What Are the Differences Between Workflows and Processes?

Feb 26, 2021
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What Are the Differences Between Workflows and Processes?

There is a lot of buzz surrounding process management and business process management. If you’re familiar with one or both of these, then you are likely familiar with workflow and process. Although the two have similar characteristics and are essentially interrelated, there are minor differences.

In this article, we will explain the differences between workflows and processes, why your business needs both, and what to consider when designing them

Workflow vs. Process: What’s the Difference?

Let’s begin with some basic definitions.

A workflow is a series of repeatable activities that you need to carry out to finish a task.

A process is a set of repeatable activities that need to be carried out to accomplish or reach a higher-level organizational goal.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “those sound like exactly the same thing…” you aren’t wrong. The major difference between the two is the final output or end goal. Let’s clarify:

  • A workflow involves completing a specific task.
  • A process involves accomplishing an organizational goal.

If you read our blog on “What is a Process?”, we will refer to the same example of both a process and procedure here:


New Client Kick Off

Workflow (Tasks):

Receive signed operating agreement.

Add client information into billing software.

Create a folder on Google Drive to store all client- and project-related files.

Add client project to master production calendar.

Schedule internal kick off meeting with team.

In this particular example, the “workflow” is made up of the list of tasks mentioned above. The process is kicking off a new client in a way that is efficient, organized, and ensures a seamless client experience.

Furthermore, “organizational goals” can be interpreted differently among teams. This is often why many use “process” and “workflow” interchangeably. Therefore, it’s important for teams to be on the same page when discussing workflows and processes.

For example, some leaders and team members might refer to their workflows as “automated processes”. In this context, the “process” is a high-level list of tasks that a project leader or team member is responsible for carrying out in order to ensure a client has a great onboarding experience. The great onboarding experience is the organizational goal.

On the other hand, a workflow is made up of the specific tasks that a team member must complete that is also in line with that high-level process.

Workflows and Processes: The Best (and Benefits) of Both Worlds

Now that you have a better understanding of the differences between a workflow and a process, here are the benefits of both workflows and processes:

  • They are important for getting things done.
  • They keep your business running like a well-oiled machine.
  • They make work easier.
  • They boost efficiency and productivity.
  • They ensure the customer experience is consistent.
  • They boost team morale.
  • They help reduce errors.
  • They eliminate bottlenecks.
  • They help keep teams focused on deep, meaningful work, and what matters most.

In fact, based on a study performed by SIS, by reducing bottlenecks, teams can save approximately 3.5 hours per week simply by reducing bottlenecks in their processes.

How to Build Workflows and Processes

Before we dive into how to start designing and building workflows and processes, let’s quickly recap:

  • A workflow involves completing a specific task.
  • A process involves accomplishing an organizational goal.
  • Both workflows and processes are important for streamlining operations, making work easier, and getting things done.

There are many different types of workflows, and it can be overwhelming to determine what will work best for your business. Additionally, there are a ton of tools, software, techniques, and systems available today to help you with workflow and process design.

Although you can research some existing workflows that some of your competitors use and emulate them, the key is to develop a workflow that is customized to your teams’, clients’, and business’ needs. It’s important to be deliberate and intentional about your workflows and processes, and ensure that they are aligned with your organization’s core values, principles, and overarching goals.

Above all, a workflow and process should be reliable, repeatable, and simple. They shouldn’t be complicated. However, in our experience, it’s easy for teams to get carried away in the workflow design process and make their workflows and processes more complicated than they need to be. Complicated workflows only lead to confusion, a lack of team member buy-in, and they also increase the margin for error.

Here are some things to consider when building a workflow and process:

  • Reflect. Take a few minutes and think about how your projects and tasks currently get done. Now, if resources weren’t a factor, draw or map out what an ideal workflow would look like for your team.

  • Set Goals. Goal-setting should be the first element in every workflow design session. Every goal for every process and workflow should be aligned with the higher-level goals of your business.

  • Define Roles. Be as clear as possible when assigning and communicating specific roles for specific workflows and processes so the entire team is on the same page as to who is working on what, and who is responsible for what.

  • Identify Decision-makers. Every workflow should include approval or review cycles with a key decision-maker. Decision-makers can also be project leads, project or program managers, or team leaders, or anyone who “owns” the process.

  • Build Communication Plans. The majority of problems in a project or business that arise are due to poor communication, miscommunication, or misinterpretations. In fact, studies have shown that approximately $37 billion is wasted every year due to poor communication.

    Don’t be one of those companies. When building a workflow, think through all the necessary communication touchpoints, the frequency at which they need to occur, who needs to be a part of them, and the appropriate communication channels to use for different scenarios.

  • Define Deliverables. This is another area where clarity is key. It’s important to ensure that everyone is on the same page as to what a deliverable is, when it is due, and the client’s expectations around that particular deliverable.

    For example, if a deliverable is a “high-level design strategy”, a project leader or decision-maker should immediately clarify and communicate what exactly this is—is it a site map or other product architecture? A slide deck with weighted criteria for product concept ideas, elements, or features? Get as detailed as possible.

  • Design Your Processes and Workflows. Although this seems like the most complicated, it is actually the easiest step. Once you’ve thought through your team’s style of work, and the other points listed above, this step involves choosing the best tools, systems, and tactics that pull all the pieces together.

  • Document Them. Once you have designed your workflows and processes, don’t forget to document them! There are four essential types of workflow documentation that organizations use. These can include Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), checklists, how-to guides, flowcharts, and more.

    For example, you might build a Wiki for your team to serve as a knowledge base or a centralized hub to store all your workflow and process documents.

  • Iterate, Optimize, and Improve. So, you finally designed, built, and documented all your new processes and workflows. Phew! Your work is done, right? Wrong. As client and business needs shift, it’s important to audit and optimize your existing processes and workflows to ensure they are still working and meeting your teams’ and clients’ needs.

    This should be an ongoing, iterative process. Schedule a call with your team once per month to review existing processes and workflows, and figure out what is working best and what isn’t, and look for ways to improve them.

Make Workflows and Processes a Habit with Rindle

Workflows and processes are both important. By following the steps above, you can start to break down what is needed to build efficient workflows.

It’s important to remember that you can build workflows and processes until you are blue in the face, but that doesn’t mean that they will work or that your team will follow them. It’s important to establish a level of accountability across the team and to also make following the new processes and workflows a habit. Rindle is a great system for helping you not only document your workflows and processes but also building an automated solution into your workflows.

All in all, every team is different, which means every workflow and process is different. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, super-efficient and functional processes can be a valuable and sustainable capability for a business. Every workflow is different. Be sure to take some time to figure out what kind of system works for you.

Check out the Rindle eBook for additional information!