Workflows help organizations organize, track, and optimize the processes they rely on every day. They’re the reusable instruction manuals of the business world, saving time and resources on every repetitive task, from manufacturing a successful product to handling expense reimbursement.
If you’re interested in becoming the team member who gets the most done in the least time, and demonstrating how your organization can do the same, you need to start using workflows. Let’s take a look at exactly what workflows are, how they can benefit your business, and how you can start using them.
What is a workflow?
A workflow is an organized series of tasks that must be completed in order to achieve a specific goal. This may be a checklist that someone in human resources completes during the onboarding process, the procedure a sales team member follows when moving a lead through the sales pipeline, or even the steps of a fully automated expense reimbursement process.
Workflows range from simple tasks that can be performed by individuals to massive processes that involve hundreds of team members across business units. Despite this variation, all workflows are repeatable. This means that workflows should be used to delineate objectives and processes that are performed regularly, and that they are usually not appropriate for ad-hoc or one-time work. Think of them as directions for achieving a common business activity many times as needed.
Workflow diagrams and documentation
Workflows are often represented visually, both in digital and paper form. These visualizations can be as simple as a bulleted list, but more complicated processes are better represented using flow charts that can be produced with the help of dedicated software. Here’s an example of a workflow diagram for managing customer onboarding:
Workflow documentation is an important supplement to diagramming — an engineer’s in-depth instructions for bug resolution wouldn’t fit on a concise flow chart. Workflow documentation should include detailed information about individual tasks as well as the stakeholders involved and their responsibilities. It provides all of the important context, guidelines, and reference data that can’t be included in a graphical representation.
A brief history of workflows
The concept of workflows in business first began in manufacturing with the contributions of Frederick Taylor and Henry Gantt, who studied how work could be more consciously and rationally organized in that industry. Workflows became increasingly useful as the industrial revolution progressed, as the complex processes that came with it could benefit greatly from optimization. Henry Gantt famously created the eponymous Gantt chart that shows the schedule for a specific project and displays the relationships between its dependencies. Now workflows are an important part of almost every industry, forming a backbone for effective planning, tracking, and managing processes the world over.
Types of workflows
Benefits of using workflows
There are many advantages to using workflows. They organize tasks better, create ways to directly measure performance, and can codify business procedures that would otherwise be difficult to visualize or understand.
● Make processes more efficient. Using workflows, stakeholders can align dependencies and arrange prioritized assignments better, completing tasks in less time and with fewer resources.
● Measure work performance and productivity. Workflows create a paper trail, allowing managers to audit previous tasks, access a history of work activities, and make future planning more transparent. These metrics can be used to monitor all business processes and provide direction on process improvement.
● Improve collaboration. Workflows make it easier to collaborate across the business, or even across industries. Cloud-based software means that specific workflows, their templates, or general ideas about task planning are all available anywhere, any time, and are easy to share.
● Delegate effectively. Responsibilities that were formerly the sole domain of service managers and other decision makers can be delegated to team members who now have a clear set of instructions to follow.
In sales, lead generation, research, follow-up, proposal writing, and negotiation are all repetitive tasks that are easy to organize into a workflow, making the whole sales pipeline more efficient and standardized:
● Does the platform integrate well with the applications you currently use?
● Is it software as a service (SaaS), cloud-based, and easy to deploy across the organization?
● How complex is the software? Will implementing and managing it requires technical expertise, or can it be rolled out immediately for everyone?
● Is the software flexible? It should allow you to create and modify workflow templates on a case-by-case basis, as well as to integrate workflows for separate processes.
● Does the software give you automation options for workflows that allow them to proceed without manual input?
● Does it provide a centralized location for managing all your processes?
● Are its visualization options sophisticated enough to create clear and visually appealing diagrams for every planned workflow?
● Does the software have built-in metrics, logging, and reporting options? Can its monitoring capabilities help you manage time and resources or track performance and profitability?
Start creating and managing workflows today
Whether you need to make sure new team members are engaged, streamline your expenses, or generate and close leads more quickly, workflow management software can help. Workflows can make your business more agile and collaborative, improve employee performance, and boost your bottom line, all while automating repetitive tasks and creating useful documentation for critical processes.
Workflow documentation is an important supplement to diagramming — an engineer’s in-depth instructions for bug resolution wouldn’t fit on a concise flow chart.