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What is a workflow and how can it boost productivity?

All of us at monday.com
All of us at monday.com

    Imagine a world without highways, lanes, or streetlights. It would be near impossible to get anywhere in a car safely.

    Even a simple commute would involve dodging oncoming traffic and delays.

    Painted lanes and carefully planned highway systems don’t fix all traffic issues, but they definitely help drivers get around faster and more safely.

    That’s the role of workflow in a company. A workflow exists to guide all moving pieces through a complicated process toward the desired outcome as efficiently and reliably as possible.

    By using repeatable workflows, you can standardize essential business processes and simplify the management of your business.

    In this article, we’ll do a deep dive into workflows, explain what they are, why they’re essential, and how you should optimize them in your own company.

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    What is a workflow, and why is it important?

    A workflow is a standardized series of tasks you complete in order to achieve a specific goal.

    For example, most companies have a standardized process they follow after landing a new customer. That would be their “onboarding workflow.” It might look something like this:

    1. An automated email asks the customer to schedule a training call.
    2. A product expert handles the training call.
    3. After the call, a trainer selects an email onboarding sequence based on the customer’s needs.
    4. After 2 weeks, the account manager checks the usage data to see if the customer is actively using the product.
    5. Customer service follows up and asks the customer about their experience.

    Completing a workflow analysis can involve multiple departments, employees, and tools. It all depends on the desired outcome.

    When building a new workflow, always consider how you can customize it to suit your or your customers’ needs.

    What is a workflow diagram?

    A workflow diagram is a simple visual representation of the workflow. You can use a digital mind mapping tool or draw it out on paper.

    An example diagram of a content publishing workflow.

    In the example above, the diagram represents a workflow for approving new web content. Visualizing the workflow in this diagram helps highlight the phases and conditional steps in a process.

    Often, the act of illustrating the workflow can help clarify which steps may not be necessary, or how to boost efficiency.

    What are the 3 basic components of workflow?

    The 3 primary components of a workflow are input, transformation, and output.

    Let’s break these down.

    • Input: staff, materials, equipment, and other resources necessary to reach the goal.
    • Transformation or process: the rules, directions, and steps needed to change the input into the desired output.
    • Output: the deliverables, whether it’s a physical product, service, or even a trained employee.

    The Lean and Six Sigma frameworks use the SIPOC diagram to break down every essential process further. (SIPOC stands for suppliers, input, process, output, requirements).

    This can help teams visualize every moving part that is involved in a workflow.

    With a clear overview, you can start optimizing processes and make decisions about standardizing and automating tasks within the workflow.

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    The top 7 benefits of a standardized workflow

    In the modern business world, we often hear project managers and executives talking about the need to create “standardized workflows.”

    What’s that all about?

    Simply put, with greater standardization, the easier it is to ensure continuity across business processes and outcomes. A standardized workflow also helps you lower risk and boost productivity.

    Let’s take a closer look.

    1. Increase productivity

    Standardizing a workflow means you eliminate many points throughout a process where workers would otherwise need to make a decision. When a workflow is standardized, everyone involved knows what to do and when to do it.

    This reduces the chances of an individual straying from protocol or making a wrong decision, which could cause delays.

    It also reduces manual work for 74% of businesses:

    For example, if you use a project management platform to handle task management, you can easily set and share standardized workflows with all relevant stakeholders. This should help answer questions and keep things running smoothly.

    2. Free up time by reducing micro-management

    Once employees are used to a standardized workflow, they can begin to manage themselves.

    As each team member grows into their role, they’ll start to take ownership and produce better outcomes.

    With the right platform, you can even automate management cues like reminders to complete tasks, provide status updates, and seek approvals.

    That means your managers and executives will have a lot more time to focus on high-level decisions. Instead of the day-to-day process, they can focus on new products or campaigns.

    3. Standardize processes for consistent results

    The original goal of workflow management was to produce consistent outputs. Assembly lines have the same objective.

    Even over 100 years ago, businesses understood the importance of consistency when producing products or delivering services.

    With a standardized workflow, you can deliver an almost identical result each time. Even if you need to replace a worker, they are much easier to train.

    4. Improve onboarding or adoption rates with a more organized workflow

    Onboarding new hires is an integral part of your business. But until they are adequately trained, new employees cost more than they offer.

    By standardizing workflows, you can drastically speed up their ramp-up time and empower them to start contributing value.

    Plus, with an organized onboarding workflow, you can solve 2 of the top 4 challenges of training new employees.

    A graph showcasing the greatest employee onboarding challenges.

    Almost half of companies (47%) struggle with inconsistent onboarding. Another 36% face unorganized processes due to “a lack of technology.”

    The leading challenge, overworked managers, is also a sign of weak workflows.

    5. Reduce project risks by better controlling variables

    Creating standardized workflows will help your team reduce risk by providing structure.

    When employees have a clear understanding of how to complete certain processes, when to seek approvals, and how to uphold security standards, you reduce the likelihood of mistakes and delays.

    6. Use workflows to establish a new company culture

    If you want to create sustainable change in your company, you can achieve this by creating new workflows and expectations that provide autonomy and foster accountability.

    When employees’ work is designed to help them succeed and grow, these core traits will become embedded in your company culture.

    As Will Durant (not Aristotle) poignantly put it, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”

    So a repeating pattern of daily or weekly actions is a core building block for your culture.

    7. Provides transparency and an audit trail

    With a clearly defined workflow where each step is documented, you can easily trace delays or mistakes and monitor performance.

    If you assign deliverables to a team without specifying a workflow, it can be difficult for upper management to single out individual performance.

    Why you need a workflow management platform

    Without workflow management software, your managers will need to provide hands-on process guidance to employees, which is not an efficient use of time.

    But with a sophisticated workflow management platform, you can empower your team to complete any kind of business process with ease, independently.

    monday.com is regarded as one of the premier workflow management software. Here are a few of its strengths.

    1. Centralize data into a single dashboard

    Integrations aren’t just useful for eliminating small data entry tasks from a process. You can use them to centralize data and give your managers a better overview of performance.

    For example, you could connect a tool like monday.com directly to your CRM and marketing platforms. That way, you could import sales and other performance data.

    An example of a sales dashboard in the monday.com UI.

    In that same dashboard, you could also view the number of leads handled by employees.

    Your managers can create the 30,000-foot view that they want from scratch.

    2. Set due dates and notifications

    monday.com helps teams stay on schedule by making it easy to set due dates, notifactions and reminders, and update status.

    With the structure in place to keep your projects and processes moving smoothly, you can dramatically increase the efficiency of your workflows.

    Here are just some of workflow management settings you can add into monday.com dashboards:

    • Task owners
    • Task descriptions
    • Due dates
    • Notifications
    • Milestones
    • Workflow action status (in progress, done, etc.)
    • Time tracking
    • Task-dependent timeline

    monday.com enables greater efficiency because it allows teams to automate many processes that otherwise consume time and slow down workflows. After a certain project is over, you can save your workflow template, including the automation, and reuse it in the future.

    3. Eliminate unnecessary manual tasks

    Not only can you automate a large part of the management process, but you can also cut back on other manual tasks.

    For example, you can:

    • Use integrations to update task card info across platforms
    • Notify other departments of bug reports
    • Reach out to coworkers when you finish your step

    These are just a few examples of manual tasks that you can leave to the workflow management system.

    4. Improve team clarity to avoid duplicative work

    In large organizations, duplicative work can become a large cost center if mismanaged. Two members on the same team could be working on the same problem without knowing.

    Without a system to coordinate work across teams, multiple teams within an organization can launch projects with the same business objective in mind without ever noticing.

    Clear task management and cross-department transparency eliminate low-level duplicative work.

    5. Easily coordinate work across teams and departments

    Increased transparency doesn’t just reduce the chances of duplication. It also makes it a lot easier to coordinate between teams.

    By sharing high-level goals and roadmaps, you can coordinate projects to support and build off of one another. Plus, with monday.com, you can easily map out and assign specific tasks across teams.

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    The power of workflow automation and integrations

    Experts estimate that the value of automating unnecessary tasks (for US companies alone) could be as high as $15 trillion.

    That’s trillion with a capital T. If that number doesn’t stop you in your tracks, I don’t know what will.

    You may think that most of those savings are far off on the horizon, but they aren’t. You can already automate a large portion of everyday work with today’s technology.

    Start automating up to 27% of all processes

    Just think of how many small-scale administrative tasks you do every day. Do they all need a human touch? Up to 27% of all work is automatable with today’s technology.

    Do you need to copy the text from an email and add it to your CRM? Or could software handle that?

    And automatable tasks go far beyond simple “copy and paste some text.” You can automate a large part of every essential business process.

    From receiving payments and onboarding customers to handling production and hiring staff, automation can transform your business.

    Minimize manual data entry with system integration

    Manually inputting data from various disparate systems is time-consuming and error-prone. Instead of wasting valuable time doing this, you can create automated workflows that automatically input the right data into your reporting system.

    monday.com, for instance, integrates with dozens of other workflow and data-oriented tools to make your life easier:

    A screenshot of monday e-commerce integrations.

    The second a new order is placed and confirmed, you can automatically create a workflow step to start fulfilling the order.

    In the card, you can link to essential documents that outline the entire process. That makes it easier to outsource to virtual assistants or new hires.

    Hit the ground running without breaking the budget

    You don’t need a huge budget or a beyond-horizon timeline to get into automations. The best thing you can do is to start small.

    monday.com offers native integrations with CRMs, marketing platforms, customer support tools, and more.

    We offer process improvement automation tools that you can start using today. There’s no need for a million-dollar budget or 5-year timeline.

    6 tips for optimizing your workflows

    Starting to document and set up workflows can be overwhelming at first.

    But don’t worry. We’ve got plenty of tips to help any company standardize recurring business processes and make them more effective

    1. Assign employees ownership, not just tasks

    If every team member checks in for every small variable, it will slow down the process. And your manager is just as busy as before.

    That defeats the entire purpose of a workflow. Instead, empower your employees to handle every aspect of their assigned task.

    2. Automate to eliminate excess steps wherever possible

    Wherever possible, introduce some automation to the mix.

    For example, if you have an email form on your site to get leads, you don’t need someone to check that inbox manually.

    Instead, you can set up an automation that automatically creates new task cards based on incoming emails.

    Screenshot of a Gmail integration automation in monday UI.

    Automating these steps reduces required labor and guarantees nothing gets overlooked.

    3. Keep all communication easy to access for everyone involved

    Centralizing communication regarding projects and workflows is paramount to keeping everyone aligned as time goes on.

    If you’re communicating with someone about a task, make sure everyone else can easily access the conversation. If it includes any mission-critical details, you can’t afford for someone to miss it.

    Comments on tasks are easier to see and react to after the fact than messages in a Slack channel or an email chain.

    Screenshot of comments on a task in the monday UI.

    If it’s a long discussion, you can summarize the decisions and add comments to tasks after the fact.

    4. Set clear performance expectations and measure KPIs

    You should have clear expectations for performance, both on a team and individual level.

    Based on these, establish key performance indicators (KPIs) and track them over time. The data will show you how the workflow is impacting the output of your company.

    Transparency is key. Every team and employee should be aware of how they are evaluated.

    5. Use prioritization and milestones to avoid bottlenecks

    Bottlenecks are the enemy of productivity. The last thing you need is for employees to be stuck waiting around on something else to finish.

    You can minimize this with timeline and dependency planning, but that’s not enough. You also need to single out urgent tasks with priorities and milestones.

    Screenshot of changing the priority of a task in the monday UI.

    6. Create and reuse custom templates to standardize workflows

    Once finished, make sure you save the workflow as a template. That will allow you to reuse it at a moment’s notice.

    Templates can help you set up detailed processes for new projects in familiar territory in mere minutes.

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    7 templates for standardizing complex workflows

    monday.com doesn’t just offer powerful workflow management and automation features. We also have ready-made templates for many different workflows.

    1. Employee onboarding

    Want to improve your workflow for onboarding new employees? Look no further. This template is perfect for formalizing employee onboarding in smaller teams.

    You can easily customize the board to add or remove steps from the process. You can also optimize the process with automations and integrations to suit your needs.

    With a partially automated workflow, your managers can focus on integrating new hires into the culture.

    2. Creative design

    Any design agency or in-house creative team has a multi-step process for delivering finished designs.

    Typically, they’ll start with an internal brief review before designers even create a concept.

    Screenshot of a design workflow template in the monday UI.

    You can easily add or remove steps to the workflow to make it suit your organization.

    3. Video production

    Video production planning is a complex process with a lot of moving parts. Plus, each project lifecycle has unique variables that can change the necessary inputs.

    This template outlines a basic pre-production workflow that you could repeat for each shoot.

    Screenshot of a video pre-production workflow template in the monday UI.

    Of course, the required resources will vary depending on the budget and length of the project. But polished repeatable workflows will give you more space to focus on high-level project management.

    4. Manufacturing

    If you rely on outside suppliers or manufacturers, you can set up a simple manufacturing workflow like this.

    Screenshot of a manufacturing workflow template in the monday UI. Comments above copied from original document

    You can also expand on the template to better suit internal manufacturing processes.

    5. IT requests or bug reports

    Whether you’re an internal IT department or you offer manager IT services to enterprises, you need to manage IT requests efficiently.

    This template can help you quickly categorize and prioritize important tasks, as well as protect any SLAs.

    Screenshot of an IT request workflow template in the monday UI.

    6. Lead management

    Once someone signs up to receive more information, you need to strike while the iron is hot. If you wait too long, you risk losing customers to competitors.

    That’s why we’ve created this template for lead management. You can easily assign sales reps and drive the sales cycle forward.

    Screenshot of a lead management workflow template in the monday UI.

    7. Marketing campaigns

    Developing effective marketing campaigns requires organizing a lot of moving parts. With a marketing template, you can keep things more organized from the start and easily track deadlines and deliverables.

    With this simple template, you can manage campaign ideas and requests from the early stage.

    Screenshot of a marketing campaign workflow template in the monday UI.

    Workflow efficiency equals business efficiency

    The first step towards establishing a new workflow is to break down the process into steps and moving parts.

    Have you been looking for a sign to sign up for a workflow software? Well, this is it!

     

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