How Workflow Works?

Neil Miller

August 14th, 2017 workflow  

What is a workflow?

A workflow is a set of tasks that processes a data set. Workflows are used across every kind of business and industry. Anytime data is handed back and forth between humans and/or systems, a workflow is created.

Workflows are not checklists. Checklists are generally done by a single person and the tasks may or may not be related to each other. Workflows are done by multiple people where the exact same tasks must be done to individual items in a set order.

Example Workflow

Employee Onboarding Workflow

Movement of the workflow: Manual or Automatic

If workflows are manual, individuals are responsible for passing the data along from task to task. For example, when an employee fills out a reimbursement claim, they must manually send it to a manager for approval who must manually send it to finance for processing.

If a workflow is automatic, a system takes responsibility for managing the flow of the tasks including notifications, deadlines, and reminders. In an automated workflow, when a human or system completes a task, they are not responsible for passing the data on to the next task. The workflow automatically handles this.

In the same example, the employee might fill out a form and hit a submit button. It would automatically trigger a notification for the manager to review it and click Approve. This would automatically take it to the finance team for processing. Automatic workflows are helpful as they are very trackable so that you always know where in a workflow a certain item is.

Workflow Management Software

Types of Tasks: Human or System

Tasks within a workflow may be done by a human or a system. Human tasks are completed by an individual. They might be data-entry, creating a document, or approving data. System tasks are started by a trigger and the system completes the task assigned to it. These tasks might be translating data to a new format, taking data from one system to another, or analyzing data.

Arrangement of Tasks:

Workflows can include any number of tasks. They can be as simple as a single step or include hundreds of tasks. Some workflows tasks are sequential and are dependent on the previous task’s completion before they can start.

Other tasks in a workflow tasks can happen simultaneously.

Workflow steps can also be conditional (e.g. only if a purchase order crosses a certain amount).

There can also be parallel branches for workflows. You can set up a workflow so that both branches always occur.

Or the entire branch might be conditional on a certain data point.


Types of Tasks:

At each task, the data must either be modified, added to, or approved. A person or system might need to edit the current data, add new elements to the data, or approve that the data is ready to go to the next step.

For example, in a purchase order, the original data is created by a user. Then, someone must approve the data. Then, someone in procurement will add additional information like the purchase order number and more details on a vendor.

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