What is a Workflow? Definition, Components, and Advantages

A workflow is the systematic organization of resources to build processes that transform materials, provide services, or process information. Essentially, It is a sequence of operations conducted by a person, an organization of staff, or one or more simple or complex mechanisms.

Workflows take place across every industry. They are the building blocks of every business, combined with other parts of an organization’s structure, such as information technology, teams, projects, and hierarchies. 

This article will define a workflow process, explain its components and types, and demonstrate how using online whiteboards to create and monitor workflows helps improve overall team efficiency.

The three types of workflows

There are three kinds of workflows that you can use for your business. Each has its advantages depending on the use case. 

  1. Process Workflow

The most commonly used workflows in businesses are Process workflows. They are most suitable when the sequence of tasks is systematic and predictable. Some examples of process workflows include purchase orders, employee onboarding, invoice approval, and vacation requests.

  1. Case Workflow

Case workflows are the opposite of process workflows as they do not have a systematic or predictable path. They are not pre-planned and do not have a clear solution from the beginning. The solution reveals itself as you gather more data through investigation—for example, an insurance claim or an asset inspection. 

  1. Project Workflow

A project workflow is suitable for projects involving numerous variables and several stakeholders. These projects, such as website design and launch, follow a defined yet flexible approach. Although project deliverables can be specified, project workflows are often one-time use instances.

What is a Workflow 2

Workflow Examples

Below, we’ll look at some common examples of workflows across every business. 

  1. Sales Order

A sales order is a crucial component of every business. Typically, a sales order workflow involves the following stages: a salesperson creates an order, the client is billed the invoice, the client pays the invoice, and finally, the fulfillment department delivers the order.

  1. Purchase Order

Purchase orders are essential for businesses to manage their overall spend. They help ensure that you and your supplier are on the same page. A Purchase Order workflow usually looks like this:

  • Firstly, procurement creates PO, manager approves, PO sent to the supplier,
  • Then, goods or services are received
  • Invoice is received from the supplier and authorized
  • Finally, pay the supplier.
  1. Team Member Onboarding 

Various industries such as the banking and insurance sector utilize workflows for employee onboarding and loan processing. After submitting an application, a sequence of sequential tasks such as client identification verification, statement disclosure, credit approvals, and contract signing begin. Furthermore, all of these transaction records are documented and saved for audit purposes.

  1. E-Commerce 

Order submission is a standard e-commerce workflow. A consumer puts an order, enters their payment information, completes the transaction, and receives money. After receiving the order, the item(s) are picked from a warehouse, packaged into a parcel, and dispatched to the consumer.

The three basic components of a Workflow

Every workflow has three basic components. These are fundamental components that remain unchanged, irrespective of the type of workflow. In fact, every stage in a workflow falls into either one of these components:

  1. Input

The input is the first component of any workflow. This is the resource that completes or begins a workflow phase.

  1. Transformation 

The direction or rule by which input is received and what happens when it is received is referred to as transformation.

  1. Output

Output is the final product or deliverable of a workflow process. It is the result of the transformation. The output can also function as the input for the following step in a workflow.

All workflow procedures may be simplified to these three components even at a higher level. In fact, most processes have a combination of several inputs, transformations, and outputs.

Four main components constitute a major portion of a workflow. These are actors, activities, results, and states. 

  • Actors are people or machines responsible for the work.
  • Activities are the tasks or business processes performed. They represent a single, logical step in the process.   
  • Results are the outcomes of each step. 
  • The state occurs when a project is between processes. To ensure that processes flow in the specified sequence, flow control is used. 

Documenting the workflow process is essential for project managers, professionals, and academics alike since it provides a roadmap for the future promotes transparency and reproducibility, and enables data analysis. Experts in the field advise carefully documenting how data is evaluated and transformed.

The advantages of using workflows

Workflows are an excellent opportunity to break out of inefficient teamwork and utilize a new strategy of collaboration. Following are some reasons that workflows are essential and advantageous to implement.

  1. Increased Productivity

By building a workflow diagram, you can put out a blueprint for your teams to follow when solving problems in the future. 

Teams are always more efficient when they share a common set of knowledge and assumptions. Miscommunication and collaboration breakdowns are far more frequent when you don’t have a diagrammed workflow process.  

  1. Faster Cycle Times

By planning out your workflow and defining a set of activities, you can identify the existing bottlenecks and eliminate them. This leads to optimized workflows with faster cycle times.   

  1. Reduced Costs

Workflow configuration increases efficiency, reduces paperwork, and improves employee effectiveness. These enhancements result in lower total operating expenses.

  1. Reduced Inaccuracies

Standardized and automated workflows lead to a reduced risk of error. Standardized workflows also produce more consistent outputs, resulting in consistent, effective outcomes.

  1. Increased Revenue 

Efficient workflows can assist companies to provide more conscious and effective customer experiences, resulting in customer loyalty and new client acquisition, leading to an overall increase in revenue. 

  1. Better Company Culture

Workflows encourage independence and responsibility. Employees plan and design every stage of their job to assist them in succeeding, which leads to overall success. Trust, independence, and accountability are the pillars of strong company culture.

What are Workflow Management Systems?

Workflow management systems are softwares geared toward business process automation. They have the infrastructure needed to arrange, track, control, and coordinate workflows. 

A workflow management system has detailed functionality as it allows users to define workflows based on various characteristics. The software uses these characteristics to analyze and provide suggestions for improvements.    

In addition, workflow management systems have the following capabilities as well: 

  • Automatic routing
  • Automated processing 
  • Combining multiple systems and processes into a cohesive structure 
  • Integrating with existing infrastructure 
  • Organizing products from assorted sources 
  • Notify and give data needed to complete their step 
  • Provide follow-ups for unfinished processes 

Workflow management systems are capable of creating three different types of workflows. These are sequential, state machine, and rules-driven workflows. Their use cases depend entirely on the needs of workflow processes.

  • A sequential workflow, like a flow chart, is linear and progressive. This workflow moves from one activity or procedure to the next without stopping in the middle.
  • A state machine workflow is more sophisticated than a sequential workflow and may require multiple iterations. These processes go from one “state” to another.
  • A rules-driven workflow is just a more advanced sequential workflow. The workflow progress is determined by “rules.” They employ conditions to determine if phrases are “true” or “false,” and the rules are represented by the “if,” “then,” or “else” expressions.

How to Integrate Online Whiteboards into your Workflow Process

Identifying your resources is the first step in creating a workflow process. Some important questions you can ask yourself are, what is currently in place? how it is handled? who is engaged? etc. Then, layout the workflow processes, the various possible outcomes, and the data that will pass through each step. 

Determine who is responsible for each stage and designate stakeholders. Finally, draw a schematic of the workflow to help you visualize it.

Creating a workflow process is simple after you’ve learned the use of an online whiteboard. Online Whiteboards are ideal tools for creating these diagrams as they allow you to collaborate with your entire team. 

FAQs

What is the difference between workflows and processes? 

A workflow examines the individual steps necessary to complete a job, whereas a process is the aggregate and flow of the activities required to achieve a goal. People typically combine the concepts into “workflow process” since it encompasses the many use cases related to these two terms. This suggests they are referring to similar processes but at different scales.

While this distinction allows you some leeway in using the phrases independently, try not to get too caught up in the difference. Given how similar they are, there will be a lot of crossover between them. The most crucial distinction is related to comparable procedures of completing things on various dimensions.

What is Workflow Automation?

Workflow automation refers to using technology to automate part or all of a process. There are several advantages to increasing automation. For starters, computer systems can often complete more work in less time. Furthermore, the person who was previously conducting that work may now focus on other duties that may be more difficult to automate.

For example, the finance team has to review the data generated by your workflow. In that case, an automated workflow may create a report and conduct computerized tests to identify any issues. Then, someone from the finance team must review the information and make choices based on it. This saves time on data compilation, organization, and analysis.  

What is the difference between a Manual and Automated Workflow?

Manual processes have many of the benefits of automated workflows. However, since two or more people manage manual workflows, there are more in-between phases, errors may occur, and they usually take longer.

An automated process may achieve many of the same goals as a manual process but at a quicker and more precise rate. Furthermore, automated procedures are distinct in that they may eliminate the middleman and any intermediary stages that waste time and contribute to errors.

What is a Workflow Diagram? 

A workflow diagram visually represents a repeatable and sequential process designed to see a task through to completion. Hence, these diagrams depict what must occur and in what order.

How does Workflow Management Differ from Project Management?

These are very similar concepts, but they are not identical. For example, workflow management automates business processes that are manual and repetitive. Therefore, it eliminates redundancies and maximizes overall efficiency. However, project management is a broader process that encompasses coordination and planning and requires constant iterations. 

You can use many tools and resources to achieve your organizational goals and complete the project. 

Endnote

Hopefully, this article has helped you realize how employing a workflow process can be an excellent tool for increasing the efficiency and productivity of your team. If you want to learn more about Virtual Workshops, Check out Fresco.

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