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A lot of people in business talk about workflows, but sometimes it seems like no one actually explains what they are or how to make one.
What are the rules for making good workflows?
It’s an important question that deserves a good answer. In this post, let’s break down what workflows are, how they work, and the rules for building great ones.
Workflows are a series of tasks that need to be completed in a sequence.
Basically, it’s the management of “repetitive processes and tasks which occur in a particular order.”
Workflows are not the same as business process management (BPM), but they are an integral part. There can be one or dozens of workflows that make up business processes, depending on how complex the processes are.
Think of workflows as building blocks that make up BPM. They are comprised of all the individual tasks that must be accomplished to keep businesses running smoothly.
Workflows can sometimes be the only thing that has any hope of keeping businesses organized.
Consider everything that goes into an employee onboarding process. It generally involves different departments coordinating with one another to make sure the new hire has everything they need to be successful.
If there is no workflow in place to standardize the process, it can lead to a lot of confusion and wasted time. Not to mention, it can hurt the new hire’s onboarding experience. You don’t want to lose good talent because your workflows aren’t in order.
This is just one example, but we can anticipate similar scenarios across every part of a business without solid workflows in order. Everything from sales to manufacturing to marketing will feel the bite of poor workflows.
The biggest challenge of building workflows is not the construction itself, but rather the maintenance.
You can’t make a workflow and then say, “Yup, that’ll do,” and then never touch it again. It doesn’t work like that. You will never optimize your business processes if you carry that sort of attitude.
You have to constantly update and change parts of your workflows to make sure they are running at their best. This can be a tedious and time-consuming process, but it’s necessary. If you don’t do regular maintenance on your workflows, you run the risk of:
Though there are significant challenges to making workflows, the benefits far outweigh them.
But what do I mean by less waste? Less wasted time? Less wasted energy? Less wasted money? Less wasted resources?
Yes. Yes, to all of them!
Making workflows is the practice of standardizing your business processes and by doing that, you cut a lot of waste out of your company.
And if there’s one thing most humans can agree on, it’s that waste is bad.
Workflows make it clear who is responsible for which task. If a deliverable isn’t completed on time, workflows make it very easy to know who to talk to about it.
Additionally, most workflow software comes with different communication features like chat rooms or comment boxes where employees can talk. That reduces the risk of notes, questions, or concerns falling through the cracks and keeps communication more centralized.
With things like less wasted time and better communication occur when you start using workflows, the natural consequence of that is increased productivity.
And if you automate tedious, recurring tasks and save your team even more time, they will be able to dedicate more of their hours to high-value tasks. That leads to increased sales, better customer relationships, and more profits overall.
You can even give your company a competitive edge by including educational resources in your workflows. By doing that you can keep your team up to date on industry trends, new technologies, anything!
That’s a huge win!
It’s impossible for all workflows to look the same since they cover every part of every business ever. And different companies have their own rules that they follow.
However, there are five rules to making workflows that apply to all of them. So when you start building your workflows, keep these in mind:
Let’s use employee onboarding as an example again. What goes into it? The first rule is to identify all the tasks and put them into a list. It’ll look something like this:
And so on. You get the picture. That’s all you have to do for this rule. Just write down all the tasks.
Next, you need to ask yourself: Who is responsible for each task?
Workflows can’t operate at their best if there is no accountability. By assigning people tasks, you create that accountability and keep things transparent. It’s also essential for good communication.
Workflow software has features that allow you to assign tasks to specific people. Each individual receives notifications when they have been assigned a task, and either their name or their photo appears next to the task, so everyone knows who is responsible for it.
It’s especially necessary for those workflows that require interdepartmental collaboration.
Take a look at all the steps and task assignments you’ve written down. Are they in the right order? Would the workflow run better if they were in a different order?
Take some time to think about this because the order of your tasks can affect the efficiency of the entire business process.
It may even be helpful to get an outside perspective on the sequence. Ask the people who do the workflow if they think the order of the steps is the best it could be. No one knows better than the people that actually use it every day.
Testing is key, especially if you use workflow software. If your workflow includes automation and conditional logic, you need to make sure they work before you launch it.
Skipping this step can result in a lot of wasted time for you and your team. So test it out! Ask a team member or two to try it as well to make sure it all works. And when it does, start using it!
This is basically the maintenance rule. Review all of your workflows every so often to make sure they are still optimized. If not, take the time to fix the things that aren’t working.
The best way to find out if a workflow needs an audit is by asking your team. They will always know and may even have some great ideas for making the workflow better.
There are two key ways to optimize workflows:
Automation is the best thing ever! If you and your team have never used automated workflows before, your life is about to change.
Automation makes employees so happy. No one likes to do the boring, tedious work that goes into business operations, but workflow software will do most of it for you. This gives your team the time and space to do the work they actually enjoy and that drives the company forward.
I know a lot of people are afraid of automation because they fear it will make their jobs redundant, but that’s simply not the case for most. What it does is make people’s jobs better by taking away a lot of stress.
Never be satisfied. Over time, it’s inevitable that your workflows will start experiencing inefficiencies. You need to adopt a policy of continuous improvement to combat it.
You may not always need to make big changes to workflows to optimize them. Sometimes something as simple as adding one new automation is all it needs to make sure a workflow stays current.
Those simple changes will be the most frequent. The big changes will come around once in a while but may require you to do something as huge as building a whole new workflow.
It may be frustrating, but it will never be more frustrating than having no workflows at all.
Process Street gives you the ability to invite anyone to collaborate on a workflow, whether they work in-house or not.
It keeps each step of every process organized and uses integrations with third-party apps such as Zapier, Salesforce, and Slack to automate the workflow and keep everything in one place. Integrations like that really help to streamline operations and make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
Additionally, you can leave comments on workflows, which automatically send notifications to the person you’re leaving a comment for, so everyone is always in the loop.
Monday has a very user-friendly interface and utilizes timelines and calendars to structure tasks, giving users a clear picture of when things should be completed.
You can also change the view to see the project tasks laid out in a Kanban or Gantt chart.
Monday gives project managers a lot of flexibility in their methodologies, so whether you prefer Agile or Scrum, Monday will work for you just the same.
Trello is excellent for remote project management.
In my previous job as a remote project manager, I used Trello to manage multiple projects at once to great success. It’s a great way to collaborate and have all the steps of the project clearly laid out and defined.
You can see what your colleagues have done, or are currently working on in real-time, making it easier to know the status of your project without having to wait for replies from someone in another time zone.
Asana is the best budget option for small businesses. If you have a team of 15 or fewer, Asana is a great option. Its free plan is much richer in features than other software, and it offers unlimited projects and file storage for small teams.
If your operations and projects are basic, you will never need to upgrade to a paid plan. You can even use automation on the free plan!
Airtable is a great tool for tracking projects. We actually use Airtable ourselves here at Process Street. We use it to track our monthly tasks, keep projects on schedule, and see the status of everyone’s work throughout.
It automates with Process Street and Slack so we can see when we have new assignments and even does real-time performance monitoring, so you don’t have to do any of the data tracking yourself. It’s great for teams like hours who work remotely and asynchronously.
Workflows are certainly a time investment, but they are a worthy one.
Just remember that the biggest sign that a workflow is doing what it’s supposed to is that it makes life easier for everyone, not more difficult.
Even the maintenance they require is outweighed by the time and money saved and the better work environment created. Just follow the workflow rules and you’ll be good to go!