Today's workforce has a growing number of tools at their disposal to communicate, collaborate and get work done. But there is a concurrent increase in workflow complexity, which, left unmanaged, results in time lost and inefficiencies. It's time to bridge the gap between the two.

For easily repeatable tasks, the process has often been defined and implemented in the systems you are using, such as an ERP system. In knowledge-intense and highly dynamic and collaborative work environments, processes are often barely repeatable (check out Thingamy for more on the concept of barely repeatable processes).

This means that knowledge workers who participate in a task have to design or redesign the process each time it is executed. Much more is required from those who participate in a barely repeatable process than an easily repeatable. Instead of simply following instructions created by a process engineer, you have to be a process engineer yourself and design the process on the fly as you execute it.

Efficient Practices Lead to Results

In such a work environment, it is very important to have efficient practices -- ways to perform common individual tasks -- that allow you to execute the job in an efficient way. You also need to have those practices in common with the other people who will be involved, otherwise you will have to revert to “whatever works” practices, using the most convenient but not necessarily most suitable tools and methods to collaborate, such as email and ad hoc physical meetings.

Here’s my key point: how efficiently tasks and processes are executed is very much dependent on the practices and tools used. For example, there can be extreme differences in efficiency between a scenario where you co-author content by emailing documents back and forth and a scenario where you can co-author the content directly using a tool like Google Docs or the co-authoring capabilities of SharePoint 2010 in Word.

First Identify the Problem

When I talk to people they often recognize the symptoms of bad practices, but they often lack the insight and awareness of what causes the symptoms and why, which of course makes it harder to treat and cure the “disease." Many of the underlying problems can be fixed by developing better practices using new tools.