What is a Workflow?
So what IS a workflow, really?
Hint: it’s not a corporate buzzword, even though it’s thrown around all over the place and no one seems to know what it means.
A workflow, at its core, is how you get work done by completing a sequence of tasks.
Sounds confusing? Well, in this article, we’re going to explain everything you need to know about workflows in simple terms!
Read on to learn:
- What is a workflow, both in a business and personal environment
- 3 essential reasons to document your workflows
- How (and why) you can create workflows
- 6 common workflow examples for businesses of all sizes
What is a workflow?
A workflow is a sequence of tasks you go through to accomplish a certain repeatable goal.
The keyword here is “repeatable.”
It has to be something you do on a regular basis.
A workflow is NOT:
A one-off task. A workflow is a series of tasks, not just one or two.
A project. A long-term collaboration between employees or departments in order to meet a certain goal.
For example, in a non-work environment, a workflow can be how you prepare dinner:
1. Go to the grocery store
2. Buy meat, vegetables, and spices
3. Go back home
4. Cook a tasty meal
In most cases, though, when people refer to the word “workflow,” they mean it in a business setting.
For an organization, a workflow is a set of steps that your employees have to go through in order to complete a specific, repeatable business goal.
So, for example, let’s say you’re onboarding a new employee. The workflow could look something like this…
1. HR manager prepares all the paperwork
2. HR manager inputs employee records to HR software
3. HR manager prepares workstation
4. IT specialist gives access to relevant software and systems
5. HR manager prepares a welcome package
Now, generally, when people refer to a “workflow,” they either mean a workflow diagram, =or a digital workflow created through workflow management software…
“So, what’s the point of workflow diagrams?” you might be wondering.
“Why should I spend valuable time documenting all of my processes and creating workflows diagrams?”
Well, there are 3 main reasons workflow documentation is essential for most organizations…
Top 3 workflow documentation benefits
1. You get to record your workflows
Documented workflows help you store your company knowledge.
Hiring a new employee? Want to get them up to speed on how things are done? Just give them access to the relevant workflows.
On the other hand, maybe your employee forgot how to execute a workflow?
Instead of having to ask someone else and waste time, the employee can just check the workflow diagram for a reminder on how to get the process completed.
Finally, you can also use workflow documentation to make sure that company knowledge doesn’t get lost.
Without documented workflows, if one of your key employees quits, you could be losing a lot more than just an employee. You’ll also lose the knowledge and experience that they have acquired.
And while you can’t directly hold on to their experience, you CAN store their knowledge by having well-documented workflows.
2. You get to standardize your workflows
Some of your employees might complete their tasks faster than others just because their workflow is more efficient.
So, you can take the best performing workflow, turn it into a diagram, and make sure the rest of your organization follows the exact same steps.
This way, you’ll be getting work done faster and with more consistency organization-wide. And at the same time, you’ll also free up your employee’s time so they can focus on the tasks that matter.
3. You get to automate your workflows
If you’re using workflow management software, you can also automate the execution of your workflows.
The way this works is, first, you create a digital version of your workflow, and you get your employees on board the software.
Then, whenever an employee needs to complete this workflow, they just hit “start” and the software helps with the execution. When employee A completes task #1, the software will automatically assign employee B with task #2…
And that’s not all, either.
The software also allows you to get a top-down view of all active workflows within your organization.
This way, it’s significantly easier to monitor your company and see if everything is going according to the plan.
If a workflow is close to missing a deadline, you get a notification in advance so you can identify and eliminate bottlenecks.
How to create your workflows
If you want to get the most out of your workflows, you should use workflow management software.
And no – it’s a lot easier than you might think.
Around 10 years back, you’d have to invest 6-figures into a high-powered BPM software to manage your workflows.
Today? All you need is a SaaS like Vendr.
Want to get started? Here are the EXACT steps you need to take in order to document your workflow.
First, request a Vendr SaaS Management demo, and start an account.
Then, go to Gallery, and pick from our extensive library of workflow templates:
Now, all you have to do is pick the workflow you want to document, load it up, and customize it for your business.
Finally, if you want to create a workflow that we DON’T have a template for, you can create a workflow from scratch by clicking “new.”
Once you have your workflows up and running, all you have to do is invite all of your employees on-board the software, and start using it on a regular basis.
6. Practical workflow examples
There are a TON of workflow examples in just about every niche or industry.
Whether you’re a corporation with dozens of processes, or a small-time content marketing agency, you’re bound to have a ton of workflows.
Here are some of the most common workflow examples for all sorts of companies…
Employee onboarding workflow
Employee onboarding is a process that just about every single organization has.
Most companies, though, don’t have a structured workflow diagram that helps guide the new hire through the process.
They tend to look at onboarding as an ad hoc process – the HR, more or less, knows what they need to do, and they get it done.
So, why fix something that’s not broken?
Well, it’s simple. Just by having a structured employee onboarding workflow, you can improve new hire retention by 82%, and new hire productivity by 70%.
Pretty convincing, right?
Now, here’s our workflow example for employee onboarding…
- Day #0 – Before the new hire walks into the office
- Prepare all relevant paperwork
- Input employee data to HR software
- Prepare workstation
- Create all relevant accounts
- Give access to all relevant software
- Create a welcome package with onboarding documents
- Approve all employee paperwork
- Establish goals & KPIs with employee supervisor
- Day #1
- Tour of the office
- Introduce to relevant coworkers
- Assign training materials and readings
- Take out on company lunch
- Assign initial tasks
- First Week
- Explain KPIs, goals, and expectations
- Assign first real tasks
- Explain how to execute common workflows
- First Month
- Schedule check-in meetings
- Ensure that they have a full to-do schedule
- Explain long-term goals and KPIs
- Invite to company events
Employee offboarding Workflow
Employee offboarding is just as important as onboarding.
A structured offboarding workflow can lead to…
- Better relations with your ex-employees (and hence, better employer branding)
- Protecting your company from potential security breaches
- Ability to maintain knowledge within the company
And here’s a workflow example to help you do it right:
- Request a letter of resignation
- Inform the HR department
- Terminate all employee accounts
- G Suite
- Project management software
- Chat software
- Workflow management software
- Any other relevant applications
- Get all company property back
- Office keys
- Company credit card
- Cell phone
- Any other relevant items
- Transfer all employee tasks & to-dos to someone else
- Ensure that all of the employee’s workflows are documented (so as not to lose company knowledge)
- Issue final paycheck
- Conduct an exit interview
Client onboarding workflow
Another common workflow example is client onboarding.
The first 90 days you work with your new client determine whether they’re going to stick with you for a while, or get dissatisfied with your services and eventually leave.
So, having a structured client onboarding workflow can really do wonders.
Here’s an example client onboarding workflow you can steal:
- The client reaches out by submitting the contact form
- The client’s information is automatically stored into the CRM
- The sales rep reaches out and schedules a call with the client
- If the client is qualified, send a proposal to the client
- If the client accepts, schedule a kickoff meeting and clarify deliverables for the first month
- Get access to all relevant client software or accounts
- Check-in with the client on a weekly basis and ensure that all of their needs are being met
Approval processes are usually relatively simple. For example, let’s take vacation approvals:
- Employee submits vacation approval form
- The HR manager approves (or disapproves)
- The team lead approves (or disapproves)
- The HR manager inputs in the company HR software that the employee is on leave.
- Everyone that needs to know gets notified
- Team calendar gets updated
Despite the simplicity of the workflow, though, approval workflows are something that are almost always better executed through workflow management software.
For large organizations, you always have a ton of approval processes going on concurrently, all of which are done through email.
This, as you can guess, leads to a ton of issues:
- Emails end up getting lost
- Approval processes end up being completed late
- Your organization, as a whole, loses agility
Using workflow software, you can automate the execution of all your approval workflows through a single solution.
All you have to do is log in to Vendr, go to the workflow gallery…
And pick whichever approval workflows you want to automate.
Then, you simply have to customize the workflows for your business, invite the relevant employees, and you’re good to go.
Content Marketing Workflow
Content marketing is a very standardized process.
In simple terms, you create an article, publish it, and promote the hell out of it.
In practice, though, there’s a LOT more to it than just that.
A good content marketing workflow includes the following steps…
- SEO manager finds a keyword to target
- SEO manager creates an outline file for the writer
- Writer creates an article based on the outline
- Editor polishes the article to perfection
- Designer creates and includes relevant images for the article
- Writer uploads the article on WordPress and makes sure that it’s SEO-optimized
- SEO manager publishes the blog post and shares it across social media
- Link-building specialist reaches out to prospects and tries to get links for the article
This process too, can easily be automated using workflow management software.
Customer Support Workflow
Our final workflow example is customer support.
As with the other processes we’ve discussed so far, customer support is something that’s very standardized…
- Customer submits a support ticket
- Is it a support ticket, or feature ticket?
- If feature ticket, forward to product team.
- Notify the customer that the ticket is received
- Is the ticket something the support team can solve?
- If no, assign to someone from product team who can
- If yes, assign task to relevant support specialist
- Once the problem is solved, notify the customer
And that’s a wrap!
Hopefully, you understand a lot more about workflows now, than when you started reading this article.
Now to make sure you takeaway the key information, let’s recap everything we’ve covered in this post:
- A workflow is a series of sequential tasks that one needs to complete in order to meet some goal
- Most organizations can really benefit from documenting their workflows through a diagram or workflow management software
- There are a ton of workflow examples for every industry or niche, including employee on/offboarding, approvals, and more
- Finally, if you want to get the best results out of your workflows, you should use workflow management software to automate your processes