what is a workflow

What is a workflow, why do you need one and how do you make one?

If you’re reading this you’ve come across the term ‘workflow’ and are wondering what it means and how it applies to your business processes.

While countless businesses operate without managers knowing what a workflow is, these same businesses all make use of workflows of some kind.

Take a mobile food truck as an example.

The owner of the food truck may not be up to speed on business buzzwords like ‘workflow’, yet he uses workflows every day to keep his business running.

His workflows include everything from the processes he follows to procure raw ingredients through to the steps he takes to prepare the items on his menu.

So what is a workflow then?

A workflow is a set of individual tasks linked together in a fixed sequence to define a repeatable process.

The recipes used by the food truck owner are a simple but excellent example of a workflow.

Recipes involves performing a series of actions in a specific sequence to produce a dish that will consistently taste the same, irrespective of who prepares it.

Like any workflow, the recipe is intended for repeated use.

In the office environment the term ‘workflow’ is used to describe more than just a structured task list.

Here, the term ‘workflow’ also refers to the actual definition and visualization of the flow of related tasks within a repeatable process.

Why do you need a workflow?

Workflows can be used extensively without being visualized or otherwise put to paper, and millions of people around the world implement complex non-linear workflows every day in this way.

However, failing to structure and define workflows carries inherent risks as they can be easily lost when key employees depart an organization and are difficult to communicate or share.

Without defined, structured workflows it also becomes more difficult to analyze and improve process management and efficiency.

Structuring workflows allow you to:

  • carefully design repeatable processes
  • record and store processes for easy re-use
  • assign these processes, or tasks within them, to other members of your organization
  • provide a map for tracking progress of tasks within a workflow
  • analyze and modify task sequences to improve efficiency or workflow outcomes.

How to create a workflow

Whether you’re defining and recording an established workflow for the first time, or designing a new workflow from scratch, you’ll need to take the following steps:

  • define what the result of the process should be
  • list the individual tasks required to produce the desired result, in the correct sequence
  • provide detail on what each tasks involves
  • define how long each task should take
  • indicate which person in the organization is responsible for each task.

How you approach this process depends to some extent on how complex the workflow is and whether you’re defining an existing workflow or creating a new one.

If you’re creating a workflow for the first time, a pen and paper are good tools for brainstorming ideas as well as the tasks required to achieve the desired result.

However, once you have a clearer picture of what your workflow will look like, it’s a good idea to make use of software to help you organize and store your workflow for easy retrieval and implementation.

How to improve workflow efficiency

If you want to know how to improve workflow in the office, we’ve already provided the answer. Purpose-built workflow software.

There are a couple of different types of workflow software available on the market. These are broadly divided into two categories.

1. Workflow design software

Workflow design software allows you to map out highly complex workflows on a graphic interface. Examples include Visio and SmartDraw.

Workflow design software is excessive for the needs of many businesses, as it is used to graphically map out complex workflows with large numbers of parallel processes and task dependencies.

Workflow design software is also not specifically focused on workflow management or automation, while both of these are practical requirements for businesses of all sizes.

2. Workflow management software

Workflow management software like SOPHY is designed to both set up and automate elements of workflows.

The extent and complexity of the automation process varies from one workflow management software product to the next.

For example SOPHY allows users to:

  • easily create workflows by setting up tasks and task lists, or customizing existing workflow templates
  • record relevant information on each task within a workflow, including uploading relevant documents or assets
  • transparently assign tasks within the workflow to other members of the team
  • automate the follow-up process, which means that the app tracks the progress of tasks and notifies users of changes to the task status or impending deadlines, as required
  • save workflows as templates so that they are not lost and can be re-used
  • communicate around tasks and workflows directly within the app, helping to create a paper trail and accountability for each task
  • track workflows and distribute tasks on the cloud, which makes workflows accessible to any authorized team members using a connected device.

It’s so easy to use that even our food truck owner could use a tool like SOPHY to define workflows, from recipes to procurement of ingredients, and delegate tasks within each of the workflows to members of his food truck team.

These benefits scale up for larger companies with a greater number of more complex workflows, providing them with multiple opportunities to optimize the way they get things done, boost productivity and reduce stress within the organization.

Make your workflows work for you.

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