Small Business, Big Results: Transforming Processes with Workflows
What is a workflow?
A workflow or business process is a procedure for accomplishing a repeatable business objective. All organisations are essentially a collection of business processes, and every company has at least one process. Therefore, workflows play a significant and influential part in all business activities. By deploying workflow automation, it can help you improve your business's efficiency, overall revenue, and day-to-day operations.
A workflow is not a task. A task is a one-time action rather than a repeatable process. On the other hand, a business process is typically a collection of tasks performed in sequence regularly for a repeatable objective.
Workflows are structured steps that take you from the beginning to the end of a process and are designed to streamline and automate specific business processes. Workflows show stakeholders what tasks are complete, when they get done, and who is responsible for them—increasing team visibility and efficiency.
On the other hand, a collection of unrelated tasks or business processes is a project.
A workflow is an end-to-end process that helps teams meet their goals by connecting the right people to the right data at the right time. Workflows move data (tasks) through a series of steps from beginning to end. Once set up, a workflow helps you organise information in a way that is not only understandable but also repeatable.
Workflows do not eliminate people from work, but they do help in removing human errors from the process. It is all about efficiency, quality, and consistency.
Some HR examples of where workflow can be effectively deployed include:
- Employee Changes
- Performance Reviews
Why use workflows?
Aside from providing structure and automation of business processes, there are many other benefits to be gained from deploying workflows: Properly structured workflows ensure that important processes are done the right way every time and enable you to achieve benefits that are important from a business perspective. These include:
Workflows can help you streamline your business processes, reducing errors and increasing efficiency. In the ordinary course of activities, a business deals with numerous unnecessary and redundant tasks, which can waste time and resources. When developing a workflow, the company can analyse all activities and detect and eliminate any superfluous or unnecessary tasks. Once you have more insight into your processes, you can determine what activities are necessary, enabling employees to focus on genuinely significant activities that create value for the business.
When the workflow process is correctly mapped, managers will automatically invest less time in micromanaging their employees. Reduced micromanaging will result in increased employee satisfaction and productivity and improved manager-employee relationships. Studies have shown that micromanagement is often cited as the biggest reason for quitting a job. Furthermore, a manager's time will be freed up to spend more time on tasks with a higher significance.
Thus, by automating repetitive tasks and standardising processes, workflows can help you save time and reduce costs.
Workflows can help ensure that your business processes are consistently applied across your organisation. This can help reduce variability in your output and improve the quality of your products or services, assist you in providing better customer service and be able to respond to customer complaints more quickly. Additionally, workflows provide you with a greater insight into your processes, which can then be used to improve your workflows and, thus, your business’s bottom line.
By ensuring that every employee clearly understands their responsibilities, the tasks to be completed and the deadline for completing those tasks, workflows can improve accountability and reduce confusion and delays. A clearly laid out and efficient workflow also provides visibility to the whole team on what is happening.
By implementing a workflow, it provides employees with greater insight into individual business processes, allowing them to see the whole picture and ensure that the tasks being performed let them achieve the expected goals. It also eliminates the problem of transparency when it comes to activities performed by individual departments. Meticulously documenting and sharing all the necessary information on a common platform is the easiest way to make work more efficient and minimise the risk of mistakes.
Workflows can help your business scale by making it easier to add new team members or departments. By standardising processes, you can ensure that new team members can quickly get up to speed and start contributing.
By mapping the business workflows, one can understand how the data flows through the organisational system and impacts its decisions and performance. It gives a clear, concise, and top-level view of the business. Additionally, workflows ensure the data is correct in every system based on the primary source.
Workflows can help businesses improve the security of their data by establishing clear procedures, reducing the risk of human error, and providing a system of checks and balances to ensure that data is accessed and handled only by authorised personnel. Furthermore, by capturing detailed records of who accessed, modified, or deleted sensitive data (i.e. an audit trail), workflows can help businesses identify potential security breaches and respond to them quickly.
Workflows can also help ensure that all business processes comply with applicable regulations. This is especially important in specific industries, such as finance and healthcare, which are heavily regulated and bound by various legal requirements and reporting responsibilities.
How to implement workflows
If you’re an SME business, setting up and optimising your workflows might just be what sets you apart from your competition. Here are some ways to implement workflows for SMEs:
1. Identify the processes that need workflows:
Start by identifying the processes that are most important to your business and could benefit from workflows. This could include processes related to HR, sales, customer service, finance, or operations.
2. Map out the process:
Once you have identified the process, map it out in detail. Identify the steps involved, the people responsible for each step, and any inputs or outputs. By having a graphic representation of the workflow in a workflow map, analysis can be performed more accurately and effectively, providing a visual of the workflow from the start to its endpoint
3. Standardise the process:
After mapping out the process, look for ways to standardise it. This could involve creating templates, checklists, or forms that standardise inputs and outputs. Again, consider the many, not the few, and include ways to override the process if the scenario doesn’t quite fit.
4. Automate the process:
Once you have standardised the process, look for ways to automate it. This could involve using software tools or platforms to automate tasks and streamline workflows.
5. Test and refine the process:
After implementing the workflow, testing it to ensure it is working as expected is essential. Look for ways to improve the workflow over time by analysing performance metrics and gathering user feedback.
Why workflows fail
Workflows can quickly become over complicated, so people end up trying to find manual ways to work around them.
Ensure that when building workflows, they are relevant and streamlined where possible. Get the people using them involved in the design to ensure that every step adds value. An essential aspect of workflow analysis is visualising the business process or workflow in a graphic format, typically as a flowchart. Since business processes can be quite complex and involve many different employees and teams, more than simply listing the steps generally is required. It is important to understand that the workflow won’t be perfect from the outset and will require continuous analysis and reviews to improve them.
In general, workflows can be created for any process that is repetitive, involves multiple steps, and requires the involvement of several people or departments. Implementing workflows can provide significant benefits for SMEs, including increased productivity, consistency, and security. By carefully analysing business processes and investing in the right tools and resources, SMEs can successfully implement workflows that optimise their operations and drive business growth.