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What Is Workflow Management?

This detailed workflow management guide provides all the benefits of a well-defined workflow.

What Is A Workflow?

A workflow is a structure that includes a sequence of events required to perform an activity. The workflow steps determine business processes through the systematic organization of resources and describe the path necessary to complete the activities. Some workflows are more straightforward to document than others, but generally, they can be divided into three main 

categories: process, project, and case-based. Process workflows can be fully outlined from the first step to the last. A very representative example is the production of automobiles, where activities are predictable and standardized and leave little room for variation.

Project workflows are similar to process workflows but leave more room for flexibility. They work more like custom-built solutions than standardized approaches. An example would be an artist who receives commissions for paintings. While the artist knows that you will have created a painting at the end of each project, the process can vary based on what you will be painting.

Case-based workflows can vary significantly based on the circumstances of the requests; the right course of action becomes more apparent as more information is obtained. Support tickets received from IT technicians and insurance claims fall into this category, as IT technicians need to know immediately what actions they will need to take or what the outcome will be.

Establishing a process workflow can increase accountability and reduce project risk through increased visibility and oversight while documenting process information can ensure that work is completed and iterated correctly. By doing so, companies can better assess their skills and capabilities, making workflows essential for managing business processes.

The History Of Workflows

The thermogram, devised by Polish engineer Karol Adamiecki, is credited with being an early form of the workflow management system. It outlined operations using strips of paper that reported the previous and next activity in the process. Pieces of paper were attached to these strips to indicate the time required to complete each activity, with each piece representing a unit of time.

To view this diagram, imagine an Excel sheet. Each row represents the haemogram pieces of paper used to indicate tempo, while each column represents activity in the workflow. A process with five activities requires five columns. If each task takes 2 hours to complete, we can demonstrate this by marking cells 1 and 2 in column A, 3 and 4 in column B, 5 and 6 in column C, 7 and 8 in column D, and 9 and 10 in column E. This way, we will see that it takes 10 hours to complete all five tasks.

By mapping all the events and the time required to complete them, Adamiecki was able to provide managers with an accurate estimate of total production time. Production updates indicated the amount of work remaining versus completed to provide an overview of lost time. If the time to complete the tasks exceeded the expected time, the strips were marked with symbols or letters describing the reason. 

Once the project was completed, Adamiecki encouraged managers to take a photo of the completed haemogram and keep track of it for future projects. Adapted in Poland in 1896, her monogram brought about 100 to 400 percent performance gains in work environments such as chemical plants and rolling mills, agriculture, and mining.

 In 1903 Adamiecki presented the results of his case studies to the Yekaterinoslav Union of Russian Engineers. However, his diagram was published in 1931; even then, the publication was only available in Polish. As a result, the Gantt chart has spread and become more widely recognized as a foundational model for workflows.

Henry Gantt devised the chart of the same name between 1910 and 1915, although similar structures had already been published in 1912 by Hermann Schürch, whose work was not considered noteworthy then. The Gantt chart shows the tasks to be completed, the person in charge of each task and the time required to complete each task.

 These graphs are slightly different from her monograms in that the activities are listed vertically, and horizontal bars indicate the activities’ duration, milestones and interdependence. Numerous timeline templates have adopted this view, which is now very popular. Over the years, workflow management software has become popular and readily available.

Examples Of Workflows

Employee Onboarding 

The new hire onboarding process often involves multiple stages involving different departments. Typically includes document handling considerations and legally binding signatures. Here is a possible example of an onboarding workflow:

  1. The HR manager sends a welcome email to new hires attaching onboarding documents
  2.  The new employee reads the welcome email and opens the attached documents
  3. the new employee signs the employment contract and sends it to the human resources department
  4. the HR department processes and archives the documentation

Each step in your workflow can be a bottleneck and an opportunity to refine your process. To ensure that HR provides new hires with everything they need, you can create a  shared folder with the person who will take care of the new employee onboarding process. 

In the folder, you could insert all the files helpful in introducing the new employee so that the human resources manager can ask for them only sometimes. Make sure every action the new employee needs to take is explicit by recording a video of the screen to guide them through each step.

Some tools allow HR managers to automate the welcome message as well. Additionally, files can be sent to the new hire via a  password-protected link or made available read-only to those outside the team to ensure their security. Legal documents, on the other hand, could be processed via HelloSign and signed using an electronic signature.

Create A Video Campaign

Client-agency relationships can sometimes involve workflows that include the following actions:

  1.  the brand manager of the company creates and provides instructions
  2. agency account manager receives instructions, creates the required video and sends it to the brand manager for approval
  3.  the brand manager shows it to interested parties to get feedback
  4.  The account manager makes any changes based on the feedback and delivers the final file

This project workflow relies on long-form video submissions and content collaboration, which can be a pain point. Working with Dropbox, you can simplify these processes thanks to the ability to send large files quickly without having to zip them. Users can also insert time coded comments at specific points in the video, providing clear and precise feedback and a better final result.

Ad Hoc Project Management

When working with a client, projects may require additional work and new activities that weren’t initially anticipated. While it’s impossible to optimize a workflow for all potential contingencies, there are several steps you can take to ensure that unexpected requests are handled in the best possible way.

Backed by proven document management procedures, ad hoc requests can have a designated space for project delivery, to which interested parties already have access. Using Dropbox to store files for delivery, any changes you make to the content are automatically synced, so you don’t have to worry about having the most up-to-date version of your work.

If you already use Dropbox Paper to write meeting minutes, adding new requests to the task management document will be very simple. Tag, the project manager next to the request, indicates a possible delivery date, and you’re done. Paper will send automatic reminders to make sure everyone stays on time.

Definition Of Workflows

When diagramming your workflows, it’s essential to document your processes accurately and ignore rare cases and exceptions. If a process requires input from other team members, it’s best to involve those directly involved in it, as they can provide a more detailed picture based on their experience.

Process workflows are the simplest to define; however, it is essential not to forget project and case-based workflows. For these two categories, try to create workflows for the most frequently recurring cases and projects, as this is where you will see the most benefits of process optimization.

Don’t worry if your initial workflow could be better. The exercise aims to identify areas for improvement and make each new iteration of the workflow better than the last. Documenting the process is only the first step, but it is crucial. There is probably no end to this process, as ever-improving workflow management software and technology always provide new growth opportunities.

With more and more integrations, Dropbox offers endless possibilities to streamline your workflows. Even small but significant improvements, like the ability to view files created with different programs in one integrated folder, can significantly impact how things get done. Whether working on a project or with an international team, you can improve your work by integrating Dropbox into the process.

Read Also: How To Compress Files And Create Encrypted Archives

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