Posted in Workflow Automation

What Is a Workflow? Everything You Need to Know [+Examples]

Let’s talk about what, exactly, workflows are, what they mean for your business, and how to make them more efficient and productive.

Contents:

What Is a Workflow?

A workflow is a series of well-defined and repeatable steps carried out to accomplish an objective, according to a set of procedural rules.

These objectives can include anything your organization gets done on a regular basis, including things like onboarding new hires, approving employee purchase orders, or registering students.etc.

For example, these are the steps in a typical purchase order approval workflow, illustrated in a workflow diagram:

purchase order workflow diagram
Purchase order workflow diagram

A workflow diagram is a visual representation of a workflow that uses standard notation and symbols to create a flowchart.

Workflow diagrams make it easy to help people understand the steps in a workflow. This is particularly useful when you’re training employees on a new workflow, or trying to get feedback on a workflow you’re trying to optimize.

The Differences Between Workflows, Processes, and Projects

Workflows

Workflows are defined and repeatable. Workflows are a bit like a factory — the sequence of steps to get to the ultimate output are the same every time, and it runs on a regular basis.

Workflows move data. Regardless of how many steps or tasks there are in a particular workflow, a workflow, by definition, delivers data from one step to the next. This data could include things like a completed form, a digital signature, or a manager’s approval.

Processes

“Workflow” and “process” are often used interchangeably, but processes are different from workflows in that they can encompass broad organizational goals. 

In fact, processes can include a series of individual workflows.

For example, a typical procurement process includes workflows for invoice approval and purchase orders, but also involves things like responsible sourcing and vendor relationships.

Projects

Projects consist of multiple tasks and dependencies, but unlike workflows, projects are not repeatable. Teams must typically make ad-hoc decisions since the exact steps are not predetermined.

An example of a project might be to move to a new office location. 

The Benefits of Workflows and Why You Need Them

Because they’re clearly defined and repeatable, workflows streamline the things employees do every day, reduce delays and errors, and improve productivity.

Optimized, well-implemented workflows – especially when they’re automated – help organizations operate faster and more effectively, creating competitive advantages in many different areas. 

Improve the Customer Experience

Companies that formalize customer satisfaction workflows are able to deliver a superior customer experience by reducing errors and responding faster to customer complaints.

They’re also likely to understand what customers want and react in appropriate ways, fostering loyalty and delighting customers.

Get Better Business Insights

Workflow analysis helps you quickly analyze your business, measure performance, and identify areas for improvement. 

With modern workflow management tools, you can record and optimize performance in real-time across the entire enterprise.

The resulting efficiency goes directly to the bottom line and boosts profitability.

Maintain Business Standards & Compliance

Automated, well-defined workflows ensure that business norms aren’t bypassed or violated. 

In an automated workflow, no one forgets a particular approval step because the system handles approval routing automatically. 

These workflows also help improve compliance with regulatory requirements by making sure employees follow standard operating procedures without deviation.

Eliminate Unnecessary Work

Well-designed workflows quickly expose redundant activities. These superfluous tasks waste valuable employee time that could be spent on more productive work like caring for patients or serving customers.

You’ll get more done with fewer resources.

Getting rid of irrelevant tasks also lowers the risk of delays. For example, a stalled purchase order can easily lead to downstream effects where a product delivery deadline is missed. 

Improve Collaboration

Workflows reach across functional areas of the business. 

For example, onboarding a new hire involves HR, IT, Finance, and more. With a clearly defined workflow, the responsibilities of each team are clearly articulated, making it easier to collaborate.

Improve Accountability

Structured workflows are precise and measurable. It’s easy to understand who needs to do what, when. 

With well-defined, automated workflows in place, managers spend less time on oversight and employees feel more empowered to get the important jobs done.

Everyone can see what’s getting done, who’s responsible for any delays, and what tasks are pending.

Workflows not only improve productivity but also increase job satisfaction. After all, no one likes to be micromanaged.

Workflow Example: New Employee Onboarding

Even for small companies, it’s important for productivity and employee satisfaction to have a simple, online new hire onboarding workflow that follows onboarding best practices

In our company, the workflow looks like this:

New Hire Onboarding Workflow
  1. HR sends a welcome email with a link to the onboarding workflow.
  2. The employee completes and submits an online form. The system checks for any missing or erroneous information.
  3. Using information the employee provided in the form–including a digital signature–the workflow system automatically generates PDFs for Federal and State W-4s, a Federal I-9, and any other required paperwork. 
  4. The system then automatically routes the employee’s information to I.T., which creates the relevant accounts, assigns security credentials, and sets up training.
  5. The system routes the employee’s information to HR, which sets up payroll, vacation, and benefits.
  6. When all of the previous steps are complete, the workflow system saves a copy of the employee’s documents to our internal systems and emails a copy to the employee.

The systematic workflow makes onboarding a new hire painless for everyone involved. 

HR and IT get all the information they need, promptly and with no errors. There’s no back-and-forth over email to clarify details.  

New employees can start getting acquainted with their team and learning about their new job within 15 minutes of arriving at the office. They don’t get bogged down in hours with paperwork.

How to Create a Workflow 

frevvo’s workflow automation software has everything you need to take your workflows online and ramp up your organization’s productivity.

Here’s how to create a workflow with frevvo, boiled down to the most important steps. For more details, check out our article on how to create workflow.

  1. Identify stakeholders and document who does what and when.
  2. Create a workflow diagram in frevvo’s workflow designer.
  3. Implement the workflow using frevvo’s drag-and-drop tools.
  4. Test the workflow.
  5. Deploy the workflow and train users.
  6. Solicit feedback and iteratively improve.
  7. Analyze your workflows with frevvo’s analysis and reporting tools. Optimize where possible.  

Want to automate your workflows?

Raise your productivity and eliminate rote, manual paperwork. Try frevvo free for 30 days. No coding or I.T. required.