The workstream theory has recently become like the new kid on the block. For over a century the assembly line theory of product creation, made famous by Henry Ford, has been the general model traditionally followed.
But one of the drawbacks to this model is that its not as efficient as being able to work on the different parts of the production schedule all at once. This is what a workstream was created to address.
A work stream (or workstream) is the progressive completion of various tasks that are done by different groups in a company, working on a single product. A work stream emphasizes on a non-linear method by which people or teams work together simultaneously for the end product during a project or business process.
Since everyone on the team is involved throughout the process, they can make necessary adjustments for a more seamless outcome. This is because everyone sees the product evolve and can contribute to ensure its optimum quality. This is unlike departments or people working in isolation to complete their part of the product without getting fully involved in the evolution of the product.
How Does a Work Stream Function?
Many industries today have moved towards a work stream model. Some examples include the hospitality, food, healthcare, media and entertainment industry. Work streams are a set of predefined processes which set out the structure of activities from the beginning to the end. To ensure that the entire process flows smoothly, work streams make use of the right people, through the right tasks, set to function across an appropriate time.
For example, an IT company tasked with setting up new equipment for an office premises might include procuring equipment -> checking equipment -> installing equipment at the office premises -> configuring equipment -> testing equipment. In this example, all required organizational units and people function as a work stream, from procurement to checking, installation, configuration and testing the product before handing it over to the client. In the IT industry usually different types of engineers perform different tasks, such as setting up the hardware, networking and configuring the software. Hence, we can see from this example as to how each person or organizational unit can collaborate to create a refined end product.
Leading a Work Stream
A workstream is led by someone who is assigned to lead the team, who is the workstream owner or lead. The task of the assigned individual is to coordinate between all people or groups working together to achieve the end product.
Multiple Work Streams in an Organization
An organization can create different work streams for various products, processes and services. In some cases, one work stream can also be used for analysis of another work stream. For example, a quality assurance work stream can be tasked with analyzing the quality of a work stream creating a specific product.
Work Stream Collaboration
Collaboration between a work stream and different work streams within an organization can greatly benefit a product, service or process. Various digital tools can be used for collaboration between a work stream to effectively work on activities from start to finish. Similarly, you can map out the various work streams working on products, services and solutions in your organization and find ways to encourage collaboration between them. There are many digital tools and services such as LivePlan, ProjectPartner and Asana that can help you out in streamlining your workstreams and encouraging collaboration between them.
Work Streams not Silos
When organizational departments work in silos, the organization becomes dysfunctional. We can see silos as a stream separating itself from the rest, considering itself as an autonomous entity. This results in selfish departmental or individual goals taking priority over the end product or organizational goals. This is where work streams can enable organizations to eliminate silos.
Work streams are effective in improving the quality of the end product and allowing collaboration between different groups in an organization. Work streams discourage silos, which can often build up in offices to an extent that people sitting in the same open plan space might not know about the activities of their colleagues from another department occupying the same space. The end product in a work stream are essentially core activities that are to be carried out by different people or groups to finish a single product or work on a single process. This encourages collaboration and raises the stakes for everyone involved, as any negligence would also affect them. The end result is a refined product, in line with predefined quality standards and better employee coordination.
Many organizations already work in a manner similar to work streams, it is merely the perspective of viewing teams as work streams and encouraging the required collaboration that can make all the difference.
Work Stream Relationships
The work stream “owner” may be any person assigned as the work stream’s point person. The role is referred to by any number of names, including Lead, Manager, Coordinator or Owner. It is the work stream “owner’s” responsibility to coordinate work within the work stream and to work with the project manager in overall planning, providing estimates, resource commitments, and risk analysis. Once initial planning is done, the work stream owner is responsible for making sure the work assigned to their work stream is being accomplished and for regularly reporting to the project manager. The work stream owner is accountable to the Project Manager.
Work stream owners and their management must understand and commit to this relationship. Often, in matrixed environments, the role of the Project Manager is not given the level of authority required to get the job done effectively. This results in a “weak matrix” and, inevitably, to suboptimal performance and unnecessary conflict. In a healthy environment, the work stream owner “reports to” the PM and may also be responsible to and under the authority of a functional line manager or executive who is outside of the project.
This term “reports to” can cause confusion and conflict. Here, it means accountable to. It means that the person must inform the PM of activities performed (progress and status reports, issues, etc.) or to be performed (plans, estimates, etc.) within the project. In addition, the management of the groups providing resources to the work stream is obligated to report any changes that might affect the project and to ensure that the resources have a clear understanding of their responsibilities to the Project Manager.
The project encompasses all the work required to achieve project objectives, regardless of who performs the work.
The PM may or may not have any other authority but without the ability to get information and influence the quality of a work stream’s output, the PM cannot manage.
Work Streams and QC
Getting information and engagement in planning may be easy or not, depending on the character of the organization and the skill of the project manager in setting up an easy to use reporting mechanism and motivating the stakeholders to take part.
The realm of quality control and performance effectiveness is more complex than simply getting status reports. Ultimately, the PM must be able to assess the quality of deliverables and of performance in general and to act on the results.
The PM can delegate this responsibility to a Quality Assurance and Control work stream, but that works stream must be independent of the work stream whose work is being assessed. Further, there must be candid feedback regarding quality, and that feedback must be based on objective criteria.
To avoid conflict, the organization does well to educate everyone regarding the power of receiving candid and objective feedback and its relationship to continuous improvement. That’s a subject for another article.
Work Streams – Not Silos
The bottom line is that in complex projects, programs, and processes, work is performed by people in several organizations with different specialties. Managing in a matrix is efficient and can be effective if definitions and relationships are clear and mutually agreed upon.
Work streams are functional teams contributing to a project or business process. When the stream cuts itself off from the other work streams and thinks of itself as a fully autonomous independent entity, it turns into a silo. Silos are great for storing grain, but, in organizations, silos are dysfunctional.
Healthy work streams contribute to success. They recognize that their work is only of real value because it contributes to project success. Healthy work streams recognize that it is not enough to take in a set of requirements and pop out a result. Communication and collaboration with others is part of the job.
Consider the images conjured up by the words. If you are inside a silo, you have walls that keep you from seeing the big picture and keep outsiders from seeing what is going on within. If you are in a stream there is a sense of differentiation and identification with your group, but you can see out and those who are outside can see in. It is like multiple channels in a river, converging to make the river a mighty one.