Workflow Design: A Guide to the Process

Updated February 3, 2023

Illustration depicting a person filling out a business model canvas on a large board.

Business operations rely on the success of an efficient and clear chain of actions and outcomes. Leveraging the workflow can streamline the processes of individuals and departments into a combined effort toward a unified goal. Designing and implementing a high-quality workflow design can help you clarify every individual role at each stage of the organization's processes.

In this article, we discuss how to create an effective workflow design and review design benefits, with tips to help you develop a workflow that improves your ability to meet business objectives.

What is workflow design?

Workflow design refers to mapping the most frequent and important tasks, resources and activities in a way that allows a team to move efficiently and effectively from one stage of a project to the next. Collaborating with a team throughout the creation of a workflow design process can increase the success and efficiency of the design.

This process also usually culminates in a tangible representation of the organization's ideal workflow, such as a flowchart or other easy-to-follow diagram. Workflow design can also change over time based on the team's specific needs.

Related: How To Improve a Business With Organizational Design

Benefits of using workflow design

Here are some benefits of using workflow design for business operations:

Clear scheduling

Designing an effective workflow can help the team understand what's expected of them at each stage of product development. This keeps the team's projects on schedule and helps you reach the organizational goals. Ensure that the plan provides adequate labor and time during each part of the schedule to achieve accurate and efficient results.

Related: 15 Schedule Template To Improve Workflow

Increased accuracy

Clearly defined workflows can increase accuracy by providing documented processes for each stage of the development process. Good workflow design can also help enhance focus and communication by clearly delineating the requirements of each task. Setting goals, timelines and metric measurements for each process ensures you check the quality and accuracy regularly.

Consistent transparency

An effective workflow design provides transparency throughout the development cycle. In a quality workflow, leaders, team members and stakeholders can identify and understand the status of a project throughout development. This may be especially true when leveraging digital tools for creating and communicating a workflow.

Related: How To be Transparent in the Workplace

Interdepartmental collaboration

Good workflow design can help departments work together more successfully by improving communication. Strong workflow design often establishes formal processes for interdepartmental collaboration, which can enhance organizational outcomes. Workflow design might also highlight new areas where different departments and individuals can work together.

Related: How To Increase Collaboration in the Workplace

Improved efficiency

An effective workflow design provides clarity for how to make decisions and proceed from one stage of a development process to the next. This can support greater efficiency in a team by ensuring the right individuals connect effectively when necessary. With improved communication and collaboration, the occurrence of delays and errors can decrease for a more efficient work environment.

Related: 6 Ways To Streamline Business Processes and Workflows

How to create an effective workflow design

If you're interested in creating an effective workflow design, here are some steps you can use:

1. Choose a diagram type

Research workflow diagram types to decide which tool works best for the team. Some industries may use a particular set of symbols as a workflow best practice, so familiarize yourself with the preferred strategy in your field. Many workflow diagrams use a combination of shapes like diamonds and parallelograms, different lines and arrows and typed text that explains what each item represents.

Related: 28 Flowchart Symbols and Their Meanings

2. Identify tasks

To align the organization's tasks meaningfully, first specify which tasks to include. Try brainstorming tasks and processes with the team to ensure you include each important aspect of the processes. You can also try working sequentially, identifying tasks that occur at the beginning, middle and end of your work processes.

Related: How To Break Down Projects Into Tasks

3. Establish connections

Clarify how the tasks you identified relate to one another. Consider which tasks can occur independently and which tasks depend on another task for completion. Tasks in your workflow might relate to each other in numerous or complex ways, so be sure to collaborate with the individuals involved for clarity.

4. Clarify output

A strong workflow design highlights what each task entails and identifies the intended outcome of those tasks. Detailing the objective of each task and stage in the workflow can help make each process more accessible to other parties who may use it. You can establish goals, timelines and metrics to measure the outcome and quality of production at the end of each stage in the process.

5. Find component workflows

Examine each part of the workflow and look for potential sub-workflows. Remember to include these sub-workflows, including specific tasks and individuals, in your final diagram. Having each process defined and separated as clearly as possible makes it easier to identify and complete each stage.

6. Automate where possible

As you design your workflow, think about tasks and systems the company can automate for greater efficiency. Integrate those technologies into your workflow diagram and any information about the products and information they require. With today's technology, many processes can rely on tools to create high-quality results with increased speed and accuracy.

Related: What Is Workflow Automation and How Do You Use It?

7. Formalize your workflow diagram

As you complete each stage of workflow design, create a diagram in your chosen format. If you have done so informally, such as a hand-drawn or electronic sketch, consider using a digital tool to create a final draft. You can even research software programs specifically intended for workflow design and decide whether a specific workflow solution is right for the team.

Related: 13 Top Workflow Management Software for 2022

8. Reflect and revise

After implementing your new workflow, periodically reflect on its effectiveness for the organization. Consider using measurable outcomes, such as the established key performance indicators (KPIs). If items are missing from the workflow or if you can connect them in more efficient ways, make adjustments when necessary and communicate those changes to the team with an updated workflow diagram.

Workflow design tips

Here are some additional tips for successful workflow design:

  • Consider organizational culture. The most effective workflow design is usually one that supports the team's work preferences and group culture. Consider their preferences regarding factors such as the frequency of meetings and modes of communication when designing your workflow.

  • Leverage executive support. When implementing any new process, it can be helpful to attain the organizational leaders' support. Try to use executive enthusiasm for your workflow development to encourage team members' support as well.

  • Try going paperless. Consider using all-digital tools to create and publish your workflow. This can help support sustainability in an organization and expedite communication as well.

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