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Collaboration

Collaboration rules

November 28, 2022

This guide is aimed at helping you develop a simple system that you and your collaborators can use to coordinate basic processes in Workflowy without having to use a third-party app (unless you want to). In another guide Onboarding teammates we briefly mention some flows and present a way to document them when working with new collaborators. This guide goes deeper into the thinking behind good flows.

Essentially, whenever two or more people are interacting somehow in Workflowy, there's some sort of collaborative flow going on. To ensure your processes run smoothly and your collaborators know what to do, you need to think about and define the flows that make these up.

The steps to creating basic collaboration flows are:
1. Figure out what your main processes are
2. Define simple flows to explain them
3. Document your flows

Figure out what your main processes are

As we mentioned before, Workflowy can be used to collaborate in a professional setting or in a more casual one. So what we'll do is describe some common types of processes that are useful for any type of collaboration. These can be easily modified to fit the needs of teams, families, partners, and friends.

There are three basic types of flows can be combined to make any process in Workflowy. We'll go over them one by one and then mention some examples.

  • Push
  • Pull
  • Loop

Push

A push is whenever you're moving one piece of information into a collaborative space. That's generally an item you're creating. Here are some examples of that:

  • Creating a project
  • Adding a todo to a list
  • Adding meeting notes
  • Creating a journal entry
  • Creating a ticket for a lead outreach
  • Creating an item for someone else

Pull

A pull is when you're checking a specific area in your collaborative space and then pulling out an item or items into your space.
Some examples of this are:

  • Taking todos that are assigned to you
  • Starting a new project that was in a queue
  • Taking tasks and pulling them into your agenda
  • Looking through a travel checklist and pulling items meant for you


Loop

Loops are flows where a piece of information is being put somewhere and then someone else is expected to do something with that item and then either give it back or get the attention of the person that originally put it there. You'll notice a loop is basically two pushes, one from the person that initiates the flow and then a second push from the person that receives it. However, since these loops tend to be very specific, it's worth considering them as their own type and coming up with a flow for the entire loop and not just the two pushes in isolation.
Examples of that are:

  • Putting a report in a REVIEW section
  • Leaving a comment for someone
  • Handing over a project to a designer once it's their turn
  • Asking someone a question
  • Submitting homework for grading

And that's it, more complex processes are created by taking these three basic flows and chaining them one after the other. You should now be able to identify where in your own processes you have these types of flows going on.

Simple systems for coordinating flows

When working with any of these types of flows, the most common type of interaction is going to be where we have to let someone else know that an item has been added or created and conversely that there is a new item that needs our attention. There are two basic ways to deal with that, we can either designate a specific spot for new items or we can tag them.

In our first example we'll think about creating a specific spot for new items. Let's say there's a lawn care business that uses Workflowy to manage their employee's assigned homes.

They have a section in their workspace that looks like this:

Under each worker there is a list of current clients that they are responsible for, and there is also a section called New - this is where new clients are assigned by the company to a team. By having a special place where new items are added, in this case clients, each team can clearly see when new clients are assigned to them. Let's say that when a new client signs up for their services, the team that's assigned to them first presents themselves and asks the client several questions to better tailor their services that they then regularly provide.

By establishing a rule about when a client is moved from New to Client, the New section serves double-duty. For one it lets the team know that there is a new client they need to attend, and secondly, it serves as a sort of checkbox that gets 'crossed off' when the client has been onboarded to the service and the team moves the client from New to Client. This way anyone else at the company can see if there are any new clients that have not been onboarded yet without having to ask each team.

By having a set place for new items, a sort of inbox, it makes it extremely clear to the person responsible when new items are added without having to ask anyone. It also has the added benefit that it makes it clear to anyone interested when the person responsible has taken that item and started whatever process they need to do, again without having to ask.

Now let's look at using a tag instead. In our second example let's say there's family that's using Workflowy to keep track of chores and other family related things. Both parents and their two teenage kids have accounts and regularly check to see what they have to do and to add things.

Let's say the family's shared workspace looks something like this:

Under Chores, there's a weekly calendar that has everyone's household chores. When an item is added to the calendar, they tag it with the name of the person who it's for. So no matter how many items end up on the calendar, each family member can search for their tag and quickly see only the chores that they're responsible for.

Weekly calendar view
Filtered calendar view

Tagging the item with the person's name works well with saved searches that make it easy for the person responsible to always know when new items that are meant for them are added.

Both systems in our examples achieve the same goal of letting someone know when an item has been assigned to them. However, note the difference in the two methods when it comes to information it gives the person who created or assigned the item. In the case where we have a specific place for new items, it's crystal clear when the item has been taken by the person responsible. In the case where we use tags, it's not. There are obviously ways to improve the tag system, for example, you could add a second tag #new when an item is new so the person responsible could more easily see that it's a new item and the person that assigned it could see when it's been seen by the removal of the tag.

The choice comes down to your specific needs. However, one thing to keep in mind about rules and systems in general, if you want to make it easy for people to follow, make it as simple and straightforward as possible.

Define simple flows to explain them

We recommend you list out the main areas in your collaborative space, and underneath each area list out the key processes you want to capture.

Say you had a meditation coaching business. Here's what you might list out for your processes:

By now it should be simple to look at this list of processes and get a sense for where the pushes, pulls, and loops would likely be. Let's list those out and start to figure out what the flows will actually look like.

This one seems like a push where we're creating a new piece of information and putting it into our collaborative space.

Here we have a pull flow where leads that become clients are moved under 'New clients' and again when they've been onboarded and given a survey.

Here's another pull flow where a coach that is available will check for any onboarded clients and assign them to themselves.

And here's a push flow where a coach that has a client that becomes inactive, moves them to this section.

Lastly, we have a loop that starts with questions coming from leads that are then moved into this library for later use. We also have a push flow when a coach develops an exercise they think is valuable should be shared with the organization.

Now let's take a look at how we document those flows so anyone we're collaborating with can understand what to do without having to ask.

Document your flows

We'll need a simple system to diagram our flows. Here's a simple system of symbols you can use to diagram your flows. The system covers the basic instructions you might need to describe.

'* *' Asterisks show items that are created

'[]' Brackets represent pieces of information

'{}' Braces represent an item that could have multiple names

'->' Arrows indicate where items should be moved to

'C>' C arrow indicates the item should be copied

'>' Angle brackets show the location of nested items

'()' Parenthesis indicate another area is responsible for the action. Otherwise, location of the flow indicates responsibility.

Now let's use these symbols to take the descriptions of the flows   from our meditation coaching example and list those out. We'll also go ahead and clean up our descriptions to something more reader friendly.

Here, we're creating an item with the new lead's name and then adding section with questions or requests under that new lead.

The person responsible for capturing the leads then moves them over to the coaches section once the person subscribes and becomes a client.

This same person is also responsible for taking good questions and answers and copying them to the knowledge section under the coaches area.

Once a coach has onboarded a new client, they take the client item and move it under onboarded. Notice how we use (Leads) to let the coach know that this item comes from whoever is responsible for the leads.

When a coach has capacity for another client, they take an onboarded client and assign them to themselves.

When a client pauses or cancels their service, the coach moves them from under themselves to Inactive.

Lastly, coaches copy useful exercises they have developed with their clients and stores under that client's item to the knowledge library for other coaches to learn from and use.

And there we have our final, documented flows. By including a description of the symbols and the flows with their descriptions, it should be pretty simple for a new collaborator to figure out how things function in our workspace.

The symbols we provide above are meant to be a starting point and for simple flows should be more than enough to describe all the main processes you will want to describe. You should feel free to modify, add, or eliminate any that don't suit your specific needs.

Some finer details about the symbol system

Lastly, we'll leave you with some additional notes that might come in handy when documenting your flows.

Use () only when an item is pushed somewhere where the person responsible for that space is not the one doing the push. Otherwise it's fine to omit the () as It's understood that the flow is being performed by the person responsible for the area it's listed under.

So for example, if there's a flow under an area called 'Marketing', it would be assumed, the person or people responsible for marketing would be the ones initiated the flow.

However, let's say there's a flow for making requests from the marketing department. In that case, the flow might describe the marketing department receiving the request, and adding it to a queue. Here, it would make sense to use () to indicate the flow is being driven by another area. Basically () help the person working with an item know where it came from.

When showing nesting with > you don't have to start from the root of your workspace, you can simply assume you're describing the nesting from the current level that you're documenting and go deeper or higher from there.

In other words, if you're documenting a flow that happens at PetHotel>Services>Exercise>Large breeds, you can simply use 'Large breeds' as your reference point when diagramming where something is. So if you wanted to reference a different service, you could just reference Services>Grooming instead of starting all the way at the root level PetHotel>Services>Grooming. And if you're referring something deeper, you would do something like Large breeds>Today instead of starting from the root level, PetHotel>Services>Exercise>Large breeds>Today.

This might not be as relevant for you if your workspace is relatively shallow in terms of nesting, but if it's deep then using a convention like that makes sense.

That should be more than enough for you to take your own processes, break them down into simple flows and document them with the help of simple diagrams so any new and existing collaborator can easily understand how everything is supposed to work.

View the template to copy it and get started

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