What is Workflow?
A workflow is a set of activities, orchestrated and repeatable, that are performed to meet a business requirement. These activities can be performed by human beings or systems. 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, some are discarded and the applicant is notified by email, others go to the supervisor. This supervisor can discard, interview or ask for a second opinion. After the interview, it is discarded or hired. If hired, the information (personal data, salary, position, etc.) is transferred to the ERP.
This is a workflow, which meets the specific business requirement of hiring new people. Clearly, there are several activities, performed by different actors (human, or systems). And there are also different rules that govern 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, Workflows are represented graphically with diagrams, whose 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 widely used notation in the world. Here is an example of a maintenance request workflow modeled on BPMN notation.
Workflow Management System (WMS)
The software that allows you to graphically model any workflow and then execute it, creating and managing the instances of that workflow, is called a Workflow Management System (WMS).
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 reading recommended:
- Productivity through Workflow Automation. 8 concrete Tips.
- Reducing costs through workflow 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.