Working with forms methodology

Introduction

My methodology for process management is so simple that the common reaction is “boring.” But it fits my goal of helping organizations to stop “reinventing the wheel.”

Forms and tables

Why use forms?

Aside from checklists, forms are the second most simple management tool. Forms have been proven effective for hundreds of years, and children already know how to use forms. Forms are an age-old alternative, or better still a complement to modern management fads.

Why use tables?

Since the early spreadsheet applications (i.e., Microsoft Excel) were introduced, every office worker now uses tables. Tables are a universal tool for storing data in various formats. With modern table tools (e.g., Airtable, Microsoft Lists), users have a simple alternative to traditional spreadsheets (e.g., Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets).

Why use already implemented software tools?

Workplace and collaboration software tools spread like Covid-19. Thousands of software tool vendors explain the advantages of their expensive software tools while Google (Google Forms, Google Sheets) and Microsoft (Microsoft Forms, Microsoft Tables) are copying these tools for their software suites. It’s obvious to first test already introduced software tools for their suitability instead of introducing additional ones.

Which software tools are already implemented?

Nearly all organizations use Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace as the foundation of their office & collaboration software tool landscape. Horizontal software tools for communication & collaboration can be useful but with Google and Microsoft integrating copycats of these tools in their suites, the necessity for extra spending becomes questionable.

What are some other possible software tools?

Besides collaboration suites and vertical (function/industry) software tools, the number of horizontal communication & collaboration software tools is exploding. Various types of workflow tools fight for limited market space. If organizations do introduce additional software tools, this often doesn’t happen organization-wide, which can be challenging when designing transparent process interfaces.

Crowd intelligence

Why use forms for more than simple transactional processes?

Using forms is ideal for modularizing, systematizing, and standardizing business processes. Today, many organizational challenges are part of projects which are far less structured than processes. The idea of “crowd intelligence” isn’t for everyone but if you and your colleagues find it interesting, forms are the perfect tool to try it out.

What’s crowd intelligence?

Crowd intelligence describes the inclusion of several people in the analysis and decision-making process, which results in better organizational outcomes. Independently deciding individuals are likely to make certain types of decisions and predictions better than individuals or even experts, which draws parallels with statistical sampling. In other words, the structured inclusion of many viewpoints results in better analysis and viewpoints by aggregating the expertise and experience of many, instead of a few so-called experts.

What are the elements of crowd intelligence?

Crowd intelligence needs five key criteria for success:

  • Diversity of opinion: Each person should have private information, even if it is just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts.
  • Independence: People's opinions are not determined by the opinions of those around them.
  • Decentralization: People can specialize and draw on local knowledge.
  • Aggregation: Some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision.
  • Trust: Each person trusts the collective group to be fair.

Source: Wikipedia

Why is crowd intelligence effective?

Crowd intelligence draws on the expertise and experience of many instead of a limited number of so-called experts. Many viewpoints in analysis and decision-making ensure that the decision-maker takes as many aspects as possible into account. Others argue that crowd wisdom is best suited for problems that involve optimization, but is ill-suited for problems that require creativity or innovation.

What does crowd intelligence need to be effective?

Crowd intelligence requires the removal of structuring and leading the decision-making process. This means that a central authority should design the questions to be answered by the crowd, and the project outcomes should be decided early in the process (to what the crowd can contribute). The central authority also filters, manages, and controls individual contributions.

Why is crowd intelligence efficient?

Today’s organizations based on the Western (business) culture require a high degree of cooperation and coordination to make decisions. This means that the alleged/supposed decision-maker must take many stakeholder opinions and viewpoints into account. The corresponding leader cannot avoid this stakeholder management, but crowd intelligence (with forms) can significantly speed up this task.

Why is crowd decision-making sustainable?

Crowd decision-making includes the necessary stakeholders contributing with their expertise and opinions. This is necessary and useful, but it can be a tiring process without a proper decision-making process. Crowd decision-making with the help of forms includes all relevant stakeholders. Still, it structures the process in a way that the team discusses every question only once and collects all relevant input at the same time.

How does crowd intelligence work?

Most organizations already incorporate a high number of team members and stakeholders into their decision-making; collaborative decision-making is here to stay. This feels complicated and lengthy in many cases without the right process/project structure and a fitting software tool. Structured crowd intelligence ensures the analysis and feedback process is well organized in advance, and that the right software tools collect individual contributions ready to be used by the process/project leader for their decision-making.

How can forms help structure crowd intelligence?

Forms can collect simple process-related information which has a transactional nature, as well as complex process- and project-related information for which collaborative decision-making through crowd intelligence is useful. For the analysis and decision-preparation use case, the process/project leader sets up the form with the right questions, leads the crowd (team members and stakeholders) through the topic and the form, and makes decisions based on the form responses. In this case, the form works as a complex process/project information and opinion elicitation tool.

Further development

What comes after forms and tables?

After forms in combination with tables are implemented, organizations may want to develop their business process support further. Vertical functional (e.g., human resource, sales, procurement) and industry (e.g., professional services automation) software tools are in many cases possible solutions for specific process areas. In addition, organizations may want to introduce an additional generic software tool to cover all other process areas for which no vertical software tool is in use.

What are some workflow software tools?

Common horizontal software categories are wiki, workflow, and other collaboration tools. Workflow software tools are a good complement to the software portfolio that the two market-leading collaboration suites bring with them. Workflow software tools exist from simple (e.g., Pipefy) to sophisticated (e.g., ServiceNow). The choice depends on the individual organizational needs, the preferences of the organizational stakeholders, and the selling skills of the software vendors and their professional services partners.

What comes after workflow software tools?

If the organization needs more customization and/or the integration of external stakeholders, a low-code software tool can be the next step. The current trend of no-code (and low-code) software tools brings a vast selection in a competitive vendor landscape. The no-code software tools integrated with the leading collaboration suites (i.e., Google Workspace, Microsoft 365) should be the first try to simplify the tool landscape and limit licensing spending.

What comes after no-code software tools?

Low-code software tools (e.g., Mendix, OutSystems) simplify the development of large-scale software applications. In many cases, these software tools bring a heavy lock-in effect and significantly reduce the resource investment into software development. Low-code software tools should be at least considered when making the next step from a low-code software tool.

Reinventing the wheel

What’s the challenge?

Individuals in organizations are reinventing the wheel again and again, where “wheels” are processes, documents, approaches, strategies, and other organizational outputs. Sometimes people in organizations state “we’re reinventing the wheel here”, but in most cases, nobody thinks about this challenge too much. This thinking doesn’t take the tremendous amount of inter-organizational reinvention into account.

Why should someone solve this challenge?

I estimate that reinventing the bureaucratic wheel (e.g., basic organizational challenges without competitive advantages) costs hundreds of billions of EUR/USD per year. (The question of what is a “competitive advantage” instead of a basic bureaucratic process remains open.) One main advantage of professional services (a billion-dollar industry) is spreading expertise and experience throughout organizations. Besides people who think this is an embarrassment for humanity, this challenge seems to be a business opportunity.

How can we solve this?

The basic approach to fight the “reinventing the wheel” challenge is distributing written information inside and throughout organizations:

  • Economic incentives: Individuals and organizations need concrete economic incentives to start sharing information, which new business models can be an important part of.
  • Culture: Organizations (and societies) must first develop an awareness about this challenge and then develop an “information sharing culture” as part of the sharing economy.
  • Process: Organizations need processes to share and find information internally and with other organizations, simplifying the task for everyone.
  • Technology: Software tools are an important factor, together with processes, when the economic incentive and the culture are set up.

What’s the first step to solving this challenge?

People in organizations and societies must develop an awareness of the “reinventing the wheel” challenge to start thinking about the problem and possible solutions. This hasn’t happened yet. This is an advantage for entrepreneurs because not-yet-discovered and therefore unsolved problems are the foundation for new business models.

What’s the most challenging part of solving this challenge?

To make information available, people must learn to share their wisdom openly. This is a cultural issue; why should people inside the same organization hesitate to share information with their colleagues openly? Yet there are discussions about what information to share, with whom, and if decided, proactively or on request. In most cases (an exception is sensitive information), proactively sharing nearly all information with almost everyone in the same organization makes sense.

What’s not so challenging?

Information development, management, and sharing don’t require a high degree of creativity, which makes this task a bit easier. New business models based around information sharing need creativity to be developed but information sharing inside organizations or between (public) organizations is a cultural challenge and doesn’t require any creativity at all. The high number of collaboration software tools shows that there is too much technology available and that the culture must develop next.

Contribution

How can individuals make contributions?

Everyone can easily share information with the public by setting up a website and publishing his/her good practices on it. A corresponding business model could help incentivize the individual but isn’t a requirement to share something. Building up thought leadership brings fame and money without a specific business model.

How can organizations make contributions?

Organizations can design a business model which incentivizes them to make good practice information publicly available for free. But consider that the world has enough marketing content available; therefore there is no need for more bullshit bingo reports. True good practices need an incentive built into the organization's business model, instead of a marketing guy publishing something in the hopes of additional business.

How can individuals and organizations make money by sharing information?

Open source business models are a challenge to develop, and so are open information business models. Selling information doesn’t work very well, which the publishing industry and the revenue stream of authors demonstrate. Selling anything and publishing information only for marketing reasons doesn’t bring much value. Business models for open source software are a good starting point for innovation.

How can governments make contributions?

You would think that tax-payer-funded government agencies and other public organizations (incl. public companies) have an incentive to make their expertise publicly available for free. The opposite is true: They don’t publish anything if you aren’t asking for it and in many cases you have to sue them to get the information. Here you can see again that the foundations are cultural challenges that need entrepreneurs to solve.