Every business and professionals strive to be more effective and efficient in doing their work. The basis of every business is to use fewer resources (including time) to achieve better results, but in today’s very demanding and fast-paced world, this is easier said than done.
The solution for this is to develop and optimize your workflow, and this is why you need to practice workflow management.
While the implementation of workflow management can also be challenging and will take some of your time, in the long run, it will improve your performance and save even more time.
Here, we will discuss all you need to know about workflow management, the concept of workflows itself, and how you can map, analyze, and automate your workflow to improve efficiency and productivity.
Without further ado, let us begin.
What is a Workflow?
A workflow is a sequence of tasks that when executed will achieve a certain objective.
A workflow may involve transformation from raw materials into processed goods. Or, processing of raw data into a finalized form (i.e. an annual report).
All businesses and even all professionals always have at least one workflow in their day-to-day operations. Some are relatively simple and straightforward, but some others might involve complex interconnected workflows.
The term “workflow” is often confused with “process” or “business process”, and while they are indeed related, they are not exactly the same.
To understand the difference, we have to discuss that we can divide workflows into three major types:
- Process: the workflow is predictable and repeatable, when given the same input will produce the same output with minimal variations. Example: a restaurant cooking its signature dish
- Project: the workflow is predictable but typically non-repeatable (one-off). Example: a restaurant developing a new “special of the month” dish
- Case: the workflow is structured and repeatable, but the steps aren’t clear at first. Only when more data is gathered that the steps will reveal themselves. Example: a restaurant taking orders from customers, only after more information is gathered from the customer can the restaurant figure out the next steps.
When discussing “workflow management”, typically it refers to managing and optimizing process, so as we can see workflow management is not project management. However, some principles of workflow management can also be applied to projects and cases.
Workflow Management: Step-By-Step
While the actual workflow management process may vary depending on the workflow itself, and other factors, there are three core phases of any workflow management effort:
- Workflow mapping: visualizing the workflow into a workflow diagram
- Workflow analysis: analyzing the workflow diagram to identify inefficiencies and bottlenecks
- Workflow optimization: improving the workflow based on the results of the analysis
In practice, we can perform these phases in the following steps:
Step 1: Picking a workflow
While the ultimate goal is to manage and optimize all workflows, we should start and focus on one.
The question is, which workflow should you pick? Generally, there are three main approaches:
- Strategic: picking a workflow that will produce the most impact on your business
- Reactive: picking a workflow with visible inefficiencies and issues to fix it ASAP
- Customer-centric: picking a workflow that will matter the most to customers and will improve customer satisfaction (i.e., queue time)
Step 2: Gather data
Once you’ve picked a workflow, the next step is to gather as much information as possible about the workflow. You can interview stakeholders and team members who are directly involved with the workflow to figure out:
- Start and end requirements for the workflow (start and endpoint)
- All the tasks involved in the workflow, and the exact sequence
- Who’s responsible for each task
- The deadline for each task
- The requirement for each task
- The information required to make decisions (if any)
You can also gather feedback regarding how the workflow should be improved based on their experiences, which will be helpful for your workflow analysis process.
Step 3: Map your workflow
In this step, we’ll use the information we’ve gathered to map a workflow diagram. You can technically use a pen and paper for this. Still, it’s best to draft the process directly on your workflow analysis and management software like Aproove so you can also perform workflow analysis and optimization directly in the same software solution.
While you can use various techniques to map the workflow, the most common method is using an ANSI flowchart.
Visualize the workflow as accurately as possible, and involve your stakeholders to review the workflow map to ensure accuracy.
Step 4: Workflow Analysis
Once you’ve got an exemplary workflow diagram, the next step is to analyze the map to identify inefficiencies so you can develop an improvement plan.
Analyze the workflow to:
- Track its progress against its objective
- Identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies.
- Identify the purpose behind each step and whether there are steps that can be substituted or eliminated.
- Analyze the roles of different teams and individuals in the workflow whether the tasks are assigned to the right person/team
When analyzing each step of the workflow, you should consider:
- Is this step needed to fulfill the objective?
- Can the approval process be eliminated into a simple notification instead?
- Can we ensure everyone always has enough data to perform their task?
- Can we simplify or automate the task?
Based on your findings, plan how you are going to improve and optimize the workflow.
Step 5: Workflow optimization
Based on the improvement plan you’ve developed on the analysis process, implement the changes to the workflow.
Get your stakeholders and team members to review and evaluate the changes. Check whether the workflow is more efficient than before the changes got implemented and improve it further.
Workflow management allows us to analyze and optimize a workflow to ensure it’s as efficient as possible.
One of the critical aspects of workflow management is ensuring you are assigning the right task to the right people. The better you know your team, the better you can optimize your workflow management. This is why facilitating communication and collaboration with workflow management solutions like Aproove is crucial when implementing workflow
Chris Mcdonald has been the lead news writer at complete connection. His passion for helping people in all aspects of online marketing flows through in the expert industry coverage he provides. Chris is also an author of tech blog Area19delegate. He likes spending his time with family, studying martial arts and plucking fat bass guitar strings.