Projects Projects Projects – Virtual Brainstorming In 2021

How are your 2021 projects going so far? If you’re anything like me not much has changed since 2020. We are still working from home, wearing masks, and trying to think of creative ways to overcome new challenges every day.

It doesn’t matter what industry or department you’re in. The events of the previous year have placed you and your business in a reactionary position. Kudos to you if you could foresee a global pandemic and strategize how to defend against it, but the majority of us were blindsided.

Now that we are coming up on the one-year anniversary of the beginning of lockdowns, it’s time to begin the discussion on moving forward strategically, and that means managing projects in an alternative workspace.

Identifying Your Projects

All projects involve innovation. The beauty of modern project management techniques is that they are applicable in a variety of industries and departments.

Innovation is simply identifying and solving problems creatively. These problems can be customer experience, technological, or even a lack of creative spark since everyone has left the office. Let’s face it. Individual components can be worked on from home, but idea generation meetings run better when everyone is in the same room.

Asking the right questions is important. What are your points of stress? Where is the user experience lacking? Where is too much money being spent? What is consuming the majority of staff time? These are all questions that can help you identify which issues you need to resolve, and then the problem is primed to be solved.

The point is that innovation is not as difficult as it may seem. The first step is identifying a problem.

Brainstorming Your Projects Backlog

There are a ton of different brainstorming exercises that you and your team can walk through together with a few simple modifications to uncover problems and find solutions.

Here is a list of some brainstorming and decision exercises that we find most helpful. These will be outlined in more detail in a future article.

  • ‘This would be easier if…’
  • ‘How might we?…’
  • Timed ideating
  • Mind Mapping
  • Vision Boarding

Leading Projects Brainstorming Sessions Virtually

Creative brainstorming sessions just work better in groups where you can draw on the whiteboard, stick note cards to the wall, and say all kinds of crazy things in rapid succession without waiting for video conferencing lag to catch up.

For most of us, that is not an option right now.

So how do you run a brainstorming session without 4 walls and a marker board? You do your best.

Zoom has a marker board feature within their meetings. One idea is to use an iPad, a 2 in 1, or a drawing tablet.  While it’s more difficult to stick notes to a virtual whiteboard, this can be utilized for quick thinking exercises and drawing diagrams if you’re willing to invest in technology beyond clicking and dragging your mouse or trackpad.

Another option is to use a OneNote notebook over a screen sharing session (perhaps in Microsoft Teams.) Whatever your preferred whiteboard alternative is, this is the hardest part.

Otherwise, virtual creative meetings run similarly to their physical counterparts. Make sure that everyone on your team is properly equipped with sticky notes and markers. You can use your phone to run a timer, or better yet show one on the screen. Any sense of normalcy is really going to help your team.

When time is up for your chosen brainstorming exercise, have your team members share their results individually, and write them down either in a document or a virtual notebook, then use a polling app or feature to have your team vote on the priority of these project ideas.


It is possible to still be creative, collaborative, and even productive without being physically in the same space. A collaborative approach to problem-solving can yield great results that wouldn’t be thought of simply by listing out the issues and trying to solve them alone.

Don’t let the pandemic slow down the growth of your business. Just treat it the same way that you do any other problem. Identify the issues as a group then ideate a workable solution to solve them that is effective and efficient for everyone involved.

My Supplier Said to Me: RMA? It’s Just a Little Scratch

On the fifth (work) day of Christmas, my supplier said to me ‘Do you really think we need an RMA? It’s just a little scratch, does it really matter that much?’ 

As prices increase so does the demand for quality. Functionality and cosmetics are both priorities when thousands, and potentially millions of dollars are involved in purchasing a batch of parts. 

What about when the cosmetics affect the functionality? Consider this example. What if that small scratch runs across a functional surface where thousandths of an inch matter? The part then fails the quality test and is subsequently banished to the rejected parts closet. 

To answer the question of the supplier, yes, that little scratch does matter. 

It is absolutely critical that your suppliers understand their function in your business and the key metrics that you use to measure supplier performance. A lack of supplier accountability can lead to a lot of lost dollars out of your company’s bottom line and ultimately your bonus.

It could be as simple as a scratch, a screw hole that is out of specification, or an incorrect paint color. It doesn’t matter. A defect is a defect. Not only do you need to prevent those from arising, but when they inevitably do arise, it is crucial to deal with quality problems in a structured and timely manner.  

This once again highlights an area that is lacking within supply chain management technology. These discussions often happen over email or a series of phone calls, but this lacks business process definition and enforcement. X12 has a specification for the RMA 180 document, but this is little more than a notification and doesn’t facilitate the reject business process either. 

As supplier communications become more complex with the advancement of technology, the need for business process in your supplier communications is growing. Well defined business process always results in the removal of human error. In order to reap the maximum value from your supply chain consider the business process that drives your supplier communications and how it can be improved. 

Where are opportunities for improvement in your reject-based supplier communications? 

How to Define Business Process Workflow

Business process workflow is everywhere. Any business that offers a product or service uses business process. Some do it poorly without defining business process, while others do it well with defined and enforced business process workflow. All businesses are process oriented, and without well defined business process no business can be sustainable.

So, what is business process, and what does it mean when you use it with the word workflow?

Business process is simply defining and enforcing repeatable steps to accomplish work. It’s a function box. When we define a business process we are defining a function. A workflow item is a function input that moves through the process function in order to achieve a result. A business process workflow takes that concept one step further and draws that process function on a chart with boxes and arrows to build a technology based solution to enforce the defined process.

There is no question that business process workflow is important, yet so many businesses struggle with the basic step of accurately defining a particular business process.

We get it. It’s confusing, and unless you have a background in six sigma or lean process, you’re probably not that familiar with process improvement concepts. That is normal. In fact, that’s why we are writing this article. If you can define your process well, then you have a great foundation to build on as you give consideration to the idea of process improvement. Below are some helpful steps for defining a business process workflow well.

Crucial Questions to Define Your Business Process Workflow

The building blocks for great writing are also the building blocks for great business process definition. Who, what, where, when, and why? These questions will ultimately carry you through all the steps of defining a workflow process. To begin defining your process, lets start with the who’s.

The Who of Your Business Process Workflow

What functional groups are going to touch this item as it moves through the business process? The first crucial step to defining a business process well is understanding what roles are involved in the process. Once you gather your people, you can help them understand the business process workflow holistically so as to put everyone on the same page with the same expectation about the end result of all the steps in your process.

The What, Where, and When of Your Business Process Workflow

What does each functional group involved in your process do? Do they build? Do they inspect? Do they approve? Where does their work happen? (inside or outside the network?) These are the steps that form the process. At this point you ought to be able to assemble a logical progression of actions being performed by specific roles that will yield a consistent, timely, and satisfactory result.

Data Matters

What data elements do you need? Armed with the information you have already collected, you should be able to define the data elements that drive decision making within your business process workflow. This will provide the structure for your forms and databases.

While you’re at this point in the definition of your business process workflow, go ahead and define all of your business rules for making decisions. Think in terms of If, Then, Else statements. There should be no undefined business rules. Poorly defined business rules yield poor results, so tighten it up and make everything logical and repeatable.

Securing Your Workflow

What security roles do all of the functional groups involved in your process need to have? Implementing security roles is tricky at best. Everyone wants permissions for everything, but most people don’t need permissions for almost anything. And of course, there is always an over zealous new hire in the IT department that seems to make it their purpose in life to keep people from doing their job efficiently because they have security locked down so tightly.

Our recommendation is to define the roles and responsibilities for the owners of the various steps in your workflow, and let your favorite workflow professionals guide you through the process of setting permissions.

Build Your Workflow

I should take a moment to note that we built our business doing business process workflow consulting and solution implementation using a tool, now owned by Microfocus, called Solutions Business Manager. SBM, as it is affectionately known, is a software suite that allows you to implement user defined business process workflows in your organization. It can be used for Change Management, Operations Process, ITIL Help Desk, HR Organizational Processes, or any number of creative business solutions.

Using SBM, take the process and related information you have collected up to this point and flesh it out into a diagram of states and transitions. Think of states as nouns with owners and transitions as verbs or actions. First, form states by combining the functional groups with the short description of what they do. The what is the state name, and the who is the state owner. Then, tie those states together with transition arrows which are the actions completed within the workflow. This is how the who, what, when, and where come together and then are executed as a business process.


You might have noticed there was one question left unanswered. Why? The answer to this question is because business process workflow removes process variation caused by the human element with the end goal of accomplishing work in a way that is repeatable and efficient. If we can grasp the bigger picture of a holistic business process and help others involved to grasp the same, we are positioning our team for success.

These are the nuts and bolts of defining a business process workflow. If you can give this information to your workflow consultant or developer on staff, they will be able to develop your workflow solution with the same quality and efficiency that you want to achieve with the installation of your new business process workflow solution.

For more information about our business process workflow consulting visit our website, blog home, and be sure to contact us.

7 Tips for Working From Home Successfully

Working from home. It’s every IT staff member’s dream. Who doesn’t want to avoid frustrating commutes, dress codes, and that one coworker that may or may not remind you of Dwight Schrute? It sounds blissful, doesn’t it? For many around the world, working from home, location independence, or utilizing alternative workspace is becoming more realistic and many companies are leading initiatives to push the business environment in that direction.

Working from home can be a wonderful thing. But just like everything else, it comes with tradeoffs. If it is not managed well it can lead to a loss of productivity, lower quality work, and the theft of company time. If it is managed properly, it can actually increase productivity, employee morale, and cut the costs associated with maintaining a large office complex.

Tip #1: Establish a Consistent Schedule

One of the benefits of working from home is that it can allow a lot of flexibility. This can also be a down-side. The biggest secret to success when working in an alternative workspace is to maintain self discipline. Start and end your work day at the same time every day, and be sure to plan your work activity schedule ahead of time using either outlook, alarms on your phone, or a daily planner/calendar. If you make decisions about how you’re going to spend your time in advance, it will make the day flow much more smoothly and cut down on wasted time.

Tip #2: Dress for Success

There is a huge temptation when working from home to dress purely for comfort. Don’t do it. It’s completely valid that you don’t have to put on a 3-piece suit to work from home, but don’t lounge around in gym shorts and an old t-shirt all day either. Shoot for dressing somewhere above the minimum required dress code for going to Walmart. Each person’s circumstances are different, but here are some things to consider:

  • Do you have to participate in video calls?
  • Will you need to leave the house during your work day?
  • Do you struggle with falling asleep at your desk?
  • Does the way you dress reinforce a mentality of success?
  • Can you perform your job function comfortably?

Tip #3: Rise Up Early In the Morning

The day is twenty four hours long. That means that realistically, you can have sixteen to eighteen hours of productive time each day and still sleep enough. For the most self-disciplined person, only half of your waking hours have to be consumed by your job. Wake up. Read, plan, enjoy your coffee, and be productive before the rest of the world turns on for the day. There is a reason that U.S. Navy Seals wake up at 4:30 in the morning. It takes discipline, but the results are amazing.

Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals. Please talk to your doctor before radically altering your sleep schedule.

Tip #4: Keep Your Work Space Separate

A lot people do not distinguish between work space, play space, and sleep space when they first start working from home. It’s easy and harmless enough to work from the laptop while sitting in bed or at the kitchen table, right? Here’s what happens. It doesn’t take long for you to start feeling like you are unable to disconnect and unplug from work. Your hours end up going consistently past when they are supposed to be over for the day, and you have a hard time falling asleep because in your brain you now associate your bed with work. Now you’re wide awake and confused because you were cat-napping on the couch less than five minutes ago. You need some type of space that is dedicated solely to work activities that you can walk away from at the end of the day and doesn’t interfere with space dedicated to more leisurely activities.

Tip #5: Standardize All of Your Business Processes

Calling all managers. This one is crucial. Without standardized and automated business process you cannot have a work from home workforce. realistically, if you’re lacking in this department, things probably aren’t running as smoothly as they could in the office either. Consider this your wakeup call to process discipline. We have built our business around helping other companies simplify, standardize, and automate mission critical business process in order to achieve the results of increasing efficiency and effectiveness. Well defined business process eliminates stress and human error while putting dollars back into your bottom line.

Here is how this plays out practically. If you’re a manager, you need to make sure that your process and your technology are fool-proof. In the office, you can keep an eye on people and make sure that work is getting done without damaging the delicate system in place. When people are working from home, you cannot do that. You have to rely on the tools you have at your disposal to force the collection of high quality data that can ultimately be used to make business decisions. Forms with required fields and character limits that transition the data between process stages and owners are your best friend. When business process automation is implemented correctly, it doesn’t matter where your people do their work, they will still complete it correctly.

For more thoughts on business process and the alternative workspace, check out another article I wrote titled Developing a Workfrom Home Workforce.

Tip #6: Be Task Oriented

“If you’ve got time to lean you’ve got time to clean” a manager at a fast food restaurant once told me on my first day. That has always stuck with me. Companies are paying their employees to be there, right? Well, not quite. They’re paying their employees to accomplish work. An employee can be physically present but still not doing work, and they can be physically not present but still accomplishing a lot of work in the right setting.

Part of the appeal of working from home, or wherever you do work that isn’t the office, is that they have flexibility in their schedule. This might seem to contradict the first tip, but hear me out. If your workforce exists to accomplish work, and they prove to be responsible employees, then as a manager, focus on assigning realistic goals and enabling work to happen rather than micromanaging everyone’s time. Your employees will feel empowered and grateful, and you won’t be consumed by all the tiny details that aren’t that important. Some people work well late at night. Others don’t. Make sure they are available for meetings and hitting target dates, but don’t stress too much about when work happens.

Tip #7: Use Collaboration Tools

As a project manager part of your job is knowing what is the right tool for the job. The good news is, there are a TON of good workplace collaboration tools out there that only require an internet connection to use. Use Sharepoint to store commonly accessed information. Use Teams or Slack to facilitate project based communication. Use shared Outlook calendars so that others on the team can schedule meetings and work sessions easily. Use Zoom for meetings. Use Github for developer projects. Use a business process engine like Solutions Business Manager to support tip number five.

By making resources accessible, processes consistent, and communication easy, you are empowering your team to accomplish work without babysitting.

Bonus Tip: Check On Your Employees’ Happiness and Mental Health

Some people (like me) thrive on being around other people. It comes very naturally to them, and though it’s nice to be able to work from home, it can affect those people very negatively if they don’t have enough face to face interaction. Keep in tune with how your employees are doing, and if it becomes apparent that they need a change of scenery, then have them come into the office for the day or set up a lunch meeting. Happy employees are loyal and hard working employees. Don’t neglect the social butterflies on your team just because there is a new work from home initiative.

That pretty well sums it up. Working from home has been a part of our company culture for years. These are some of our best tips for working from home successfully. What are some of yours?

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