A workflow is a defined sequence of processes organized to reliably deliver specific results. It describes the contributions of people, resources and information towards creating a product, delivering a service or processing information. A workflow can be documented and used as a training tool to create structure, consistency and accountability for a business.
Most business processes involve people in some way. Making people more productive is neither a natural nor easy thing to do because often times we are busy doing what is urgent instead of what is important. In general there are three types of people that work within a business:
- Management: Decisions are made by people. Understanding how decisions are made, when and by whom puts everyone on the same page and makes sure your business runs smoothly.
- Staff: Your staff is the lifeblood of your business. They sell your products, interact with your customers and get tasks done. Keeping them on top of their game involves continuous motivation, management and training so that they know what to do and when to do it.
- Vendors: You can’t do everything yourself and so you have to depend on people outside of your business to help build your products or service your customers. Knowing what needs to get done in-house and what can be outsourced can be the determining factor between profits and losses.
Defining how people work together creates structure so that everyone knows what to do and when to do it as well as how their roles and responsibilities contribute to the finished delivery.
Resource Processing involves the scheduling, utilization and investment of assets to be utilized to contribute towards delivering a specific task. Resources can take a variety of forms including equipment, capital and supplies. Resource processing can look like different things for different stages of the workflow:
- Equipment: Whether you need a projector, x-ray, or car, equipment scheduling ensures that your equipment will be available when you need it. And once they’re reserved for a time slot, they can’t be double booked.
- Capital: In any business, cash flow is the name of the game. Nothing will put a business under more surely than failure to well-manage its cash. To avoid such surprises, business owners must be able to forecast revenues and expenses for the next few weeks or months.
- Supplies: Excess of raw materials and inventory can soak up cash, space and time. Matching demand with supply is the key to operating with minimal inventory.
Coordinating the right mix of equipment, capital and supplies allows your business to more effectively serve customers and build products.
Information processing involves changing data from one form to another. Data can be held in many forms including financial reports, personnel files, customer records, emails and research results. Data can also be represented in many types of formats including pictures, text, sound and presentation. Information processing can look like several different things for your business:
- Data Collection: Information has to enter your workflow somehow. This can be done by your staff manually doing data entry, by your customers with an online order form or by your machinery who keeps track of their activity and productivity.
- Data Processing: Once information has been entered into your system it can be processed. Data processing means that the raw information that entered your workflow is going to be placed through a sequence of steps to create a product, deliver a service or generate a report.
- Data Reporting: Once information is processed the results will often need to be tracked, measured and analyzed. Reporting involves creating result summaries, activity logs and performance metrics to be used to make business decisions.
- Data Storage: Storing information can be an extremely tedious task for an employee. Not knowing where information is stored can be frustrating and expensive for a business owner. Having all your information in one place eliminates the fear of losing information.
- Data Search: Sometimes the problem with information is that there is too much of it. With search comes the ability to find the needle in the haystack. If the information is held in a database, you can search for keywords, work order numbers or customer names. What used to involved diving into piles of paper to find a record can now be done as simply as a google search.
Standardizing how data is stored, processed and retrieved will save manual effort, wasteful repetition and repeated requests for information.
Creating workflows for your business may sound like a complicated process, because it is. It involves diving deep into the details of your business and understanding all of the decisions that are made and the nuances that make your employees special. With that level of understanding though you have the opportunities to improve your business with workflows for improving consistency, productivity and margins for your business.