Updated: August 26th, 2019
How efficient is the daily workflow in your organization?
There are a few different types of workflow according to tradition, from the linear, sequential workflow design to rules-driven, to the state-machine workflow that focuses on the state of the projects rather than following sequential steps.
When it comes to creating “your ideal workflow design” there’s obviously not going to be any one right answer even though there are some best practices to help you create workflows easily. For example, you might find that a linear workflow doesn’t provide you with the flexibility or scalability that you need when working in a digital landscape. You might find that a rules-based workflow design is too complicated for business users, etc.
If you want to ensure that you create a workflow that provides you with agility and room to adapt, then there are a few essential tips to create the workflow design that suits your needs the best:
Start with diagramming tasks
This might be the point to start with pen and paper - decide which overall process you are creating a workflow design for and sketch out the different tasks and activities on a basic flowchart that make up that process.
Now is not the time to create a perfect workflow diagram, but it is the time to get everything down so that you don’t miss any key tasks.
An important part for every workflow design is to have clear start and end points, so you may want to begin with those and work out the middle piece. It’s a common mistake to be unclear on either the start or end-point, as this can lead to workflow models that don’t integrate tasks as well as they should.
Next, come up with every step that is involved in between the start and the end points. Make sure those steps will integrate properly into a workflow design process and indicate any step that is contingent on other information with a decision box (the diamond-shaped box that indicates a question).
By starting your workflow design with a sketch map, you can get the following benefits:
- Clarity over each step
- Identification of any gaps
- Highlighting of any dependencies
- Identifying opportunities for simplification or for improvements to be made
- Easier workflow implementation after the design
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Consider inputs and outputs
A task is usually much more than what the simple box on your diagram indicates (which is one reason we have designed Rindle on a card system - to make it easy to bring in that extra information).
You need to understand all of the inputs and outputs for that task to create an effective workflow design - it should be something that could be understood by someone else easily, especially if it is being written for a team of employees in a workplace.
For example, you might need to attach any of these things to a task:
- Instructions for how that task is to be completed
- Data that is needed for the task (for example, Rindle's workflow design tool allows you to integrate with other programs that will pull through task data)
- Links to source files (another thing Rindle can do automatically)
- Checklists of actions to complete the task (yep, you can create these on your task cards in Rindle)
Another important consideration here is your information flow. Is the information coming in clear and concise? Can all who need to easily access the information? A central communication point is an essential asset, along with solutions for hosting documents or files. This could be part of the overall system you are using to create and use the workflow design (another Rindle feature is attaching files to cards, for example).
Look for sub-workflows
Do you have tasks within your workflow that can involve a workflow of their very own? Using modules or sub-workflows can help with simplifying the overall picture. Splitting large linear flows into smaller workflows can provide you with a few key benefits, such as:
- The ability to recycle processes for commonly-used workflows
- Flexibility, so that you can change that part of the process as business needs change
- In some workflows (such as for a developer), more rapid debugging because you work through that one sub-workflow design rather than the entire wider process
- Efficient testing for issues
There is a case for limiting how many sub-workflows you allow within your main workflow design, which you may want to consider. Michel Braunstein discusses the following on why you should keep sub-workflows to a minimum:
“One reason is that too much subflow usage hides the logic from the main flow, making the full process less visible and harder to understand. This can make your process harder to maintain and optimize. Also, subflows can complicate process execution. For example, statistics and monitoring performed on the main flow are not automatically applied to the subflow.”
He goes on to suggest criteria for using subflows:
“Use subflows as a type of "black box" process part, when the inner workings of the part are not necessary for understanding or maintaining the main flow. Take time to weigh the benefits of reuse and encapsulation against the drawbacks of complex execution.”
Create logical loops in the workflow design
In a well laid-out workflow design, you should be able to quickly ascertain where something is within the process, even if it is waiting on approval. The status can become foggy when it gets stuck in the approval process, or something is declined back down the approval chain.
A loop as defined by Workflow Patterns is:
“The ability to execute a task or sub-process repeatedly. The loop has either a pre-test or post-test condition associated with it that is either evaluated at the beginning or end of the loop to determine whether it should continue. The looping structure has a single entry and exit point.”
They point out that this creates two types of loops the “while … do …” (while the machine has fuel, keep producing widgets), and the “repeat, until” loop (keep processing photos until all have been printed).
To avoid something getting stuck or out of sight, you could create logical loops in your workflow design that sends the task back to the originator if something is not approved. For example, if you use a workflow software like Rindle, an easy way to do this is to assign the card back to the appropriate person (Trello users might do this, too). Consider including logical loops in your workflow design to tackle potential bottlenecks that can significantly affect project success.
Create automations for a better workflow design
As mentioned earlier, with all of your steps, inputs and outputs laid out in front of you, it’s a good opportunity to look for improvements or ways to simplify your workflow process. This is where it’s especially great if there are things you could automate before launching your new workflow design.
For example, data flow might be one area that can be automated. You are probably using a few different tools or programs in your work, each creating its own source of data. If you can, automate how this data is centralized into your workflow design so that it is easy to see and access.
Secondly, can you create any automated rules to streamline your workflow design? This might include rules like “if this is tagged as that, the task moves here.” Both of these examples are features that Rindle's workflow design tool can help with - check out some of our recent automations here.
A workflow design doesn’t need to be something that is over-complicated, although this seems to be an unfortunate side-effect of the term “workflow” entering corporate-speak. Look at it as your overall business process to get from the current state to an objective output.
There’s no one “right” way to create a workflow design, as long as it is something that works well for you and any team members who might need to use it. A key to remember is to review it regularly - circumstances can change in the business or new technology comes in, which can simplify parts of your process flow. You want to be able to adapt and implement workflow changes rapidly so that it remains relevant.
Check out Rindle to help you build a streamlined, simple workflow design. Automations and integrations with your other tools help to simplify and super-charge your daily workflow processes.