The first is to increase your revenue without also increasing costs. The second is to reduce costs so you can have a higher profit margin with the same revenue.
For the latter, the answer is efficiency. By achieving the same (or better) revenue with fewer resources and a shorter time frame, we can generate more profit. Yet, improving efficiency is often easier said than done.
This is where workflow management comes in.
Without proper workflow management practice in place, your small business will face many performance-related and efficiency-related issues: missed deadlines, workplace accidents and injuries, products delivered below their desired qualities, and so on.
Workflow management will improve your company’s productivity and efficiency in the long run, and here, we will discuss all you need to know about implementing workflow management.
By the end of this article, you’d have learned about:
- What is a workflow?
- What is workflow management?
- Three different phases of workflow management, and
- Step-by-step guide of implementing workflow management
Without further ado, let us begin with the first one.
What Is Workflow Management?
Workflow management, as the name suggests, is the effort or discipline of managing workflows so they are as efficient as possible.
So, what is a workflow?
We can define a workflow as a sequence of tasks that is executed in a business operation.
A workflow can involve:
- Transformation of raw materials into processed goods and/or
- Processing of raw data into a finished format
Workflows, when finished, will either successfully or unsuccessfully accomplish a business objective.
All businesses will always involve at least one workflow. Some companies only have a straightforward workflow, so it’s relatively easy to perform workflow management. However, many businesses involve multiple complex and interconnected workflows in their day-to-day operations.
The term “workflow” is often used interchangeably with “process” or “business process,” but they aren’t the same. To understand the difference, we have to realize that there are three main types of workflows in a business environment:
- Process: predictable and repeatable sequence of tasks involving transforming raw material to processed goods and raw data to the processed form. For example, Burger King cooking a Whooper is a process.
- Project: typically a one-off sequence of tasks that executed a specific objective. The steps required are predictable but, in most cases, not repeatable. With the same example, Burger King developing a new seasonal menu is a project.
- Case: It is similar to the process, but the required steps are not apparent at first; only when more data is gathered as the work is executed will the steps present themselves. A Burger King waiter taking customer’s orders is a simple example of a case.
Workflow management typically involves managing and optimizing processes, but the same principle can also apply to projects and cases.
Three Phases of Workflow Management
While the actual implementation of workflow management might vary between different businesses and different workflows, they will always involve three main phases:
1. Workflow Mapping
The first phase is about visualizing the workflow into a comprehensible workflow diagram. We can use various techniques and methods to map a workflow, but the most common is a basic flowchart. We’d recommend using a workflow management solution with a built-in workflow builder tool so you can analyze and optimize the workflow diagram from the same app.
As we know, with a flowchart, we use shapes and symbols to visualize the workflow, and here are the most essential shapes in mapping a workflow diagram:
Terminator: oval shape, represents the start and end points of a process
Operation: rectangle shape, represents a specific task that is performed
Decision: diamond shape, represents a point in the process where a decision must be made (i.e. Yes/No) before we can move on to the next step.
Arrows: the arrows are used to connect different shapes in the workflow, representing the flow of information.
2. Workflow Analysis
Once the workflow is properly visualized in a workflow diagram, we can then analyze the workflow diagram to identify inefficiencies and develop an optimization plan.
3. Workflow Optimization
Pretty self-explanatory, based on the optimization plan developed in the analysis phase, we implement the changes to optimize the workflow.
Step-By-Step of Workflow Management
In practice, we can perform the three phases in five main steps:
Step 1: Picking a workflow to manage
While in the end, we’d like to manage and optimize all workflows, we should start with one.
You can pick a workflow that:
- Contributes the most to your business’s performance (a strategic approach)
- Clearly inefficient and/or shows significant issues (a reactive approach)
- Will significantly improve customer’s experience (a customer-centric approach)
Step 2: Data gathering
Gather as much data as possible about the chosen workflow, including but not limited to:
- The start and end points of the workflow
- All the tasks involved in the workflow, and the exact sequence
- Who’s responsible for each task
- The deadline for each task
- The requirement for each task
Step 3: Workflow mapping
Based on the collected information, visualize the workflow in a workflow diagram, as we’ve explained above.
Focus on creating an accurate representation of the workflow as-is (as the workflow is currently being executed).
Step 4: Workflow analysis
Analyze the mapped workflow by considering:
- Whether each step/task is really needed to fulfill the workflow’s objective
- Look for inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and redundancies
- Whether there are steps that can be simplified or eliminated
- Whether there are tasks that can be automated
- Whether the tasks are assigned to the right person or team
Step 5: Workflow optimization
Based on the analysis process, implement the changes to the workflow. Evaluate whether the workflow is more efficient after the changes have been implemented or repeat from step 4.
Performing workflow management is essentially about mapping, analyzing, and optimizing a business workflow to be as efficient as possible. In turn, by making our workflows more efficient, we can improve our business’s productivity and profitability.