Behind the buzzword: what is a workflow?

The word ‘workflow’ sounds self-explanatory. You’ll often hear it in workplace conversations, typically in conjunction with topics such as automation and business processes. But what is a workflow, exactly?

Workflows are the everyday motions that make up your job. You might follow them without awareness, you might document them methodically, or you might be somewhere in between. Either way, workflows make up a significant part of your working life.

So, it stands to reason that you want to be sure on what the word means.

What is a workflow, then?

A workflow is a given sequence of related processes, tasks or actions undertaken to complete a piece of work. For example, a writer’s workflow might look something like this:

Research → Write → Edit → Optimise → Publish

Workflows can range from simple to complex. A simple workflow might only involve one team member and only a few processes. A complex workflow, meanwhile, could include multiple teams, tools, and processes.

Every business, whether they realise it or not, uses workflows. Any time that you use a sequence of actions to complete a piece of work, you’ve used a workflow. But, by outlining and structuring your workflows, you mitigate risks and unlock a host of benefits.

So, what is a workflow? It’s the steps people follow to complete a specific piece of work.

What is a workflow useful for?

Another way to look at the ‘what is a workflow’ question is to explore how they can prove useful. A workflow, when explicitly structured and detailed, gives you an overview of the work your team are doing. (And how they’re doing it.)

So, clear workflows give you a simple way to measure the progress on any given piece of work. From there, you can identify opportunities to boost efficiency and help your team.

For example, you might notice opportunities to prune unneeded processes from your workflow. Workflows also make it easier to identify bottlenecks that are holding your team back. (I.e. not having enough team members handling a given process within the workflow.)

Plus, sometimes team members leave. And, without a clear-set workflow, the knowledge of how to complete a piece of work might leave with them. So, having that sequence of processes mapped out can also ensure consistency. The job will be done, in the same way, to the same standard, no matter who completes it.

In short, what is a workflow? It’s a way to measure the progress of a piece of work, and a tool that helps you spot opportunities to optimise.

The role of automation in your workflows

There’s one more benefit to mapping out your workflows: they let you spot opportunities to automate. You’ll come across the ‘workflow’ buzzword often when reading about automation. That’s because the two are closely related. So, what is a workflow to automation software?

Automation software allows you to make certain processes happen automatically. This means that automation will handle some of the steps in your workflows for you. In other words, you can augment your workflows with automation. This allows you to free your team from time-consuming, repetitive work that comes as part of a workflow.

In some cases, you can build workflows with your automation tool. Alongside automating individual processes, you can string them together to automate repetitive workflows. (But only those that don’t need human intervention.)

Automation can also help your workflows run smoother by acting as an IT bridging tool. This means that automation software can bridge processes across your tools and departments. So, if a workflow calls for work to cross departments or swap tools, the automation tool can join those dots.

Behind the buzzword

So, what is a workflow? It is, as the name suggests, the way that a piece of work flows through your company, transitioning from conception to completion.

Mapping and structuring your workflows gives you and your team a way to measure progress. And, it highlights ways to boost efficiency and opportunities to automate.

If you’re looking for automation to help with your workflows, look no further than ThinkAutomation. Try it now, with a 30-day free trial.

Useful links

Muntzing your processes

A beginner’s guide to BPR

ThinkAutomation free trial