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How to Plan Workflows


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1) Basics of planning workflows in business and production:
Workflow is a sequence of connected steps, operations, procedures or task statuses which form up an abstraction of certain work, from its beginning until the end. Every business activity, process or some other recurring work or operation (whether attributed to a worker, group, organization, unit of equipment, or to a complex of machinery) can be captured and depicted with a definitely described workflow.

The point of determining workflows for typical tasks is defining the best possible ways to approach regular work: to support accomplishing it within a minimal possible amount of time and resources, along with minimal level of inefficiency and risks harming quality and results. In other words, following certain workflows enables your staff to complete their typical routine faster and better, with minimum of errors, hence less defects in results. The advantages of using workflows are:

  • Employees are able to cope with their routine tasks with a higher effectiveness;
  • Employees trained to adhere workflows do much less errors;
  • Employees less suffer from task saturation;
  • Employees can handle work faster, producing stable level of quality;
  • Employees appear less stressed when use clear instructions on doing routine work;

There are the following traits specific to conception of workflows:

  • Graduality: workflow is a plan of step-by-step operations that stand for incremental production of appropriate results that become increasingly complete with every step. Planning a workflow implies that actions go one-by-one (so no actions executed in parallel), and each step can be associated and labeled with certain status of the object being processed in the workflow or with certain grade of completeness attributed to workflow’s result.
  • Optimality: workflow is the optimal plan to accomplish certain work. It is errorless and almost riskless. It is the well-designed and optimized schema to complete certain job or task, and it runs smoothly within its normal conditions, allowing performers to rely upon it fully. Workflows are created with an aim to reach the best possible balance between timing, costs and quality, so when following the workflows the company’s profits are assured.
  • Predictability: workflow should be safe, so all emergencies and risks which can be met on the path are well-studied and mitigated to reach their minimal probability. Variability of its external conditions is also continually studied and modeled, so predictability of the workflow is ensured. Unpredictable workflow is one which has too many of X-factors in its environment, so it is not fully safe for time, costs and quality, therefore needs to be revised.
  • Measurability: as a workflow is a strict sequence of steps or actions, then it is measurable in terms of its gradual progress, besides this, every step is objectively measurable in terms of time, required costs, and level of quality produced. Based upon essential parameters to be measured and regulated, effective standards can be preset, so a workflow will operate within constraints of time, costs and quality, which are mutually balanced.

2) Actions to Plan Workflows:

  1. Identify a repetitive (routine) task which needs to be described with a workflow;
  2. Imagine a sequence of steps (operations or actions) necessary to accomplish this task;
  3. Map these steps, specify each action and examine their sequence to define if:
    1. They lead to work completion if only performed one-by-one;
    2. No steps can be excluded from the sequence and no steps run in parallel;
    3. Each step can be associated with certain status of product/result being created;
  4. Make sure every action is specified in terms of:
    1. Operation;
    2. Timing;
    3. Tools and methods;
    4. Materials, or other inputs;
    5. Output;
    6. Standards to assure quality;
  5. Label every step (or every bunch of steps) as certain status of workflow;
  6. Identify risks and problems connected to every step of workflow:
    1. Assess these risks and threatening factors;
    2. Define ways and methods to mitigate them;
  7. Execute the repetitive task according to the predefined workflow to test out if:
    1. Workflow is consistent and effective in terms of timing and costs;
    2. Workflow is an abstract of the optimal way to reach the goals of the task;
    3. Workflow guarantees acceptable level of risks to secure quality and success;
  8. Train appropriate employees to know and adhere the workflow (use checklists for this);
  9. Continually test and observe the workflow in its practical use to:
    1. Disclose defects in design;
    2. Find out opportunities for improvement;
    3. Control adherence of the staff to using workflow;

3) A simple way to Plan Workflows with VIP Task Manager:

VIP Task Manager is a product that stands for collaboration between people in terms of projects and tasks, so it enables users to plan the workflows included into business activities. Let’s consider simple step-by-step instructions to plan workflows using this product:

Instruments to be used:

  • Task Tree, Task List or Calendar modes;
  • Custom workflow option;

Actions to plan workflows:

  1. Create a new workflow to control routine tasks for certain department or business function, and give it an appropriate name (use option Tools - “Custom Workflow”);
  2. Fill a new workflow with appropriate sequence of statuses representing progress upon the task of this type;
  3. Select appropriate icon and color to be associated with each status;
  4. Appoint certain percentage of task completeness to each status, if required;
  5. When creating a new task or a new task group select appropriate workflow from a list of available workflows;
  6. While the work is being performed, receive status-based notifications on progress achieved;

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