Process & Workflow

What’s the Difference Between Process and Workflow?

Nov 3, 2021
Post Masthead

If someone were to ask you to define a “workflow” and a “process” and explain the difference between the two, would you be able to do so?

Assuming you answered “no”, you aren’t alone.

The truth is many professionals and organizations describe the two as one and the same.

They’re not.

Process and workflow are two of the terms that are most commonly used in process management. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone will define them in the same way. Some will say they’re exactly the same, others will describe minor differences, and some believe they are completely different.

If you are looking for the real answer, then this article is for you. We will define workflows and processes, explain the differences between the two, and provide you with the information you need to know to determine what your business needs.

The Difference Between Process and Workflow

Workflows vs. Processes

What is a Workflow?

A workflow is a set of repeatable activities that drive a task to completion.

Let’s dig a little deeper. Workflows essentially carry out a set of tasks related to a specific project or initiative, such as getting a document signed and approved or inputting information into a database.

A workflow can be used to refer to various things including the work of staff, a sequence of tasks, the work of a group, or many complex items that work together. Essentially, workflows allow data, documents, and information to flow through a company through tasks and activities.

Workflows can have a set number of finite tasks that move a project or initiative from one stage to another, or they can also be continuous.

What is a Process?

A process involves a set of repeatable tasks that are completed, and are aligned with a higher-level organizational goal. an organizational goal is met. Processes apply to more systematic tasks that interact with one another or are interrelated, but that drive the same result.

Similar to a workflow, a process will have a start and end or it can be continuous. Most business processes will fall into three categories:

  • Management Processes – the process of overseeing or managing all processes that occur within a business environment
  • Operational Processes – processes that are key to keeping the business running
  • Support Processes – processes that support operations

An organizational goal has a more specific purpose. For instance, “delivering exceptional customer experiences” or “onboarding a new employee.”

In fact, depending on the project, the workflow could be exactly the same thing as the process.

Going back to the idea of onboarding a new employee, hiring new people is something that helps a company grow so it qualifies as an organization goal. It also happens to be a task since HR workers need to go through multiple tasks to reach completion.

Yes, processes and workflows can be the same, but not always. Take an approval workflow, for example. After a piece of content is produced, it needs to go through copyediting, QA, and stakeholder review and approval before it is published or distributed. This is an example of a workflow but doesn’t necessarily roll up to a higher-level organizational goal.

How Processes Drive Organizational Goals

Now, let’s dive into the next part in an attempt to unravel another source of confusion: organizational goals.

Like workflows and processes, each professional and organization defines “organizational goals” differently. For example, referring back to our examples above, “onboarding new employees” could very well be considered an organizational goal to some, but not to others. Conversely, some might read the “approval workflow” example and argue that QA and stakeholder buy-in are aligned with organizational goals. That is fine.

The point here is to make sure you clearly define what a “goal” is to the organization and communicate those among team members and stakeholders. From there, you can then accurately communicate workflows and processes to team members, ensuring everyone is on the same page.

How to Use Processes and Workflows

All in all, workflows provide many benefits. They aid team members in their jobs, improve efficiency, and bring order to chaos. Workflows are also important for scaling businesses. By building as many workflows as necessary, and then automating them, you can prepare your business to further grow and scale.

Which workflows can you create for your business? Here are a few examples:

  • Adding new clients into a database
  • Creating change requests
  • Providing customer service and support
  • Onboarding employees
  • Reimbursing expenses
  • Processing purchase orders
  • Authorizing product returns

Going back to the subject of processes, businesses can rely on processes to solve larger issues that stand in between them and their goals. A company can use a variety of processes to determine what tasks are the most important and which may not be needed.

Process management can help shape the way a business operates and also define the culture. Here are some examples of processes:

  • Auditing
  • Administration
  • Customer Service
  • Information Technology
  • Marketing
  • Operations
  • Procurement and Logistics

How Processes and Workflows Work Together

Processes and workflows can easily explain how work is completed and executed. This is the primary reason why these terms are often confused or inadvertently used interchangeably. Efficient and interconnected workflows are a requirement for creating processes that function at their best.

There are also other differences that can be used to understand the two terms, individually and as a package deal:

  • Processes typically flow naturally through an organization, but they can be evaluated, optimized, and improved. Workflows tend to be more detailed and are analyzed and planned.
  • Processes consist of a list of tasks that workflows can be used to improve.
  • Processes help a team collaborate with one another to reach a goal. Workflows are a tool that enables the team to reach goals.
  • Workflows are always part of a more substantial process, while processes can exist on their own.

Using the Right Tool to Optimize Your Processes

Workflow management systems can help to optimize and improve processes. The ability to work around problems with logistics, technology, and human error is easier with workflows and a workflow management tool.

With Rindle, all of your work and processes are in a single place—no coding, no learning curves, just more productivity and greater efficiency.