Organic Work Flow – in 5 Stages and Gates

Water follows the laws of physics, and flows downhill.  Likewise, work flow is driven by simple logical, almost organic, rules. Ignore the logic, or get in its way, and you have a mess.  Just as you have when the natural flow of water is impeded.

In our everyday lives, away from our jobs, we routinely make personal and family plans.  We have an innate, organic, ability to do so logically – we don’t need special software or solutions to help us plan Thanksgiving Dinner.  This amazingly well-orchestrated event, for which a number of people, special dishes and beverages, and decorations, all converge, does not happen by chance.  A five step sequence is followed intuitively, again without the help of a planning tool, or the benefit of being a project management professional!  The steps are: 1. Decide that you want to have the celebration and where you will have it (i.e Scope Definition); 2. Plan the menu for the pre-determined time frame (i.e. Detailed planning); 3. Get the ingredients and other supplies and make travel arrangements (i.e. Organize and logistics); 4. Prepare the feast, carefully ensuring that all is ready at the right time (i.e. Execution); 5. Enjoy the results of your work with your family and friends and think about the next event and where it may be held (i.e. Completion).  This familiar 5 step approach to deconstructing a scope package’s work flow seems to apply well for virtually all ‘scopes’ in your non-work world: Your 2020 Vacation; Your Fun Century Bike Ride at the Eastern Shore for 2000 riders; Your Next User Conference.

The same 5 step approach would work for managing scope in your workplace as well.  Yet, something happens in the workplace that can gum up the works (too many puns here!):  You are not operating solo in the work place and there are 1000s of scope packages, not just one.  You work in a team.  And, the more team members you have, the more communication needs to occur between members.  In order to ensure that these 5 steps are followed in sequence for each scope package, you need to have tools in place to enable the right team members to sign off on each process within each of the 5 stages.  And this is where many companies have a problem today, in 2018.  Each of these 5 stages is  managed by different teams in different silos and spreadsheets or ERP systems.  In some cases, different teams perform functions in different silos (ex. scheduling or requisitioning)  within each of these stages, causing the creation of even more fault lines between teams.  Each fault line requires ‘someone’ (often many ‘someones’) to laboriously bridge the gap, to ensure that the right sign-offs have been accomplished and that all the right data makes it across the fault line or gap and into the next silo.  Simply put, the current workplace does a poor job of managing the work scope lifecycle or work flow.  Each of your scope packages, i.e. work orders, change orders, risk mitigation work orders, etc., must go through the 5 stages to ensure a predictable, successful and beneficial outcome.

Here is an example of how these stages and their associated gates can be defined (screen from TWIST):

The stage names: Strategic, Tactical, Logistics, Execution and Completion are succinct and focused words that describe the nature of the work done within each of the 5 stages.

Too many companies seemingly shrug at this point, and say that they have no way to do these steps in a single solution in an integrated way.  Or, that they have an ERP and that they just need another add-on to get another gap (ex. screening requirements) plugged.  Or, that spreadsheets or vendor companies are managing this data (ex. time data) or that data (ex. cost data) in each of their silos. Another water flow analogy comes to mind – the image of the boy with his finger in the dike, in a vain attempt to prevent a flood.  Add-ons that just add a filler for a single fault line simply help to introduce more problems.  Companies lose out on the huge opportunity to improve processes, and to save on the order of 30% of costs (according to a number of surveys).  They certainly limit their ability to use real-time analytics to populate real-time dashboards and reports, to help drive real-time decision making.

Companies that do choose to use the integrated solution method quickly see that the barriers, to support for the entire scope lifecycle, silently disappear.  These benefits quickly add up when you extend a similar integrated support to each additional company plant or site and to their vendors and contractors.  Corporate teams can now access and use similar analytics, from all company plants and sites, to further improve timely decision making.  What’s this worth to a company with so much dependent on smoothly running assets and with a strategic approach to managing their customers’ needs?  Each management team can answer this based on their own facts on the ground.  I, and my associates, can help in quantifying benefits and costs.

Naturally, an integrated solution needs to adequately support each of the functions needed within each of the stages.  These include: Risk Analysis and Screening in the Strategic Stage; Detailed Estimating based on company rates and Detailed Planning in the Tactical Stage; Requisitions, Requests for Quotes, Purchase Orders, Contracting, Receiving, Orientation, etc. in the Logistics Stage; Resource-based Scheduling, Progressing, Earned Value Measurement, Actual hours and Rental costs tracking in the Execution Stage; Turnover to Operations or owner and review of lessons learned and closure of scope in the Completion Stage.  Each of these required functions is cleanly defined in the process definition area for the company, and this ensures that all of the company’s teams are working with the same, easy to use and follow, playbook.  An integrated solution, while able to accommodate many needs under one roof, does also include the ability to work with existing legacy systems that have needed data and business processes.

It is worth noting that the Stages defined here apply to the work scope lifecycle within a project or a turnaround.  The project or turnaround lifecycle has its own Stages that are also consistent with your company’s or site’s business rules.  So, your solution supports a work flow within a project flow, and it does so seamlessly.

Being able to access your work flow process from your personal devices and enter data when you get it, and being comfortable knowing that your teammates are also seeing and using and entering accurate information and data in real-time is yet another advantage of this integrated approach to work flow management.  True transparency in the work flow helps to ensure that your associated team members’ expectations are met and that there are no surprises.

Work flow management in your workplace can be as streamlined, and organic, as it is in the rest of your life.  Time to go with the flow?