All businesses have workflows. You have to market what you sell, deliver against received orders, and collect cash against deliveries. Each of these involves workflow, defined as a sequence of activities that follow certain patterns. By looking critically at existing workflows you can find ways to make them more effective and more efficient while reducing the amount of effort provided.
- A workflow is a graphical representation of the processes and sequences involved in performing work. The processes can be consumption of resources, physical transformation, information flow, or human action. The work is designed to achieve a specific purpose, and it can be carried out by a single person, a group, or a whole organization.
- Workflow representations help us understand the issues and relationships involved in a manner that is easy to comprehend. This clear understanding helps identify problems and inefficiencies, which leads to modeling possible improvements.
- Workflow is different from process in that it’s more general and typically covers several processes. A process has a defined input, processing algorithm, and output. Workflow can span the entire globe whereas processes are carried out at single locations.
- Well-designed information flow can help improve the effectiveness and efficiency of workflows. For example, performance-improvement practices, such as just-in-time ordering, depend heavily on information about materials requirements for the immediate future and current materials availability.
- In a document-management context, workflow signifies the flow of documents among people or groups of people. Business processes typically involve such distribution with different persons responsible for creating, updating, reviewing, and approving documents. Document distribution might also be necessary to provide decision-support information before initiating actions.
- Computer software can improve workflows by automating document routing and processing. It can also help by providing interfaces between different applications, integrating the workflow.
- Modern practices such as business-process re-engineering, lean practices, total-quality management, and Six Sigma have made it possible to achieve often dramatic improvements in workflows.
- Workflow-improvement campaigns start with a clear understanding of the business, of the processes involved, and of the people who participate in the workflow. The kind of improvements possible in an organization depends on the training and skill level of the employees.
- Get workflow participants involved in the improvement campaign. Observe their interactions with the systems. Get their ideas for possible improvements. Develop a flowchart that they agree with, and test the new design.
- Make participants enthusiastic by making improvements that simplify their tasks. For example, using new technology, an existing task can be designed to require minimum action. Be aware that a new design typically involves doing things in new ways, and make the learning experience easier by making it as intuitive as possible.
- Don’t neglect the task of documenting the design in full detail. This is often a distraction, but it can prove to be the difference between a successful implementation and a disaster if unforeseen problems arise later.
- Monitor and troubleshoot the new design by observing participants and getting their feedback. Work on the glitches and problems until the new workflows prove themselves to be worthwhile. It’s often at this stage that documentation will prove invaluable.
Modern document management systems typically come with the capability to attach documents to workflows. Standard workflows can be defined, and the documents can be attached to these. You also can create a workflow to meet some unique requirement. Either way, you will find this exercise can improve the effectiveness of your document management and business processes.