All Workflows Can Be Automated
Jim Cavedo, Vice President of Smart Content Solutions, Aprimo
Intelligent, automated workflows can offer your organization opportunities to provide significant value to your entire enterprise, including the ability to increase speed to market to meet the growing needs of your omnichannel customers.
Hello this is Jim Cavedo, Aprimo's vice president for smart content solutions. I am responsible for driving and delivering Aprimo's content-based brand position.
I'm honored to spend much of my time in front of organizations and companies just like yours, providing insights on how content can drive your business forward, and how Aprimo can support you in these initiatives.
Prior to Aprimo I was a marketing leader at a large national sports company where I implemented and leveraged Aprimo solutions to deliver our brand's digital, analog, and content marketing strategy. Today we're going to talk about Workflow.
Many of us who have worked in marketing technology or marketing operations understand the benefits that automated workflow can bring to our marketing efforts. Terms like effectiveness, efficiency, speed, and compliance often come to mind.
But many organizations still leverage the age-old methods of utilizing a project manager to track a project’s progress.
In these environments, words like collaborate, flexible, nimble and most recently agile are worn like a suit of armor, and these markers often believe that automated workflows take away their ability to be agile.
But why can't workflow be automated and still allow for nimble and agile marketing operations? Why can't marketing depend on those same skilled project managers to focus their talents strategically? To optimize their team’s productivity versus tactically to move projects forward?
With the right marketing technology, it can. And for many leading companies, it has. But enterprises must first standardize all the different types of workflows they use before they can automate them.
First there are the secret workflows. We all know them and deal with them. They are the one offs. The "Hey make sure you send this to Joan because she likes to see these before they get released" workflows.
These secret workflows tend to cause great disruption in actual work flow because only one or 2 people know about them. They create stress and friction when they're overlooked, and often cause missed deadlines because those ad hoc requirements take unaccounted for time.
Then there are the unwritten but understood workflows. These are understood because everybody knows the steps. We do these projects all the time and they were passed down through the organization like that favorite office chair, honored and reveled.
These work great, until they don't, like when the new person in the organization questions the practice or doesn't know they exist, or until we must rush every project through to completion because they never get started on time.
At that point, the long hours start to kick in and meetings to discuss why deadlines were missed loom large in peoples’ windshields.
These types of workflow seemed like the ultimate inflexibility, but they actually cause organizations to work harder not smarter. They require more staff to get more work done, increasing the cost of the business and frequently result in teams managing all projects as rush projects, constantly working just to make the next deadline.
And finally there are the documented workflows. These step by step tomes are inevitably managed by scores of project or traffic managers intending to be tracked in spreadsheets, that stretch all the way into column BB and the poor souls who must plot each project’s course in these celestial maps have a PhD in company best practice.
These traffic managers note every step, every resource, every project, and we all make jokes like “I sure hope they aren't planning on taking vacation this year,” or worse. These workflows work great when you're managing a handful of projects or when independent factors don't create disruption, or when deadlines never change.
But as the number of channels by which we must reach our customers continues to rise, increase our organizations overall marketing complexity.
Workloads have quickly outpaced the ability to manage the business of marketing in this way. Project managers run the very real risk of skipping steps, forgetting steps, compressing certain groups of people's time, all the time, causing that group great stress and of course, missing deadlines, costing our businesses dearly, and in the worst cases, irreparably.
But then there are the automated workflows. These are employed by organizations that want to be more consistent with how work gets accomplished, get more work completed on time with less chaos.
Provide transparency to parts of the organization that are desperate to know what's going on in marketing and in compliance-based businesses they are a requirement for validation, and audit.
But the knock on automated workflow is they take the human element out of project management. They make organizations inflexible or they lack agility to make adjustments as departments deal with the realities in the office.
The truth is, smartly built automated workflows still depend on skilled project managers to make critical decisions during exceptional situations. They also provide flexibility and agility to manage the realities of market. Automated workflow does help organizations get more of the right work done on time on budget and with less stress.
How do automated workflows accomplish this? First they take the best of all of the above workflow types and formalize them. Those documented workflows are the easiest to knock down first. With the right system, you can take all of the known steps and put them into automated routines that allow the system to advance projects based on rules like "move to the next step, only when the last step is complete" or "move to the next steps by this date."
These rules and routines take a massive amount of stress out of the organization and off of project managers. Automated workflow can also provide powerful visualizations to help project managers understand at a glance where they have exceptional situations.
They also allow the organization to surface the understood workflows and provide the ability to merge those with the document workflows to handle virtually any situation. Finally, they take those secret workflows and provide project managers the ability to add those requirements in ad hoc only when they must, or even better, formalize those processes triggered only when required to, in order to accomplish specific types of projects.
Automated workflow allow project managers to make changes on the fly, adding in new users, adding in steps, altering the course for complex or unique activities as well as validate these procedures so they can't change, to meet the requirements of compliance when required.
But automated workflows still track a project's dependencies, ensure calendars stay up-to-date and that all users along the path know exactly what is required and when, so there aren't surprises and deadlines are always met.