

Because we don’t have an appropriate software product for every possible task, email and spreadsheets are overused. The great thing about email is that everyone has it. So you can talk to virtually everyone. But email is also very limited and in many cases not the best solution to address unique tasks and recurring work. We waste a tremendous amount of time in email for which there is a much better solution.

Case management and workflow software

Workflow and case management are designed for unique tasks and recurring work. Workflow reduces the number of emails (and a lot of time spent) because it coordinates handovers, keeps track of who’s next, which decision or data is required and produces a task list for people in your organization. Using email and spreadsheets for this is cumbersome at best and often results in massive inefficiencies.

When buying a product that supports a particular use case. It often doesn’t quite match the way people work in your organization. Those solutions are inflexible so the only option is to change the way you work to conform with the tools you buy. Workflows in contrast are easy to build yourself so they match exactly to how work is done in your organization.

In case and workflow systems like Effektif, a case is a central place where people collaborate to get a single task done. This can be a unique, a recurring or a repetitive task. Everyone always can see the latest state of a case including all the conversations people have on it, even when people are involved at a later stage. Compare that to many emails in people’s inboxes and you realize that cases are the right tool for a big portion of the unique and recurring work.

If you do some task the third time, an alarm bell should go off in your head. The third time means it’s time to start thinking ‘workflow’. Workflow systems like Effektif are like a 6GL (cfr 3GL, 4GL & 5GL) for business people. It allows business people to quickly compose solutions in minutes, without the cost or hassle to implement a new software product into the organization.

The right tool for recurring and repetitive work

Workflow tools are ideal for recurring and repetitive work. And because you compose your own solution, it’s more bespoke compared to specific software solutions where you often have to change your own ways to comply with the solution’s expectations.

Use the right tool for the job. Use specific software systems for repetitive work if they exactly match your use case. Use workflows for recurring and repetitive work that may need more flexibility. And use cases for unique tasks and recurrent work that don’t justify an investment.

Photo: Selena N. B. H. / CC BY 2.0