Tooly high harmony
a workflow spreadsheet that's kickin´it just for you
Oh hello, oh hi there, how are you today?
Me? I’m good, just trying to get my workout routine back in order.
I am serious about lunch!
I am also serious about my workout routine.
I don’t lift weights, bro.
But I do run, and I was training for a marathon until recently, when somehow, SOMEHOW, on a 16-mile run, I injured, of all things, my neck.
My neck used to just swivel. Now it hurts when it swivels. This is not my preferred type of swivel.
I need to swivel my way to a pharmacist.
But before I do that, I wanted to share some work I’ve been doing with a client on getting their marketing house in order.
This client had some turnover in their department that threw their workflows into disarray.
Now, one of the major tasks is re-establishing workflows.
That is, we want to establish who does what, when they do it, what tools they use, and what the output of each task is.
This is a foundational part of running an efficient team. So today’s letter is about a simple tool I use for creating a workflow.
When I say simple, I mean simple.
It’s not in Notion. It’s not in Asana. It’s not a Miro or Kanban board.
It’s a spreadsheet in Google Sheets.
It’s in Google Sheets because everybody knows how to use Excel, or Excel-adjacent things. Which means I can use this tool with enterprises and non-profits and startups alike. There’s no obstacle to collaboration. Which is important when you’re doing client work.
I use this exact Google Sheets template, below, to explain a workflow change and get buy-in with my client.
Use it. Love it. Live it.
k, here’s a simple and helpful tool
In it’s simplest form, a workflow consists of four things:
Responsibility for completing each task
Tools needed for each task
Deliverables for each task
That’s it. Who’s doing what, what they’re using to do it, and what the output is.
You can make it more complex, but those are the basics. And lawd lawd lawd it’s important to ensure everybody knows the basics.
This Workflow Outline—like your delightful host, hello, it’s me—is simple.
Staff goes in column A. Tasks go in each subsequent column.
I like to use a simple X to denote who’s responsible for what, but you could always use a responsibility assignment matrix like RACI, too.
Tools go below each task.
Tools can be documents or apps your crew might use.
For example, if you’re building a publishing workflow, a tool could be your Editorial Guidelines, your ESP, your CMS, etc. (One consequence of writing your workflows out, btw, is you’ll realize where you may need tools you don’t currently have.)
Deliverables go below tools.
Every task should have an output. That output is what the next responsible person uses to continue the workflow.
Once you’re finished with the steps, and once everybody signs off, you can always translate the workflow into a more visually pleasing format. Slides, Miro, Notion, whatever’s clever.
Also in this spreadsheet: a tab for Roles and Responsibilities, and a tab for Tools. Use those tabs to keep track of all the assets, and where to find them.
Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Gonna give you two examples where I’ve used this spreadsheet to good effect.
The first was at a large, legacy publisher where the head of digital needed to create a sponsored content workflow.
For the uninitiated, that’s a workflow where the sales department traffics a sponsorship opportunity through a content department, which is either part of marketing or exists as a standalone group. The content department develops a creative idea, then hands that idea off to sales or marketing for it to be packaged up and sent to the prospect to buy.
There’s more to it than that, but those are the basics.
The second was at a non-profit where a key marketing employee had left without documenting her workflows. The remaining employees leapt in to fill the void, but the result was confusion about who was supposed to do what, and when.
In both of these cases, what everybody needed was a clear understanding of the basics. A mental map of the workflow. A clear idea of how the assembly line worked.
I used the workflow outline to clarify the jobs to be done.
My process was, basically:
Write down the workflow
Share that workflow with key employees to get their buy-in
Present to the teams
Monitor and adjust
Super simple stuff.
Hope this is helpful!
Do you use a tool to map out your workflows? Leave a note in the comments. I’d love to learn about it.
If reading about workflows really blows your skirt up, may I suggest checking out The Goal: A Business Graphic Novel. A fun read about solving process bottlenecks. The setting is an assembly line, but the lessons hold for all types of businesses.
If you’re super into workflows, you might enjoy The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win. It can be a slog to read—the characters aren’t exactly multi-dimensional—but you’ll likely recognize your own experience in it, even if you don’t do DevOps. Here’s the setup:
Bill, an IT manager at Parts Unlimited, has been tasked with taking on a project critical to the future of the business, code named Phoenix Project. But the project is massively over budget and behind schedule. The CEO demands Bill must fix the mess in ninety days or else Bill's entire department will be outsourced. With the help of a prospective board member and his mysterious philosophy of The Three Ways, Bill starts to see that IT work has more in common with a manufacturing plant work than he ever imagined. With the clock ticking, Bill must organize work flows, streamline interdepartmental communications, and effectively serve the other business functions at Parts Unlimited.
Faster Project Manager, Kill Kill: If you’ve ever wondered where the Gantt Chart came from, and never suspected it came from the need to kill a lot of Nazis, and quickly, well this brief post on the origins of project management is for you.
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