Workflow Has Three E’s

When discussing how a business operates – how folks in the company go about the business of getting work done – the conversation almost always boils down to a discussion of the problems, conditions and challenges to consistently getting the work right and on time.

No mud. No flow. We got to go.
(Deepwater Horizon, 2016)

Sometimes the focus is on people and other times it is on resources or processes, but the underlying context is that there are kinks in the line which interrupt the flow. When the flow is interrupted, bad things can happen.

The flow in business is the workflow: those strung-together processes which make up the work and form the operation.

The workflow guides workers in the performance of their jobs, informing them about who is supposed to do what when, and sometimes even why.

Structured and managed workflow drives the 3 E’s in business: Efficiency, Effectiveness and Evolution.

In almost every discussion about structuring work and documenting processes and procedures, the terms “efficient” and “effective” come up.  In fact, it is hard to have a conversation on these subjects without running into those terms. Most organizations recognize that worker efficiency and process effectiveness are guided and informed by structured workflows, so desk reference guides and operations manuals become the norm. What may be somewhat less obvious is the evolutionary aspect of modeling business workflows, where improvements small and large may be uncovered or identified at any level of work while it is being described and modeled. A solid workflow management system serves to remove any memory impairment in a business, memorializing not just the process but its result as part of the historic record of the business. This data assists in supporting ongoing process evolution, ensuring continued alignment with changing business conditions and goals.

Modeling the operation and applying conditional elements like timing and resource availability can make the difference between useful guidance and a semi-useful handbook of procedures.

As business conditions change so does the workflow. Unlike with printed manuals, the software system that is used to structure workflows and provide worker guidance can also supply data necessary to support change.  Using a software solution to manage workflow creates an agility in the business that is necessary to make meaningful adjustments when it matters –prior to or with change, rather than far after.

This article is the 3rd in series, and focuses on how business workflows are supported and informed by the right software solution.  Even more, that activity tracking and process controls should be part of the structure and foundation for worker activities, where workers perform their job functions while the systems that guide them capture meaningful information regarding those activities and transactions.

The thesis is that creating structured workflows not only informs workers what is expected of them and when, but the act of creating and updating the workflows helps identify disconnected processes, finds missing process data, smooths cross-functional transitions, and identifies missing or ineffectual policies. There are numerous conversations and interactions that wrap around or influence every activity and transaction. The goal is modeling the business and workflows in a way that not only defines worker activities but also connects those activities (transactions) to the related documents, contacts, policies and other data involved or impacted.

Whether there are a few or many individuals involved in the business, there are tasks and activities which must be performed in particular order and manner.

For a few people to efficiently and effectively manage the work, it is essential that there be clarity in what should happen and when and by whom it is to be done.  It may seem that crafting workflow systems to guide these activities could be overkill, where a few people could communicate directly and let each other know what and when. Really, it only seems that way and typically only when things are going just right. Change a factor or condition or make an individual unavailable to perform the work and things can change dramatically.  What was once a seemingly straightforward operation becomes mysteriously ineffective when critical players or information are no longer available.

Without structure to guide and support the entire organization, any part may fail to perform when the essential elements holding the process together are removed. The result is dis-satisfaction with the work as well as the result. In the end, it means reduced performance reflected as lower productivity, lower work quality, lower customer satisfaction levels, and lower profits. As with any legend or lore, details in the “tribal knowledge” are lost over time and what was once trusted and workable ultimately fails in the face of progress.

These truths became the focus of a conversation with Jerie Harrell of Small Business Solutions LLC (SBS) based in Huntsville, Alabama. Jerie works with Bob Crook, also known as “QB Bob,” and his team of certified consultants offering on-site and remote setup, training, instruction, and ongoing maintenance of QuickBooks financial solutions for small to mid-sized businesses. SBS prides themselves on forming long-term relationships with their clients. According to Jerie, the team “is always there after the sale; we don’t walk away after a customer buys from us”.

“I often tell clients we are like an Oreo cookie, with the accountant on one side and the client business on the other” Jerie says. ”We’re the creamy center that holds everybody together and makes things work together. The client’s business is more efficient and gets things done faster with our support, and the accountant gets better data”.

Keeping things coordinated with the consultants, supporting clients and managing ordering and other activities keeps Jerie very busy most days. Layer into those responsibilities the added requirement to plan for expansion and train new personnel and the workload gets even bigger. There is a lot of information to manage, lots of procedures to work through, and the regular work needs to be done completely, accurately and in a timely manner or the machine breaks down and customers don’t get the products or services they need when they need them.  Just thinking about taking a vacation or maybe even retiring causes chills to run up and down her spine because Jerie knows she has more work to do before that could really happen. This is where the discussion about workflow and process support really started.

Jerie knows that you have to “keep things simple and keep the flow simple” in order to get everyone to participate. Her background in process analysis and improvement is really helpful to the business, because it enforces the understanding that things need to be fully documented and communicated clearly. “If you get things written down.. the processes and procedures, then the staff can be more efficient and effective.  They get more work done, production goes up, sales go up, and then you can hire more people. “

Speaking of hiring new people, this is another area that Jerie knows she needs to address and is among the reasons for looking at a structured workflow system. Also, while the idea of retirement sounds increasingly attractive on some days, the challenge is that Jerie’s job has been developed over many years and there isn’t a comprehensive guide to how she does it all. She has created a way of working and a flow that meets the needs of the business, and transitioning all that knowledge is no small endeavor. “Having things structured and documented is the key. I always have procedure manuals on every desk, but that doesn’t cover everything. The workflow, time management, and the underlying processes should be visible to others because even if a key person isn’t available, business still has to go on”.

Synergy Enterprise is a business management solution from the Dutch software company Exact (

Looking at CRM and workflow solutions, and specifically at the Synergy Enterprise system from Exact Software, is the next big step in solving the workflow problem and setting up the business to learn more from its activities.

“Transparency in the workflows and processes allows you to analyze them, identify bottlenecks and where improvements can be made” says Jerie.

“It’s like TQM (Total Quality Management) embedded in the CRM: you manage from the bottom up.  When I look at CRM, I really see workflow.  It’s everything in the business: everyone is a customer… even your boss is a customer, and the goal is to provide great customer support throughout the organization. I try to help inform management about work performance, but there are a lot of issues that are intertwined. How do you measure that without a good system?”

Summing things up, Jerie suggests that implementing Synergy in a business might be similar to using something like Google Analytics to analyze and understand website activity.  She asks “why not track the activities performed in everyday business? Why did the customer not buy from you and what needs to happen to change that outcome? You need to know more!”

All three E’s are there, and I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Make Sense?


  • Series Introduction:  Fringe to Foundation: Aligning Business Goals and Lifting Business Performance through Digital Workflows
  • Article 1: Every Business Deserves a Chance to be Better
  • Article 2: Improve Processes and Profit More

Improve Processes and Profit More

Reducing paper, streamlining the work and producing better financial results

Article 2 in 4-part series

When it comes to providing solutions that help small businesses manage their finances and other information, Intuit QuickBooks is typically the first choice. This decision usually occurs just after the business determines what sort of productivity and messaging (email/voice) solutions will be used, and more often right after the first revenues are earned which need to be accounted for.

For most small businesses, having a copy of QuickBooks is how the company tracks the money.

What’s interesting is that most of these small businesses really operate outside of the financial application, doing the actual deliverable work using some other type of solution. Finding a way to support the work performed in the business and then having all that information flow through to the accounting system isn’t always easy.

On the one hand there are the people, resources and activities which make up the work, but there are payroll, billing, expenses and cash management activities that result from all that work. Tracking it all in a meaningful and affordable way was exactly the challenge that Jeff and Donovan Sachs faced with their business, Alembic Computer Services, Inc.

Alembic Computer Services is among those small businesses that use QuickBooks for financial management but not to actually support the wide variety of processes that make up the business.

ACSI, also known as the QB Resource Center, sells QuickBooks software and provides custom development and implementation services to customers throughout the US. The team at ACSI recognizes the benefits of applying the right technology and applications to any particular task, and embraces the same philosophy and working models internally that they recommend to their forward thinking clients.

The business of software development and implementation isn’t simple, and it is founded in the delivery of professional consulting and development services. Where some professional service offerings may be standardized to the point of enabling “templated” production and performance, custom software configuration and development requires that each project be viewed individually in order to fully understand the requirements and deliverables.

Where the actual production requirements of the project may be unique, the processes for guiding the flow of work through the business are highly consistent and well understood.

Providing consulting and implementation support in addition to custom development has introduced Alembic Computer Services to a wide variety of businesses and working models.  Because QuickBooks software is recognized as a fundamental tool for most small companies, delivering guidance and support to QuickBooks customers became a solid foundation for discovering where customization or other software implementations were required in order to fully address the business needs of their clients.

What became apparent to ACSI while working with these vastly different organizations was that there were similarities in the fundamental workflows and information management processes, and that these processes were not being adequately supported by any of the accounting or ERP systems. Even more than with software customization and development, ACSI recognizes the potential for helping a wide range of businesses with improvements that could be made by implementing standardized workflow and business process support systems.

The real basis for delivering work at Alembic Computer Services is the team that makes up the company. 

Fully leveraging the capabilities of each developer and supporting staff member is essential to creating and retaining profitability, which places employee time, resource and project management as the absolute top priorities. Managing the scope of information necessary to support each consulting or development project is no small task, nor is managing the time and activities of a team of developers and other employees, and flowing all of that data through to scheduling, payroll and billing systems.

To meet these internal requirements as well as establishing a basis for expanding high value service offerings to clients, Alembic Computer Services selected Exact Synergy Enterprise, a business management solution from the Dutch software company Exact (

“For over 35 years, the tag line at Alembic has been ‘Productivity by Design’. It is our mission to improve the businesses of our clients by providing quality software solutions and the highest level of customer service. Exact Synergy Enterprise provides us with a unique tool that enables us to help almost any business achieve a greater level of productivity. With our many years of experience with Synergy, we are very excited to be the ones to introduce this special product to the QuickBooks community.”

Alembic Computer Services stands out among the numbers of consultants and resellers working with Synergy, largely due to the focus on bringing the value and power of Synergy Enterprise into the QuickBooks user space. 

While there are other partners selling ERP products that integrate with Synergy, Alembic Computer Services works primarily with QuickBooks Enterprise customers who need flexible workflow and business process management support that can’t be handled with QB alone or by other solutions in the QB marketplace.

“The Exact partner community has a rich history of enabling integration with other small and mid-size financial applications, giving companies the ability to modernize the business processes surrounding financial data that is so important to them. We strongly support what firms like Alembic Computer Services are doing to marry Synergy Enterprise with QuickBooks” says Philip Bini, Director for Exact Americas.

“Exact is excited to see advisors like Alembic Computer Services apply their passion for Synergy Enterprise by creating a business management blueprint for businesses that use QuickBooks for their accounting needs. Exact Synergy Enterprise allows business users to interact on their business transactions in a collaborative environment.  As a result, the integration between Synergy and QuickBooks makes the complete solution more relevant and widely accessible to QuickBooks ProAdvisors, reseller communities and the QuickBooks customer base at large. It really is an exciting time for the entire QuickBooks market to be introduced to Exact Synergy Enterprise.”

Within Synergy Enterprise, the people, actions and activities, and business resources are all tracked in order to inform other applications and processes which support the business and operation. 

By centering the Synergy workflow solution in the business applications infrastructure and utilizing its flexible and extensible framework to embrace the full realm of business activities, Alembic Computer Services is able to automate and fully streamline processes that were previously very time-consuming and which did nothing to directly support or improve business profitability.

In order to create the most efficient and high performance approach possible, Alembic Computer Services knew they wanted a solution which natively addressed standard business needs like electronic document management, customer relationship and personnel management, but which could also be custom configured to handle their development and project-related workflows at a very detailed level.

While Jeff and Donovan are developers by profession, there was little interest in embarking on a large customization project to support their own business needs, so any solution would have to provide not only strong essential functionality right out of the box, but should allow for a great deal of customization of the solution without coding. Synergy delivered on those capabilities richly.

Using a standards-based approach to framing the activities and guided by logic infused into the Synergy system, Alembic Computer Services created their own professional project management and time and billing system within Synergy that directly and efficiently addresses the specific tasks, activities, resources and services involved in any given customer project. Storing not just customer and baseline project information, the system tracks every document, activity, research item and production element which associates to the performance of the tasks or which is provided through guided workflow.

Further, by integrating the project, time and resource data with their QuickBooks financials, the company was able to create an end-to-end solution which addresses the wide array of activities involved in running the business, increasing efficiency and effectiveness in back-office operations as well as those in front. This benefit was among those most apparent to Alembic Computer Services, and was the fuel behind the development of the integration between QuickBooks and Synergy.

Unaccounted for time or resources, incomplete task performance, and undocumented project activities leads to inconsistent performance and lower profits.

Integrated workflows and the elimination of double-entry ensures greater accuracy in payroll, billing and other related processes, allowing ACSI personnel and business managers to more efficiently perform their required tasks, reducing friction and smoothing performance to a consistent and predictable flow.

For the project managers at Alembic Computer Services and the QB Resource Center, the big benefit of Synergy is that the developers know what projects are assigned to them at all times and can view exactly what tasks must be performed and when. For owners Jeff and Donovan Sachs, the confidence comes from knowing that every business process structured and defined, that the processes will be handled in a complete and timely manner, that all documentation and data is sufficiently collected and filed, and that their systems have the agility and power to carry the business well into the future.

Make Sense?



Read the Introduction: Fringe to Foundation: Aligning Business Goals and Lifting Business Performance through Digital Workflows

Article 1: Every Business Deserves a Chance to be Better