Glossary of Terms

Workflow Management

What Is Workflow Management?

Workflow management is technology for continually analyzing and understanding business processes, assessing inefficiencies, and improving those processes.

What is Workflow?

Workflow is a general term referring to the predetermined, sequential movement of materials or information from one activity to another as part of a business process. A workflow model is a visual diagram that describes how each activity relates to the others within a business unit. Workflows may be manual, automated, or a combination of both.

Workflows are set up to achieve specific goals and should be well-defined, repeatable, and completed by following specific execution rules. Models lay out start and end points, decision points, potential alternative steps, and responsible parties. Once workflows are established, it becomes easier to predict and measure outcomes.

For example, a contract approval workflow could begin with approval by a department manager before being submitted to Finance. If Finance finds it acceptable and within budget, it goes on to Legal for review. Certain types of contracts may need to go to different legal teams. After Legal approves it, the contract is finalized and a copy of the original document gets stored in a contract database, ending the approval process.

Signing a contract that has been approved without following company policy could result in long-term financial and legal consequences. Designing automated workflows that enforce organizational guidelines ensures profitable and compliant results for years to come.

Purpose of Workflow Management

Organizations constantly deal with factors that hamper productivity. Businesses grapple with internal issues such as lack of clarity about task definitions and processes, scattered data, and difficulty in coordinating the efforts of team members. The goal of workflow management is to create and monitor a seamless continuum of tasks in a way that fulfills company objectives most efficiently.

Workflow management entails the synchronization and automation of business processes. A workflow system aims to facilitate communication and collaboration among people and teams, provide and protect data, and enhance overall productivity throughout an organization. It serves to simplify and inform decision-making and prepare team members for impending events or changes.

Workflow Management vs. Business Process Management

The terms workflow and BPM are often used interchangeably. While they share similar characteristics, workflow is a component of an overall BPM system. Workflow management can help enable business process automation, which includes planning, analyzing, and improving all organizational processes. BPM technology provides a wider range of flexibility and sophistication that suits highly complex scenarios, while workflow management systems may handle simpler setups effectively.

Advantages of Workflow Management Technology

Workflow management tools help free workers from repetitive manual tasks and reduce the risk of oversights and errors. Workers can then focus their time, skills, and energy on higher-level tasks that fuel innovation and boost profit. Organizations require less space for the storage of paper files and fewer resources for handling and archiving documents. Other benefits include:

  • Pinpointing and eliminating process barriers
  • Accelerating and streamlining internal processes
  • Aligning tasks with pertinent skill sets
  • Unifying request experience for workers
  • Identifying individual and group performance trends
  • Gauging team progress on service level agreements
  • Tracking request status in real time
  • Setting predefined rules to eliminate guesswork

Workflow management systems help businesses thrive in these areas:

Digitization

Digital transformation is impacting organizations in every sector and region, allowing firms to save considerable time, space, and money. Paper trails evolve into streamlined utilization of analytics, giving team members immediate access to real-time data for informed implementation of business strategies.

Compliance

Compliance doesn't have to halt productivity any longer; integrating HIPAA and other regulations into workflow automation can help boost performance. Increased accessibility to quality data enables authorized teams to perform duties with greater speed and accuracy while ensuring that all information is complete, correct, and kept safe against damage or deletions.

Mobile Workforce

The exponentially growing mobile workforce requires the flexibility an effective workflow system delivers. Such technology allows workers to capitalize on opportunities at the point of need, regardless of their location, time of day, or device.

Finance and Accounting

Finance and accounting traditionally deal with cumbersome manual operations and paper requirements that siphon time and hinder critical decision-making. Workflow management technology can help combine core accounting processes to centralize and integrate valuable information that leaders can use to boost profitability.

Workflow Types

Workflows happen whenever information or resources move from one task to another. The three primary types are process workflow, project workflow, and case workflow.

Process Workflow

Process workflows occur with repetitive, predictable sets of tasks with few or no variations, such as a purchase requisition approval.

Case Workflow

In case workflows, the path from start to finish develops as more information is gathered, such as an insurance claim.

Project Workflow

Project workflows are structured like process workflows, but they are unique to a specific scenario, such as rolling out a new employee incentive program.

Setting Up a Workflow Management System

Any organization's survival depends on its ability to manage its workflow. Automation can help a company remain competitive and compliant. However, workflow management doesn't just happen; deliberate planning is essential, from setting up to ongoing maintenance. Management needs to determine if the workers are ready to transition to a new system. Leaders also need to be confident that the firm can function with fewer human resources yet maintain or improve the quality of its output. Moving toward automation calls for these steps:

  1. Identifying workflows: Workflow requires the movement of data or resources. It involves tasks that are connected to a bigger picture. For example, purchasing office supplies requires initiating a request, securing managerial approval, and placing the order. At this stage of planning, it becomes easy to recognize repetitive tasks that can be automated or eliminated.
  2. Workflow process mapping: Mapping workflow processes is an initial assessment to define the current status of workflow and how it contributes to the fulfillment of business objectives set by upper management. This step gives you a thorough perspective of processes from start to completion as well as the people and resources required in each process. Mapping reveals the value chain, which shows how each task contributes to or detracts from the development of the desired output.
  3. Selecting the ideal workflow management solution: In some cases, a workflow management system may operate autonomously, without other system components. This type would have its own execution environment and even its own client applications. An autonomous system may be suitable when developing a workflow management system from scratch. Other solutions may only work if they are embedded within another surrounding system that controls function sequences, manages queues, and assists with processing exceptions. Payment and Enterprise Resource Planning systems are common embedded workflow management setups.
  4. Informing and training users: The most state-of-the-art workflow management system could be ineffective or counterproductive without thorough training for all involved. It's not safe to assume that everyone will be able to navigate through a new solution. When introducing new tools, explain their importance and benefits, and provide time and training to help get all the team on board.
  5. Measuring main performance markers and improving workflow: It's important to realize that managing work is an active, ongoing process. It involves outlining goals and projects and making sure that everyone is aligning with those goals. Each team member needs to understand the company's vision and how their tasks contribute to it.

Managing workflows may be a daunting task, but the effort pays off in countless ways. Software and apps can make this critical leadership task easier with pre-designed and customizable templates. A workflow management system equips companies to be more proactive in setting the pace for progress and profitability.