What Is a Workflow and How Do You Manage One?


This article explains what a workflow is, different types of workflows, how to create and manage them, and how to choose a workflow management system.

What is a workflow?

Process workflows are a series of steps that must completed to finish a goal. The steps could be linear and simple, or they could contain complex branching. We all deal with workflows in some capacity every day, whether it’s the processes we deal with at work or the steps we take to make dinner at home.

Managing workflows in the workplace requires the processes are set up accurately, efficiently, and that they are repeated the same way each time to guarantee the same results.

What Are Different Types of Workflows?

Some common inter-industry workflows include:

  • Employee Onboarding
  • New Client Setup
  • Product Return Authorizations
  • Documentation Requests
  • Purchase Approval Requests
  • IT Change Management
  • Engineering Change Requests
  • Compliance Audits
  • Website Edits

These workflows may involve multiple individuals, teams, or departments that need visibility and accountability, as well as organization, collaboration, and communication.

Let’s take a look at some workflow examples.

5 Workflow Examples

Example #1: Engineering Change Management

Our first workflow example is common in the world of systems engineering. The change management process begins with a change proposal. The proposal is first sent to a change control board for approval. If the change is feasible, an implementation plan is developed. Once that’s completed, the Engineering Change Order finalizes the details, outlining the steps for modification and revision of documentation.

Finally, the implemented change must be verified. If there are any problems, the proposal is redesigned and the approval and implementation process repeats. If there are no problems, the system is returned to production status and operations continue.

Engineering change management workflow

Image provided credited to SeBok Wiki.

Example #2: Human Resources Employee Onboarding

This workflow gets kicked off every time a new employee is hired. For most organizations, HR, Facilities, and IT departments have their own processes that must occur in tandem with each other.

  • IT sets up computers, phones, and appropriate software and network access.
  • Facilities sets up a workspace and grant any building access needed.
  • HR produces paperwork related to the employee's insurance, tax needs, and payroll information.

Most of these tasks need to be completed either before the employee arrives or during their first-day orientation. Setting up a digitized workflow ensures that no department forgets a step or leaves the new employee without equipment on their first day.

Example #3: Accounts Payable

When money is involved, it pays to be as organized and methodical as possible. Accounts Payable departments go through process after process to ensure that vendors are compensated and that payments go where they should.

When does a payment need to be sent? Who will receive it? What happens when an error occurs? All of these moving parts can be accounted for in a branching workflow (or, likely, multiple workflows) that defines next steps.

Stay on top of your accounts.

Get more information on how Accounts Payable departments can stay precise and up-to-date.

Example #4: Customer Service

Responding to customer service requests requires following specific processes as well.  Having a comprehensive workflow in place can increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Depending on the type of request, your team may have different workflows to handle and resolve issues. For example, your team may take a different approach responding to a customer complaint as opposed to a service request or comment.

While each inquiry merits attention, they all have unique steps that must be completed to reach resolution. Logging each of these steps using a Task Management tool helps reduce confusion and ensure that no steps are overlooked.

Example #5: Workflows Built Your Way

Each workflow you develop can be as complex or as simple as you need. It all depends on the requirements of your process.

The important thing is to fully understand your processes and all of the potential branches and loops that your workflow may take. Be sure to document this fully so that you can accurately repeat the process whenever necessary.

You may find it helpful to usea  workflow management software to help you keep track of tasks, keep your workflows organized, and more.

The Benefits of Workflow Management

  1. Automation and optimization of workflows save time and reduce costs.
  2. Structured workflows ensure tasks are completed consistently.
  3. Standardized tasks can be easily taught and replicated, boosting operational resilience.
  4. Improves understanding of task completion processes, plus what and who is involved.
  5. Illuminates inefficiencies and helps managers find ways to improve processes.
  6. Eliminates repetitive, low-value tasks, which boosts employee productivity and satisfaction.
  7. Helps managers match specific skills to tasks, so the right people handle the right activities.

White Colorful Modern Timeline Design Process Infographic

What Is a Workflow Management System?

Manual workflow systems are a thing of the past – or they should be. Software technology innovations have revolutionized the process. 

Modern workflow management software offer a plethora of tools to digitally create, document, analyze, and optimize workflows, making it possible – and efficient – to streamline and automate each step.

Workflow management platforms allow workers to define inputs, transformations, and outputs, translating them into objects, rules, and events for automation. These systems also typically support custom workflows, enabling teams to meet unique needs.

Choosing the Right Workflow Management System

Organizations should seek rules-driven workflow systems that offer key features like:

  • Mapping and defining workflows
  • Creating and customizing workflows
  • Accessing prebuilt workflows
  • Automating notifications and repetitive steps
  • Integrating with existing systems, including legacy ones
  • Measuring and reporting on workflow performance

Businesses should also consider low-code/no-code features, user interface design, and visualization capabilities to ensure usability and an effective workflow. 

Additionally, evaluate vendor support and how easy it is to use the software, as the primary users often do not have IT training. This is why Issuetrak prioritizes values like accountability, respect, relationships, and integrity.

Workflow Management Best Practices

To maximize the benefits of a workflow management system, organizations should aim for:

  • Committing adequate resources and ensuring accountability for continuous improvement.
  •  Simplifying workflows and identifying potential streamlining shortcuts.
  • Eliminating inefficiencies – removing or automating redundant activities
  • Digitizing processes – converting paper-based activities to digital format as much as possible.
  • Leveraging all the features of the workflow management system for maximum optimization

Are you ready to make a change for the better? Request a tailored demo with our Product Experts today!

Topics from this blog: Help Desk