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Workflow Breakdowns in Larger Firms: Why They Happen, What to Do About Them

By Shahid Chowdhary

Innovators & Entrepreneurs, February 2021


Efficiency in business comes down to reaching goals with the highest degree of quality and speed possible. When workflow breaks down and this efficiency is not achieved, it is worth questioning what went wrong and what to do to prevent this problem in the future.

The breakdown of workflow in our clients at larger firms comes down to failures of two critical elements: communication and accountability. The question, of course, is what to do about it.

To be successful, company goals must rely on a combination of achievable steps, task responsibilities, and deadlines. Every project member must be dedicated and held responsible for his share of the project. Someone must be responsible for oversight and follow-throughs.

By clearly laying out the schedule, the assignments, and the completion measurements, workflow software makes it easier to remain on task, on time, and accountable. Project management tools also help to streamline projects, thus making them more efficient. For example, in my work with book publishers, there are many steps along the way from editorial to ultimate publication, including proofreading, graphic design, interior typeface design, typesetting, double- and triple-checking, choice of paper quality, book jacket design and printing book copies. Without the help of workflow software, each of these steps would be subject to human error, take longer to complete, and can lead to frustration!

The following steps will help you avoid wasting time, energy, and motivation for your projects, regardless of the industry you work in:

  1. Every project should include assigned jobs, specific steps, deadlines, and completion measurements along the way. Poorly defined, loosey-goosy plans lead to unclear, half-finished, pass-the-buck efforts.
  2. Define the project point by point to eliminate unnecessary steps, avoid repetitions, reach the goal faster, and guide the right person in the right task throughout the process.
  3. Every plan should be checked and double-checked:
    • By one manager and decider,
    • for strengths and weaknesses of team members and assignments,
    • for relevance, and
    • for scheduling.

Communication is key in any project. Consider the body: The brain knows what all the parts do at any time. If hands, feet, eyes, and ears are not coordinated, the body cannot move efficiently. Your team is like your body: When communication breaks down, steps must be repeated, sometimes they are skipped, and the workflow breaks down.

In my world, the printing industry, proofreaders must know how much time they have available to complete their tasks; book cover designers need to know what the book is about so that the title, front, and back cover designs deliver the right message; the publisher’s sales staff needs to know how much time there is between production and publication date; etc. Only continuous communication among all parties can ensure that the operation runs smoothly.

It is up to the project manager to verify that communication is fluid, to hold members accountable, and to set the example for appropriate and timely communications. The project manager should also keep an eye on the schedule, send updates, and hold project members’ feet to the fire when tasks fall through.

It is not unusual to see project assignments falling through the cracks in large corporations. Leaning on workflow software as well as having a solid, well-designed project plan can be invaluable for companies seeking to protect themselves against workflow breakdown.

Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries or the respective authors’ employers.

Shahid Chowdhary founded Siliconchips Services in London in September 2010 with one basic idea: to build an organization committed to value-based leadership and promoting a culture of trust, transparency, integrity, and mutual respect. His clients include book publishers, digital publications, and companies of types with IT needs. To learn more, visit