You reminisce about the events from the day. How is it that you and your team got a lot done, but you don’t feel accomplished, and somehow more overwhelmed than when you started? There just never seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything done.
You just finished going through your email inbox, complete tasks in your project management software, and somehow, a few minutes later, your inbox shows 55 unread emails again…
How is this possible?
Of course, every professional, regardless of industry and experience level, feels overwhelmed from time to time. But deep down inside, you know the problem: you don’t have defined processes and workflows.
However, it takes time to put processes in place and develop workflows—time that you already don’t have.
We get it. But taking the time now to create and deploy workflows will save you more time—and money—in the long run.
In this article, we will try to make it as easy as possible for you. We will explain what workflows are, why they are important for improving efficiency and reducing risks, how to determine the best workflow for you and your team, and how to create a workflow from scratch.
Why Workflows Are Important
If the description above is all too familiar to you, or you resonate with the feeling of drowning in work, or are struggling to deliver projects or deliverables to clients on time and within budgets, then you likely already understand why workflows are important. But here are the primary benefits of workflows:
- Increase operational efficiency
- Streamlined work efforts
- Save time and money
- Improve team productivity and output
- Maintain a competitive advantage
- Risk mitigation
Processes, Workflows, and Risks
We all know that we live in times of uncertainty. Therefore, identifying any possible risk factors that could negatively impact operations or end-users or clients or the business’ reputation as a whole has never been more important.
Believe it or not, there is a clear link between risks and processes. Yes, auditing, reviewing, and optimizing processes and making structural process changes across cross-functional departments and the organization as a whole is one important approach. However, it’s important to ensure those processes are scalable in order for them to have a long-term impact on the organization.
Process vs. Workflow: What is the Difference?
Before you can really wrap your head around workflow management, it’s important to know that many people often use the words workflow and process interchangeably. This isn’t necessarily wrong, but it can lead to miscommunications. All in all the two are slightly different.
A workflow is a mapped, documented series of steps necessary to achieve a goal that is repeatable, recurrent, and operational.
A process is a set of activities that includes the workflow and other factors, such as people, tools, and reports. Workflows tend to be more predictable and orderly, making them easier to automate.
Workflow management is the discipline that focuses on the structure of work, and essentially how teams collaborate to complete this work. Despite some beliefs, workflow management doesn’t have to require software, but using workflow management tools can help automate specific workflows.
The 3 Elements of a Workflow
There are three primary components that make up a workflow: inputs, transformations, and outputs. Here is an explanation and example of each:
- Inputs – the materials or resources required to complete a task. For example, let’s say a press release that will be shared with external shareholders needs internal stakeholder approval before distribution. An “input” in this workflow could be a form that is completed and signed by the approver.
- Transformations – the action that occurs when the input becomes an output. In our example, this could be the hand-off that occurs when the form is completed and signed by the approver. This action triggers the next step in the workflow to occur.
- Outputs – As you may have guessed, this is the end result of the output and transformation. Again, looking at our example, this is the resource or material needed to push the approval through to the next stage that allows the press release to be prepared for distribution.
Which Workflow Type is Best for You?
Now that you have a better understanding of what a workflow is, and how it differs slightly from a process, let’s talk about the different types of workflows. There are three different types of workflows:
Parallel Workflows – This type of workflow involves performing multiple tasks and work activities simultaneously.
Example: A team member from the Client Experience team submits a content request to the marketing team to update an existing product data sheet, outlining and highlighting the benefits of some new, recently-released features. The marketing team vets the request and then sends a request to a copy writer as well as a request to the design team, which kicks off two separate workflows that work simultaneously.
Sequential Workflows (“Rules-based” Workflow) – A sequential workflow, also commonly referred to as a “Rules-based” workflow, is the opposite of a parallel workflow. A sequential workflow is a “start to finish” workflow. This means that one task must begin and complete fully before another task can begin. Sequential or rules-based workflows typically require conditional logic to perform a set of tasks.
Example: Following our example above, once the copy writing task is completed, the design team can “pour” the content into the newly-designed data sheet and finalize it.
State Machine Workflow - This type of workflow is centered around the state or status of a product or service. This particular workflow is commonly used in software development.
Example: The “state” or “status” of a product may change according to new feature requests, developments, or feedback from end users.
So, which type of workflow is best for you? By looking at the examples above, and thinking about your own processes and needs, you can likely determine which workflow—or workflows—is the best fit for your projects, customers, teams, and business as a whole.
How to Create a Workflow
Okay. You understand what a workflow is, why it is important, the different types of workflows, and you are now likely thinking about which workflows would work best for you and your team.
So that brings us to the million-dollar question: How do you create a workflow?
Here are some steps to follow:
- List out tasks. The first step is to get a feel for all the tasks that need to be completed to complete a specific project. This step might be a little overwhelming, especially for lengthy, complex projects. If necessary, call in a trusted team member to help you complete this activity.
- List resources. After listing out all your tasks, the next step is to list out your available resources. Again, call in a team member to help, if needed. Once you have listed out all your tasks and resources, this should give you a good idea of whether or not you have a sufficient supply of resources to complete projects and tasks.
For example, if you lack resources, you will be able to identify this bottleneck by being able to see all the tasks that need to be completed versus the number of resources available.
- Map out an ideal workflow. This will help you visualize the process. To do this, you can use a workflow management software or tool, or good ‘ol pencil and paper.
- Implement the workflow. Put your newly-designed workflow into action and get team buy-in and adoption. Take the time to document your new workflow and train team members on it.
- Test the workflow. Allow a few cycles of your new workflow. Depending on how frequent the workflow occurs, this could be a few weeks, or a few months. Allow time for team members to learn and adjust to the new workflow before getting a sense of how well—or not well—a workflow is functioning.
Adopt Workflow Management Software to Put Your Business’ Growth on Autopilot
In short, yes, building and implementing a new workflow will take time and effort, but in the end, it will be like a breath of fresh air. Furthermore, when built and implemented correctly, a well-performing and functional workflow can have a 100% ROI.
If you’re looking for a workflow management tool to help you build and monitor workflows, give Rindle a try today. Rindle allows you to set up and simple workflows for nearly every project, department, and business. The best part? No development work, no coding, and no learning curves. Check out Rindle and give it a try for free today.