Having a workflow design in place can help a lot in making your workplace more effective. For example, if your team comes together to start a project and they realize they don’t know where to begin, that’s a sign that you could use some written workflows being in place.
Creating workflows helps smooth the day-to-day processes of your business, helping everyone know what they should be doing to get the job done. As such, you’ll see more efficiency and greater returns. If you don’t already have a written workflow, now’s the time to create one. Here’s how you can create effective workflow management for your team.
What Is A Workflow?
Before you even get started, you’ll want to know what a workflow is. A workflow is a sequence of events that are designed to meet a certain result. For example, imagine that your company was to get a complaint. There is a sequence of events that will happen when that communication comes in:
- The communication should be recorded and tagged accordingly.
- An acknowledgment of receipt should be sent.
- The message is sent to the most relevant team member.
- That team member will manually assess the communication.
- They will find a solution and communicate with the writer to resolve the issue.
- Once this is done, the issue is marked as resolved.
As you see here, there are clear steps to take. Everyone in your business should know them, so if you get a complaint you know what to do. This is a workflow, and it’s essential as it keeps everything moving. With a good workflow, nothing should be missed or left behind. Everyone knows what their role is, and what to do.
How Do You Manage Workflows?
Now you see what a workflow is, you’ll want to manage them to make them as good as they can be. This is where you optimize these processes, to make them efficient and as simple as possible.
For example, let’s take the complaints workflow into consideration. If you’re managing that workflow, you’ll want to see how you can make it better. Are there any steps where things are getting held up? The tagging of complaints could be slowing things down, or perhaps the messages aren’t being picked up as quickly as they should be. Whatever the issue is, you’ll want to find a solution and make it better.
Automating Your Workflow
As a manager, you know there are so many tasks that need to be dealt with every day that takes up time. They’re essential parts of the process, but they’re small tasks that can be done via automation. That frees up the team to work on other tasks that need more manual effort and makes things more efficient.
In the complaints workflow, you may find that sending acknowledgments is taking up a lot of time. That’s a process that you could automate. If you get a message, sending an automated email telling the sender that you’ll deal with the complaint within a set amount of time will save time for you.
Using automation tools where possible is an essential part of workflow management. You’ll be able to free up time and get smaller tasks done much quicker than you ever could do by hand.
Understanding Workflows vs. Processes
At this point, you may be wondering what the difference between a workflow and a process is. It’s true that the two terms are often used interchangeably. They are two different things, though.
The ‘process’ is the steps you take to bring a project to completion, while a ‘workflow’ is the optimization of this process, to improve it.
Creating an Effective Workflow
If you’re looking to create a workflow, you’ll want to write it out completely, step by step. Make this process available to everyone involved in the work, so everyone is clear on what needs to be done.
In writing the workflow, you’ll also be aiming to make it as efficient as it can be. Here’s how you can put one together.
Understand Your Goal
“Before starting to write a workflow, you need to know what the outcome will be” says Sal Painter, a PM at Essay Services. “If you know this, then you’ll be able to create a much more effective process.” You may already have a process in place that you’re looking to get down in writing. If you’re starting from scratch though, ensure that you know what you’re aiming to get out of the process.
Work Out All the Steps
Now you know your goal, you need to work out what the steps you need to take are, in order to start putting the workflow together. Start writing down everything that you need to do in order to complete the objective. Once you have all those points written down, you should order them in the order of when they should be completed. This gives you the outline of the workflow.
You have all the steps laid out, now you need to see who should be responsible for each step. How will they be assigned tasks? How will you set deadlines for them? You’ll also want to designate someone to be in charge of the workflow. That could be you, or someone else in the business depending on the process itself.
Create Time Frames
For each step, you’ll need to know how long it will take to be completed. To do this, you can use your existing analytics to understand how long a step will take on average. With that, you can create time frames for each step, which will inform the deadlines. Don’t worry about setting them in stone right now. You can always adjust them as you start using the workflow.
Review Your Steps
Now you have everything in place, you can start using the workflow. Typically, you will find steps that are going to need some tweaking to make them perfect. Don’t be afraid to make changes, to make it better. This could be by adding automation, or reassigning duties as needed.
Using Workflow Software
While most businesses don’t need to use software to create workflows, they can be useful tools to do so. There are several different packages out there that will help you create the workflow in the first place, and then let you monitor and change it as needed.
They are a great tool to have if you’re looking to make your workflows more efficient. Most will let you specify a type of workflow, so you can get the most out of them. These include:
- Sequential workflows, where work progresses from one step to the next once the previous task has been completed
- State machine workflows, where work can go back if needed
- Rule driven workflows, where the rules assigned to each task can change the workflow if needed
Creating An Agile Workflow
So far we’ve been talking about regular workflows, where most of the time the steps will follow one after the other. The complaints workflow described above is an example of a sequential workflow. However, not all workflows will work in the same way. Some tasks won’t be so linear, so you’ll need to create an agile workflow.
“An agile workflow is one that focuses on small parts of a project at once, before moving onto the next part,” says Jennifer Savage, a writer with Do My Assignments. “Once that work has been completed, then you’ll get feedback and then move onto the next step, whatever that may be.”
There are two very popular models of agile workflows that may be useful to you:
This workflow is made up of ‘sprints’. These are time frames of no more than two weeks when the team works on a section of a project. At this point, the work is evaluated and feedback is given. Using that feedback, the team then plans out and complete their next ‘sprint’.
The name comes from the daily meetings that the team has, which are called ‘scrums’. They get together to talk about what will be done that day, so everyone knows what they’re responsible for.
This method is based on creating lists that need to be completed in order to complete a project, which is called the ‘backlog’. The list will be ordered by priority, so every step taken is more important than the one after it.
These steps are all listed on a ‘Kanban’ board. There are three columns, which are listed as ‘to do’, ‘in progress’, and ‘complete’. Because of this, everyone can see at a glance what’s done, and what they still have to do. This makes it a good system for those who like to see a visual representation of what’s been done.
As you can see, there’s a lot to think about when you’re considering the process of creating a workflow. Putting them in writing and tweaking them as needed will help you make your work more efficient than ever, so start putting workflows together now to improve your business.
Madeline Miller is a writer who specializes in project management.