Work Management 101
Anatomy, Evolution, and Six Key Success Factors
Reading Time: 10 min.
Work management is pervasive in every business. It represents the conduct of business operations and embodies the information, process, and criteria-driving controls that we use (sometimes without even thinking about it) to get work done. Within many organizations, work is less effective than it needs to be because the approaches to managing it are a poor fit for the problem.
The Six Key Success Factors discussed here determine how well an approach for any work management problem will fit and serve your business - from inbox-Excel or third-party software - to no-code platforms showing us the future today.
The XOflow platform addresses the challenges of work management with a versatile, configurable no-code approach. It uses these six Key Success Factors as a guiding star to deliver world-class enterprise results.
Want to learn more? Read on.
Your organization manages a lot of work and projects across many different groups with varied needs. Some work is individual, but teams do most of this work and sometimes engage your suppliers or customers. You often do not have the right tools to manage your work across these different groups, and the tools you have do not always fit your problems well: they are approximations with many tradeoffs.
We call this general problem space "Work Management."
What is Work Management?
Behind the products delivered and services rendered, aside from the nuances of all the details, we can generalize work into three parts: (1) your information, (2) your process - the flow of that information within the business and with its partners - and (3) the controls and criteria which guide, inform, and drive decision-making and action-taking.
A purchasing group manages global fulfillment orders for customers across their network of approved suppliers. A customer care call center receives and handles requests for support employing third-party technicians in the field. Each customer has operating hours and SLAs that drive how quickly technicians must be on-site to address problems.
Work management is not just the active mechanisms between these interdependent parts but begins when modeling the best fit to the business's information, process, and controls. Later, as the business changes, as it always does, the ability to iterate and innovate the solution is just as crucial in the work management lifecycle. This representation is a holistic view in which an information system serves your business well, not just passably.
Ideal Benefits of a Work Management Solution
Imagine having flexible and capable best-fit technology that addresses your work management needs and how this would improve the way you and your teams conduct business, daily or quarterly:
A close fit to your actual real-world business and work needs that your staff will embrace
Ease of deploying capabilities securely and confidently to customers and suppliers without exposing sensitive information
Complete visibility to ongoing work and its status by staff and managers
Proactive handling of time-sensitive needs before they become problems
Fast access to reporting and analytics for meetings and management review
These are benefits of a best-fit information technology applied to work management, but seldom is this ideal achieved.
Why Many Work Management Approaches aren't Ideal
Many organizations find themselves lacking the right technology to address unique or specialized work needs.
Staff often turn to what they have and know – Excel and email – or force-fit existing generalized software into a specific problem space. These solutions ultimately prove disappointing, fail, or do not scale well because they are not sized or shaped to meet the real-world problem. For example, you can produce a spreadsheet to manage Orders, including a PO number column. However, Excel doesn't validate, enforce, or protect access to that information – and certainly doesn't route those Orders to where they need to go and when with proper business logic across your team and your partners.
Current fit and future adaptability are two key drivers of an ideal Work Management solution. Read more about that here.
Evolution of Work Management
There is a natural progression in how businesses have evolved in managing work. At one time, paper processing was the de-facto option. Ironically, early mainframes even used paper punch cards to program and feed data. With the arrival of email and later spreadsheets, staff turned to electronic record keeping and communications. Inboxes and Excel became ways to capture information, distribute it and later search for it. Many remain here, finding an absence of controls and processes to be convenient and unrestrictive, but forgoing many benefits of a well-fit information system.
As software technology matured, some organizations chose to adopt third-party point solutions, or develop their own, to address their most significant work management needs. These systems were often rigid, difficult to maintain, slow to upgrade, and required infrastructure investments. Cloud-based subscription services, presuming they could meet security and risk requirements, reduced the investment in infrastructure and allowed software technology to improve, innovate and deploy faster.
The next evolution of work management information technology will conform closely with the business's models and evolve with its changing landscape. Platforms that allow direct configuration of the solution by process owners - not coding - will conform to business problems more closely and adapt to changing needs. Those configurable platforms that bring enterprise security and capabilities will become a competitive edge for those business units.
Key Success Factors
Whether using paper, Inbox-Excel, legacy applications, or cloud-based services, businesses inherently face these six (6) fundamental Key Success Factors in their Work Management approaches.
1 - Information Fit
How well does your information fit in your work management approach?
In a legacy world, a PDF, Excel, or Word document presented free-form entry for all sorts of information: Customer, Merchant ID, Order Date, Order Type. While Excel can format dates and numbers, validation is challenging. Basic field types such as text, selection lists, and checkboxes are available, but structured entry and line items are not supported. Enforcing correct and required entries becomes a review process.
The information we collect and manage has a specificity that benefits from standardization and validation.
Dates have a specific entry, and different users need to view dates relative to their locale to be clear and prevent mistakes. Selection of a Customer prevents customer names from being entered in many variations. Merchant IDs must be an eight-digit number and are required.
Line item information further extends this problem of fit. Line item information is also structured and possibly includes nested line items.
Information fit is ultimately about the richness and validation of data entry and the enforcement of requirements. Information fit in your approach lends itself to improved data entry, standardization, searching, reporting, and integration. Without it, your process is less structured and causes productivity loss and headaches.
2 - Information Dependency
How is your information interconnected?
Information is not an island. It is often conditional on related information or is referential to other information.
Frequently, some information is conditional on specific conditions. Other information is required, but only at a point in the process. Conditionality and state-based applicability are present in almost every business model. However, many approaches do not represent this interdependency. Instead, they rely on subject matter expertise or instructions.
A Prior Order Number is required, but only if the Order Type is a Re-order. The specifications for an EMV chip are needed, but only if the Card Type is a Chip Card. A Customer PO Number is required but only before shipping the product.
Likewise, referential information is present in almost every business model. References naturally exist all around us, but we often refer to them as identifiers (an Order Number) rather than establish the connected relationship simply because that is impossible.
A Customer is a reference to an entry in a list of customers. A Prior Order is a reference to another Order, specifically from the same customer. A Call Center Report is related to a Knowledge Base article and two Warehouse RMA's
As your business information ultimately represents real-world concepts, those concepts naturally have relationships to one another.
Legacy approaches such as PDF, Excel, and Word do not sufficiently represent interrelated information well. General point solutions often lack the nuances of the organization's real-world relationships and interconnectedness.
The lack of this reflection of informational dependency and connection results in entry errors, informational "noise," inconsistent data entry, and the inability to report and analyze information thoroughly.
3 - Access Control
How well are your information and processes secured on a need-to-know basis?
Your business is not an island. Often your work is engaged with customers, suppliers, or third parties that provide services in between. Each has only partial visibility to your work products and process. Even internally, different individuals have limited visibility to work or to the details of that work.
Suppliers fulfill orders for your customers but should have no access to customer details, pricing, and internal notes about the transaction. They only have visibility to work that they are awarded and not those to other suppliers. The contract department manages the organization's agreements, but the financial details are only visible to them and senior managers.
Work management approaches using PDF, Excel, and Word documents are all-or-nothing approaches. You either have access to an entire document or none at all. Access control is about file availability.
Many process solutions, including enterprise ERP, are designed for internal use, not external engagement, and have minimal (if any) ability to specify who has access to what information and when. But it is this fine-tuning that allows your solution to most closely approximate your real-world needs and engagement model to provide the best outcomes.
By protecting your processes and information on a need-to-act and need-to-know basis, artificial barriers to work management can be removed, reducing friction, improving communications, and ensuring information timeliness and accuracy throughout your business.
4 - Work-In-Process Oversight
Do you know the health of your work in process at any moment?
As organizations grow, so does their work in process volume and staffing. As staffs grow, consistency in the work process becomes essential. Effectively managing a volume of work across many teams, individuals, suppliers, or regions requires more than an inbox and a spreadsheet. It requires oversight controls and defined criteria that allow for an at-a-glance understanding of what is on time, late, or needs attention before it becomes a problem with a customer or a senior manager.
Staff turnover, availability, and WFH (work-from-home) presents additional challenges to managing customer commitments and business velocity. Work in process is like a project, and projects have status, tasks, and assignments at any point in time. The abilities to reassign, re-prioritize, and pivot are critical for overseeing work effectively.
Legacy approaches to work management rely on tribal knowledge, adherence to implicitly defined processes, and lack of visibility to information isolated in email inboxes and files. Alternatively, ideal solutions present staff with consistent, easy-to-understand process controls representing the business's best practices, the ability to move work fluidly, and offer managers at-a-glance oversight into the health of their work with the capability to fix it when necessary.
5 - Managing Timeliness
Do your staff and managers have an at-a-glance recognition of the timeliness of your work? Are the right people being notified before timeliness becomes an issue?
Work performed within expectations is ideal. However, work that falls behind or gets overlooked causes downstream problems with customers and managers.
A customer's contractual SLA requires that a support engineer be on-site within four business hours. A supplier is contractually required to provide art proofs within two (2) business days. Management requests a quarterly report showing supplier performance against requirements
We cannot measure work timeliness unless we have established guidelines to determine on-time vs. late work. Those measures are only as valuable as having visibility to work measured against it. The criteria and the mechanisms to measure, highlight, and notify are necessary. When contractual SLAs (service level agreements) are in place with customers or suppliers, this measurement and its reporting become essential to business relationships.
Over time, measuring the timeliness of work across staff and suppliers is valuable to resolve ongoing problems, improve business processes and determine if changes are effective. Reporting and analysis of task performance and against established timeliness criteria are necessary tools your work management solution should support.
Without these constraints, controls, and reporting, staff and managers must manually manage and report work performance. Manual oversight leaves room for error, often only caught later after it becomes a pressing issue.
6 - Reporting, Analysis, and Audit
How effortlessly can your business managers gather information to solve a problem or gauge the health of your business?
We rely on reports of aggregated information to gather insights, make decisions, improve processes, and steer the business. Reporting beneficial to one individual is different from that helpful to another. Front line teams need information on in-process work, while senior management needs reports to forecast and conduct supplier reviews.
Legacy work management approaches using inboxes and Excel limit our ability to gather information into reporting and rapidly analyze it. Teams that work in this mode spend hours or days producing reports needed for monthly and quarterly reporting. Insights are limited, forecasting is challenging, and problem-solving happens after the fact.
Repurposing a general point-solution for a unique work management problem often comes with a similar downside - flexible reporting tools are often lacking. Turning to the IT department to write SQL queries is not an ideal approach for anyone.
Reporting of history and audit information is also an essential factor in a work management approach.
Who changed that information, and when? Who worked on a project or task, what did they do, and when? How is a supplier performing on a given SLA requirement over time? What orders have had the pricing change in the last six months?
The degree to which your solution tracks activity, changes to the data, task performance (more above), and other "meta-information" about your work can determine how well you can troubleshoot a customer problem, report to auditors, and improve your operations.
Lacking approachable and flexible reporting and analysis capabilities is like driving with a fogged-up windshield - hard to navigate. Lacking the historical trail of your work and its information leaves you blind when problems happen or when risk management is a concern.
XOflow: An Approach to the Work Management Problem
XOflow approaches the general problem of specific Work Management with these six Key Success Factors as its guiding north star.
Using pre-existing application building blocks, XOflow provides your business a flexible and capable toolset to easily and rapidly configure - not code - best-fit business applications. With this no-code platform, your business can configure any number of applications across different groups, interconnect them, deploy them to staff and partners, and grow or adapt as needs change.
A configuration approach auto-generates user-friendly forms assembled from a selection of 30+ field types representing most business information and relationships.
Access controls ensure that information is available on a need-to-know and time-to-act basis.
Configurable business logic drives how and when information moves between staff (and partners).
Dashboards allow for oversight into specific work areas or many simultaneously, unique to each user's role in the system.
It highlights and notifies when work is becoming late, on criteria manageable by your business.
Flexible reporting allows for self-service inquiry into business problems by any user.
XOflow offers a versatile solution to digitally transform many work management challenges, allowing your business to scale and elevate to a new level of performance, insight, and competitive edge.
Contact us at JIFFY.ai to demonstrate this versatile platform and to explore how it can transform your organization's work management.