A Step-by-Step Guide to Workflow Management

In an organization, every team and every individual has defined processes they need to follow to achieve desired results. These processes need to be clearly defined, documented, and communicated to ensure that the team members do not miss required steps or lose track of progress as they switch between workflow tasks.

And workflows are often interdependent. Breaking a link in the workflow chain has a ripple effect that can lead to missed deadlines and reduced productivity. 

Workflow management tools and software are designed to solve these problems by keeping everyone on task and providing transparency around the progress. They ensure that processes remain standardized, reducing risks and operational costs. As a result, they are gaining increasing acceptance. According to Grandview Research, Workflow Management Systems Market is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 30.6% through 2028.

This guide will cover workflows in detail and show how to use workflow management tools to eliminate confusion and bottlenecks. Let’s see how we can keep the work flowing, maximizing efficiency for your teams and the entire organization.

What Is Workflow?

A workflow is a visual depiction of the steps, resources, and people involved in moving a work process from beginning to end. Following the same, well-defined workflow should produce the same outcome every time. That means clear documentation of workflows is critical to organizational consistency.

A workflow can be as simple as a team task list. Or it may be highly complex, involving multiple teams, interdependencies, and deliverables.

Team Task List Template
Team Task List Template

Even for the most straightforward processes, having a visual representation at hand makes it easier to stay on track. For example, in this simple Spreadsheet.com to-do list template, you can see at a glance precisely what needs to be done, where you are in the process, the deadlines, the importance of each task, and who is responsible for each line item.

To Do List Template
To Do List Template

Workflow Components

Every workflow contains three main components:

  • Input—the resources and people needed to complete each step of the process
  • Transformation—the rules defining how each input is received and what happens afterwards
  • Output—the end result of the workflow, such as a product or a deliverable

If this language sounds a little like computer terminology, it's no coincidence. Workflows are similar – only instead of using code, they delineate what people need to do to obtain a consistent, desired result.

Every workflow includes information about:

  • The actors—which may be people, machines, or both—responsible for doing various phases of the work
  • The activities to be performed at each step 
  • The results, or outcome, for each step
  • The state, or status of a workflow when it is between steps

Workflows in Project Management

Workflow management is essential for project managers. Unlike workflows, which should produce the same result, each project has a unique goal and timeline. 

Most projects consist of multiple workflows, some simultaneous or overlapping and others sequential. The project manager is responsible for coordinating them, ensuring that they are completed at the right time by the right people, and adhere to their allocated budgets. Successful workflow management leads to successful projects. 

Project managers often use a project management plan to keep projects running smoothly, also known as a project plan. For example, this Spreadsheet.com project plan template contains multiple workflows and shows their various stages of completion.

Project Plan Template

The project manager can view workflows by timeline, people, task type, status, or other variables. This helps ensure that all tasks are properly assigned and no deadlines are missed.

Workflows and Business Process Management

Workflows are business processes. Organizations constantly strive to make their processes more efficient, and that process is called business process management (BPM). Workflows are created to show people how to perform a set of tasks. BPM analyzes workflows to find ways to improve them, usually by removing bottlenecks and reducing operational costs. BPM may be implemented company-wide or focus on a specific area, and goals may extend beyond efficiency. For example, a company may examine warehouse workflows in order to improve safety, or analyze call center workflows to improve the customer experience.

Manual versus Automated Workflows

Workflows can be manual—requiring people to gather resources, perform processes, document their work, and notify others when done—or they can be automated. The repetitive nature of workflows makes them ideal candidates for automation. 

A McKinsey & Company survey found that two-thirds of respondents say their organizations are at least piloting the automation of business processes in one or more business units or functions, a McKinsey & Company survey found. Forrester predicts that automation will soon become an imperative for businesses.

Benefits of Using Workflow Management Software

Workflow management software helps companies set up, monitor, and manage workflows. It enables automations to ensure that work gets completed in proper sequence and on time. For example, it can assign tasks, populate documents, record progress, and send deliverables on their way—all without requiring human action.

Workflow management software can also flag problems and send messages about deadlines and other critical information. That's important because teams lose nearly an entire workday each week—approximately $12,506 per employee every year—due to poor communication, a recent Grammarly and Harris Poll study found. Workplace management software keeps communication flowing by ensuring everyone is informed about their individual responsibilities and workflow status. 

Here's a summary of the benefits workflow management software brings:

  • Increases efficiency by automating processes and coordinating teams
  • Lowers risk by alerting people to problems before they get out of hand
  • Improves transparency by displaying project status, timelines, and deadlines
  • Provides visibility with pie charts, Kanban boards, inventory snapshots, and other visualization tools
  • Saves time by including spreadsheets, documents, receipts, and other work materials in the same place as task assignments
  • Controls access by enabling managers to set individual parameters for viewing and engaging in tasks
  • Enhances collaboration by sharing documents with teams across departments, contractors, and vendors
  • Improves compliance by providing a clear audit trail

How Companies Use Workflow Management Tools

Workflow management software can be used across the organization. Here are some of the business functions where companies are using it to gain better control of processes and boost efficiency:

Human resources – Human resources professionals can use workflow management software for everything from hiring and training to tracking expenses and performance reviews. For example, this Spreadsheet.com applicant tracking template links candidates with jobs and coordinates interviews with recruiters. Pie charts give hiring managers a quick visualization of trends, showing how employees heard about jobs and the percentages of those who applied and received offers. Spreadsheet.com's employee hourly pay tracker keeps track of regular and overtime pay and can calculate how much is owed to how many employees in each category. The employee training management template tracks certifications and collects employee feedback about the training courses.

Simple Applicant Tracking Template
Simple Applicant Tracking Template

Finance and accounting – Workflow management tools can run many financial calculations. For example, Spreadsheet.com's break even analysis template can help a new company determine what needs to be done to operate profitably. It can also provide an accurate and detailed picture of budget status at any given time. Spreadsheet.com's income and expense tracker template, for example, records transactions, saves images of receipts, and allows you to track income and expense details across multiple accounts.

Income and Expense Tracker Template
Income and Expense Tracker Template

Marketing – Marketing teams can use editorial calendars like this Spreadsheet.com content calendar template to manage the content creation and publishing process from start to finish. They can also capture and analyze event feedback and ensure deadlines are met by tracking team objectives and tasks.

Event Feedback Template (Form)
Event Feedback Template (Form)

Sales – Salespeople can use workflow management software to send invoices, keep inventory stocked at the right levels, and calculate income. And with Spreadsheet.com's CRM with opportunity forecast template, they can import information about customers and deal opportunities from Salesforce to forecast future revenue.

CRM with Opportunity Forecast Template
CRM with Opportunity Forecast Template

IT – Software helps manage support issues so that IT managers can focus on improving technology. For example, this Spreadsheet.com template collects help desk tickets and tracks resolution. Managers can filter the data by status, priority, issue type, or technician identity.

Help Desk Tickets

Facilities Management – It can be challenging to keep on top of maintenance, whether you're managing an office, operating a warehouse, or running a restaurant. A tool such as this facility management template from Spreadsheet.com, can help you schedule and track maintenance tasks for buildings and equipment. It includes a form for service technicians to create an issue report, and help track spending for equipment, fixtures, and supplies.

Facility Management
Facility Management

Workflow Management Software Across Business Sectors

Every industry has its own workflows, and many can be managed more efficiently with customized workplace management tools. Here are a few examples:

Real estateUsing software makes it easy for realtors to find the workflow information they need in one place. For example, with Spreadsheet.com's real estate listing workflow management template, they can manage listings and obtain information about sellers, lenders, vendors, consultants, and other partners. They can monitor property feedback with an open house interest tracker and get listings ready to show with a home preparation for market template.

Real Estate Listing Workflow Management Template
Real Estate Listing Workflow Management Template

Construction Construction project managers conduct a symphony of work crews, building materials, contractors, subcontractors, and inspectors. Workflow management software helps them organize these people, tasks, and supplies to keep everything on track. For example, with this Spreadsheet.com construction project plan, they can visualize progress and dependencies at every stage, from blueprint to final inspection. Templates can also be highly specific, such as Spreadsheet.com's kitchen remodel plan. And they can give builders a convenient way to track incidents by time and cost, facilitating OSHA reporting.

Construction Project Plan

EducationSchool administrators and teachers deal with enormous loads of paperwork. Workplace management software can take over many of their manual tasks. For example, this Spreadsheet.com course scheduling template coordinates classes, teachers, and rooms. After school starts, they can flag absences with Spreadsheet.com's student attendance template, which also contains emergency contact information.

Course Scheduling Template

LegalLegal processes flow more smoothly when attorneys can access procedural documents they need in one place. For example, this Spreadsheet.com legal due diligence request list invites participants, tracks progress, and attaches documents next to questions, so lawyers don't have to search outside databases to assemble the information they need.

Legal Due Diligence Request List Template
Legal Due Diligence Request List Template

NonprofitEmployees at nonprofits often wear many hats. With workplace management software such as this Spreadsheet.com team objectives and tasks template, they can keep track of tasks by team, team leader, status, and more. Tasks are tied to specific long-term objectives, showing people why the work they're doing is important.

Team Objectives and Tasks Template
Team Objectives and Tasks Template

A Workflow Management System Benefits Everyone

Whether you're compiling a simple to-do list, developing a software product, or building a new subdivision, a workflow management system will help you maximize efficiency. Coordinating people, resources, and tasks ensures that projects flow smoothly with less manual intervention.

Spreadsheet.com provides a wide variety of workflow management templates. Customize one, import your existing spreadsheet to Spreadsheet.com, and integrate it with many leading tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Jira, Salesforce, and QuickBooks. 

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