Posted in Workflow Automation

Workflow vs Process: Understanding the Difference (+Examples)

Workflow and process are common words in business process management (BPM). They’re similar enough that they’re often used interchangeably, which creates quite a bit of confusion — even among experts in the field. 

Nevertheless, there are subtle yet significant differences between the two. So let’s define “workflow” and “process” in a way that’ll help you precisely and clearly communicate your ideas around BPM at work.

Workflow vs. Process:  What Exactly Is the Difference?

In short:

A process is a sequence of repeatable activities that are designed to help achieve a specific organizational goal. For example, a company might implement a standardized customer service process to help meet its goal of achieving 95%+ customer satisfaction ratings. 

A workflow is a series of activities carried out to accomplish a task, according to a set of procedural rules. One common workflow across most businesses is that of submitting expenses for approval — expenses that fall within qualified criteria are entered on a specific form and submitted to a specific recipient (usually a manager or the finance department) for approval. There’s a clear set of defined rules and practices that govern the series of activities that complete the task. 

Example of a Workflow and a Process

A process may encompass multiple workflows. Consider the procurement process in a typical organization. To procure needed supplies, the organization must pinpoint the requirement, identify the best vendor, create and approve internal purchase requisition documents, generate and send a purchase order, receive one or more invoices, take delivery of the ordered items, reconcile and pay the invoices, maintain records for audit purposes, and so on.

Within this process, there are several workflows including getting purchase requisition approval, producing a purchase order, getting invoice approval, and more. 

Optimizing this process is often a key organizational goal. These improvements could take many forms, including: purchasing from sustainable sources, strengthening vendor relationships, and automating individual workflows.

Each approach provides its own unique benefits. For example, stronger vendor relationships reduce the risk of supply chain disruptions.

Workflow management, wherein the individual workflows are automated, increases efficiency by eliminating delays due to unnecessary bureaucracy. It also reduces procurement risks by ensuring strict adherence to business norms, discouraging maverick purchasing.

Workflow Automation: A Key Aspect of Process Management

Workflow automation is just one aspect of business process optimization, but it’s one of the first things most organizations should tackle. 

That’s because employees frequently struggle with the efficiency-killing issues that routinely affect manual workflows: lost documents, missing or error-ridden information, signatures that have to be chased down, missing or delayed approvals, and more. Each might seem like a small thing but, taken together, they lead to frustrated employees who are neither as engaged nor as productive as they could be.

Using workflow automation software to shift from paper or email to fully automated workflows, very simply, saves time and improves productivity. ,  Often it also means better customer service, less complexity, higher business agility, and most important of all, happier employees.

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Ashish Deshpande has worked in the process automation space for over 20 years. He has been instrumental in successfully deploying frevvo’s software at hundreds of organizations such as HBO, New York University, and Boston Public Schools. Ashish has contributed to leading publications such as Forbes, and Ashish received a PhD in Computer Science from Yale University, and a Bachelor of Technology in Computer Science and Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, India.