When companies are just starting out, scaling isn’t necessarily the biggest priority for operations. Instead, you might be more focused on achieving specific business outcomes, like more revenue. Eventually, though, your company starts to grow, more team members join in, roles become more defined, and business workflow management becomes essential.
At this stage, you have more employees, with specialised skills, to perform specific roles. You don’t just have a “marketing person”, but a content manager, someone for graphics, another person for ads, a demand generation head, etc. Similarly, your product team might evolve from a single co-founder to a team of engineers.
So, you need defined systems and processes in place that guide the way your teams collaborate, document and share knowledge, manage responsibilities, collect and implement feedback, and work to achieve business goals. You need a business workflow management system.
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What is workflow management?
Workflow management refers to the way you create, document, organise, and track a series of tasks or steps necessary to meet a business outcome. It’s really important to have clear, defined workflows that reflect the way your teams work. Effective workflow management helps your team be more productive, collaborate better, and work together to achieve business goals.
What does a workflow management system do?
A workflow management system (WMS) includes the processes and infrastructure you put in place to set up, monitor, and manage your tasks and workflows. The idea behind a WMS is to organise workflows from task to task, with relevant dependencies, to achieve specific outcomes.
A “trigger” initiates a workflow – for example, a client’s request for work or an employee’s request for leave. Then, the series of steps and tasks – i.e., the workflow itself – lead to achieving the desired result, e.g., submitting work to the client or approving the employee’s request.
At each stage of any workflow, it’s almost important to have a singular point of accountability – one person or individual is responsible for the given task.
The 5 components of a robust workflow management system
Effective workflow management systems are designed with five main components in mind, which are:
1. Workflow planning and management
Planning and constructing workflows is fairly straightforward; you just need to identify:
- Tasks. What work is required to transition the workflow from one stage to the next?
- Stages. These should represent some change in your workflow as a result of a task. For example, let’s consider a content production workflow. When the writer submits an article, the workflow is now passed the “writing” stage and is in the “editing” stage.
- Outcomes. What’s the desired output that your workflow should help achieve? And what final steps indicate that you’ve achieved the end goals?
Observing the way your teams and departments work will help you identify workflows. Map out the different tasks they’re performing to achieve business outcomes. At this stage, you don’t need to tweak the workflows or optimise them — the goal, for now, is just to document them.
2. Resource management
Teams work best when your team members are playing to their strengths, which is why resource management is so important. It’s really important for managers and organisational leaders to cultivate strong relationships with their teams, and to understand what each individual employee brings to the table. This doesn’t just include hard and soft skills, but the cultural influence that individuals add to a team.
Ultimately, the goal is to create a work environment that engages your team. One study on employee engagement in U.S. workplaces found that disengagement costs businesses over $400 billion a year, so engaging your team members should be a priority.
3. Project and task management – and dependencies
A project might be made up of multiple workflows, and different projects may have workflows in common. Now, if you need to identify a project’s dependencies, it makes sense to look at the dependencies of the project’s workflows. And since workflows are made up of tasks…you can refer to task dependencies.
The takeaway here is that, when you’re planning and constructing workflows, be sure to identify and document task dependencies. This way, when you’re managing projects, you’ll have a clearer understanding of the dependencies involved.
For example, let’s say your marketing team relies on insights from subject-matter experts (SMEs) to produce podcast episodes and thought leadership content. Now, every time you create a project (i.e., a campaign) that involves this type of content, you’ll have a dependency.
4. Reporting and analytics
There are times when managers, leaders, and even team members themselves will feel that their teams are facing productivity challenges. To solve these challenges, you’ll need to identify the root cause, which is hard to do without a tangible audit trail.
That’s why it’s really important to prioritise regular reporting and tracking analytics on a granular level. You’ll typically need software systems in place to monitor the right data and metrics – like how much teams spend on specific projects, which employees are the most productive, which workflows are prone to bottlenecks (e.g., do some workflows suffer from more dependencies?), etc.
Workflow automation is a powerful tool for saving your team members’ time by eliminating mundane, repetitive work from their day. But to implement automation, you need to identify tasks and workflows that are primed for it — i.e., work that is rules-based and repetitive. You’ll also want to make sure that automating this type of work will yield meaningful business value — like saved time, improved accuracy, better customer experience, etc. For example, in a call centre, automating ticket routing can reduce the waiting time for the customer.
Fortunately, when you have a workflow management system in place, you’ll have more visibility into your team’s workflows, which should help identify and prime opportunities for automation.
7 Ways to improve your business workflow management system
Enhance the way your teams work with these seven actionable tips.
1. Visualize your workflows
Visually mapping your workflows, with the tasks, dependencies, and different stages, gives you granular insights into the way your teams work and what their responsibilities are. The idea is to picture the flow of work and knowledge across your organisation, so you can identify bottlenecks, figure out what’s working, and make improvements where necessary.
There are different ways to visualise your workflows – for example, you could simply create a flow diagram with nodes (representing different stages) and branches (representing tasks and task dependencies). Alternatively, you might find it helpful to use project management software to visualise certain workflows. Gantt charts, WBS diagrams (work breakdown structure) or Kanban boards are great for mapping out the different stages of “assembly line-like” workflows, like content production processes or a product development lifecycle.
It’s worth getting your team members involved, too. Talk to them about where they fit into the workflow, how their tasks align with other activities, etc., and ask them to pitch into mapping the workflows out.
2. Remove redundancies and leverage automation
Once you’ve visualised your workflows and spoken to your team members, you’re in a much stronger position to identify inefficiencies in your workflows. You might find that some tasks or steps are too long-winded, have too many dependencies, or are redundant altogether. But you won’t know if – and where – these redundancies exist until you scrutinise your existing workflows.
Sometimes, you’ll find tasks that simply don’t need to be taken care of by a human being. These are typically repetitive tasks that follow set “rules,” or repeatable, predictable steps. For these tasks, you can deploy no-code automation tools like Make, or RPA technologies like Power Automate or UiPath, or even use the built-in automation features that come with your workflow management software or business management system.
Automating or eliminating tasks helps free your team members up to focus on more meaningful work, improving productivity and, hopefully, stress.
3. Define responsibilities and empower employees
Earlier, we stressed the need to keep your employees engaged. And while there are many ways to improve employee engagement, an important one is to empower them to take accountability for their area of business. In the context of business workflow management, that means you need to:
- Clearly communicate task responsibilities. Each employee should know exactly which tasks they’re responsible for in each workflow, and they should be aware of specifics like deadlines, expectations, collaborators, etc.
- Encourage collaboration to tackle dependencies. It’s natural for workflows and tasks to have dependencies, but if your team has poor communication and isn’t particularly good at collaborating, these dependencies will create substantial bottlenecks. That’s why it’s really important to make individuals aware of the dependencies they’re responsible for – and how they fit into the larger context of the workflow.
When your team members know exactly what they’re responsible for, and how their work contributes to the success or failure of different projects, it creates an atmosphere of accountability.
4. Prioritize goal-setting
Just like defining responsibilities empowers your employees, goal-setting helps them align around and work towards common goals. A study by Dominican University revealed that goal-setting increases the odds of people achieving their goals by over 40%, and unsurprisingly, 83% of companies believe that implementing OKRs (a popular goal-setting framework) has benefited their company.
OKRs, which stands for objectives, key results, is a goal-setting methodology that encourages collaboration, transparency, and accountability. The core idea is to define objectives (which may initially be at the company level, then departmental, and then team level) with related key results to benchmark and track progress.
So, for example, a company-wide objective may be to increase revenue, and the Sales department’s related objective may be to secure 10 new contracts to achieve the revenue targets. Sales may also define key results to help measure progress towards securing 10 new contracts; e.g., one key result may be “200 leads generated.”
Given the track record and widescale success of the OKRs framework, it’s one of the best goal-setting methodologies to consider – and it works well for organisations of any size.
5. Encourage feedback loops and continuous improvement
Workflow management systems aren’t perfect, and you implement them knowing that problems will arise. What’s important is how you handle these problems and bottlenecks – does your organisation encourage employees to share feedback, take accountability for their mistakes, and work together to improve?
If you want employees to regularly share feedback and work continuously to improve their workflows and processes, it’s really important to put the right culture in place. You need to direct employees on how, when, and where (i.e., what channels) to share feedback – and how to take action based on it.
6. Streamline communication and collaboration
According to Zippia’s research, workplace collaboration makes team members 50% more effective at completing tasks, and 75% of workers consider workplace collaboration to be “very important.” So, communication and collaboration are key to ensuring your workflows are executed successfully, feedback is collected, and business goals are achieved.
To help your teams collaborate effectively, you need to provide them with the right tools to communicate, like software for managing work, processes and workflows and collaborating. It’s equally important to cultivate a collaborative environment, where team members are encouraged to communicate, share knowledge, and work together to achieve shared goals.
Read more about the importance of communication and other small business management trends in 2023.
7. Leverage technology for managing workflows
Technology is one of the most substantial contributors to successful work and workflow management. Once you have the right processes, culture, and people in place, workflow management software is the infrastructure you use to successfully manage and execute your operations.
Business workflow management software lets you manage your resources, visualise your workflows, organise tasks, identify dependencies, manage responsibilities, and more. You can visualise your workflows in different ways, engage and collaborate with team members, and track and monitor progress across each project. Workflow software also creates an audit trail, so you’ll have real insights into what’s working and where any redundancies lie.
Choose Caflou as your end-to-end workflow management solution
Caflou is an all-in-one business solution that lets you manage your work, workflows, processes, expenses, and essential business functions in one place. Choose Caflou if you want to:
1. Manage project workflows, tasks, and timelines in one place
Caflou lets you manage your different project workflows and visualise them the way you want (Kanban, Calendar view, Gantt chart, WBS, etc.). You can create project templates, for each project you can also outline tasks, dependencies, deadlines, and resources. Manage your workflows end-to-end in one centralised platform.
2. Remove redundancies and implement workflow automation
Is redundant or time-consuming work eating up your employees’ time? Create automated workflows with Caflou to free your team members from repetitive, laborious tasks.
3. Track costs and manage resources
Manage budgets, expenses, resources, and responsibilities in one place. See which of your employees are most productive, which projects are most profitable, and where and how your teams are spending their time.
Getting started with Caflou is easy. Just sign up for free today.