What Is a Workflow? Why Professional Services Businesses Need Workflows

14-Jul 2022
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Chelsea Williams COPYWRITER

When a word or phrase hits buzzword status, we might hear — or even use — it frequently without fully understanding how it applies to our particular work environment.

“Workflow” has become a popular term as digital solutions that support business efficiency have expanded. But do you truly know what it means and why you should care about it?

In this article, we’ll cover:

What Is a Workflow?

Fundamentally, a workflow is the step-by-step delineation of a repeatable process.

It shows the action(s) taken in each step, plus assignees for the associated tasks.

Some common examples of internal workflows include:

  • An employee onboarding process
  • Steps required to approve vacation requests or reimburse employee expenses
  • How a marketing team proofs and approves content

Workflows that include client-facing tasks could look like:

  • The process of creating and sending a quote to a prospect
  • Tasks needed to hand off a new client from sales to account management
  • Templates for different phases of a client project

A workflow could be set up as a list, a flowchart, a cycle or any other visual means of representing what happens in a given stage of work.

3 Types of Workflows

Every business and department is different, so they may need to set up workflows in unique ways. There are endless options for customizing a business workflow, but let’s look at three of the most common workflow types you could choose from.

Sequential

A sequential workflow is one that follows a consistent chronological order. Because it’s a classic beginning-to-end layout and the steps always need to happen in the same order, this type of workflow tends to be the easiest to create and maintain.

You’ll find that a sequential workflow functions best for rigid processes that require approvals or always happen over the same duration.

State Machine

A state machine workflow reflects the current state (status) of a project or process. This is more flexible than a sequential workflow because you don’t need to move through the states in order. For example, a proposal might have been created, pushed to review, approved, then changed and moved back to the review state.

State machine workflows can represent complicated transitions, so they’re often used in software development. They can also be helpful in setting up a process that needs to account for frequent delays or unexpected changes.

Rules-Driven

A rules-driven workflow is centered around “if→ then” logic. There may be multiple paths to take, and each movement is based on a trigger.

Typically, rules-driven workflows are the most customizable because they can handle the specifics of the way your business runs. Determining rules can help you catch and correct any existing inefficiencies.

Why Your Business Needs Workflows

Workflows can help you define tasks, assignees, estimated time allocation and other key components of all the work your business gets done. This bird’s eye view could be just what you need to stay focused on growth.

Here are three solid benefits of establishing workflows.

1. Transitions Are Easier 

Change is a constant in business, especially in times like the Great Resignation. Being prepared for it means having processes that remain in place no matter who keeps them going.

Think of workflows as insurance for potentially damaging trends like high employee turnover. You can rest easy because current employees have sufficient tools to train new hires. Moreover, the job responsibilities of each new person coming on board are clear because of the assignments and task relationships you’ve defined.

2. Efficiency Is Achievable 

Workflows are powerful, and you could use them to discover fresh — and more efficient — ways of doing things. Any holes in your processes that you never knew existed will become glaring when you try to follow a logical path through the chain of responsibility.

Serious upticks in efficiency thanks to correct workflow usage can push your business to new levels of profitability, give you accurate information about resource management and help you decide when it’s time to make major decisions.

3. Your Business Can Scale 

Investors love to see that you’ve maximized efficiency using workflows. You could be missing out on future funding by failing to prioritize workflow creation.

Nearly every business owner has visions of scaling. Without workflows, expansion isn’t possible.

Putting processes on (figurative) paper may give you the freedom to cut back on spending in unnecessary places and rework where your human capital is going.

These three benefits are even more pronounced in a client-based environment because there will always be people whose success depends on your business’s consistency. The more your clients can rely on your services and communication, the stronger your relationships will become and the more loyal they’ll be.

READ NEXT: 9 Tips for Sustaining Workflows in a Professional Services Business

How To Start Using Workflows

Creating workflows for every process you and your team complete can be overwhelming, so we recommend starting with some of your most mundane tasks.

Ask yourself some questions to come up with the steps or stages you do to complete each one:

  • When do I complete this task?
  • What comes immediately before and after this task?
  • Is there anyone else involved in checking this off?
  • Should this task’s completion trigger another process?

Once you get the hang of identifying existing processes you and your team do all the time, you’ll likely get excited about what automating workflows can do for your business.

Of course, tying all of your separate workflows together in a centralized system is also key.

Get started with perfecting and managing your business workflows in one end-to-end platform with Accelo.

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