Basic Concepts: What is a workflow?

For many people, working out a solid workflow definition can be a significant challenge, one they aren’t particularly interested in. In order to avoid this problem and to make sure that you have the comfort and the credibility that you need as a business, you would do well to spend a few minutes and learn a little about the workflow definition.

Taking the time to do so sets you up on the right path and ensures that you will be closer to success than you might think!

So, to begin with, what is a workflow?

According to the textbook workflow definition (or at least the one from business dictionary), a workflow is a progression of steps (let’s consider here those steps being tasks) that comprise a work process. Workflows, from its definition, involve two or more people and aggregate value to the company’s activities. The tasks in the workflow can either be dependent in occurrence of the previous step (sequential workflow) or independent, in which case two or more tasks can be developed at the same time (parallel workflow).

In a more practical point of view, you can say it’s the execution and then automation of a business process. This can involve anything from documentation to tasks and data being moved from one location to the next, creating an actual plan of action that people can take part in and feel as if they are contributing to.

By following a range of workflow rules and plans, people make it much easier than ever before to start commanding and controlling their business. Workflows are used to help co-ordinate teams together and to make sure that there is a synchronisation between the teams, with the main long-term goal being to improve the overall quality and efficiency of the business itself.

Why use a workflow?

As the workflow definition states, a workflow is used to help automate processes and tasks. As a business owner you likely don’t have the time and the patience needed to run back and forth and check on your staff, and this can greatly reduce the time that you have to actually complete processes in the first place, making it much easier to manage tasks and minimize the amount of wastage or the rate of errors that occur.

By making sure that everything is managed and improved to increase efficiency and make the business more “agile” in general, knowing and defining your company’s workflows is probably is the most important thing that you can do to achieve management excellence in 2015.

By making sure that every part of the workplace process is detailed and clear to follow, it becomes much easier for people to follow the right path and actually make the right decision. Worried that your staff might not be hitting the levels of productivity that you were hoping for? Then you need to look at arranging a workflow style that suits everyone.

A quality workflow system will define and monitor processes in the business to ensure that productivity and success can become engrained within the business. Naturally, this takes time and commitment to be done right but with the appropriate workflow in place even the most challenging of staff members will become an efficient and easy to work with part of the team who you can trust to get the job done.

Types of Workflow:

Like any other business process the workflow definition will not tell the entire story. There is more to running a business than just putting together a basic workflow (and you probably don’t need me to tell you that), you need to actually make it the right kind of workflow for your business and there are various ways you can do so, some of them being:

  • State Machine – These are normally more complex workflows and will typically have a rule that people will return to a specific point (just as a save point in a videogame) if they mess up or make a mistake within the planning and preparation of the workflow being put in its place;
  • Rules-Driven  – Another incredibly popular form of workflow, this will dictate the workflow with a very specific set of rules that would do well to always be followed and appreciated.
  • Sequential – As told on the introductory section of this post, this is the kind of workflow in which the phases are interdependent (as opposed to a parallel workflow). Usually built around the same style and format as a flow chart, this will ensure that there are no backwards steps and that everyone is only moving forward within the business flow.

Ok, but how do workflows work in real life?

It’s actually really easy to figure out a practical example of actual workflows being put in place and contributing to a company’s success, so let’s stick to things you have already seen (and may not have imagined were successful due to the application of workflows):

  • Travel agencies – They tend to make sure that things like tickets, hospitality, entertainment and every detail of your trip is arranged before you even leave the room. This is made easier by following specific workflow processes with each and every client and is very important to ensure quality and satisfaction;
  • Human Resources Departments – HR is a popular workflow definition system in that it has every specific procedure involved with everything from employment to paying people to letting someone go. You’ll need to make sure that you understand the very rigid workflow definition for each stage when working in HR!
  • Manufacturing (and production lines) – A quality manufacturing firm will take care of things like workflow, too, as they will need to work to specific standards and follow the definition of quality that is required. Production lines, as worflows, have steps to be followed in order to ensure the final product’s quality.

Want an easy way to run your company’s workflows?

Try Pipefy! We help companies keep organised and more productive by running their processes and day-by-day routines on an easy and intuitive tool, making them leave in the past inefficient manual forms, spreadsheets and never ending email threads.

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Written by Isabelle Salemme, Product content manager at Pipefy. She uses her extensive Pipefy knowledge to write informative pieces teaching users to make the best of Pipefy. Besides being responsible for all product-related content, she's an avid reader, a coffee lover and a professional photographer.