What Is Workflow Optimization? (And 5 Real-World Examples)
How to Identify Workflows and Optimize Them
Workflows complicate business operations and make it difficult to scale effectively. If running a business followed a straight line, growing them would be easy. Instead, they expand out like a complex, interconnected web. Each strand of that web is a vital workflow.
But what exactly is a workflow? And how can you improve your workflows to get more out of your business without wasting your time or money?
This goes deeper than [cost reduction and employee efficiency](/how-to-cut-costs-while-increasing-efficiency-in-yo ur-business/), though. Not being able to identify workflows and find areas for improvement can ruin your business. Follow this guide to better understand the workflows in your business and how to optimize these processes.
What Is a Workflow?
In any organization, you have two different categories of work that are carried out, tasks and workflows. A task is a single assignment that an employee completes and moves onto the next task. A workflow is a series of tasks that need to be completed, usually on a reoccurring basis, to complete a task.
In most small businesses, workflows are fairly linear. However, as a business grows, these workflows become more complex. They can branch out and even morph into an interconnected web.
Here are some areas you can find workflows:
- Employee Onboarding
- Supply Chain Management
- Purchase Approval Requests
- Vendor Relationship Management
- IT Change Management
- Content Marketing and SEO
- Web Development
- Sales Prospecting
- Customer Onboarding and management
Why Do You Need to Understand Workflows?
Without an understanding of how workflows function in your business, you can't map them out and you can't look for weaknesses in your systems. Ultimately, this makes it harder for you to optimize your processes.
If you're tired of watching your bottom line shrink, even though you're more successful and profitable, then you need to look at your workflows. Only by understanding how your business manages them can you better learn how to improve them and scale your growing business.
How Do Organizations Manage Workflows?
Managing workflows in smaller organizations is pretty straightforward. Usually, one employee either carries out the workflow or oversees a team, manually checking up on progress and verifying tasks as needed.
As an organization grows, so does the complexity of its workflows. Sadly, most organizations don’t build workflows that scale. A lot of the manual processes and legacy systems that existed at the organization’s beginning tend to get expanded on as the company grows. (This creates a huge burden over time.)
Worst of all, organizations rely more and more on the tools and systems they used to manage linear systems with increasingly complex workflows. For example, a growing business that tracked employee training and work hours in spreadsheets continue to do so despite rapidly growing their staff.
These types of clunky systems usually mean that growing organizations often overly rely on their managers, executives, and even employees to manage their workflows.
What Are the Different Types of Workflows?
Workflows are multitasked processes that both move and rely on data. But there are also several types of workflows. Some of them solve simple problems, only requiring a few steps. Others deal with intricate, complex, multi-level issues. These types need to connect to other workflows, transferring data back and forth.
These are more ambiguous types of workflows that don’t have a clear beginning. There is a process to follow, but data has to be collected first (as in an insurance claim, for instance).
These vary from project to project. But there are systems in place to help the project begin and guide it to completion. Each one is a bit different, so no two projects are the same.
HR, Procurement, etc. These types of workflows are predictable and recurring. Systems need to be put in place to help move them smoothly from start to finish.
It’s important to note the difference between tasks and workflows because there is a clear difference. Workflows belong to a bigger system and involve data. Tasks (and subsequently, task management) don’t. They’re isolated or mostly isolated tasks that simply need to be completed.
With all these types of workflows running side by side, it creates a unique network (almost like a brain) in your business. This complexity can be intimidating and overwhelming for growing businesses to process.
But it’s an aspect of workflow management you’ll need to overcome if you want to optimize your business.
3 Generic Examples of Workflows
To get a better understanding of what a workflow looks like in a business, let's take a look at 3 relevant examples. We'll look at inventory management, employee onboarding, and customer relationship management.
1. Inventory Management Workflow
With inventory management, your workflow begins with tracking your stock. You need to know what's in your warehouse, the rate of use, and the order time to ensure you have stock without waste. Once you start looking at what's needed to successfully manage your inventory, you quickly see the steps involved.
This is what that workflow looks like:
- Inventory reaches low stock
- Goods are ordered
- Management approves the order
- Vendor is contacted
- Goods are Delivered
- Goods are reviewed, sorted, and stored
- Inventory levels are updated
Behind the scenes, there are other connected tasks taking place as well: Order Management, Inventory Control, and Forecasting, Purchase Order Creation, Submission, and Collection, plus all the data analysis in between.
2. Employee Onboarding Workflow
Hiring new employees involves multiple workflows that can often span multiple departments. Information moves from HR to the teams and executives, ensuring the right candidate gets the job. But it doesn't stop at the hire. New employees have numerous steps to work through before they finally settle into their new jobs.
This is what that workflow looks like:
- Submit new position to HR
- Draft job description for approval
- Get approval for job description
- Post job description on relevant job boards
- Assess candidates based on requirements
- Select candidates for interview
- Hire the best candidate for the job
- Remove job vacancy
- Collect and store relevant data securely
- Ensure new employee completes relevant training
3. Customer Onboarding Workflow
If you want to avoid customer churn, you need to actively engage your customers and guide them to see the value in your product. Plus, if you want to enhance your bottom line, you need systems in place to upsell and cross-sell them on various goods and services. And you need to do this all while ensuring they remain happy.
This is what that workflow looks like:
- Send a welcome email
- Walk customers through product setup
- Point out relevant features
- Provide additional support/opportunities to learn more about the good/service
- Share regular reports/data with customer illustrating the value they get from your product/service
- Check in with your customers regularly to see how they're doing and ask for feedback
- Celebrate their achievements on the platform
- Offer additional services and products that can further meet their needs
What Is Workflow Optimization (Process Optimization)?
Workflow optimization or process optimization is the process of streamlining workflows using automation and integration to connect disparate systems. The end result is a streamlined system for carrying out tasks that remove unnecessary human elements, reducing risk, cost, and bottlenecks.
Every time a person is involved in a workflow, it creates a bottleneck. If a member of your team needs to manually evaluate every purchase, hunt down employee documents directly, or research vendor data every time a request is made, you're wasting time and resources.
Workflow optimization lets robots do what they do best (managing data) while letting people focus on what they do best (critical thinking). The end result is a streamlined system that scales with business growth.
Examples of Successful Workflow Optimization
If you want to optimize your workflows, you need more than generic overviews of what "could" happen if you streamline your business processes. You need to see how workflow optimization has worked for real organizations.
Quandary Consulting Group excels at helping business streamline their workflows with automation and integration. Here 5 real-world examples that reflect how your organization can benefit from automating business processes based on the kind of results we've gotten for our clients.
1. Automating Work Orders
One of the world’s busiest airports used to have its facilities management group schedule work orders in Excel by downloading files from their ERP system. This was a manual process that took time and prevented real-time reporting. It also opened the business up to unnecessary risk from manual data entry.
Eager to find a better solution, they reached out to Quandary Consulting Group. We worked with the airport to integrate their work orders into a Quick Base application.
From there, we automatically assigned flows based on job function and duration. We predicted these using historical hours). Then we helped deploy the system and walked the team through how to use the new application.
Before optimizing this workflow, this process took 4 people nearly 30 hours per week to complete. After automating it, it took less than 20 minutes to review each week.
2. Accounting Automation
AiN Group wanted to reduce their expenses for data entry management. Employees spent hours hunting down cardholders, manually entering in their details, and making adjustments in Excel. Afterward, they uploaded that data into their accounting system.
We built a custom application for their team that automated this entire workflow. Rather than waste employee time completing these steps, everything happens in the application. More so, it's a self-service management system that requires less than 2 hours per week for the accounting department to complete. A drastic change.
3. Procurement Automation
One large procurement department completely revamped needed to completely revamp its procurement and payment process. They took up to 100 days to complete payments. Manual entries created errors, slowed their team down, and created payment friction for vendors.
After consulting us, we create a customized procurement platform. This system automatically tracked purchases, payments, and vendors. It reduced data entry errors. And it also reduced the payment time to under 10 days (or less if they desire).
Overall, this automation has eliminated 160+ hours of wasted time that was needed each week for double entry and integrating systems.
4. Streamlined Employee Communications
Several of our clients needed a way to streamline communications between platforms, teams, and clients. However, most businesses over-rely on email. As a result, communication is slow, disjointed, and important messages get overlooked. The damage to employee, client, and customer relations can be severe.
With Quandary Consulting Group's help, all of our clients can now send customized emails that have either automatic or time-based triggers. This keeps communication in one secure place. And it saves each company a minimum of 10 hours per week from manual processes.
5. CRM Automation
A large heating repair company that was family-owned needed a way to automate its customer service. However, as a family-owned and operated business, they struggled to find a solution that would save them time while maintaining the unique, personable support they offered their customers.
Quandary Consulting Group worked with the business to build a custom CRM system in low code. The platform had an intuitive user interface that provided a tailored approach to customer interaction and service while tracking and recording data in one secure location.
After deploying the new application, our client saved 2 hours per day (one full workday a week) per employee in administrative tasks. Plus, they could still deliver the individualized support their customers had grown to love and expect.
Interested in seeing more real-world examples of workflow optimization? Check out our case studies.
Workflow Management’s Biggest Obstacle
People are great at a lot of tasks, creating unique solutions, designing complex strategies, managing customer concerns, and problems, for example. We’re not good at is managing menial, monotonous tasks. These tasks tend to bore people, drain them, and push them out the door.
Workflows involve a LOT of menial tasks. Whether you need to move data from one form to the next (or one platform to another), find information in spreadsheets, get signatures for approvals, or store and track down data. Every time one of your employees has to complete these menial tasks a lot of time is wasted.
Every time there’s a touchpoint in a workflow, it slows down the process. These slowdowns create bottlenecks. And with enough of them, your business (and your bottom line) get put at risk. Orders get delayed. Customers wait longer and longer. Data gets lost, or it's inaccurate due to manual entry errors.
5 Benefits of Improving Your Workflows
Businesses should always be growing and changing. There are new applications and technologies available every day, all designed to improve our lives. By taking the time to look at your workflows and how to optimize them, you open the door to a range of benefits.
- Reduced Inefficiencies: Mapping out a process alone is enough to see how many extra steps, bottlenecks, and slowdowns exist.
- Eliminating Waste: Improving your workflows will remove redundancies that drain resources.
- Improve Customer Relationships: The quicker you can move problems through your workflows, the easier it is for your team to focus on your customers.
- Better Data Insights: As you break down data silos and connect systems, you'll get a better look at more accurate data you can use to grow your business.
- More Agility: Clunky, inefficient workflows make it harder to adapt to a constantly changing business environment. With agile systems, you'll be more prepared for what the world throws your way.
How to Effectively Optimize Your Workflows
Workflow optimization (or process optimization) gives your industry the best chance to reduce costs and get more out of your business. And with the help of industry experts, you can streamline your workflows faster while reducing the risk and costs associated with improving your business.
See how we've helped our clients improve their businesses and get insane ROIs by checking out our case studies below.