The Strategy In Digital Workflow
By Bob Bischoff
No longer the tactical tool of the design department, digital workflow solutions are proving useful to brand managers as a strategic business advantage.  
We all know that digital workflow systems are typically purchased for the back-end use of tracking a design program. They are usually used to route electronic proofs, maintain color consistency over a variety of substrates and, in general, manage a brand’s digital assets.
Although these functions are useful in their own right, a purely tactical application is shortsighted. When a digital workflow system is integrated with brand strategy, it can change the way teams work, and how they manage and execute projects. Ultimately, it can become a brand manager’s best tool for establishing best practices across business units.
The true benefit of a digital workflow system is that it continuously collects and stores data vital for long-term project management and improvement, offering powerful information at our fingertips. When data is collected and assessed over time, brand managers can quantify tasks, set goals, standardize the work process and assess the success of the total branding program. The tool also allows managers to become actively involved in presenting quantifiable results to upper management who is increasingly concerned with accountability. Here’s how the strategic benefits of a digital workflow system break down:
Strategic Advantage #1: Improves Speed to Market
Monitors the critical path: Individuals along a brand project’s critical path typically have their own set of criteria for completing tasks. But by mapping each participant’s role and work/time duration, the digital workflow system can benchmark each step and the brand manager can create a report that instantly identifies the team’s expected performance and anticipated delivery dates. That way, the entire team knows and agrees on a department’s timetable commitment to keep the project on track.
For example, if the Quality Assurance department requires two weeks to run tests on a product and four working days to review artwork, its requirements will be incorporated into the digital workflow system. QA can then be held accountable for its commitment.
Identifies bottlenecks: It is common for a project to have unexpected delays. But since digital workflow systems are real-time databases, bottlenecks in the process can be instantly identified. This allows quicker response time in overcoming these delays. After the project is completed, the collected data can be used to target areas of improvement and, most importantly, reduce project cycle time. The team will then be able to focus on creating improvements to resolve bottleneck issues and tightening up future timetables as a result. Data cannot be disputed; it removes egos and personalities from the process and allows everyone to focus on the facts of their performance.
Strategic Advantage #2: ImprovesCommunication
Forecasts completion dates: Unlike other project tracking software, such as Microsoft Project, a digital workflow system continuously builds a database from all of the team’s projects. Every project is unique in its own right. However, after several similar projects, averages can be assigned to every task and duration along the critical path. This creates a “snapshot” of similar projects and the “real time” it takes to complete them. The data that is collected can accurately predict hand-off dates and overall project timing. This information can then be standardized and communicated to all parties involved so that the expectations are clear and deliverable. Most importantly, there are no surprises to anyone along the critical path.
Automates communication: One key requirement for developing a digital workflow system is that it is Web enabled. That way, communications can be streamed through the Internet. For example, the system can tag the e-mail addresses of key stakeholders and automatically send out warnings or notifications when part of the project is overdue or a critical event is about to occur. The system is triggered when someone misses a date or when final project approval has been achieved. It is important to note that this feature must be used judiciously. Otherwise, individuals can become inundated with frivolous emails. E-mail flagging should be reserved for project milestones and include information that is important for the whole team.
Strategic Advantage #3: Builds Team Accountability
Creates a team culture: When team members are tied into the digital workflow system, they are bound by a shared, formal commitment. And because the focus is on task completion, such systems can serve to break down the silo mentality that dominates many CPG companies and, instead, can work to create a team culture. A the end of the project, the team can gather to discuss the success or failure of the project and share insights on how to reduce bottlenecks and achieve improvement.
Provides forecasting data: When tied to the accounting function, the system can monitor project costs and generate reports to inform the team leader of budget concerns. For instance, if a certain margin is needed to meet a financial goal, the system will identify and send an alert when the margin has eroded past a certain percentage. Over time, and after collecting project and task data, the brand manager can associate a cost with each function. This makes it easy to forecast the entire branding program’s revenue, expenses and project timing. Every aspect of the project can be quantified. With this critical information, brand managers can become instrumental in the business side of brand management such as forecasting, planning and budgeting. The goals can also be tied to the overall business strategy, such as reducing project cycle time 10 percent to deliver products on-shelf one month earlier than the previous year.
Information is Power
The key to success in implementing a digital workflow system as a strategic tool is knowing what you want to manage and incorporating this information into the workflow system. When fully functional, the system influences the culture of an organization by requiring a focus on departmental achievement and results.  In addition to the traditional tactical approach, incorporating a digital workflow system throughout your organization will provide the benefits and strategic advantages far beyond knowing who signed off on the final proof. BP
The author, Bob Bischoff, is president of Core BrandingWorks, a branding consultancy and design firm specializing in integrated packaging design and collateral services for national brand and private label clients. Contact Bob at