Workflow: Build the Right Pipeline for Your Team

Managing workflow is a challenge. It can also be a pain. Workflow is like flowing water. A buildup can become a tsunami! Managing workflow is part of project management. If you get it right, your team hums along like a race car on a straightaway. If you get it wrong, the wave can wash away your project. How do you ensure the proper workflow for your team? By building a pipeline that brings the right tasks to the right people at the right time. Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: Flow to Work

Did you ever play any of the SimCity games? You’ll remember that the piping system for water supply worked by placing mains on the map, and each section would bring water to a surrounding area around it. The individual hookups to each building were not a part of the game – it was taken for granted that with a mainline in the area, houses could connect to it.

The same is true when designing the project as a whole, with an eye to workflow. Picture how you’d tackle the issue at the kickoff meeting. “Tara is managing the marketing team, which consists of Jill, Peter, and Neville. Marketing will be concentrating on customer acquisition and advertising materials for this project. During the first phase of the project, we are going to focus on print ads and online customer acquisition. For the second phase, we will start with TV ads and in person canvassing in the local area.” You’ve just defined the main pipeline of the workflow. Leave the individual workflow connections for now – empower your team to flow to the work, rather than the other way around.

Step 2: Monitoring Workflow

Okay! The project has launched. You’ve empowered your team to flow to the work, instead of detailed task assignment. Are they performing? You want to look at who is doing what, here. How much of the workflow is Jill tackling? Is Peter overworked? You want to match flow to capacity, here. Make sure the right tasks are assigned to the right people. Step in and intervene if the natural flow to work isn’t working effectively.

Monitoring workflow is more than tracking task progress. You need an eye into team loading here. If Peter has twelve tasks for next week, and three are critical, while Jill has six small unimportant tasks, the sorting system needs fine tuning. You always want one eye on the future, on what’s coming down the pipe. The biggest pain point in managing workflow is team members’ effectiveness, and it’s your responsibility as project manager to make sure team members are in the right place to shine. And when they’re in that right place, you make sure the right work is reaching them from the pipeline.

Step 3: Preventing Overflow

pipeline

In SimCity, you sold your excess water supply to neighboring cities. In project management, you cannot sell excess workflow. It is not exactly a commodity. How you prevent overflow is crucial – it is how you prevent the tsunami from building up. When you’re keeping one eye on future workflow coming down the pipe, you’re already halfway there. There are less surprises that way.

The second part is strategically placing the intensive and difficult tasks on the timeline with enough time to allow for buffers between them. This way, you can always reasonably have someone to flow to the work that needs the extra push before the deadline.

Summary

  • Empower your team to flow to work, rather than managing their tasks.
  • Monitor progress and workload, intervene when needed
  • Prevent overflow weeks ahead
  • Design your project plan strategically – spread out labor intensive and difficult tasks so there is always spare capacity to accomplish the task