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Transforming Broken Forms Into Useful Ones

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How many times have you had to fill out a government form, only to find yourself struggling to fit all the required information in impossibly small boxes? These processes illustrate a broken workflow, but not how you might think.

Broken Forms

© Flickr user Oregon Department of Transportation

It’s incredibly easy to find a paper form that requires tiny, perfect handwriting. Here’s a closeup of just one example: a small section of State Form 52802 (R2 / 1-09) / CW 2182. (Try saying that three times fast!)

business process methodology form

That’s a little over two inches to fit in a telephone number and not quite three inches to write an entire email address. Unless you are a human typewriter or happen to have something as concise as bob@yahoo.com, it’s extremely difficult to fit precise information inside that space.

The temptation is to complain about the form or begrudgingly accept these paper systems as the way things are. Yet, even without diving inside the state department that produces these, it’s easy to recognize what is likely happening:

  • The person who manages the form has never tried to fill it out.
  • The people who conduct data entry never talk to the form’s maintainer.
  • Those who complete the form have no opportunity for feedback.

All three of these groups are important stakeholders in the process, and all three are connected by the workflow implied by the form. The recipe for fixing these issues is as straightforward as identifying them:

  • If you make something others will use, at least try using it yourself!
  • If you see problems in something made by others, reach out to them with feedback.
  • System maintainers and system users should have a mechanism of direct communication.

While these may seem like simple solutions, there’s no lack of areas that can fall short when it comes to functionality. That could be due to the fact that implementing these solutions is no easy task. Change requires real commitment from everyone involved. To fix a government form, multiple departments may have to be consulted, multiple approvals may have to be given, an extra route of communication would potentially have to be created, and a great cost could be incurred. Fixing a broken workflow at your business can have its challenges, but it’s likely a much simpler process than what the government is faced with.

Regardless of the challenges implementing large or small changes presents, the results of a bad workflow can be even worse. Sticking with the example of tiny government forms, if the box is too small, then either all of the information won’t fit, or the person filling out the form will have to write so small that their response becomes nearly illegible. And if the response is illegible, then the form is failing to serve its purpose. If the box was slightly larger, then not only would the person writing have an easier time, but the employee tasked with deciphering that data would also have a much easier time. Everybody wins!

Identifying a problem such as this one serves to highlight the potential workflow issues laid out in the bulleted list above. Not only can fixing those issues solve this specific problem, but it can keep similar problems from popping up in the future. No matter how seemingly insignificant of a problem you encounter, it’s worth looking at the bigger picture to see if there is a broken workflow at your business. Sorting out the problem early could save everyone involved a ton of time and headache in the future.

If you see these problems in your organization, no matter where you are, ask for help. Contact our business improvement consultants at AccelaWork today!

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