A workflow is a set of interrelated activities, organized and repeatable. These activities are executed by humans or systems, to meet one or more business needs. Organizations execute their workflows to provide services, process information, transform materials, etc; everything that helps them achieve their objectives.
Real Example: Job Application
For example, when we want to hire new talent for our company we execute a specific workflow for it.
First, we publish a form on the Web for people to apply. Secondly, the HR staff evaluates the applications. The applicant is notified by email when discarded. Others go to the supervisor. After that, the supervisor can discard, interview or ask for a second opinion. When the interview finishes, the applicant is discarded or hired. If hired, the information (personal data, salary, position, etc.) is transferred to the ERP.
This is a workflow, that meets the specific business requirement of hiring new people. Clearly, there are several activities. Different actors (human, or systems) can complete each of these activities. Furthermore, there are different rules that conduct the execution of the workflow, such as if HR discards it, the applicant is notified automatically by mail, but if it approves then it goes to the supervisor.
(In our process library, you can find a template ready to be used for this workflow)
Graphical notation of workflows
Historically, organizations use diagrams to graphically represent their Workflows. Those main elements are “boxes” to represent activities, “arrows” to represent transitions between activities, and “diamonds” to represent decisions.
There are many notations, one of the oldest and best-known being the Flow Chart. This notation had the enormous advantage of being very simple to learn and use. On the other hand, it presented enormous limitations to formally model any workflow with medium or high complexity. Other notations arose later (several included in UML).
Finally, the BPMN (Business Process Management Notation) emerged, which enjoyed enormous acceptance in the industry and later became a standard (of the OMG). Today it is the most used notation in the world. Here is an example of BPMN notation.
Workflow Management System (WMS)
A Workflow Management System (WMS) is the software that allows you to graphically model any workflow and then execute it. You can also create an instance of that workflow and manage it from that software.
These products have been around since the 1990s. Initially, they were complex to install, configure and extremely expensive. Therefore, they were only accessible to large corporations and government.
Currently, there are products in the cloud (such as Flokzu), which do not require installation, are very simple to use and at affordable prices. This has democratized the technology and allowed many organizations to configure and automate their workflows in an agile way.
Further recommended reading :
- Productivity through Automation. 8 concrete Tips.
- Reducing costs through Automation
- HR automation. Workflows and BPM for Human Resources management.
You can also schedule a work session here to model a real-life process in your organization together.