Developing custom software is not something you enter into lightly. While no solution is ever completely unique, there is always some part that is hand-crafted to meet the specific business needs of each client. This is an expensive proposition that should not be entered into lightly.

This is the second in a series of posts to help you understand if building custom software is the right answer for you. We previously looked at how the problem of things taking too long can be addressed with a software solution. Now, let’s see how your team’s communication patterns might be revealing a deeper need solved with custom software.

You make heavy use of internal email and have a reply-all culture

Does your team live in Outlook? Is every email message CC’ed to the entire department in the hope that nothing important is forgotten? If so, you likely need a workflow management application. The email message chains represent a team trying to coordinate their work. The only problem is that they’re doing it in one of the least efficient ways possible. Each new email message is an interruption. Each message carries a risk that something critical will be lost in a thread or go unseen by someone who didn’t recognize what was being said.

Custom workflow management systems are an ideal way to help a team work together. Let’s see a few ways of how this happens:

They can codify and enforce standard operating procedures

A team that uses email as a critical part of coordinating business functions is very likely introducing unwanted variance along the way. Because email is so unstructured, it can’t guarantee that things will be done the way you want. A step will be forgotten or done incorrectly. A critical inspection will be missed. Tasks will be performed out of order. Every time this happens, quality suffers, costs increase, and customer satisfaction is diminished.

A workflow management system is built to know that steps of your unique process. If an editor needs to sign off on something before it’s published, custom software can ensure that the review happens. If the shipping options are dictated by size and weight, the system can ensure that only valid options are considered. Whatever your process, a workflow management system can be utilized to permit valid activities and prohibit those that aren’t appropriate at a given time.

They increase the visibility of work in progress

Despite being near universally decried and a source of potential embarrassment, the Reply All button in email remains frustratingly popular. And it’s easy to understand why. Nobody wants to be the person who failed to share critical information with someone who absolutely needs to know. Better to slightly inconvenience everyone than to risk making a much larger error. Unfortunately, while this instinct is understandable, it’s ineffective. The noise from too many unimportant group email messages drowns out the important ones.

A custom workflow management system can eliminate most of that noise. Critical stakeholders are always aware of work that needs their attention because it shows up on their dashboard. Team members whose attention is not needed at present can instead focus their actions elsewhere with a dashboard customized to them.

They can reduce interruptions and keep everyone on task

We covered this in our prior post, but a company that relies on email or any messaging-based tool to coordinate work (looking at you Slack) is vulnerable to the switching costs that come from interruptions. A team member who is concentrating on something can have that concentration easily broken by the ding of the “New Message” alarm. If you’ve ever come in to the office early to get things done, you’ve understood intuitively how an interrupt-driven system like e-mail can destroy productivity.

Custom software can take work out of email and put it into a system with fewer interruptions. People can pull new work tasks when they’re ready for it instead of having new distractions forced upon them.

They make it easier to gain critical insights

If your team is collaborating principally via email or messaging systems, you’re missing out on an opportunity to better understand the patterns of your business. How long on average does it take to fulfill an order? What are bottlenecks occurring? Where is additional capacity needed to make things go faster? Where can you reduce capacity to cut costs? If you have nothing but email threads to go on, you’ll have a difficult time answering those questions without resorting to a lot of manual work.

A custom workflow management system has all of that data in a database. It knows every step in the process, how long it takes, how many items are in each step along the way, and where the bottlenecks are. Reports need structured data to work from. An Outlook-based business fails that test, but an organization running on top of custom software is able to reflect on what’s happening and make process improvements as a result.

Is your team living in email?

The lure of Outlook, Slack, text messaging, and similar systems is strong. They promise instant connection with our colleagues and friends. At times, that real-time access is absolutely appropriate. But there needs to be a way to stay focused until the task at hand is complete. After all, outside of support requests, your customers aren’t satisfied by your skill at juggling the interruptions. Your customers expect results, not matter how the work gets done. Weaning your way off email and onto custom software is extraordinarily effective way to get more work done.

If your team is spending too much time answering email, we at Mutually Human might be able to help. For more than a decade, we’ve helped clients build the software used to run their business. We may be able to help you too. It costs nothing to find out. Sign up for a Free Consultation and we’ll be happy to explore how custom software can help you feel more in control and ready for continued growth.

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