Undocumented processes, random tasks, and scattered notes — your daily activities can resemble a tangled web without any systems to bring order, structure, and direction.
"Going with the flow" or "playing it by ear" without workflows will hinder your ability to drive impact and inspire your team. An absence of consistent workflows also stifles productivity, which ultimately inhibits business growth.
Barreling through a task is never the best way to complete it. Without efficient systems, you'll waste time prioritizing the wrong thing. You need efficient methods to guide you. Maybe you have existing workflows, but they're not documented, or they're challenging to follow. If so, each team member is still doing their own thing, creating bottlenecks and limiting team visibility.
Whether you are a workflow master or you're designing your first workflow, we've got something for you in this article! We'll discuss what a workflow is, and five steps to developing workflows that will empower your team and boost productivity.
What is a workflow?
If you ever used the Getting Things Done method or even created a step-by-step template for your team to accomplish a specific task, you were developing a workflow.
A workflow is simply a way to organize your work. It's a series of tasks that show how to get from A to Z for a specific process and the repeatable activities involved.
Why do you need workflows?
Let's say your startup is launching a new feature. If everyone tackled the project their own way, you'd have mass chaos and likely never even get to launch. Or your team would constantly be messaging back and forth wondering about due dates, file locations, and expectations, which is inefficient and wastes time.
Imagine that you had a step-by-step workflow that included everything that happens and every person that touches this new launch, from brainstorming UX to beta testing. Every team member follows the same steps and knows their responsibilities, where to find files, and when their tasks are due.
A workflow like this would:
- Reduce busywork
- Increase efficiency and optimize your work processes
- Manage team expectations and increase accountability
- Cultivate team autonomy and reduce the urge to micromanage
- Reduce bottlenecks and human errors
- Eliminate chaotic workflows
- Provide clarity on specific tasks and processes, which reduces the need for team members to contact you for explanations
- Enhance team communication and transparency: every employee knows where to locate information, and nothing is hidden.
- Streamline and automate manual tasks
However, when you create workflows, it can feel daunting at first — making you forget why you're creating them in the first place. Sure, they will take a little time to set up, but once you finish, it's smooth sailing (with a little iteration, of course!). Every team member will know exactly what to do and when you make new hires, you'll have an easier time onboarding them. Your entire team will be on the same page, spending less time asking where things are and more time being productive.
To determine the type of workflows to implement, use productivity equations to discover where your team could use improvements.
5-step system for developing an efficient workflow
Define the workflow's goal and area of focus
What are you trying to accomplish with this workflow process? What is the end goal?
The first step to successful workflow creation is knowing why you're creating the workflow, the end goal, and how to communicate this to your team.
To get clarity on your workflow, answer the following questions:
- What does a completed workflow look like?
- What should you have when the workflow is complete? What is the end product?
- How long should the workflow take?
- What areas or departments does this workflow affect?
- How does this workflow connect to the company's goals?
Map out and diagram each workflow step
Create a step-by-step journey from start to finish of how team members can execute the workflow's goal, stay connected with the people involved, and access the workflow's assets.
You can start by mapping each step on paper and creating a workflow diagram or flowchart in a program such as Gliffy, Lucidchart, or good ol' fashioned pen and paper. Define can't-move deadlines and work backward. Think about every department and team member connected to completing the workflow. Configure a step-by-step process from start to finish.
It can also be helpful to involve your team in its creation, as they will know where the day-to-day bottlenecks are and how to improve their work.
Here's a workflow diagram for changes in process management.
Once you diagram your workflow's main structure, build it out with more detail:
- Get specific: If you want an employee to transfer a file to a particular folder after they complete a task, specify which folder and where they can locate it. Add a link to the folder as well.
- Time: Record the time each task should take approximately, if applicable. You don't need to be specific. But if a task should take no longer than 24 hours, clarify this in the workflow, so team members know they need to communicate any issues to the team if the task takes longer than expected.
- Communication: How and where will you communicate with your team if issues arise? Where will you discuss real-time updates?
- Resources: Pertinent file folders, document storage locations, forms.
- Personnel: Record the team members connected to this workflow and those accountable for completing each step. Each step should have a team member attached to it.
- Stakeholders: Are there dependencies or permissions for specific tasks that require stakeholder input? Example: the CEO needs to sign off on the change before it goes into production.
Automate your workflow tasks
Which workflow steps can you automate to speed up productivity and reduce human error? Review your workflow steps and jot down which ones can be automated and how to accomplish them.
For example, let's say you work with numerous vendors and build a workflow for onboarding new vendors and managing invoices. Use automation software such as Stampli to automate invoicing, so you get reminded about due dates and follow-ups without lifting a finger.
Below are some other helpful tools to help you create and manage automated workflows:
- Project management (Asana, Trello, Monday)
- Email management (Superhuman)
- Connect apps (Unito, Zapier)
- Workflow software (Integrify, Flokzu). If this is your first time creating workflows, this software also contains workflow templates to guide you.
Test and launch the workflow
Do a soft launch for a few weeks (or longer) so you can make adjustments as you practice executing the workflow.
Here are some ways to gauge your workflow's effectiveness during pre-launch:
- Request feedback on bottlenecks or steps requiring a team member to do more work than the workflow intended. Identify some of these issues as part of a regular or workflow-specific retro. Read more on how to lead retros.
- Track the time it took to complete a task and compare it to your estimates.
- Assess the final product quality and adjust. For example, if your final product lacked the detail you wanted, perhaps your development team was rushed, or the design workflow needs some tweaking.
- Sync with your team to discuss any inefficiencies, issues, or potential improvements based on their feedback.
Don't finalize the workflow until you know it helps you achieve your goal (from step 1) and keeps employees working efficiently. Your employees might need additional training, or you might find that you need more tools. Adjust and perfect the workflow during this period.
Get feedback, improve, and maintain your workflow
Your workflow might be foolproof one month and then need adjustments the next. Maybe you changed tools, assigned a new team role, or renamed or moved Google Drive folders. Or you started with a complex workflow and realized you could simplify it for your team.
Implement a workflow management protocol and revisit your workflows monthly and make adjustments when items change. If you don't update it as things shift, it will create additional chaos and stifle your team's flow.
You can even create a workflow for updating workflows! Assign team members to manage workflows monthly and provide consistent updates.
Types of common workflows to get you started
What type of business processes can become structured workflows? Well, just about anything, but here are a few examples to get you started!
- Employee onboarding and human resources protocols
- Content creation and publishing
- Vendor invoicing and management
- Sales processes and protocols
- Customer support protocols
- Access approval workflows
- Inbox Zero: adding Inbox Zero as a team workflow is a great way to boost productivity
Fast and efficient email workflow automation starts here
Inspire your team, boost productivity, and work faster by adding Inbox Zero as a team workflow. With Superhuman, your team can banish email chaos and learn how to manage their email inbox quickly and effectively.
Use splits to prioritize your most urgent emails and blast through your email management. Plus, with Superhuman's shortcuts, you'll be able to archive, snooze, or set email reminders with one keystroke.
If you want to create an efficient and blazingly fast email management workflow for your team, check out Superhuman today. One of our onboarding specialists will be happy to walk through our app and customize it for your unique workflows and management style. But if you want to get started with Superhuman right away, there's no onboarding required!