How to write a workflow process to maximize efficiency
By: Jill Huettich
Workflow processes can transform businesses—increasing efficiency, improving decision making, streamlining operations, and ultimately, saving companies money. As you might imagine, there are distinct advantages to defining and optimizing workflow processes.
Perhaps just as importantly, workflow processes don’t just help businesses operate more efficiently—they can also prevent disasters. Take, for example, the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion that occurred in 1986. At the time, engineers expressed concerns about a possible O-ring failure in cold weather.
These issues were well-known by the engineering team but attempts to notify management fell on deaf ears. Instead of looking into the issue, NASA’s management chose to ignore the problem. Despite the deep concern expressed by those familiar with the O-ring’s limitations, NASA went ahead with the launch–resulting in the death of 7 astronauts.
Looking back, it’s clear that had a workflow process been in place to thoroughly examine concerns related to equipment failures—rather than sweeping them under the carpet—this disaster could probably have been avoided.
Fortunately, most businesses don’t have human lives at stake if they fail to accurately define a workflow process. However, this example highlights how workflow processes can prevent problems, so companies aren’t forced to react to them once they’ve already occurred.
Bottom line, workflow processes are extremely important. So, how exactly do you create one anyway? That’s what this article intends to cover.
In it, we’ll review a typical workflow process, show show you how to write a workflow process for a team or for a project, and explain how workflow management differs from business process management.
Workflow management vs. business process management
Workflow management defines how specific, repetitive tasks are managed within an organization—essentially, the way work is routed between people and departments.
An example of a workflow process might include what happens after a customer places an order—who verifies the item is in stock? If it isn’t in stock, how is the customer notified? Which department is responsible for retrieving the order and when in the process does that occur?
By contrast, business process management is more complex. It looks at the processes of an entire organization with the aim of improving overall efficiency. The goal here is continuous improvement of each process.
Workflow management is a component of business process management which is why the terms are often confused.
How to write a workflow process
While writing a workflow process may sound intimidating, the steps are actually pretty straightforward, whether you’re creating one for project workflow management or for team workflow management. In this article, we’ll take a look at both.
How to write a workflow process for projects
1. Identify deliverables.
Before you can map out a project workflow process, you’ll want to list out all the deliverables that the project will produce. Say, for instance, you’ve decided to launch a new product.
The deliverables might include some of the following:
- Product Specifications document
- Product Prototype
- Press Release
- Updated Training Manual
- New Packaging
When tackling this step, keep in mind that deliverables are the actual results from a project—for instance, things like documents, software, marketing materials, or new packaging.
Deliverables don’t include the activities that need to take place to create those outputs (i.e. a press release is a deliverable, writing a press release is not). Once you’ve identified the project’s deliverables, you’re ready to move on to the next step …
2. Create processes for your deliverables
Every deliverable is created following some type of process. A press release, for example, might be created with a process that looks something like this:
- Interview upper management to obtain quotes
- Write the press release
- Have legal department approve the press release
- Get management approval of the press release
- Distribute the press release to news agencies
During this step, you’ll want to write a workflow process for each deliverable. This will help you identify everything that needs to occur before the project can be completed successfully.
You may notice while creating your workflow processes that some activities have dependencies. Say, for instance, the press release needs to include a photo of the new product. Distribution of the press release is then dependent upon creation of the product prototype. Keep note of these dependencies so you can include them on the visual workflow you’ll be creating in the next step.
3. Diagram the project workflows
Once you’ve created processes for all the project deliverables, you’ll be ready to create a visual workflow. This flowchart will make it easy for anyone to get an at-a-glance overview of your entire project—what needs to happen, when in the process it needs to occur, and which team is responsible for doing it. As mentioned earlier, any project or process dependencies should also be included on this flowchart.
How to write a workflow process for teams
1. Talk to your team.
Although this step may seem obvious, it’s often overlooked. However, its importance cannot be overstated. When documenting a team workflow process, you need to begin by getting team members’ input because all too often, the stated way of doing things is different from reality.
So, say you’ve decided to document a team workflow process for managing payments to vendors. Your first step is to get your team members involved and ask them questions.
Who receives the invoice? Who needs to approve the invoice before it can be paid? Is that person in a different department? How does the approval process work? After approval is given, who actually pays the invoice?
Once you know which teams handle each task within a given process, you’re ready to move on to the next step.
2. Define responsibilities.
In some cases, you may discover there’s overlap between departments. For instance, sometimes Accounting okays an invoice, other times it’s the Finance department.
As you define your team workflow process, you’ll want to match tasks to specific departments to avoid these types of redundancies.
3. Diagram the team workflow.
Once you’ve identified how the process flows and which departments handle various tasks (and when), it’s time to document the process you’ve developed with a flowchart. Again, MindManager is perfect for this.
As you can see, it’s fairly easy to document team workflows and project workflows at your organization once you have a framework for doing so. Even better, after these processes are clearly delineated, it becomes easy to notice potential pitfalls.
If you find any, don’t become discouraged. That’s actually part of the process (of process mapping)! Think of it not as a problem, but as an opportunity. You can always revise the workflows you’ve created, making tweaks to improve efficiency.
That is, in fact, one of the reason workflows are used so often—they make it easier for companies to streamline their operations which ultimately increases profitability.