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What Is Business Workflow? (And How To Optimize Your Business Workflow)

ByDave Stopher

Sep 12, 2021

All business operations involve at least one business workflow. Some might involve just one reasonably simple workflow that follows a sequential, step-by-step path. However, many businesses also involve multiple interconnected workflows that are very complex to manage. 

How businesses execute, analyze, and optimize their workflow can make or break their successes. If the workflow is executed efficiently, the organization will be more productive in achieving its goals while also being more efficient in using its resources. 

But, what exactly is a business workflow? How can we optimize a business workflow to get more out of your investments and resources? How can we identify a workflow? 

Here, we will discuss all you need to know about business workflow and answer the questions above. 

What is a Business Workflow?

In layman’s terms, a workflow is a sequence of actions that, when executed, will transform raw materials or raw data/information to a processed form (result) to achieve a specific objective. When a workflow happens in a business setting, then it’s called a business workflow. 

In short, workflows describe the steps of how something goes from raw to processed (or from undone to done/finished). 

For example, the process of transforming a chicken+various other ingredients (raw material) into a delicious roasted chicken dish is a workflow. This might be a business workflow in a restaurant business, and the objective is to serve the dish to a restaurant guest. 

Some workflows may only involve data or information; in this scenario, there is a workflow any time data or information gets transferred between systems or human users. 

Business workflows occur in all kinds of businesses across various industries. Again, some are more complex than others. 

In a business setting, the term workflow is often used interchangeably with process or business process. However, the two aren’t the same. Simply put, there are three major types of workflows; one of them is process workflows or simply “process.” However, there are also two other types of business process workflows, as we will discuss below. 

Different Types of Business Workflows

As discussed, business workflows can be differentiated into three major types: process workflow, project workflow, and case workflow

  • Business process workflow

When the set of tasks or actions in a workflow is repetitive and predictable, it is a process. If the workflow is given two similar inputs, it will produce two similar outputs. Before this input starts the workflow, we know exactly what the steps of the workflow will be. 

The above example of cooking a roasted chicken can be considered a process workflow since it follows a standard recipe. Another example is reimbursement workflow, which is common in many different businesses. 

Process workflows should involve as few variations as possible to stay consistent and predictable. 

  • Business project workflow

Like a process, a project also involves a reasonably structured path, but we should expect more variations. Also, typically a project is one-off rather than repeatable, or at least not repeated as often as a process. 

Using the same restaurant business as the example, inventing a new dish can be considered a project. While we can predict the sequence of tasks required to design and cook this dish, it will involve more variations than the process of cooking an established dish. Also, once the dish is invented, the project is finished and won’t be repeated unless we create another new dish (of which the workflow might follow a relatively similar structure but will vary). 

  • Business case workflow

We don’t know exactly the steps required to finish the workflow in a business case, unlike process and project. Instead, the steps will reveal themselves as we gather more data while the workflow is executed. 

A typical example of a case workflow, again using the same restaurant business example, is taking a customer’s order. It’s not clear right from the start what the workflow’s input is or the outcome, but once more data is gathered from the customer, the steps will reveal themselves. 

In executing case workflows, a human supervisor or an intelligent AI is required to identify the proper steps according to the data gathered in real-time. 

How To Identify Business Workflows

Some workflows might be pretty obvious, but in many cases in many businesses, workflows are hidden.

However, the basic principle is, whenever data/information is transferred and/, or raw materials are processed, there will be at least one workflow. 

If the workflow is repeatable, then most likely, it’s a process workflow. If it’s a one-off workflow, decide whether it’s a project or a case depending on whether you can identify the steps required to finish the workflow. 

How Can I Manage and Optimize Workflows?

When optimizing workflows, the first step is to visualize the identified workflow into a visible format. We can use various methods to visualize the workflow, but the most common approach is to map the workflow with an ANSI flowchart method. 

Once the workflow is mapped accurately, the next step is to analyze the workflow to identify redundancies, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies, allowing you to optimize the workflow by eliminating those inefficiencies. 

There are various tools available that can help you map and visualize your workflow. Aproove is an all-in-one business workflow management software with an inbuilt workflow builder allowing you to map, manage, analyze, and optimize your business workflows in a single application. 

Aproove can also map and manage case and project workflows that are not as predictable and repetitive as standard process workflows. 

With a centralized workflow management software, you wouldn’t need to deal with many different, disconnected solutions that will complicate the workflow optimization process, which will beat the purpose of workflow optimization in the first place: improving efficiency and productivity.