At the heart of every business are workflows. Whether you identify, monitor and manage them or not, they are driving your business forward. Understanding workflows, workflow management and the potential of each will help you to ensure the success of your organization. Below, you will find answers to questions such as what is workflow? What are some examples? And, how do you manage them?
How Do You Define Workflow?
A workflow is a series of steps related to processing data. It is similar to the closely related concept of a business process. However, workflows specifically focus on data and often are driven by documents and reports. Additionally, unlike processes, workflows may not be repeatable (although they often are).
Every type of organization and industry involves workflows of some type. They may be entirely human-based, mostly system-driven or somewhere in between. Anytime data is passing between two entities, it is likely a workflow.
Types of Workflows
There are a few different ways to categorize workflows. However, breaking them down by repeatability is a great way to take a deeper look at workflows.
- Process: A process is a repeatable series of steps used to advance business operations. In most cases, this intersects with a workflow making a process workflow. These workflows are highly predictable and have relatively consistent data inputs and outputs. There are few variations once the workflow has begun and those can be predicted based on the inputs.
- Case: A case workflow is the opposite of a process workflow. It is a series of tasks needed to process data in a one-off situation. The basic workflow may be somewhat consistent between workflows. However, the input data can greatly impact the steps involved. For example, an asset inspection may be a case workflow because the follow-up steps depend on what work was needed to fix issues with the asset.
- Project: A project workflow is somewhere in between a case and a process in terms of repeatability. Each project is a little different. However, the data workflow is roughly the same and somewhat predictable. The follow-up steps from the data input will involve branching but can still be mapped with relative ease.
There are many workflows in the business world. Any series of steps that involves processing data is a workflow. The following are some real-world examples of workflows:
- Equipment Inspection: The workflow begins with a technician opening the inspection checklist document. He or she then follows the included steps, completing an inspection report in the process. The report is submitted and forwarded to the relevant managers. This can include the inspectors’ manager as well as any in charge of follow-up actions. The next steps depend on the results of the inspection. Necessary repairs and maintenance can be scheduled as required.
- Performance Reporting: This workflow may be periodic or ongoing, depending on the needs of the organization. Performance data can be automatically gathered from systems used by the relevant team. That data can then be compiled into a report to be reviewed by a manager. This workflow is a repeatable process that is mostly driven by software.
- Team Member Onboarding: Onboarding a new team member is a common workflow. It starts with sending forms to the new employee and the supervisor. These are completed with relevant information about the employee and his or her employment. That information is then processed by human resources. Once ready, other teams can follow up, such as legal and IT.
What Is Workflow Management?
Like all aspects of business operations, workflows can and should be managed. If you are not managing your workflows, they are likely happening entirely organically, which may cause inefficiency and mistakes. Fortunately, getting started with workflow management is fairly easy.
Start by mapping out your workflows. This can be done in a series of steps in a flowchart. However, case workflows may be difficult to completely map in this way. Consider a more informal chart that maps the known branches and outcomes but also acknowledges that the workflow may diverge in some cases.
Using your mapped workflows, create documentation that describes how to proceed through each workflow. Ideally, someone should be able to join your team and understand most if not all of the workflows by simply ready the documentation.
Workflows can often be simplified and improved using software. In particular, software is useful for implementing automation and rules.
What Is Workflow Automation?
Workflow automation is when you use technology to automate some or all of a workflow. There are many advantages to having more automation. First, computer systems can get more work done in less time, typically. Additionally, the person who was previously doing that work can focus on other tasks that may not be as easy to automate.
For example, if your workflow produces data that needs to be checked by the finance team, an automated workflow may create a report and run automatic tests to check for areas of concern. Then, someone from the finance team simply needs to check the report and make decisions from there. This saves time on compiling, organizing and analyzing the data. The worker can instead focus on decision making and problem solving.
There are other benefits to automation as well. One of the most significant is the increase in transparency. Since the system contains all the data from the workflow, the relevant personnel can have access whenever they need it. Conversely, if the latest version of the data is lying on someone’s desk, transparency would be greatly reduced. By the same token, workflow software also improves accountability.
Sometimes workflow automation is as simple as automatically delivering a document to the intended recipient. This is valuable if the workflow involves a chain of approvals, for example. In other cases, the system can take raw inputs from one user and produce an analysis that will be viewed by another user. For example, it could aggregate site inspection data into a report that covers multiple sites and/or capital assets. Avoiding the need to have a human compile that report saves time and money.
What Are Workflow Rules?
When you are documenting your workflows, you can think about rules that will govern them. This can cover everything from who has permission to access data to who needs to approve a decision before going forward. Essentially, the workflow rules are the parameters that guide and control your workflows.
These are easier to establish when you have high-quality software aiding workflow management. Software is inherently rule-based. Users cannot do anything that is not allowed by the system (bugs aside). Therefore, building your organization’s workflows on the right software can help you to gain more control over how data is processed.
Most workflow software can apply rules to predictable and repetitive workflows. However, some can apply rules and automation to case workflows as well. Finding the right software for your organization and help to ensure your success
Improve Your Document Workflows With Fluix
Fluix is a document workflow automation solution. It gives organizations like yours the tools necessary to identify, manage and automate workflows. With Fluix, you can have team members in the field produce documents that are used by the back office. You can ensure greater accuracy in your auditing and compliance work. In short, you can make processing data at your business faster and better.