Workflow models help you understand and control your work. These 8 best practices will help you get started.
1. Determine the level of detail
One hazard of modeling workflows is that it’s easy to get bogged down in too much detail. Another pitfall: not providing enough information for the model to be accurate or useful.
Before you get started, decide how much detail you’ll need in order to have a model that’s useful. In general, there are three levels of detail to consider:
- Macro or “big picture” level. A model that provides a higher-level view of the workflow will focus on the overall structure of the flow, identify all the actors who handle the work, and highlight handoffs or places where the work changes hands. Models that take this view are most useful for understanding more complex business processes.
- Medium or “functional activity” level. At this level of detail, a model will include all the key players in the flow as well as some information about the tasks within the flow. This level of modeling can be useful for teams who are looking for opportunities to automate manual processes.
- Task-level or procedure-level detail. This level of detail provides a zoom-in to a step in the workflow. It delivers all the information needed to understand how a task is completed, how a handoff is managed, or how the work is affected by a tool, system, or person. This view is ideal for teams interested in task automation.
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2. Decide whose help you will need
It’s unlikely that you will be the expert on every step of the workflow. Find out who is and get their insights into the flow. This will give you a much more accurate picture of the existing workflow. Look for citizen developers who can share their experience and knowledge.
3. Create a plan for process discovery
Thinking strategically about how you’ll get the information you need will help you create a meaningful, accurate workflow map. You may need to schedule process discovery sessions with teams or individuals to get the feedback you require. Will you need special tools? A large whiteboard? 10 different colors of sticky notes?
4. Establish the workflow boundaries
What’s the scope of the workflow you are modeling? Clearly define the trigger (starting point) and result (ending point) in order to avoid scope creep. For more about workflow boundaries, see our article on the basic components of a workflow.
5. Stay mindful of the customer’s perspective
The customer of the process or workflow you are modeling is anyone — internally or externally — who receives the result of the flow and who can pass judgement on the quality of the flow. How does the flow work for them?
Creating Your Own Workflow Model
6. Identify every actor
Your workflow model will only be as useful as it is accurate. Creating a thorough inventory of every person, system, or machine that holds the work is critical. Remember that actors may or may not add value: in some cases, actors are those who help move the work along or hold the work temporarily.
7. Illustrate every step in the flow, even if it seems inconsequential
A step is a transition between actors OR a point where the work is changed, stored, or delayed. Make sure you account for every step (new work activity) in the flow.
8. Pay close attention to handoffs
Handoffs are known for their tendency to create delays, miscommunications, losses, and other problems.
Tools for modeling your workflows
Most workflow modeling begins with a pen and paper, or with a white board and sticky notes. Once you get past these first steps, you may find it helpful to use tools to help you manage and control your workflows.
Good luck and happy modeling!