Introductory Guide to Workflow Management

As projects become increasingly complex, it is no surprise that teams are becoming increasingly overwhelmed by their workload. Things get forgotten, inboxes are overloaded, and task lists seem to keep on growing. One way to keep that from happening is to properly manage your workflows!

In this blog, we will dive into the definition of workflow management, its various benefits, key components, best practices and more so you can start optimising your team’s time and resources.

What is a Workflow?

A workflow is a sequence of tasks that make up a larger task with the goal of producing the desired result or achieving a specific outcome. It is often a set of steps, resources and interactions that can be repeated to achieve the same result. It does so by clearly defining start and endpoints, the direction of movement, the expected results and potential alternative steps. 

There are generally two types of workflows: sequential and parallel workflows.

  • Sequential workflow: when steps need to be completed in a sequential order to reach their final end goal. They often consist of rules-based workflows with conditional logic.
  • Parallel workflow: when multiple steps are performed at the same time. This type of workflow is also known as state workflows and while not strictly sequential, can also have other tasks dependent on the completion of specific tasks within the workflow.

What is Workflow Management?

Workflow management is simply the act of organising, operating and optimising workflows. It involves the active identification, improvement, optimisation and automation of workflows to help achieve project-wide improvements in productivity, efficiency and accuracy. 

Gartner goes further to identify two types of workflow management:

  1. Internal and external process integration –  an approach to workflow management that enables business processes to be defined across different applications or vendors.
  2. Automate events or processes – an approach to workflow management that allows automated tasks to be performed.

Benefits of using Workflows and Workflow Management

Organisations understand that workflows are the building blocks of successful projects, and by extension, successful organisations. Here are some of the benefits of workflows and workflow management:

Improves workflow standardisation and reproducibility of success

With proper workflow and workflow management in place, organisations can learn from their historic experiences and build workflows that cater to the specific needs of the team or the project. If you have a winning recipe, why would you not keep using it and refining it?

Increases efficiency and productivity 

Workflow management is all about visualizing current workflows and identifying redundancies in processes or tasks. Little repetitive tasks like answering emails and building reports can quickly add up when completed over an extensive period of time. Powerful workflow management solutions are now able to automate a lot of these repetitive tasks so teams can focus on completing tasks that are the most productive and value-adding for the project and/or the organisation. 

Reduces costs 

Workflow management helps minimise bottlenecks within business processes and errors that can be costly for teams and an organisation. Additionally, workflow management also helps with labour management as it makes sure that team members can focus on the most value-adding activities rather than wasting precious time and resources on repetitive tasks. An efficient workflow means a more cost-effective project. 

Minimises project risk

Workflows give teams the necessary visibility over their tasks to make sure they can identify and reduce possible opportunities for delays that can put the project at risk. Additionally, workflow management gives teams greater access to information to make more accurate and realistic timelines that will prevent issues such as scope creep from occurring. 

Improves accountability and workload management

Workflows enable teams to clearly allocate tasks and responsibilities to specific team members with clarity. With all necessary stakeholders aware of their distinct roles and responsibilities, teams are not left uncertain when changes occur as the workflow helps define them. Additionally, workflows allow managers to see where some team members may be overloaded and redistribute the work to other members.

Workflow Management vs Project Management

While they may have some similarities, from their focus on improving efficiencies, reducing risks and costs, workflow management and project management provide these benefits through different scales.

Workflow management often falls under business project management and looks at optimising practices that are often repeated, like onboarding new staff to processing a sales order. On the other hand, project management looks at the larger picture. It involves managing and optimising multiple sets of tasks to deliver a one-time project. While some processes can be repeated and reapplied in project management, many processes are adapted depending on the specific project’s or team’s needs.

Key components of a workflow 

Understanding the base components of a workflow not only lets you build them accurately and effectively but also allows you to easily automate them if you have the right workflow management solution. With each component being clearly defined, team members and managers can easily input data and enable the automation to run on their own.

There are three core parameters in a workflow:

  • Input: the necessary materials and/or resources to complete the task
  • Transformation: the set of rules that define how the input is to be received and utilised
  • Output: the final materials, resources or product that is produced through the step and acts as the input to the next step.

There are then four sets of components that function within these parameters of workflows. They are namely:

  • Stakeholders: People who are involved and/or responsible for the specific step.
  • Activities: Involve the tasks that act as a single logical step within the process of the workflow. Activities completed in a specific manner are known as an action. When actors and activities are paired together, it becomes a task that is then activated once a dependency condition is fulfilled.
  • Conditions: define the specific rules the workflow must abide by.
  • Results: the desired outcome of each step.

Workflow management best practices

Workflows find their roots in the 1920s manufacturing industry and since their inception, has spurred many different interactions and theories in an attempt to further optimise the process. A few prominent workflow improvement theories include Sigma Six, Lean Management, Total Quality Management and Business Process Reengineering.

  • Sigma six: a set of techniques first introduced by Motorola to improve business processes. At its core, it is a statistical and data-driven process that reviews holistic processes in minute detail to identify mistakes, reduce process variation and increase overall process performance.
  • Lean Management: Introduced through Toyota in the 40s, Lean Management applies a philosophy of continuous improvement by constantly seeking opportunities to improve processes, reduce wastages and increase productivity.
  • Total Quality Management (TQM): primarily used in manufacturing, total quality management is a holistic management approach that aims to achieve maximum customer satisfaction at the lowest costs by improving and optimising business processes. It aims to refine the quality of the product at each step to further refine the overall process.
  • Business Process Reengineering (BPR): involves the radical overhaul of a business’s core process to improve overall product output, quality, or reduce costs.

Organisations can choose to adopt these approaches and incorporate them into their organisational philosophies and practices to achieve the best results. It is important to understand how your organisation’s pre-existing context, approaches and intended outcomes may impact your choice of theory.

Workflow Management Solution Benefits

Long gone are the days when workflows would be managed on paper or even clunky excel worksheets. As the benefits of workflow management become ever more apparent to organisations, many software solution companies have made advancements in their tools to make your workflow management activities as seamless and efficient as possible. Here are some of the benefits of a proper workflow management solution:

Greater visibility and control over workflows and projects

When your projects are running countless workflows within a mountain of projects, documents and data can easily get buried and misplaced. With a proper workflow management solution, all your data on your workflows are stored in a central location that allows your teams to not only easily locate information but also allows them to pull valuable data on workflow progress so you can understand the far-reaching impacts of your steps and workflows to overall project success.

Improved efficiency and profitability 

With an effective workflow management solution, your historic workflows can be easily stored and reused as templates for future projects, saving your teams the tedious work and time needed to set up and redefine workflows. Powerful automation tools can also help streamline a lot of the mundane and time-consuming administrative tasks such as email communications and reporting updates. Additionally, with every iteration and use, your teams can further improve the workflows to make them as efficient as possible leading to fewer wastages and overall reduced costs. 

Greater accuracy in estimations

With historic records of prior usage of workflows, teams can pull from this data to make more informed and accurate estimations within their workflows to gain the greatest level of accuracy within their plans. With greater accuracy comes reduced risks and overall reduced wastages from unexpected occurrences or issues. 

Flexibility and agility

A powerful workflow management solution not only allows you to manage workflows but also facilitates greater collaboration. By integrating with different software and tools, workflow management software can make sure that all activities relating to the project and workflow can be handled on a single platform so teams have the flexibility and agility to collaborate more effectively while also ensuring their data is secure. 

Scalability

An effective workflow management solution allows you to easily store, repeat and reuse your workflows at scale. Pair this with integration capabilities across all your project-related tasks and all your processes and activities can be easily linked and scaled up as your organisation grows. 

Workflow Management Solution Features

Making the most out of your workflow management solution involves making sure you have the most useful and powerful tools and features on your side. Here are some of the most important features you should look for in your next workflow management solution:

Automation capabilities

Make sure your solution allows you to easily automate your workflows and simplify your task management activities. Having a low code/no-code environment is also critical to allow your teams to easily build and customize workflows for their needs rather than burdening in-house developers. Automating custom progress updates or sending reporting emails to necessary stakeholders when a task is completed should be a breeze.

Integrations with different tools 

Workflows and projects are not completed in isolation. They often enlist the help of different communication and collaboration software, ERP tools, accounting tools and so much more. Being able to integrate all your critical tools with your workflow management solution makes sure that all your progress and documentation is visible and accessible to all team members at any given time. This ensures your workflow has the greatest accuracy and facilitates greater productivity within the team.

Reporting and dashboards

A proper workflow management solution allows teams to easily keep track and measure progress through intuitive dashboards by enabling teams to extract, filter and visualise their data in real-time to optimise their activities. These dashboards should have the added exporting tools to enable simplified reporting activities such as direct capabilities to send an email or share to other team members.

Cloud-based solution

Making sure your workflow management solution is cloud-based allows your teams to access all the information they need from wherever and whenever. Cloud-based solutions also have the added benefits of improving the overall reliability and security of your data as you can easily assign role-based accessibility settings that let you know who can access your data at any given moment.

Workflow pattern flexibility

A proper workflow management solution allows you to easily adapt, customise and update your workflow patterns to suit your needs as you go. Pay attention to how easy it is to update different components of your workflow and how accurately it estimates the ensuing impacts of such changes. 

Build powerful automated workflows with pmo365

Lucky for you, you don’t need to look any further to start building powerful workflows for your organisation. Pmo365 is a holistic one-stop solution for all your project and workflow management needs. With experts in Power Automate, we can help build bespoke automated workflows that suit your every need.

If you want to find out how we can help you take your workflows to the next level, make sure to check out how we work or chat directly with our PPM experts to see our workflow management tool in action!

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