Knowing your work is good management.

We must understand our work quite well if we’re going to make good decisions about our work. To get control of our day, we must have profound and intimate knowledge of the work activities, timelines and options.  We must have profound and intimate knowledge of our workflow, our clients, and our co-workers. Have you ever known someone who could walk the workplace and sniff? In sniffing, they’d smell out a problem.

We can’t all be so intimately involved and experienced as to have that kind of profound and intimate knowledge. But, we all can observe, listen, and study our work so we’re tuned in to the workflow—and we can do those things that, over time, lead to the helpful intimate and profound understanding.  This information leads to good decisions and good management. So, workflow charts help us see the workflow AND help us figure out what we need to know to manage better.  Process improvement leads to long term term growth–we can help facilitate a workflow process improvement in your workplace. Harold Kurstedt and Cate Todd

THE MAIN POINT (489 words—98 seconds reading time)

I’ve heard it said that if you can manage a Tastee Freez stand, you can manage General Electric. I say, “Baloney!” Tastee Freez stands have different work than does General Electric. Each of us has our work. We must understand that work quite well if we’re going to make good decisions about our work. To get control of our day, we must have profound and intimate knowledge of our work.

We must have profound and intimate knowledge of our workflow, our clients, and our co-workers. Have you ever known someone who could walk the workplace and sniff? In sniffing, they’d smell out a problem. They couldn’t always tell you what the problem was, but if they said so, there really was a problem. These people have such profound and intimate knowledge of the workflow that they’ve internalized what they know. I knew a scheduler like that, who knew everyone’s personal work schedule, the flight schedule, the certifications they had and could intuitively catch problems with an elaborate plan. These people feel the workflow in their bones. We can’t all be so intimately involved and experienced as to have that kind of profound and intimate knowledge. But, we all can observe, listen, and study our work so we’re tuned in to the workflow—and we can do those things that, over time, lead to the helpful intimate and profound understanding.

We’ve started producing workflow charts for a recent client. Workflow charts are the most used and the most effective way to capture and document the work. Workflow charts show all the workflow elements: activities, decisions, information requirements, and documents in our work. When we can see all of our work diagrammed in one place, we can understand how all the elements of the workflow connect. Many crucial connections between elements aren’t direct; they’re linked in through other elements. That is, activity X is connected to activity Y through decision Z—X connects to Z, and then Z connects to Y. The important point is that we tend to see only direct connections and assume that if I know how X connects to Z, that’s enough. If that’s the case, we don’t know how X affects Y and we don’t have intimate and profound knowledge of the workplace. The workflow chart can give us the broad and complete view or our work process.

To be successful and to have control of our day, we also need intimate and profound knowledge of our clients. Part of our success is doing good work; and we gain knowledge of our work through tools such as workflow charts. Another part of our success is meeting the needs of our clients. Our clients often don’t know those needs themselves. We often have to anticipate their needs; and that takes profound and intimate knowledge of each client—but that’s another subject for another time. Finally, to do the good work, we must have profound and intimate knowledge of our co-workers. Each element in the workflow chart involves a responsible person. These people connect when the elements they’re responsible for connect. The people connection requires that we understand the human interactions in the workplace—but that too is another subject for another time.

THE FOLLOW UP (247 words—49 seconds reading time)

Workflow charts help give managers visibility of the workplace. When we have a simple, clear, comprehensive view of our workflow, we can determine where we must measure to get the data we need for good information. The good information leads to good decisions and good management. So, workflow charts help us see the workflow AND help us figure out what we need to know to manage better. Because workflow charts show our workflow so well, they make wonderful tools for training and helping others understand the work. The workflow chart as a tool helps us build toward other tools we use to manage and gain control of our day. Good control reduces fires and increases time management.

The problem with gaining control of our day is that we’re required to have three conditions: discipline, honesty, and openness. We need the discipline to use the tools that help with expectations (the topic of last week), understanding our work (the topic this week), and other things (to be discussed later). We need the honesty to look at ourselves, our work, our client, and our co-workers as they really are—not the way we’d like them to be. We need the openness to reveal to ourselves, and when appropriate to others, who and what we really are. Discipline, honesty, and openness are difficult to do all the time; but that’s a lot of what it takes to have productive days, do what we need and want to do, and go home at a reasonable time with a satisfied attitude.