Guide: what is a Workflow and how can I benefit from It?

If you arrived here and are looking for ways to streamline your work, you’ve come to the right place! The first step towards well structured, hassle-free processes is taking care of your workflow. But what does it mean? Do you really need it? How can you pull it together? Follow this guide to find out more:

First things first: what is a workflow?

According to the Business Dictionary, “workflow is a progression of steps (tasks, events, interaction) that comprise a work process, involve two or more persons, and create or add value to the organization’s activities”. They can be either automated or manually operated. In other words, workflows define the way you execute your company’s processes and aggregate value to its activities. And they can be:

  • Sequential: a workflow dependent on the occurrence of the previous step
  • Parallel: a workflow independent, in which case two or more tasks can be developed at the same time

From 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.

How does workflow works

By following a range of workflow rules and plans, people can manage and control their business in an easier way. Workflows are essential for those who are looking for better ways to coordinate teams and make sure that there is a synchronization between everyone involved, with the main long-term goal being to improve the overall quality and efficiency of the business.

Ok, but why should I use it?

As a business owner or a manager, you probably don’t have enough time to run activities back and forth and micromanage your staff the entire time. Well, that’s what a structured workflow tackles. As its definition states, workflows are used to help optimize processes and their tasks, which can significantly reduce the hands-on time, making it much easier to minimize the amount of waste, or errors, generated and actually focus on management.

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

By making sure that every part of the workplace process is detailed and clear to everyone, it becomes much easier for people to follow the right path and actually makes the right decision—even when you’re not around. The key is to find a workflow style that suits everyone in the team.

A quality workflow system will define and monitor processes to ensure that productivity and success can become intrinsic within the business. Naturally, this takes time and commitment to be done right, but with the appropriate workflow in place, even the most junior team members will become more efficient and deliver more precise results.

Now that you got a brighter vision of what workflows can do for you and your team, it’s time to choose the approach that suits you best.

What are the workflow types?

Like any other business process, the workflow definition will not tell the entire story. You need to build a strategy that fits your company’s need, and there are various ways you can set that up, so here are some of them:

  • State Machine: this is normally a more complex, yet predictable workflow. They have clear sequence rules which are triggered after an external event. In other words, this kind of workflow sets the pace of the process but is only controlled by outside actions
  • Rules-Driven: this workflow is guided by a sequence of rules, so the process only moves forward as these rules are completed
  • Sequential: 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 backward steps and that everyone is only moving forward within the business flow

Ok, but what’s the difference between a workflow and a process? Simple: the first defines the pace that the second will follow. Processes are broader and more complex. They involve not only data but divide it into phases, while workflows set the rules so everything unfolds flawlessly.

Examples worth sharing

Here are some examples of workflows that contribute to a company’s success:

  • Travel agencies: they tend to make sure that things like tickets, hospitality, entertainment and every detail of your trip are 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 departments have specific procedures, such as recruitment, employee benefits, employee onboarding and offboarding, just to name a few. To make sure that everything goes smoothly, a well-structured workflow is necessary
  • Manufacturing and production lines: high-level shop floors take workflows very seriously, as they need to follow specific standards for procedures and quality control. Production lines have steps to be followed in order to ensure the final product delivery, and that’s exactly the workflow’s role
Kanban board, showing some phases and slas.

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

Try Pipefy, the Work Management Platform! We help companies keep their workflows organized by providing an easy and intuitive tool, that helps them leave in the past inefficient and manual forms, spreadsheets and never-ending email threads, to embrace centralized information, standardized requests and controlled processes.

Written by
Isabelle Wuilleumier Salemme
Head of Customer Support @Pipefy. She uses her extensive Pipefy knowledge to help users make the best of Pipefy via support and writing informative content pieces. Besides being in charge of support, she's an avid reader, a coffee lover, and a professional photographer.
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