The term «workflow» implies a sequence of operations or procedures.

On the other hand, workflow is sometimes used to refer to a diagrammatic representation of the flow of work or software that manages work.

In this article we will discuss the following;

  • Workflow (and procedures)
  • Workflow diagrams (depicting the flow of business operations)
  • Workflow systems (software to manage business operations)

…and introduce specific techniques to help improve workflow.

3 Steps to Improve Workflow

Let’s begin by looking at the three steps that can be taken to improve workflow.

Step 1: Establish a Clear Flow of Operations

The basic premise for improving workflow is that the flow of work must be clear. For example, it is not possible to improve workflow if there are no predefined guidelines or procedures, and the work is being done in a haphazard manner.

Therefore, we will draw a workflow diagram to clarify who is performing what tasks and at what times.

The figure below is an example of a workflow diagram drawn in BPMN notation.

If the workflow was not clearly defined in the first place, then once the workflow is visibly represented in a diagram and the defined procedures are shared among the team, a step toward improvement will have been made.

Step 2: Identify the Problem

Now that you have created a workflow diagram, the next step is to look for problem areas. By creating a workflow diagram it should be easier to see problems and issues in the business that were previously unclear.

Here we examine the workflow, focusing on the following three points

  1. Wasteful processes such as duplicate work
  2. Availability of checks and verifications
  3. Bottlenecks that slow down operations

There are many different types of business problems and issues, but these are all points of improvement that are most likely attributable to workflow.

Once we have identified these problems by schematizing the workflow, we can consider how to improve it by rearranging the diagram. In the next step, we will look specifically at how the workflow diagram can be improved to solve the problems.

Step 3: Identify Improvement Strategies

For example, consider the the wasteful process mentioned in the previous section. In this case, if a process is found to be clearly wasteful, it can be deleted from the workflow.

What about the next point mentioned in point #2, where there is no confirmation or checking?

The figure below shows an example of a workflow for responding to email inquiries.

At first glance this workflow may seem to work fine, but there is no way to check the responses that are created. Therefore, even if the content of an email is incomplete, there is a possibility that it will be sent as it is.

Therefore, we added a response check process to verify the content of the response text as shown in the figure below.

In the improved workflow, the created responses go through a response checking process and are then sent via email. If the response checking process determines that there is a problem with the response, the work is returned to the person who created it.

In point #3, there are various causes of bottlenecks in the workflow. However, if the workflow only allows sequential processing, it is effective to parallelize the processes. Let’s take a look at another workflow for an example of parallelization.

The figure below shows a workflow for product planning work.

In this workflow, from the planning stage to the final decision-making stage, the project goes through three stages of evaluation. However, the problem is that the evaluations are done in order, so if any of the evaluation teams takes too long to process a particular project, the workflow stops there. This sequential processing format is not very efficient.

Therefore, as shown in the figure below, we improved the workflow so that once the product planning step is processed, the three evaluation processes can be started simultaneously.

Incorporating parallelization into the workflow in this way speeds up the overall processing speed of the business and increases the possibility of eliminating bottlenecks.

Workflow Systems for Workflow Improvement

Although such workflow improvement can be done with pen and paper, it is easier and more efficient to do it with software called a workflow system, as mentioned at the beginning of this article.

A workflow system is software that allows you to create a workflow diagram on your computer and automatically follow the diagram. The workflow can be easily modified and shared, so workflow improvements can be made much more smoothly (compared to using pen and paper).

The workflow system also records data such as processing times and turnaround times of tasks, and displays the workload status of each person in an easy-to-understand manner. This can be very useful in identifying bottlenecks and other operational problems, and in evaluating the workflow after improvements have been made.

Now, Questetra BPM Suite is a cloud-based workflow system.

The features of cloud computing include immediate availability after application and the ability to easily access and work with the same system as your office from anywhere as long as you have an Internet connection.

A free trial of Questetra BPM Suite is also available. Please take this opportunity to experience the benefits of workflow improvement with Questetra BPM Suite.

▼ You can also apply for a free trial here ▼

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