Where (Or Who) Are Your Workflow Bottlenecks?

Where (Or Who) Are Your Workflow Bottlenecks?

An efficient workflow is a critical portion of the typical ad agency’s day. When things are running smoothly, the day can be a pleasure… but when the speed bumps start springing up, and workflow becomes less flow and more gridlock, the day can disintegrate into a miserable grind. The negativity can affect everything from agency-wide mood to productivity, leading to conflict and missed deadlines.

Why does workflow get so stuck? It can be very enlightening to post-investigate a bad day to explore where your bottlenecks happened… or who your bottlenecks happen to be.

Yes, individuals can be the cause of at least some workflow issues. But as you investigate that no-good, very-bad workday, remember that allegiance to out-of-date processes and required steps may contribute to workflow bottlenecks, too. Don’t look for someone to blame, seek to fix your flow.

Workflow Automation

Most agencies use some form of automated workflow, whether it is a comprehensive agency management system (AMS), a workflow management system (WMS) or a project management process cobbled together with apps and cloud-based platforms. While most systems are reasonably functional, some require greater investment in time and training than many smaller agencies care to commit. Unhappiness with the system is a big reason why agency people resist learning system software, and even resist changes to the jerry-rigged processes they use instead.

Workarounds are habit-forming, and change resistance is only to be expected.

Agency managers should commit to testing the system periodically to see if there are sticking points—human or process—and seek employee suggestions for removing friction or even dispensing with outmoded processes and unnecessary steps.

The Human Factor

If the suspected sticking point is a person or people, look at why they are the bottleneck. Here are some steps for investigating internal bottlenecks.

  • Is their workload too heavy, causing them to deal only with time-critical projects… and inadvertently changing the rest of the schedule into time-critical work? Consider whether you need more people, or a temporary workload shift.
  • Are they stuck using processes that are just not working as expected? Look for the root causes and try to find ways to smooth out or simplify those processes.
  • Are they trying to uphold certain standards that others are letting slide? Give credit where it’s due: some employees see their job as preventing errors, and may feel they are the “last defender of the right way” of doing things. This may call for a deeper dig into how everyone is using the system or following procedures that need to be carried out.
  • Are they resisting a change to workflow, and if so, why? Remember that resistance is not always bad behavior, but concern about risks no one else has considered.
  • Are outside problems affecting employee productivity? If the person is struggling with problems outside of the office that iare affecting their work, have a discussion with the employee. You’ve noticed some workflow issues and are wondering if there is something going on with them that it making it difficult to do their jobs with their usual focus… 
  • Make sure your bottleneck culprit is the real bottleneck. Is the problem happening somewhere else, causing project delays and missed deadlines that then pile up on one person’s desk?

Some personnel issues can’t be fixed. Sometimes the best solution is to part company with an employee who is actively gumming up workflow because they are a bad fit for their position; refuse to adopt your workflow system because them deem it inconvenient or too much effort; or are simply defending what they feel is their “turf.” Take the proper steps if termination seems the only solution; document discussions, set timetables for improvement, and build a record to support letting the employee go.

Consider carefully before you issue a pink slip: replacing a knowledge worker can be costly, and replacing him or her could take far more time and training that many smaller agencies can afford. If the person was productive previously, look for a lateral reassignment that might better suit that person’s skills and talents. Give another employee a shot at a new position and responsibilities. An employee shuffle can refresh and reinvigorate the agency.

Workflow has to flow to help your agency achieve efficiency and keep all projects moving along. Work with traffic and project managers to ensure bottlenecks get un-stuck, and your ‘flow keeps flowing.

See also: Less Process, More Speed: Agencies Seek Efficiency Through Object-Based Workflow


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