Collaboration is the cornerstone of growth. Having a diverse workforce that’s working in tandem toward the same goals not only brings unique backgrounds and perspectives to your organization, it becomes your key differentiator: No other company has that exact same network of individuals aligned toward a common goal.
However, as your company begins to expand, so do the collaboration challenges. Communication between a few people is fairly manageable, but wires get crossed when more people are added to the mix. Too many people involved leads to bottlenecks and halts momentum. Without clear decision makers and assignees, work is passed around like a hot potato, and nothing gets accomplished.
Stuck tasks, lost data, miscommunication, and forgotten requests ultimately stem from failed collaborative processes. If you’re not equipped with the right channels and processes to grow with your business, you can expect to face even greater challenges.
Facilitating failure: The chaos effect
Before you even begin structuring a new process, you need to approach it with the right mindset. The most common mistake people make when building a new process is believing it will be the solution for any problems they face. This could not be further from the truth.
According to Netflix: “The best way to avoid failure is to fail constantly.” In early 2007, Netflix launched their streaming service as a free add-on to their subscribers. Since the streaming service was built on top of software within vertically scaled server racks, chaos ensued during a major database corruption, resulting in a 3-day downtime. This model of centralized power ultimately became their greatest source of failure.
When Netflix shifted toward a more distributed framework of microservices, random outages were instantly located and handled, without the entire system going down. Engineers injected this new, distributed system with outages and corruptions, preparing the system to handle any abnormalities that were thrown its way.
While most people test if something works before they begin using it, Netflix tested what didn’t work — ensuring their systems could handle the unexpected and making it virtually indestructible. By embracing Chaos Engineering values and techniques, Chaos Monkey was born.
“The best processes are constructed from different perspectives,” says Adler Chan, Global Head of Client Success Enablement at Wrike. “Running fringe scenarios ensures that while any given process can operate most of the time, things can and will happen. That’s where the contingency plans of the remaining cases can be leveraged to ensure resiliency and tolerance.”
By accepting that failure is inevitable and owning the chaos instead of dodging it, you can establish that same resiliency and agility across all your processes. With that mindset, let’s take a look at other key techniques for building resilient processes across a growing business:
1. Think horizontally… and vertically
When thinking about how you’d like to structure your ideal work processes, avoid putting all your eggs in one basket. Too often people look for a one-size-fits-all collaboration tool, like spreadsheets, to support their processes. The risk of investing in a solution that “does it all” is like eating at a restaurant that offers every cuisine. They may do it all, but none of it is done very well.
“Tools that are highly customizable are rarely user friendly and tools that are generally more user-centric often lack the flexibility in tailoring the solution to exact needs,” says Chan. “Having a little more diversification by leveraging tools in the area they are specialized in allows for a more tailored solution and minimizes risk.”
On the other hand, companies often acquire too many tools to do specific things. In many cases, functionality across these tools overlaps or there’s no clear way to navigate between these various solutions. Jumping between these tools not only weighs teams down, but often results in duplicated efforts and manual manipulation of data — leading to more silos, inefficiencies, and poor visibility across teams. This makes any future process tweaks or changes very difficult because it disrupts work across several systems.
The most effective processes strike a healthy balance between a horizontal and vertical tech stack — keeping the tools that are necessary and add value for each team’s unique needs, while finding a way to connect them together for a fluid and seamless workflow.
Start by leveraging the tools you already use and love. If you trust those tools and find them valuable, explore how you can connect them together to avoid information silos, filling the gaps where error and inefficiencies occur. This requires implementing a work management tool that not only provides a greater depth of capabilities, like communication tools and dashboards, but also can be configured to your team’s unique workflows and tech stack. With a solution that fits into the way you work and connects your company’s reliable tools to each other, you can build processes that are more efficient and resilient.
2. Encourage change & agility
Processes are a way to routinely organize tasks to boost productivity and make outcomes more predictable. As needs and priorities in the market shift, processes that were once successful in the past grow obsolete. Yet people continue to go blindly through the motions and use the processes out of habit and comfortability. Thus, the process becomes a hindrance rather than a help
This vicious cycle of passivity ultimately stems from this fear of failing. If something worked well in the past, then why wouldn’t it work now? We’ve always done it this way. Why should we change?
The pace of business is presenting even greater challenges to companies trying to scale. In an HBR study, nearly one-third of managers cite difficulties adapting to changing market circumstances as their top challenge. But it’s not necessarily a failure to adapt that’s creating an obstacle, it’s the speed at which it’s done. Nearly one-third of organizations can’t react quickly enough to seize fleeting opportunities or mitigate emerging threats, or they react so quickly that they lose sight of company strategy (24%).
The truth is, as your company shifts and teams expand, processes that were once efficient grow stale and outdated. The most resilient processes are the ones that can evolve to fit your business needs, as soon as those needs emerge.
“Change is a constant,” says Chan. “Harnessing the value in ever-evolving processes keeps you agile and flexible to sway with whatever is thrown at you. When you have the mindset of being fluid and flexible, you approach every challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow even stronger.”
Keeping your organization nimble not only impacts productivity positively, but promotes a certain ethos in morale that supports change and growth. “Embracing change is about viewing challenges as opportunities,” says Mary Anne Hensley, Vice President of Marketing at FreightWaves. “Our approach is to fail fast and adapt quickly. Particularly in a startup, you learn by doing — whether you succeed or fail — both types of lessons are equally valuable.”
“You learn by doing — whether you succeed or fail — both types of lessons are equally valuable.” -- Mary Anne Hensley, Vice President of Marketing at FreightWaves.
Adopting Agile techniques like Scrum and Kanban sets a foundation for building out your processes with a growth mindset. Agile tools like dashboards and Gantt charts make it easy to visualize progress, shift priorities, spot potential roadblocks, and measure performance. These methodologies and tools are constructed with collaboration and flexibility in mind, so they can support the ever-changing needs of your company.
Hosting daily or weekly standups with your team is a good way to check in on both projects and processes. What’s working? What isn’t? What have you outgrown? Making it a habit to take the temp of your processes not only serves as a good reminder to use them, but also keeps workflows fresh and project forecasting on track.
“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it.” -- Bruce Lee
3. Automation accelerates growth
Let’s say you have a plant that requires water everyday. Watering it only takes about 30 seconds a day, so you figure it shouldn’t take up too much of your time. As you care for the plant and watch it grow, you decide you want another one. After watering and caring for a couple plants, you get a few more. Then a few more.
Pretty soon, you have 20 plants that all require 30 seconds of watering everyday. What once took up 30 seconds of your day now requires 10 minutes. You decide to invest in an irrigation system that waters the plants so you can focus on trimming, picking, and maintaining the soil. You’ve just engaged in automation.
In its simplest form, automation is delegating simple, repetitive tasks (like watering the plants) so you can devote your attention on tasks that require human attention (like trimming the ends and caring for the soil). While automation is embraced by people everyday in their personal lives, it tends to spark fear in employees who fear that automation makes their job obsolete. The truth is, automation doesn’t take away jobs — it enhances them.
Automation helps growing businesses thrive by allowing employees to focus on the work that makes the greatest impact. “The burden of scaling up is that there can not be a proportional growth in resources with the growth in opportunity. So the only way to grow is to do more with less — which is where automation comes in,” says Chan. “Effective and efficient automation supports the manual aspects of work processes and streamlines the movement of information from point to point. It becomes the invisible force that facilitates growth.”
As your business scales, it’s harder to maintain that level of quality and consistency across inflated production. By standardizing work through automation, quality is sustainable and there’s less room for error. When thinking about what is professional services automation, think of the tasks your organization does daily that could be streamlined to maximise productivity. Templatizing projects and standardizing work intake forms ensure your team won’t miss a beat and can hit the ground running with everything they need to get started.
4. Lucidity breeds innovation
Building processes isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it type thing. You must continuously review, learn, and refine your processes. Building a resilient process not only improves efficiency, but encourages usability by only tailoring parts of the process that need work instead of rebuilding a brand new one.
With consistent visibility into your processes and constant collaboration on refining them, you can see where common roadblocks occur and adjust specific parts of the process instead of replacing it entirely. By only refining small steps and keeping the bulk of the process preserved, productivity continues unhindered.
“You can’t make decisions in a vacuum,” says Hensley. “Having visibility into your processes helps you tweak and tinker as you grow and breaks down silos so you can make those bigger decisions much more collaboratively.”
Resource management tools provide insight on how work is distributed across your team so you have more control over planning and outcomes. Get notified and learn who’s at capacity and who has the bandwidth to take on more work. Having resource allocation tools embedded in your process help you accurately forecast and justify what you can accomplish.
Reviewing process performance can influence how you tweak your processes over time. Automated reports can generate weekly, monthly, or quarterly stats on performance, so you know exactly how much your team can handle at any given time. This level of visibility puts you at the helm of improving efficiency and collaboration across your organization.
Another way to refine your work processes? Configure your most frequently used digital tools to better suit the exact needs of your team.
Pushing Towards Perfection
Regardless of what processes you’re building, understand that there is no such thing as a perfect process. While change might lead to failure, the greatest failure of all would be to remain stagnant.
As you start to build your new processes, consider your previous successes and failures. Once you accept that chaos and failure are par for the course, you can start building processes that can not only handle it, but benefit from it. By configuring your tech stack so all tools are connected and optimized, staying nimble enough to shift with the market, and integrating visibility practices in all your processes, your team is armed with processes and ready to tackle anything that comes their way.