On the very first day of my very first real job, the most senior editor of the journal publishing company that hired me took me to a huge flowchart pinned on a wall. “Here’s how an article goes from written to published,” she said. She walked me through the whole process, emphasising the parts where my team and I were involved. This was 2001, before collaboration software was freely available, but the lessons I learned that day apply even in this age of Asana and Slack.
Every journal article went into an oversized poly envelope with a piece of paper taped to the front. The paper was color-coded to the journal in which the article would appear. We called this a job jacket. Every time the article went to a different department, whether to the copy editors for proofing or to the keyboarding department for changes, the history of its journey was logged on the job jacket. When one employee was done with it, she would assign it to a new department by writing a line on the track sheet. Anyone who saw a job jacket knew exactly all the stages that the article had been through and where it was supposed to go next.
Thinking back on it, these job jackets were a precursor to and physical manifestation of today’s workflow software, like Asana. The workflow chart that was pinned to the wall was an excellent orientation for me, as a new employee, and anyone else being onboard. It gave me a crystal clear picture of what the organisation did, and how.
In today’s world, where we push for paperless environments and have largely moved to electronic files and folders, it’s easier to forgo creating these kinds of workflow documents and keeping them up to date. But for all businesses and even hobbyist-level teamwork projects, it’s super important to document your workflow.
Why Document Workflow?
Why should you document your workflow? There are a few absolutely critical reasons, including the following:
- It helps business owners and managers fully think through and understand what happens at every stage of the business process, and why;
- It enables unnecessary steps to be identified and cut out of processes;
- It reminds employees or team members who may be distant from certain stages of the business why they exist and what value they provide;
- It’s essential for onboarding team members;
- It’s one of the best ways of explaining to potential colleagues, clients, and investors how a business operates; and
- It allows a team to more effectively start using collaboration tools.
To that last point, I’ve already mentioned Asana. Asana is a workflow management tool, kind of like a to-do list on steroids. It is very similar to the job jacket system I used in my first publishing job. Asana lets you track tasks that need to be done and push them through a process. Every task has a history of all the steps, or subtasks, that it’s been through. When one person is finished with the subtask at hand, she or he assigns it onto the next step and directs it at a person or department who will pick it up next.
I’ve made the analogy before that Asana is like a deck of cards, whereas project management software is like a board game. When you open up a board game, you might have something like a board, a variety of playing pieces, and a clear rulebook for how to play the game. Everyone who is playing agrees to those pre-determined rules.