“The operation is, in reality, an ongoing process, an uninterrupted chain of services.”
With this quote, Fritz Nordsieck, a representative of business organization theory, pointed out the importance of business processes in 1932. What is taken for granted today was by no means a matter of course 85 years ago. For a long time, the most hierarchical organizational structure was the focus of business administration.
Despite everything, in the age of digitization, we are far beyond these findings. For a long time now, it has no longer been a question of aligning the company only to business processes and mapping them electronically and as standardized as possible. And this is where workflows come into play. In this article, we address the question, “What is a workflow?” And provide the essential information to get started with the topic.
Table of Contents
Definition: What Does Workflow Mean?
A workflow is primarily used to automate a business process and is a flowchart showing which work steps are required for the business process and who is performing them. The workflow has a firmly defined starting point, approach, and endpoint.
With the help of workflow software, analog business processes are digitized and automated with IT support.
Workflow management encompasses the entire process around the planning, modeling, control, and analysis of workflows.
Approval Workflow For Vacation Requests
- Each employee has to create a digital vacation request at least three months before the desired period and send it to the responsible HR manager if they want a vacation.
- The responsible HR manager takes note of the vacation request and checks the department’s staffing for the specified period in the vacation calendar.
- Rule: at least half of the department must be present at all times
- Based on the rule, the personnel management must confirm or reject the vacation request by email within seven working days.
- The vacation period of the confirmed vacation request must be entered immediately by the responsible HR manager in the vacation calendar.
What Does Workflow Mean ?
The term “workflow” already has a permanent place in the German vocabulary and has even got its entry in the Duden. Strictly speaking, “workflow” is now a German word. The German meaning is easy to deduce, however. A workflow consists of the two words work. And stands for work, as well as flow, Engl. And stands for the river. In German, workflow means workflow and hits the core of the meaning just like the English word.
How Does A Workflow Differ From A Classic Business Process?
A workflow is differentiated from a business process in terms of the level of detail. For a better understanding, I will first explain what a business process is.
Definition Of Business Process
A business process comprises many small work steps to achieve a defined goal within a company.
Business Process Example:
Onboarding A New Customer
- Check whether the customer data is stored in the system.
- Request missing customer data from the customer.
- Store customer data digitally.
- Digital recording of the signed contract
- Keeping the contract in the customer folder
- Brief project-related employees to the customer: Agree and set a briefing date
- Contact customers for the kick-off meeting
Workflow Vs. Business Process
While the business process is primarily focused on economic aspects and the presentation of the work steps of a business process, a workflow aims at the detailed technical description of the work steps. The business process describes “what” has to be done on the technical, conceptual level and, in contrast to the workflow, is of great importance for the strategic orientation as a whole. However, the level of detail is much coarser than that of a workflow. On the other hand, a workflow not only describes the “what” but also the “who.” The workflow, therefore, reads more like a precise work instruction. It must be detailed and accurate that the workflow can support an employee in the work sequence, or the processing can be fully automated. A workflow is therefore of great importance for the precise coordination of different business processes.
Not To Be Confused: Business Process Management (BPM) And Workflow Management
The terms Business Process Management (BPM) and Workflow Management are often used as synonyms, although significant differences exist.
In workflow management, the focus is on the analysis and optimization of individual business processes in detail and targeted coordination and organization. Business Process Management – considers business processes much more comprehensively and relies on targeted integration in the company and strategic orientation.
Workflow Management System: More Than Just Task Management
Workflow management goes far beyond simple task management. Workflow management systems enable business processes to be fully adapted to the individual needs of the company. While task management systems are mostly limited to individual, organizational units and only allow strict business processes without any deviation, a workflow management system offers significantly more flexibility across companies and departments.
Structured Vs. Semi-Structured Processes: What’s The Difference?
Not all business processes are created equal. Not all workflows are the same. In theory, business processes can be roughly divided into structured and semi-structured processes. If this is transferred to workflow management, then one speaks of normative workflows in structured business processes and adaptive workflows or even process management in the case of semi-structured business processes.
The following graphic illustrates the main difference between workflows for structured and semi-structured processes. In structured business processes, the operation defines the user’s activity. The process is predictable and has a clearly defined sequence. In the case of semi-structured business processes, on the other hand, the user uses his experience to select the sub-activities that are necessary to handle the process optimally. Since these workflows cannot necessarily be foreseen, the user determines the following process step individually based on the available information.
In practice, it is often difficult to make a clear distinction between workflow management and process management. Either both can be used equally, or the individual phases flow smoothly within a business process.
You Will Find These Workflow Types And Processes In Companies
Business processes in companies are diverse. The possibilities of electronically supporting these business processes with workflows are just as various. The ability to digitally map business processes using workflow software is available in every department, whether production, sales, or purchasing. The following is a list of the most common corporate electronic workflow examples:
- Inbox distribution
- Incoming invoice processing
- Complaint management
- Complaint management
- Approval workflows
- Procurement requests
- Custom order request
- Quality management
- Master data processes
- Personnel and applicant management
- Vacation requests
This Is Why Workflow Management Is Worthwhile: An Overview Of The Advantages Of Workflow Management
Completely independent of workflow management or process management – the support of business processes with the help of workflows offers companies many advantages. Usually, it has a positive effect on various areas immediately after implementation:
- Increased information availability
- Avoidance of media breaks
- Increased flexibility within processes
- Minimization of sources of error
- Increased transparency (status overview, documentation, reporting)
- Improved process quality
- Standardization of processes
- Reduced costs and processing times
- Flow charts
Travel Expense Accounting As A Workflow Example For A Structured Business Process
A well-known and straightforward workflow example is travel expense accounting. A travel expense report is a structured business process that is very similar in many companies. The process is predictable, and there is a clear start and endpoint. Travel expense accounting thus offers the perfect prerequisites for digitization via a workflow. The typical steps of a travel expense workflow are as follows:
- Recording of travel expenses by the employee
- Transmission of the application to the supervisor
- Approval/rejection of the travel expense report
- In the event of rejection: Information to employees with the request for adjustment
- Upon approval: automatic creation of a travel expense receipt
- Digitize and archive receipts
- Hand over the receipt to the HR department and pay the outstanding amounts
We have already described in more detail how a digital travel expense report in SAP can look like in one of our earlier blog articles.
Workflow Management System: Work Faster And More Productively With Workflow Software
Document Management System (DMS) And Workflow Software
Business processes usually involve various documents, such as invoices, contracts, or order confirmations. Each of these documents is connected to a workflow so that there is a crucial connection between workflow management and document management.
Document management systems (DMS) enable you to optimally control your documents through the respective business processes in the company. Be it the automated filing and distribution of digital papers or automatic review and approval workflows – a DMS with integrated workflow software makes your company more productive in all respects.
Workflows As The Heart Of Every ECM Software
Workflows represent the heart of the classic ECM model. And even in new approaches, such as enterprise content services, companies will inevitably process further recorded documents using workflows. d.velop provides not only the pure software solution but also the necessary analysis and advice. As part of a personal workshop, we examine current processes with companies, uncover optimization potential and sources of error and develop effective options for optimizing business processes.