Watch Rob Dawson’s Presentation at Workflow in Practice, hosted by ServiceScaler.
To view the presentation slides, see here.
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So today’s conversation is about workflow in practice, so we’re talking about digital workflows in the context of a law firm and why you should be using digital workflows. So why should you put or implement digital workflows into your practice? It’s really about automating processes that don’t make you money. So automating those non billable tasks and activities, making those simpler, faster so that you can focus on the things that are important so that you can focus on your client. And the difference that implementing digital workflow makes not only to you know people who work in the firm who aren’t Fiona’s, but also for the owners and their contributions to non billable processes and what we can do so that we can keep focusing on our clients and do more work for them. So for today’s agenda. We’ll be going through an introduction defining workflow. So what is workflow? What are we talking about and how does it work? Important things when we considering putting digital workflow in place is assessing the feasibility of doing it. So do we have the infrastructure in the systems to be able to deliver that and do we have the capacity and capability internally for our teams to be able to document and deliver this through technology systems? Well then talk about the delivery. So I want the delivery process looks like how we actually get that in place. What we need to do and will then talk about the results. The difference that it actually makes once it’s in place. So as we mentioned before, introducing digital flow can substantially reduce personal contributions to completing business processes. Now, as I was discussing before, what happens in most law firms is that most firms are run by practitioners or they run by or owned by partners who sit on the board and as a byproduct of that. But most of the focus tends to be on matter related or client related. Matter process, and not necessarily the other functions of a business and a lot of the overhead in the law firm comes from personnel contributing to those other processes that happen within the practice. So there’s obviously broad scope of opportunity to be able to automate those things so that we can focus on our billable work or our billable activities. Some of those functions we mentioned before, business development, finance, HR operations can be neglected, so partners aren’t necessarily focused on that. They normally delegate that out to an office manager or practice manager. Sometimes now we’re starting to see more operations manager or general Manager being appointed to take control of all of those things, but those direct costs of those personal contributions to those processes are direct cost to the business, and you look at where wages come out on the PNL. It’s right before you actually get your net profit so. It’s a good opportunity to squeeze out a little bit by implementing some automation around the practice. There are some other tangible benefits to that as well, so we talk about it and go. Oh yeah, it’s great. It’s automated and you’ll save money and you’ll save time. Some of the benefits that lots of people actually like about implementing digital workflow around the transparency over the process. So at any point in time they can see where something is up to who it’s assigned to, when it’s due to be actioned, what the due date is, whether it’s being done, you can start to pull some reports and statistics over how well practices performing, how well we’re delivering. Those processes within the practice, so some of that stuff is really, really good. There’s obviously security with that as well, so. Most firms have gone paper like now, so most firms that we speak to, so there’s not a lot of paper around. Most things are already digital, but what’s the security look like against that? In the digital context, putting things into a workflow where you assign a user the right to perform a transaction or perform part of that process is better than just going. Yeah, just let everyone have access and you know Bob over in accounting is is going to do that right? So we can actually structure the security around that and who has access to complete certain things. And it’s infinitely more scalable than people, so we can do one of two things we can either employ lots of people so that we can grow our practice, or we can put in technology systems that are going to automate the processes so that we don’t have to, and they’re infinitely more scalable, and they work 24 hours a day, and all of those wonderful things that we’ve heard before. So what is workflow? What are we talking about? So one of the things that I always do when I go into a consultancy opportunity excuse me is to talk about the difference between a business process and a workflow. I seem really, really super basic, but clarifying these two things makes a world of difference throughout the process of the engagement, and this is something that you could apply in your own practice as well and go OK. So what is a business process? The business process itself is what actually needs to be done, and the workflow refers to how we do it. So as an example of those things are a business process, might be and will keep using this example and coming back to it so it’s relatable and employee leave requests or leave request approval process. Someone someone says are. I want to take leave and you go. Oh great, you need to fill in a form and Rob needs to approve that and then it needs to end up on the group calendar. That’s the process. How we actually do that is the workflow. So OK that’s great. But how does that get done? So the process itself is not negotiable. We have to do the things in the process so we have to fill in the Leave request because we need that documentation we have to get manager approval because we can’t just let people just. You know, book their own leave and just go and leave whenever they like, which is how I do it so. But for most other people can’t do it that way and. Obviously at the end of that process you know putting that on the on the calendar so that other people can see you know the things that need to be done, but how we actually get that done doesn’t matter. We can do it on a piece of paper and put in the intro of our manager and go through that process. Or we can fill it in electronic form that routes that data off to an approval manager to a queue for approval and then automatically uploads it to a group calendar, right? So that we can see that. So that’s the difference between the business process and the workflow, how we actually deliver that business process. So when I talk about doing workflow and there is a particular way that I particularly do it, or I’ve always been trained to do it so workflow is something that I’ve been doing for more than 10 years now, so roles I’ve had previously. Now I’m sales Once Upon a time, believe it or not, I was actually technical. I was on the tools. I’m really good at, delegating all of that stuff now, which is great. So it’s a great part of my career. But to be in. But Once Upon a time I used to do this stuff so day in day out and the way that I like to do it, or the way the light. I like to go OK. Well I have a workflow that needs to be done. What does that look like? There are two very critical things I talk about a work step, so that is a step in the process and that work step can be assigned to either a system or a person so we can get a piece of technology to deliver that work step or the tasks that are associated with that. Or we can get a person to do it. So the work step tasks are the things that need to be done as part of that work step. So OK, we need someone to fill in a leave request form in the work step, filling the Leave request form, putting the dates that you want to have you need to enter the type of leave that you want to have. You need to check and make sure that nobody else has got leave for that time. You know it’s a bit of a sort of QA process to stop the manager having to go and check that and that’s that work step completed in the next work. Set the outflow from that. Once that’s completed where they move it across to OK. Now it goes across to the manager. That’s the next work step, so every time the process changes hands, so to a system or a person, that’s an you work step, and within that work step there are a series of tasks that need to be completed before it can move to the next work step. Now those things are normally pinned to the process as well, so we’ll have a diagram so you can see what that looks like and this is how we would normally do process and workflow mapping as well. We use the same diagram and start documenting stuff out. So where to start? What did you start looking at first? So we mentioned some things earlier around the practice that are non billable. You’re not going to make any money from those, and we do have people here who do fixed fee stuff, so automating matter workflow as well is equally important. But for most firms they’re still doing the traditional way of fee estimates and charging for the time that they contribute to the matter. So maybe not so important for them, but all of those other direct costs of the business, so personal contributions to completing business processes. That can’t be built to a client. That’s where you should be starting one of the other things that I love doing where to start in digital workflow or where to start in workflow. It’s so annoying that. If you ever find yourself in this situation, we go. It’s so annoying that. I have to go and manually check or go and ask everybody in the firm who’s on leave and when because I don’t have access to the information that I need to be able to make a decision on that. That’s right for workflow. It’s ripe for automation and structuring that. Making sure that the information so that you can make a decision is iaccessible. The reason that I’m so good at digital workflow is because I have a very short fuse, so I get annoyed at everything and I’m also inherently lazy. Super super lazy. I’m like why can’t the system do that? Why do I have to do it? Is it why is it? Why is this so hard so I get really frustrated with that because I grew up. But you know, I’m that generation that grew up with technology. That’s all I know, so I expect that the technology is going to make my life easier. And when it doesn’t, that frustrates me. So that’s in terms of where to start or where you should start looking. That’s where that’s where I like to start. It’s like what’s annoying you. What do you wish that you didn’t have to do? What’s the process that you’ve had to manually do ends number of times that the system should just be able to facilitate? Start documenting that out. That’s where I would start. So you found some really annoying processes? Geez, it’s annoying that I have to do this. I really wish that would go away so you start documenting that out. What’s the workflow? What are the steps that I need to do to get this process from point A to point B? One of the things one of the tasks that I need to do to get there? You’ve documented that out and you go great. I have all of that now. I want to automate that or I want to put that into a system that can facilitate it. Do I have a system that can facilitate it? So in terms of feasibility, we always talk about having access to the systems that support digital workflow. Most people have access to a system that supports digital workflow. For service scalar as a business, we do most of our stuff in Microsoft 365. So in Office 365. It has a completely integrated stack where you can have documents and data and you have power automate which is their workflow tool so that you can assign things and you can assign triggers and move data and information and documents around and assign them to people to be done and send notifications and all of the stuff that facilitates digital workflow. We do a lot of stuff with that which we think is really good. But that’s not where the entirety of your workflow exists, so that’s another thing to understand is are your systems integrated? So in terms of choosing technology that’s appropriate for your firm. Choose technology that is integrated so integrated technology will allow you to, let’s say, as a workflow we go OK, well, we have a a client or a new perspective. Client has filled in a form on our website. And that comes into. The practice and it comes in is attached to an email that has all the data in there and then someone at reception goes great. I’m going to go and type all of that information into creating new matter in the system. OK, wonderful, that’s now done. OK now we send it to the to the sales team or two of Fiona and they might do an introduction. We might send it off to account so that they can ask for a deposit into trust so we know that they have the money to do the matter. It’s back out of the system so we can see that there’s all these manual steps. We’re relying on the first person in reception to enter that information. Then we take it out of that system and then we go to another. System so that I can put money into trust to get reconciled in the accounting system and comes back and all these things are manual. I’m seeing some smiles around the room. People understand exactly what I’m talking about. It’s infinitely more frustrating when you can’t just connect those things together, and when that’s done, it should show that over here. So when we talk about integrated systems were talking bout integrated software? If you’re looking for software for your firm, make sure you’re looking for something that’s integrated so that your workflow can continue digitally between applications. And it will actually flow through. The other question that we ask is around resource capacity and capability. So in terms of the feasibility of delivering a digital workflow solution into the practice, you need resources to do it, so we can’t just click our fingers and have it magically happen like we do with the apps on our phone. Technology doesn’t work like that, at least in the context of we’re talking about digital workflow, where a process goes from end to end. Within your practice, do you have to your resources have the time to commit to documenting this out, working out how the technology works, and being able to put that in place or the capability to do those things as well. So in terms of the feasibility of determining K, can we go ahead with the digital workflow project? Do we have those resources internally? Or if we do, outsource those, do we have resources available that we can bring into the firm to be able to help us deliver this stuff? So assessing that feasibility is actually really important. Do I have the systems and do I have the resource capacity and capability to be able to deliver a digital workflow project? So now we’ll move into the delivery phase so the delivery phase is always good. Going back through the the previous steps so we we now understand process and workflow. We’ve now documented that out. We’ve identified a workflow that we want to do. We have. We’ve identified that we have the systems and we have the resources. So in terms of capability and capacity to deliver it. Now what do we do? Where do we start? So in terms of the delivery side of things, I always say start with the process. Some of the simple process something very very simple. So start with a small chunk. So overtime as you implement digital workflow project, it’s ongoing’s never ending. You will always find new things to automate and as the practice changes and you might diversify your practice areas and have new things come in or new processors, there might be legislation changes or reporting requirements that change depending on which area of practice you work in your my God. OK, all these things need to change so it’s always good to start with something really really simple. So that you would like to convert. Build the capability to complete the process manually so this is where a lot of people tend to get the delivery of these systems wrong. They go. We’re just going to make the whole thing. But that’s it, that’s that’s the entire picture we’re going to automate it all. No point in time. Is there any diligence about OK? Well, does our system have the capability to deliver the things that we need? And if it does, is that going to work for us? So it’s all a guessing game, so this is how you can pull the guessing game piece out of it and you go OK so. Let’s talk about. Let’s go back to a leave request form and it’s something that’s broad and everybody understands. Let’s build the capability to do it manually. So we build the digital form so people can put the information in. And once that is done, we go OK. Well, that’s a digital document for that request. Let’s send it off to the approver and we can do that manually via email or. Printed out, God forbid people still have printers. Other thing we print that out and we put it in somebody’s in tray for approval. Don’t do that. We want to keep it digital, so I emailed it over. Go hi, can you approve that like so right back and go. Yep, I’ve checked the group calendar. That’s fine, it’s approved. Can you please update the group calendar with that information or the group leave calendar so we can see it? Great done that. So we can do that process manually. Now if you can do that process manually and you go, you know what this works. For us this is good. This is a good step in the right direction. You then look at the work steps and the work step tasks that the system can automate. So you got OK. Well work step is by filling this form and I have to email that form. OK well can the system handle automating that step? Do we need to email it? Is there another way that we can do it in the system? Go OK? Someone submitted that form for a leave request. Can we check the calendar availability automatically and then shoot that over to the approving manager and go? Hey, can you approve this? Here’s the details. The next step might be OK. Well, we need to update the group leave calendar. Well, we’ve already got the information. Can we just update the calendar with that information? So these are how you automate the steps in that process so that you remove that requirement for manual processing or manual intervention in that business process. We test the automated function so as we go through we go. Does that work? Does that work? Is it doing what we wanted to do? We need to make some some fine tuning. Do we need to make some adjustments and once it’s done, that’s it? Rinse and repeat. Find a new process. Find a more complex process. Challenge yourself by like that. Challenge yourself, see what else you can find that might be harder to deliver than the first one that you started with and see how far you can take it. See what you can automate once you start to move into matter centric stuff. If you’re doing fixed fee, once you start to move into that matter centric side of things, what can we automate there? How can we improve the client experience? How can I automate the processes around it might be engagement. It might be onboarding. It might be providing cost estimates. It might be something related to getting that that matter on board. How can I remove the requirement for a Fiona to contribute to the process of getting that matter to closure? What’s the least I can contribute and still give the best client experience possible and start looking at the types of things that you can automate there? Probably not as big as I’d like it to be, but you can see here, so we’ll take a look at an example. This row here. Is the process. This is a work step. So this line here and these are the work step tasks. So we need to submit a leave request, fill in form, enter the details, the type and submit it to the approve. So that’s the tasks in network step. Once that’s been completed, we then move over to the next part of the process, or the next part of the business process, which is manager approval. The work step there is approve the leave request we need to check the Leave overlap check available entitlements, so that’s something that they may or may not be able to see and approve and notify. So OK, if we approve it, we just need to notify them that it’s done. And then the next step is to update the live calendar. So somebody needs to update the leave calendar. OK, so we send it back and they update the leave calendar. So can we see from documenting it this way? Does that make sense? My team annoying and everybody else is looking at me like I’m weird so. Almost born like that. Don’t judge me. So we have our business process, our work steps and then our work step tasks at every site. Through the process there you might go hey Rob, but that’s not going to work because there’s multiple work steps that go in here, or we can just define multiple work steps that need to be done. So the way that this works is the process goes across. That way the work steps come down that way, and once all of the work steps in this column are completed, we can then move on to the next one. We start at the top and we cascade our way down. Automatically requests, so we actually have a little demo that I recorded of this. So what we’re looking at here at the moment is SharePoint. Does anyone in the room use SharePoint? No, not yet. We will get you there, so this is in SharePoint so SharePoint is Microsoft. Well it’s kind of a document management system, it’s part of the Office 365 suite, but you can essentially create document libraries and lists and. But really, guys outside and making it fun for everybody and you can embed web parts on this front page here. So there’s some links. There’s some there’s some clocks, but what we do have over here is we have our upcoming Leave events that we can present on the page. So when somebody in your firm open the SharePoint and they go to the landing page, they might see something that looks like this. Other upcoming live events for other firms. We put all sorts of different stuff in their reports on how many engagement letters have been sent out this month. We put other stuff like quarter tendencies. When are people out in court? When are our upcoming court? Attendance is who’s going to be here? What do we need to be prepared for so we can have all different types of information in here? Which is pretty good. So what we’ll do is apply the video and I’ll walk you through. What is happening so we can see over on the right hand side that we have a leave request form? It’s just a button. Now this is taking us through to Microsoft forms. Again, it’s all included in Office 365. Just filling in that I want to believe that it’s for me putting in a start date, end date. Now this is not a complicated one. This is just a very basic way of doing it. Dropping my approval manager and I submit that off. So for me, who’s wanting to take leave, it can be as simple as that. That’s all we need to do. Now what we can’t see. At the moment is the IS is the top, but there’s a teams thing there. It just sends a notification in teams hey. Does it? I’ve been a request for leave requests being sent through? For approval, that’s also come through via email so we can send it through in different locations. So we can say that’s coming through from power automate. We can jump over to SharePoint, that’s where it keeps all of the information. It’s a bit blurry there, but it says over on the right hand side is requested the approval status. It shows me some dates. The other thing I can do is jump over to the group leave calendar which is associated to that site. In SharePoint so I can see that that time is available. And I go. You know what? Rob ‘cause? You’re a nice bloke and I like you. That’s fine, you can have that time off. You say I told you I approve my only request, it’s fantastic. So from the manager’s point of view, that’s it, they’re done. I’ve got a notification because it was me approving my own leave, but we can see that that’s come through to my calendar. So this is on the group. Leave calendar here and if I go to my calendar. And turn it on. It’s in my calendar as well, and the reason that I do that is we use another tool at service gala for our clients called Microsoft bookings. So bookings is just your online access to book a meeting with me and it’s just based on my availability in my calendar. So if I’m going to go on leave we can see that I’m on leave here. I don’t want people to be able to book, so my calendar availability is going to disappear. So these are the and. This is a very simple process in terms of the complexity of things that we can deliver. But it’s something that’s reliable, I think to to most people with the most people have a challenge with the bigger the firm, the bigger the challenge. I would knowledge that because the firm bigger the challenge. But those are the types of things that we can present through, and we do it through Office 365 because we’re talking about integrated systems before the ability to move data, and I’m moving them between applications too, by the way, so we’ve seen stuff in SharePoint. We’ve seen stuff in exchange which is your online email system. We’ve seen through another app, Microsoft forms for Microsoft bookings for my online availability so people can book time with me. It updates it there so people can’t book me while I’m on leave, and having those things. Play the integral. We saw the notification in teams of course as well, so there’s a history in teams that we can see there as well. If you’re a teams user. So having that stack integrate it gives us the ability to move documents, data and essentially work steps and work step tasks around anywhere in the system to where it needs to be. And if you’re an Office 365 user and M365 user, everyone will have access. They want us to have a mailbox so they all have an account, which means you can assign himself to do or give them tasks that they need to do to trigger a workflow or complete work step work steps or work step tasks in a business process. So that’s an example of. Our basic example of some of the stuff that we can do just in Microsoft 365. So really simple, the more you automate. The Guide of the results. So we start somewhere and we work our way through one of my one of the best things that I like about doing digital workflow and I’ve loved this forever and over the years I’ve got some really, really expensive works workflow solutions like I think they’re expensive. I think it’s crazy money. But the return on investment is immediate because you get immediate results as soon as it’s on an in place and turned on. You save that that stack of time. It’s it’s instant, it’s there, so I love the immediate results that you get from it. You obviously reduce practice overheads. You can provide a better client experience as well, so if everything is digital and in a workflow, you can see there from the example that I just gave before, we can just go in and look at the data. We can look at the transactions we can see who did what, when, where, it’s up to what’s going on. Who’s on late? But it doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be something basic, so the client will call up and go. Oh hey, I need to speak to to Matthew or hey, I need to speak to Jenny and you go. Oh, just give me one second. Oh yeah, actually there. They’re only there due back On this date. Can we book you in because they have calendar availability? Then why don’t I send you the online bookings link and you can just book in. It will have your fees, fees estimate for having that conversation included in the email that you get as you make the booking and then it comes through your calendar right? So better client experience. That’s great, it’s great to be able to do that. I always say more billable hour time now. Another, we’re going through a process of cultural process in the legal. About it’s not all about the billable hour. It’s not all about the time that you can commit to clients. You need some time for yourself so. Maybe it’s not the billable hour, and maybe it’s just having more time for yourself or to spend with your family, or to go and do something that’s that’s not quite focused or client related, so that’s a really powerful thing to have as well. Getting started now comes the pitch. I just I just squeeze it in there somewhere. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. There is never such thing as a free lunch, so getting started how we might be able to help you. We can both see capacity and capability, so this is your ability to execute. If you wanted to do something like this, where would you go and who would you ask for assistance but isn’t going to sell your product, so this isn’t a product pitch. I want you to buy a new product, most of you already have a product that’s appropriate to do this type of stuff, But what you might not have is just the capacity and capability internally to deliver these types of projects. That certainly somewhere where we can help you in your ability to execute on and deliver those. And we have previous results. So there’s a couple of firms that we work with and there’s a couple of case studies. I think in a booklet that we have somewhere. One of my favorite stories is a customer of ours in Brisbane. We implemented digital workflow. Thank you to Steve for that. All his work on that one implemented a digital workflow solution built on SharePoint. His comments, tasks that used to take 15 minutes for me to complete his illegal practitioner, director, non billable tasks, 15 minutes 3 minutes. But each time that process needs to occur. So the amount of time he’s regained just from implementing these systems is unbelievable. What is he doing with that extra time? At the moment he’s spending more. Time doing litigation crazy, but what he will do eventually is he’ll grow the practice and he’ll take some more time to spend with his family. You know that was his goal out of all of this was to put in place a system that was scalable so that he could grow without him having to contribute X amount more time to the practice just to facilitate that growth. So now he has the comfort and the ability to do that which is really exciting. What we can do is a one hour free consultation, so that’s what we’re offering to anybody who is here today or who has registered to attend. So for those of you who are going to copy of this, we’re doing a one hour free consultation where you can come to us and say, hey, we’ve got this idea. Here’s what we want to do. Can you help us do that? And we can give you some advice and help you with some documentation so you can start putting that together to deliver that through to your practice. So thank you very much for your time everyone. I hope this was valuable to you. We’ve certainly seen the value in practice once we’ve put in place for our other clients, so I’m hoping you’ll do the same and experience the same results. Thank you.