Your complete guide to all things related to workflows. Key terms and common language, defined and explained. Includes information on processes, tasks, and other related concepts.
Any person, department, system, machine that “holds the work.” In other words, anyone or anything that directly impacts the work in the flow.
The accurate representation of how the work is currently organized. A snapshot of the workflow under present circumstances, how the work is happening now.
The use of technology (such as software or machines) to complete specific tasks without the need for human action.
Automations are commonly used to manage repetitive, predictable tasks that do not require problem-solving or decision-making skills. Emails, notifications, approvals, and document creation are some examples of tasks that can be automated.
Learn about the benefits of human-centered automation.
Definitive Guide to Workflow ManagementDownload now
A group of activities, tasks, systems, data, people, machines, and other actors that allow an organization to achieve a strategic goal. Workflows are the building blocks of business processes.
- A person who is not a professional software developer
- A person solves workflow or process problems using no-code or low-code tools.
- A practitioner, someone who has their hands on the workflows and understands the problem based on experience.
- See also What is a Citizen Developer?
- See also Dawn of the Citizen Developer
Any internal or external stakeholder who receives output from the workflow. According to Sharp, a customer “can be identified and can pass judgement on how satisfactory the result and the process are.” (Sharp, 246).
The organized sequence of actions, tasks, information, and actors that produce a desired output. The order in which handoffs take place and the work is completed. Typically illustrated with a flowchart or diagram.
A graphical representation of the steps required to complete work. Begins with a triggering event and ends with a result. See an example of a customer onboarding flowchart.
- The point in a flow where ownership of the work changes. This may be a transition between people, departments, systems, or tools.
- For example, during the hiring process, a handoff typically occurs when the recruiter receives a signed offer letter and then transfers the information to the HR team to begin the onboarding process.
Low-code refers to software that requires minimal coding for implementation. Some workflow management software options are considered low-code because they are designed for fast deployment and don’t rely as heavily on the IT team for maintenance.
- An approach to problem solving that relies on software or applications that do not require programming or coding skills.
- The configuration of out-of-the-box software or application modules to address problems with workflows or processes.
- A strategy for addressing IT bottlenecks that democratizes access to problem-solving tools
- See also: An Introduction to No-code Platforms
- See also: Portals to Tomorrow: No-code & Low-code Tools
One result of optimized and automated workflows is operational excellence. Operational excellence refers to the state of operations in which waste is minimized and process results are consistent.
The result of the workflow or a step in the process. Outputs should be discrete, countable, and traceable to a particular goal.
- An organized system for achieving a strategic goal.
- The flow of work (time, actions, energy, resources) that produce a specific outcome.
- Sometimes used interchangeably with “workflow,” the term process may also refer to broad, end-to-end business processes (such as a procurement process) or a more specific instance of work within a broad process (such as a pay invoice process.)
- Sometimes used interchangeably with “business process.”
When workflows are optimized and orchestrated, they can result in process excellence (PEX). Process excellence is a quality standard in which processes are continually measured and improved to minimize waste and ensure that they help the business meet its goals.
- The end product of a workflow.
- According to workflow specialist and author Alan Sharp, results must be “discrete, identifiable, countable, and essential.” In other words, you should have a separate, measurable result for each instance of the workflow that is completed.
- A system of actors, systems, tools, and information that produce specific outcome.
- The activity of a subprocess supports a broader business process. For example, the purchase order process is a subprocess of procurement process.
- Activity within a broader process. See also “Process.”
- Sometimes used interchangeably with “workflow.”
- A type of diagram that illustrates 1)all the actors in a workflow 2)how and when the work moves between the actors, and 3) the end result required for the workflow to be successful.
- The “swimlanes” are horizontal lines that show which actor holds the work at any point in time, as well as the sum of all the activities for a particular actor.
- View the swimlane diagram for an employee onboarding process
- The building blocks of workflows. Tasks are specific instances of work that must be performed (usually within a designated time period) in order to complete a workflow or process.
- Examples of tasks include sending emails, creating documents, data entry, labeling products, or creating reports.
- Many types of tasks can be automated in order to create a better employee experience and to free up resources and time for more valuable activities.
- See also Task Automation.
The desired or planned organization of work. An optimized or modified version of an “as is” workflow.
An event or action that puts a workflow in motion. Examples include receiving an order, creating a request, or the arrival of an email. Triggers, along with results, establish the boundaries of a workflow.
Activity (either physical or mental) that achieves a specific result. A task or series of tasks.
- A defined and organized series of tasks that produces a specific outcome. The workflow has an identifiable start point (trigger) and end point (result). The work moves between actors including people, departments, machines, and systems.
- See related article “What is a Workflow?“
Workflow analysis is the act of reviewing a specific workflow — as well as each of its individual components — in order to understand its degree of efficiency, its impact on other workflows and processes, and identify problems or opportunities for improvement.
- A visual representation of the activity, information, time, and resources within a specific process or workflow. There are different types of workflow diagrams depending on the degree of detail and depth of information required. Sometimes referred to simply as a flowchart.
- See also: Common Flowchart Symbols
- See also: Workflow Diagram Examples & Best Practices
- An approach to work that focuses on the boundaries, elements, and relationships within workflows and processes.
- Workflow managers look for opportunities to understand and optimize workflows.
- Goals of workflow management include creating better employee experiences, improving the efficiency of flows and processes, and making the best use of all available resources.
- See also What is Workflow Management?
Workflow management system (WMS)
- SaaS platform or application designed to organize and optimize workflows.
- Workflow management systems are used to add control and visibility to tasks, workflows, and processes by tracking work progress and related KPIs.
- Features include ability to automate some elements of the workflow, tools (such as forms) to capture and organize data, reports/dashboards, as well as features that support collaboration.
- Sometime used interchangeably with “workflow software,” “workflow management tool,” or “workflow platform.”
- See also: 10 Features You Need in Workflow Automation Software
- The work of analyzing a workflow in order to identify all of its components, and then illustrating the flow using a chart or diagram.
- See also “Process Mapping: The Ultimate Guide.”
- The process of planning and organizing a workflow in order to identify all of the actors, boundaries, and relationships that contribute to the result. A workflow model can be the basis for a diagram.
- See also: 8 Best Practices for Building Workflow Models.