Workflows are the backbone of any organization, and understanding them is critical to improving efficiency and productivity. This guide delves into the world of workflows, explaining their function, types, creation, and management.
At their essence, workflows are systems designed for managing recurring tasks and processes that occur in a specific sequence. They are the gears that turn to make an organization functional, whether that involves manufacturing goods, providing services, or processing information.
In the realm of business process management, a workflow is seen as a sequence of individual tasks, while a business process is a more complex entity, consisting of multiple workflows, data, people, and their activity patterns. What sets a workflow apart is its simplicity and repeatability, and it can be visualized using a diagram or checklist.
The Evolution of Workflows
Frederick Taylor, a mechanical engineer, is attributed with the scientific management theories which form the foundation of workflows. He aimed to enhance industrial efficiency through empirical analysis of manufacturing processes, striving to minimize waste and standardize best practices.
His theories, along with those of Henry Gantt—the creator of the widely used Gantt chart— continue to inform project management and industrial engineering today. Workflows aid in planning and supervising projects systematically, enabling teams to meet critical deadlines and milestones.
The concept of workflows also permeates operations research, a discipline that applies analytical methods to study work nature. Techniques from statistics, game theory, and artificial intelligence are employed alongside management science to solve complex real-world problems.
Workflow Mapping and Diagrams
Workflows consist of discrete, step-by-step tasks that can be visualized using a diagram or flowchart. Workflow mapping, also known as process mapping, offers a deeper comprehension of the overall workflow process, enabling optimization and/or automation.
Workflow diagrams are constructed using the following steps to ensure a systematic approach to visualizing and understanding the flow of tasks within a workflow.
Workflow Automation and Business Process Management
Workflow management software plays a crucial role in simplifying and optimizing a business process within an organization. It largely achieves this by coordinating interactions among different stakeholders and between individuals and information systems. Workflow management systems route tasks to the appropriate employee at the right time, providing the relevant information and nudge to speed up work along the overall process.
Automated systems are inherently efficient, consistent, and scalable. Business process management (BPM) can assist in automating mundane tasks using a technology known as robotic process automation (RPA). RPA is particularly effective at performing repetitive tasks such as automatic email responses, transaction processing, or communicating with multiple databases while processing an insurance claim.
Types of Workflows
Workflows can be categorized in various ways including process workflows, case workflows, and project workflows. However, they are primarily grouped into two approaches:
- Sequential: In this type of workflow, a series of steps occur one after another to complete the task. A rules-driven workflow is a subset of sequential workflow, progressing along a sequential path based on the rules triggered.
- Parallel: In parallel workflows, a series of steps are tackled concurrently to move the task toward completion.
Components of a Workflow
Every workflow comprises three essential components:
- Input: Also known as the start or trigger, it refers to the information, materials, and resources required to complete each step within the task.
- Transformation: This involves the actions undertaken to perform each step and progress through the sequential or parallel steps.
- Output: Also called the result or outcome, it is the product of each step that then becomes the input for the subsequent steps within the workflow. The completed task is the final output.
Crafting a Workflow
Workflows exist in organizations even when they're not well-defined or managed to any degree. However, workflows that are thoughtfully created and well managed are efficient, less prone to errors, and likely to improve over time.
Creating a process-improving workflow involves multiple steps:
- Identify the start and endpoint of the process.
- List or map out each step required to move from the start point to the endpoint.
- Assess whether these tasks must happen in a specific order and list or map them accordingly.
- Determine and document the resources and roles within the organization required to complete each step.
- Execute the workflow.
Once a workflow is created and documented, it must be managed. Workflow management is the discipline of creating, documenting, monitoring, and improving a workflow. This process enables organizations to optimize workflows, ensuring each step is completed correctly, consistently, and efficiently.
Workflow management also enables organizations to identify steps in a workflow that can be automated using defined business rules. Workflow automation offers numerous benefits for the enterprise, including faster execution of workflows, a reduction in errors, cost savings, improved employee morale, and improved customer satisfaction.
In conclusion, understanding workflows is crucial for companies looking to improve their overall efficiency and output. By having a clear understanding of the steps involved in completing a task or project, teams can identify areas for improvement, streamline processes, and ultimately increase productivity. Whether it's through the use of software tools or manual documentation, having a solid grasp on workflows can make a significant difference in the success of a business.