Designing Flags in IT Glue

BY IT GLUE | October 22, 2018

The flags feature in IT Glue adds a ton of functionality, in particular where business process improvement is concerned. The power of the feature lies in how open-ended it is: you create and deploy flags however best suits your business. But there is a risk of “flag sprawl” if you’re not careful, so let’s walk through a few pointers about designing and deploying flags. Some of this advice borrows from the study of information architecture, so it should be fairly intuitive.

Universal or Organization-Based

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make regarding flag design is whether you want to create universal flags or organization-based flags. Some things to take into consideration when doing this:

Verticals – if your clients are similar, universal flags might work fine, but if your clients are dramatically different from one another you might need organization-specific flags

Complexity – Does a high degree of specialization matter in your flags? Remember that you can write notes in each flag, so a fairly generic set of flags will make it easier to find

Future Sprawl – It’s easy to manage your flags initially because there’s only a handful, but think about what your flag library will look like 3-5 years from now if you’re constantly creating new flags. Even with a strong naming convention, the sprawl could be unruly.

Your Workflows – Do specific members of your team handle specific accounts? If so, organization-based flags probably make the most sense. This will make it easier for people to search for the flagged documents that apply to them. Universal flags are well-suited to situations where one person performs their tasks for all of your organizations.

Your Size – A very small shop can keep a very simple flag architecture, with basic naming and workflows. But if you’re a one-man shop and you work better with complex flags, go for it. Just make sure that if you ever plan to grow beyond that level that everything you do can be easily learned by others – design your flags with scale in mind if you plan on scaling in your future.

The larger your shop, the greater the temptation will be to increase complexity and specialization. Just remember that there are trade-offs at play between the ease of a simple flag structure and the specialization that comes with a complex one.

Naming Conventions

First and foremost, have a strong, consistent naming convention system for your flags. It is recommended that flag names contain the same information. The order in which this information is presented should be consistent, but use whatever works best:

Task First
“Needs Approval – Finance”
“Needs Approval – CEO”

Role First
“Finance – Needs Approval”
“Finance – Needs Revision”

Protip: Assign tasks to roles, not people. That way, when the person filling the role changes, the flag will still be valid.

Associating Tags with Workflows

How to do this is covered in our Knowledge Base. For flag design, it is worth thinking about the workflow that will be associated with the flag. If you have a flag “Needs Approval – Finance”, the workflow will probably be pretty straightforward – an alert will be sent to the finance department, or a person in charge of finance.

If, however, the workflow is fairly complex, it might be worthwhile to create a more generic flag title. For example, you sign a new client agreement, and document the details. That document, containing the contract and key client information, is then flagged. You have two options – the generic flag name or specific.

Generic Flags
A generic flag, such as “New Client Agreement Signed” can be attached to the document. This flag can have a simple workflow associated with it, for example, an email sent to each team lead with the link to the document. It would then be up to each team lead to review the SOPs and checklists associated with the new client onboarding process. The main advantage of this approach is that it is dead simple, but the downside is that there is less high-level visibility with respect to how each team lead handles their duties.

Specific Flags
This approach means creating a lot more flags, but each flag can be a little more specialized. Using the example of a new client agreement being signed, you would create multiple flags, each with associated workflows. The value in this would be if the workflows themselves are more complex and specific than in the above example.

So in the above example, instead of one generic flag that triggers an alert to a team lead, you would instead have an individual flag for each team. So “NCA signed – Finance”, “NCA signed – Onboarding” and so on. The onboarding team flag would have a workflow that alerts each team member, not just the team lead. This might allow for a faster response as each team member can spring into action without waiting for the team lead to provide direction. If you have the SOPs in place, and your team’s processes are already locked in, this approach removes some communication friction. The downside of this approach is that over time you might run into flag sprawl. This can be countered with keen attention to naming convention and use of the IT Glue search function.

These are just some starting points for designing flags. It’s important to think about naming conventions, workflows and scaling all at once, so that you design your document flagging system with overall strategic goals in mind. You might find that how you start out quickly pivots to a different approach, but if that happens just remember to go back and clean up the early flags, so that you maintain a consistent, team-wide approach to the creation and application of document flags within IT Glue.

It seems complex but removing some of the complexity early on, by thinking these things through from the outset, will help you get the most out of this powerful business process feature.

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