The Infinite Manager: Flow Management—our secret to managing overwhelming volumes of work

Our article about Genchi Genbutsu was an extract from our in-house onboarding flow, which all new team members follow when they join us. It received so much positive feedback we’ve decided to publish more, as a mini-series, which we’re calling The Infinite Manager.

The following excerpt introduces the unconventional operating system that has enabled our small team to have such an impact on the web’s leading companies.

A collage of photos of our team
This guide must be read and followed by everyone in Conversion Rate Experts. It describes how we get work done. In particular, it describes how we manage work in a way that’s infinitely scalable.

Your job is to create flows

We are obsessive about creating elegant flows. In fact, Conversion Rate Experts itself is mostly just a complex system of highly optimized flows. For everything we do—from adding winning tests to our Wins Database to creating client video testimonials—there’s a flow. Often the flow takes the form of a to-do list or checklist.

Whatever you’re working on, you should always be thinking how you can turn it into no work—either by removing the need for that activity altogether or by creating a flow to replace it that requires very little brainpower. That way, you can continually create value, leveraging your own time by creating systems to do work for you.

A good flow gets a job done without using up the user’s time, effort, memory, and brainpower.

Here are some examples of elegantly simple flows:

  • If you had a blood test tomorrow, and you had to remember to skip breakfast in the morning, you could leave Post-It notes saying, “Do not eat,” on the fridge and cereal cupboard.
  • If you occasionally forget to take your laptop charger with you when you go to meetings, keep a spare charger in your bag.
  • This article contains some ingenious ideas for making a coffee machine more foolproof.
  • The 68-point workflow we depend upon to set up and present webinars.

Here’s our favorite example of a terrible flow:

Design your flows for a busy, lazy, amnesiac idiot—a “moron in a hurry.” Even a genius with time on their hands will be grateful that you did.

How to manage work (your own and other people’s)

Manage using flows, not meetings

If you want to create (and capture) a lot of value, leverage yourself.

In the past, the best-paid people tended to be “Meetings Managers,” managers who leveraged themselves by having meetings with other people (including one-on-ones). A typical manager could manage between five and twenty people.

Now, the ultra-effective—and infinitely scalable—way to leverage yourself is with well-thought-out flows (which tend to be supported by technology and user interfaces). Some managers already use flows to some extent (checklists, procedures, pro forma templates, scripts, and manuals) but technologies for delivering flows—such as wikis, web apps, and mobile apps—have recently skyrocketed the opportunity for using them.

People who create elegantly effective flows are the managers of the future. The busiest “Meetings Managers” can’t compete with them.

You may not realize it, but you’re already familiar with Flow Managers. It’s just that they are so different from Meetings Managers, you may not have recognized them as being managers. They tend to be thoughtful technicians rather than headstrong bosses. Their flows take the form of text, images, and videos—often delivered via a web interface.

Wikipedia is a great example. Traditional encyclopedias were compiled by hundreds of editors, managing thousands of contributors. Wikipedia’s managers did the same job using a small number of well-thought-out web flows, which were such a pleasure to use, the writers worked for free. You don’t hear Wikipedia writers complaining that they hate their bosses, or that they fall asleep in meetings. Wikipedia’s user interface does all the managing it needs to, and then gets out of the way. And if a writer isn’t happy with the user interface, they suggest how it can be improved.

Flow Management involves many skills, skills that most companies don’t take seriously. In fact, most companies don’t even know what they are.

Fortunately for us, many of the skills of Flow Management are the same as the skills of conversion rate optimization (CRO):

  • Understanding the goal, the user, and the situation
  • Creating simple, logical flows that are usable, readable, and persuasive

…and the people who are great at it tend to have the same natural aptitudes as CRO practitioners:

  • Clear, logical thinking
  • Empathy
  • Meticulous attention to detail
  • Diligence, tidiness, and an appreciation for simplicity
  • A love of the craft

However, you’ll also need some additional skills, heuristics and mental models—many of which come from fields like process engineering, systems thinking, programming, and lean project management. The next installments of this guide contain the ones we find most useful. Of course, to become great at Flow Management takes years of study, practice, and reflection. But by the end of this guide, you’ll have a solid understanding of the techniques required to be a “manager of the future,” managing work in a way that’s efficient, optimizable, and infinitely scalable.

This article is one of a series, the index for which is here. In the next part, we explain how we manage our personal flows.

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