Most of us don’t really like to have a list of rules to follow all the time, but if we were really honest with ourselves, it is nice to have instructions to fall back on when things get complicated. Instead of seeing a defined workflow as a limitation, look at it as a tool—instructions to fall back on so things don’t get complicated.

First, sit down with your team and write down every step to a typical project. It’s important to work together so you catch every step, because there will be something you didn’t think of that someone else remembered to list. We do a bunch of things on autopilot, and you’d be surprised how hard it can be to list every step individually, but it keeps things from falling through the cracks.

Then define the process, much like an outline or a storyboard. If you have defined roles, clarify when and how the project will change hands. If each employee works through a project from start to finish, it is still helpful to have a check list of steps with clearly stated instructions on how to save, store and submit projects for review.

Once you have a defined process, with or without assigned roles, look at your physical environment. Do those steps require a lot of back-and-forth between areas of the office? You may be a simple rearranging of furniture away from a less stressful and more successful environment. What about your tech? Are you doing extra work to make up for deficiencies in the system?

The technical workflow is often the most important aspect, tracking the file’s progress through the steps as it is edited using different equipment for specific purposes. If you could take three pieces of equipment and convert them into one, fewer stops on the file’s journey means less digesting time, if nothing else.

To be efficient, there should be a clear path for every project and person, with agreed-upon procedures. The project will travel through the steps to the finish line, and each team member will know exactly what’s expected of them along the way.

When it starts, the business is often just a handful of friends, and the procedures are less tangible and more conversational. People worry that having procedures makes you just as bad as the corporate crud you left behind when you boldly stepped into your dreams, but not everything “the man” does is so terrible. CEOs also breathe, and even though I don’t want to be anything like them, I’m still going to breathe, too.

Having a defined workflow doesn’t make you a bureaucrat, it makes you organized. Don’t think of it as burdening your friends with rules, think of it as giving your friends a map that, if you all follow it, will take you to success without conflict or confusion. You can still have no dress code—that’s ok.

And if the whole idea sounds horrible, give us a call. We’ll walk you through it. You can even blame the changes on us that way, but be careful with that...blame turns into credit as soon as everyone sees the improvement.