Whether you’re remodeling your bathroom, working on a multi-step product build with your design team, organizing a college research project, or just figuring out how to schedule your week, you’ve undoubtedly found yourself scratching your head from time to time as you’re trying to figure out how to begin.
In all of these situations, designing and implementing a consistent workflow can help you see your project through to completion—with the utmost efficiency and highest probability of success.
1. What Is a Workflow?
Maybe it seems like a buzzword, but a workflow is a handy tool when it’s thoughtfully created and fully executed. A workflow is a visual representation of a multistep process that requires decisions, variable directions, and an outcome that’s based on an initial goal. Workflows help you organize and document all the steps necessary to stay on track and remain focused throughout the process.
Workflows are most commonly present in a product-manufacturing environment, but they are also prevalent in most professional situations. Moreover, workflows are useful for organizing most aspects of one’s life, whether it be personal or professional.
Workflows can be used to organize and streamline the achievement of financial goals. For instance, they can be used to establish and coordinate a new customer service process at a growing retail company. Alternatively, they can be used to plan your next vacation. Whenever you feel stuck and overwhelmed by the complexity of a problem, a workflow can help you get unstuck, and it can keep you moving forward.
2. How to Create A Workflow That’ll Streamline Your Tasks
When creating a workflow, the three most essential questions to answer are:
- What are we producing?
- Who is responsible for each part of a workflow?
- How long will each step take?
To answer these questions, you’ll need to take the following steps:
1. Identify the Goal.
The very first thing you’ll need to do is identify exactly what you want the outcome of your workflow to resemble, whether it’s a product, service, or digital solution. That way, you can create a clear vision of your goal. If the workflow is team-based, then involve all stakeholders in identifying the target, so everyone is on the same page. Then put the goal in writing.
2. Determine the Parameters of the Workflow.
You’ll have to decide how down-in-the-weeds you’d like your workflow to go. Is your aim to visually represent the “must not miss” basics, so you and your team can stay on track? Alternatively, are you attempting to document every detail involved, so newcomers have clear guidance and can start contributing to the project more efficiently? If it’s a group-based project, the scope of your workflow will be up to you and your team.
3. List All the Steps You Need to Take to Achieve the Goal.
This step may take the most time, but it will help you separate all of the necessary steps from the ones that aren’t relevant and don’t contribute to the desired outcome. As you make a list, make sure the steps are in the most effective order.
4. Audit Your Workflow.
Once you’ve created a template for your project, review each step in the process for redundancy and relevance. To make the workflow as efficient as it can be, each step of the workflow should be valid and worthwhile. By examining all parts of the workflow before and after the project, you will be able to streamline the overall process and maximize its efficiency.
5. Create Guidance with Directional Arrows
In other words, any decision you make will consist of two possible directional outcomes. A Yes means the workflow continues in a direction toward the end goal, and a No means the workflow takes a different path, most likely a loop back to a previous location.
For example, a production line could be represented by several rectangles that indicate a different process in the line. A diamond shape could represent a decision that the quality control department must make about the production. If the product is not up to par, the arrows will lead back to a place in the workflow where the process can restart. However, if the product is acceptable, movement can continue forward along the workflow to the end goal.
6. Consider Variables
Workflows are living documents that can adapt to your needs as long as you need them to. Beyond the basic shapes that represent directions, processes, decisions, and products, a workflow is highly customizable, according to the exact project.
You can use different colors or patterns to serve various individuals on the team who are responsible for a particular step in the workflow. You can also make the workflow as detailed or as simple as you want it to be. New actions can be inserted, and activities that are no longer relevant can be removed.
7. Determine the Time Frame
You may be creating a workflow for an existing procedure that needs to be documented so you can share it with others. Alternatively, you may be attempting to define an entirely new project with a workflow. Either way, you’ll need to determine how much time each process or decision should take within the overall framework of the workflow.
If you don’t know how you’re going to use a workflow at first, you can leave it blank and come back to it after you’ve gone through it the first time. Alternatively, you can estimate how long each step should take, and make modifications from there.
3. Workflow Templates You Can Start Using Today
If you don’t feel like reinventing the wheel and creating a brand-new workflow chart, there are several free workflow templates available online that you can tweak as much as you see fit, according to your individual needs.
Some templates are as simple as black and white shape-based flowcharts. Others come complete with illustrated decision-making processes full of color and movement. However, they all include a sense of direction that’s meant to get you from start to finish.
Templates are also available for specific genres. For instance, you can find service-based workflows, and workflows for data processing, document management, website design, server management, human resources, eCommerce, and translation. Here’s a list of useful sites that provide customizable workflow templates:
Workflow diagram template by 24Slides
Workflow diagrams by Lucidchart
Workflow Diagram Templates by SmartDraw
4. 3+ Useful Workflow Examples
Workflows come in a variety of formats, shapes, and colors. They may contain simple shapes and colors that delineate the possible actions and the responsible parties, or they can feature individual icons to identify each step in the process. Workflows can be small and to the point, or large and complicated.
They can be presented as a chart or an expandable task list. As long as they represent the what, who, and how of each process or decision involved, workflows can effectively streamline and organize your project.
Example 1: Workflow for an Incident Response
Incident response plans are very commonly found in the form of workflows. Regardless of who it is or how often they’ve been in the situation, each step the responder takes must be clearly defined, so that all bases are covered in the response.
(Image Source: Integrify)
Basic shapes are often used in standard workflow designs. In this example from Integrify.com, an oval represents the start of the workflow, a rectangle represents a process that’s been undertaken, hexagons represent decisions that must be made during the workflow, and a circle represents the end process. Throughout this example, arrows represent the directional relationship between two steps in the process.
Example 2: Hiring Workflow
Some workflows can be very detailed, such as this hiring workflow courtesy of Edrawsoft.com. This particular workflow has six different questions, and each result sets you off on a different path in the workflow.
As detailed and well-organized as this workflow is, each step in it is a simple process that almost makes hiring a new employee a plug-and-play process. This particular template is a beautiful example of a way to take a complicated process and streamline it for anyone in an HR department that’s responsible for hiring new employees.
(Image Source: Edraw)
Example 3: Workflow for a Purchase-Requisition Process
For most companies, purchase requisitions involve multiple people and departments with many variables, especially if those purchases are high-dollar items. A simple workflow can help the purchaser keep track of the process and manage realistic expectations about its approval and timeline.
This workflow courtesy of IBM shows the start of the purchase requisition: the supervisor’s approval. If the purchase is approved, the flow then moves to one of two tracks, based on whether the purchase is above or below a specific dollar amount. From there, it follows a myriad of possible avenues before finishing its course.
(Image Source: IBM)
5. What is Workflow Automation? (incl. 3+ Examples)
Often, sophisticated workflows include many different steps that result in much manual work. Workflow automation helps you to find potential inefficiencies and to automate these subprocesses. The kinds of tasks that are automated can be different. Often, repetitive tasks such as creating files, documenting processes or sending manual messages can be easily done by a workflow software.
Let’s dive into some examples that explain how you can improve and automate existing workflows.
Example 1: Ensuring High Project Standards
To achieve high quality, several people need to arrange meetings with each other and communicate change requests.
- You send an email with the request “Please Give Feedback” to several clients.
- One colleague schedules an appointment in your calendar to discuss the project on an individual basis.
- Another coworker replies via email.
- A third coworker directly comes to your desk and verbally delivers his feedback.
Workflow using a workflow software such as Filestage:
You send a link of the project to your coworkers so they can review it. You receive bundled feedback from various people on one platform. Since everyone can see everyone else’s comments, certain points can be picked up on, and misunderstandings have the chance to be clarified.
Example 2: Receiving Contradicting Creative Feedback
You receive contradicting feedback, which has been attached to an email as a comment on a PDF file.
- You call your contact person and explain that a coworker disagrees with a certain point.
- Your client discusses the issue with her coworker.
- She calls you back.
- After finding the relevant change requests, you explain the situation via email as diplomatically as possible.
Workflow using a workflow software such as Filestage:
Everyone from the client’s side is able to see each other’s comments and correct each other accordingly.
Example 3: Communicating Weekly Goals
The administration of weekly goals is causing you to lose a lot of time because you have to discuss everything with your team leader, Nik. And you need to set up meetings to discuss them.
The effort increases for the team leader since he is responsible for collecting, forwarding and adapting the information.
- Every team member sends an email to Nik with the arranged structure. The cutoff time is Monday at 11 a.m.
- Nik waits until he has received the complete weekly plan and adds his notes.
- Afterwards, he bundles all the weekly goals and sends an email to the entire team.
- Additionally, he forwards this mail to his supervisor.
- On Friday, the entire team meets for an hour to discuss their weekly goals.
Workflow using a workflow software such as Asana
All team members add their most important tasks to the project Kanban calls “Weekly Goals”. That way, everyone keeps an overview of the previous week and all the completed tasks of the past. If there are any uncertainties, you can directly comment on the tasks in Asana.
6. Best Workflow Software
Fortunately, a significant number of web-based and downloadable workflow-creation tools exist and are easy to access. Many software companies that specialize in workflows provide a free or trial version of their product. Here are some excellent choices:
Monday is a free management tool that allows you to create as many workflows as you need— in the form of project boards, private boards, and share boards. Tasks are arranged in lines called pulses. These pulses are visually organized on a dynamic timeline that you can edit as you see fit, including the status of the project, its estimated costs, and the person in charge.
With a Filestage workflow, you can manage your creative work in a multidimensional way. If you’re working on a specific digital product (whether it be a photo, video, illustration, ad campaign, website design, or software production), you can upload your project and set workflow parameters via Filestage.
Once you’ve uploaded your work, you can designate collaborators to comment, review, discuss, or approve it. Then you can check the progress of the project in real time, and your collaborators don’t even have to have a Filestage account.
Asana is software that manages your projects and tasks at the same time. It helps you create and delegate tasks, set deadlines, and write comments. Also, you’re notified of your project’s current progress. Besides saving you a lot of time, you always stay up-to-date, and your team is able to work more productively.
Other workflow management software you can check out:
WorkflowGen – A workflow software that can be used to digitize and optimize your current business processes.
Nintex – A workflow management system that supports you to handle and automate all of your business processes.
JIRA – A project management tool that is mostly used by agile development teams.
Accelo – A operations automation system that allows you to centralize all of your work for clients.
Zoho Creator – A software that lets you create individual business apps based on your workflows for your company.
Pipefy – A workflow tool that helps you create and manage your different processes across your departments.
PandaDoc – A document management software that allows you to streamline your sales workflow.
7. How To Create a Workflow with Filestage
Filestage’s Agile Review Workflow is meant to streamline the way you communicate and view internal and external reviews. It allows for you to have multiple review steps where you can manage who can access different files and comments.
Here’s how to create your first workflow in Filestage:
1. Sign up for a FREE trial.
2. Access your Filestage workspace.
3. Create a new project and new folder that the new project will be part of.
4. Drag and drop the project files into the Filestage user interface (or click on Upload File and choose the respective file). You’ll find your project file displayed on the left side and a section that contains all files on the right side.
5 Add further review steps if your review and approval workflow consists of different levels (such as internal and external review). That way, you’re able to completely rebuild your existing feedback workflows.
5. You can easily invite people to be a reviewer of a single review step by selecting the green human silhouette next to the word reviewers and then typing in the email address.
5. To review a file, simply click on it on the project site. Afterwards, you’re able to leave comments. To leave a comment, click anywhere on the displayed file. These dots can be adjusted by dragging and dropping them wherever you like.
When you invite people to be contributors, they can add attachments and directly edit the file as needed. All the work occurs within the browser and is protected by 256-bit SSL encryption.
Alternatively, watch this video to get started with Filestage:
You can find more information on the agile review workflow in our help center.
8. Why You Should Use Workflows
Whether you’re utilizing the convenience of a creation tool or diagramming a workflow yourself, the results of creating and implementing one are:
- Increased efficiency
- Reduced waste
- Clearer direction
- Sustainable organization
These results occur whether your project is a one-person creative job or a complex multi-team production cycle.
Max is a SaaS enthusiast and loves actionable content that provides direct value.