Next-Gen Workflows

Pejman Pour-Moezzi

4 min read

Rise of the End-User

Our focus at Reflective is on the end-user — the individual worker using our software. We are part of a growing movement wherein the best companies are recognizing that they can drive strong, scaleable business results by giving employees more autonomy in their work.

These companies share a common set of insights in empowering employees:

  • Improving the employee experience drives better performance and employee retention
  • Removing bureaucratic layers greatly increases organizational agility
  • Recognizing that employees are in the best position to make many key decisions
  • Empowering employees to respond to unplanned situations is key to exceptional customer experiences

This shift from top-down command and control style management to a more bottom-up distributed organization requires a rethinking of workflow software. At Reflective, we are building next-gen workflow software to leverage an end-user's local knowledge — the subtle knowledge on effective responses to particular situations that can only be developed through direct experience.

We are building our product to embody five principles:

Reflective's Five Principles

1. Empower end-users to build their own software

End-users are in the best position to solve their own problems. The feel for a situation, its contours and edge cases is exceedingly difficult to communicate to someone else. Real costs of time and money are incurred each time you need to go up the chain of command or through intermediaries.

We've observed that many of today's workflows are built on complex, legacy ERPs that require third-party consultants to customize. This creates many layers of bureaucracy between the worker and their tools. It's no wonder much of the work is being done in shadow tools outside the official workflow software. Instead of working directly in Salesforce, for example, a salesperson will use their own documents and spreadsheets to better shape processes to their specific needs.

This proves problematic for companies as they lose visibility into critical data & workflows. The tension here arises because legacy workflow software is too slow and complex to keep up with the needs of the worker. To achieve ultimate agility, businesses need no-code workflow software that can be shaped by end-users — the very workers with direct knowledge of the workflow.

2. Eliminate context switching

Today we have more point solutions than ever. Increasing software specialization means that SaaS sprawl and tab overload have become the standard operating environment for knowledge workers. The average knowledge worker in the US today uses 13 different apps at least 30 times per workday (Asana's Anatomy of Work 2021). All this context switching saps mental energy, increases stress, and leads to poorer decision-making.

The solution we're taking is to integrate the fragmented tools that makeup a workflow into an end-to-end experience within a single user interface. This allows end-users to perform at their best by providing context and enabling action without all the jarring interruptions and reorientations.

3. Emphasize the human touch with augmentation

Automation capabilities are rapidly expanding, driven by a dizzying number of tailwinds including the rise of AI/ML, SaaS, public APIs, modern data stacks, iPaaS, and RPA. Most of the activity in automation today is in full automation. For now that means automating rote, high-volume activities that can be executed with simple if this, then that logic (i.e., no human involvement). Looking ahead though, there are many within the tech industry that idealize a future where humans are not involved in most productive endeavors — it's just fully automated bits & atoms.

While full automation no doubt has major applications and benefits, we believe the bigger opportunity in automation is in augmenting end-users. This is not just because we are wary of unfettered shifts in automation without consideration for human well-being. We also sincerely believe that in the majority of high-value workflows, you can't beat human ingenuity. Pairing a person's real world familiarity, high adaptability, and interpersonal skills with a computer's ability to present context and carry out actions is a winning combo. Ultimately you need a healthy dose of human touch in your organization's workflows to reach peak performance.

Today, human involvement is an afterthought in automation platforms; it's bolted on with people acting as exception handlers when something goes wrong. We're taking the opposite approach by building a strong user experience from day one. We want Reflective to be the best place for operators to manually take actions in other apps. They can then incrementally shift a manual action to fully automated when it makes sense. This human-centric approach is how automation can extend to reach the most valuable workflows.

4. Increase the agility of companies

These last two principles help reframe our impact at a company level.

The reality is that every company is becoming a software company. Even in the most traditional industries, increasingly the majority of the customer and employee experience is designed, monitored and mediated in software. Unfortunately the current paradigm leaves companies at an uncomfortable distance from truly owning and differentiating these experiences. Having to work through system integrators on complex customizations of unwieldy ERPs is slow, frustrating and expensive. Many companies felt this pain poignantly over the last year as they were unable to adapt quickly enough to catastrophic change. While hopefully we won't see anything as acute as COVID anytime soon, the reality is that the pace of change in the business world is always accelerating. We seek to support companies that are prioritizing agility by bringing critical workflow software in-house.

5. Create operational excellence feedback loops

There are two kinds of companies: those painfully aware of how little they know about their critical workflows, and those blissfully ignorant. The reality is that many of the details of how work actually gets done exist only in the heads of individual employees — hence our focus on the end-user in the first place. Getting organizational visibility on workflows is a critical first step in creating process improvement feedback loops. Many companies end up hiring expensive business process consultants to discover and document their processes, but of course this effort only acts as a point-in-time snapshot. The insights inevitably go stale. Separately there is considerable investment going into "Process Discovery" AI that continuously monitors employees computers to uncover this information. We believe our solution is both simpler and less creepy. By enabling end-users to apply their knowledge to designing their own end-to-end workflows, the organization gains this information as an invaluable byproduct. In other words, the end-user tool doubles as documentation. And because all the steps in the workflow happen within a single surface, it becomes straightforward to measure efficacy and rollout process improvements.