In Part 1 we looked at the optimisation of workflows – essentially the elimination of wasted time and resources, reducing costs and increasing productivity – part of the wider topic of workflow management, essential if you intend to stay ahead of your competitors. In this article we look at workflow management, how it is implemented and how it differs to business process management and project management.
What is workflow management?
Workflow management is the supervision of all the tasks that comprise what an organisation does, ensuring all the processes and people involved work in an efficient and productive way. Put simply, it is the management of all the processes and procedures by which tasks are completed, maximising the benefit to the organisation. As we saw in Part 1, a workflow is a set of tasks that when combined together form a business process – something that transforms materials, information or services – and all the business processes taken together define what the organisation does.
Having decided on the goals of an organisation, managing workflows is necessary to ensure better results are achieved in relation to those goals. It concerns itself with the work done by individuals as well as those tasks that are automated, and consists of the creation, documentation, implementation, monitoring and developing of the various workflows within an organisation.
Workflow management is itself a part of the wider business project management, which looks at the management of internal business projects, the client being the business. Project management is the planning and organisation of the resources of an organisation, its tools, knowledge and competencies, to meet the specific requirements of a project.
Business project management
Business project management is the supervision of specific projects to ensure they deliver maximum benefits to an organisation through the allocation of resources sufficient to meet the budgets and goals set by stakeholders. It involves the management of tasks and resources, including personnel, throughout an organisation.
All business projects have two characteristics – each are individual, i.e. distinctive from other projects, as well as being not permanent: they have a time frame (which can however extend over a number of years) and are not replicable.
As mentioned above, the projects have the business as the client, they have costs but do not generate revenue, and as a result their success is not measured in terms of profit margins.
There are essentially three types of business project, namely
Operational: projects that benefit the business concerned with, for example, the design and management of services, products and processes, including the movement of a product or service from supplier to customer. An example might be the introduction of a new CRM system.
Recurring: whilst happening regularly, they are still individual and not permanent, and consist of a set of tasks repeating on a regular basis. An example would be the production of a quarterly newsletter – each quarter is unique and lasts only until delivery.
Strategic: these are undertaken to improve the organisation and are aligned with strategic goals, they encompass the “big picture”. Examples could include buying a complementary business or closing a loss-making subsidiary.
Project management is essentially the planning and organising of resources to move a specific task or event to successful completion within agreed parameters (timescales, budgets, etc.). Contrasting it to general business management, the project being managed has a finite timespan, i.e. is not ongoing, with specific deadlines and deliverables.
A project will be regarded as successful if it delivers its objectives on budget, within an agreed timescale and in scope. Scope defines the project’s boundaries, what it should cover and the output it needs to deliver.
Choosing and implementing a workflow management system
An important factor in the success of an organisation is the workflow management solution it adopts, helping it to get organised and streamline processes, increasing efficiency and reducing costs. Such a solution helps with the setting up, the performance of and subsequent monitoring of tasks, summarising the workflow process as well as allowing the automation of repetitive tasks within workflows.
Before a system can be selected and implemented, an understanding of what parts of the business are to be managed is needed, in other words to then be streamlined, automated etc. This will allow the system to be adapted to meet your specific requirements, and are likely to include the following:
Human resources: the goal is to get the best out of your personnel, which will mean automating and managing tasks in order to allow staff to focus on those activities that add the most value, eliminating those that do not, that waste time. Employee performance measurement will enable managers to identify opportunities for improvement.
Efficient use of time: as previously discussed, the objective here is to eliminate time wasting, manage time in such a way as to maximise productivity.
Customer relationships: an effective Client Relationship Management (CRM) system will not only assist in increasing sales and reporting thereon, but it will also provide business insights and strengthen the management of sales staff.
Teamwork: centralising processes will enhance collaboration.
Financial management: being able to manage costs and payments, revenue and debt collection as well as being able to monitor the financial performance of the business as a whole.
There exist many software applications for managing workflows, and the question is: how do you choose between them? The application should be easy to set up, easy to use and have some serious reporting features, ones that will allow you to quickly identify where your attention needs to be directed.