Think about a time when insufficient information or inaccessible data slowed you down from completing an assignment. Or maybe a time when your work required a lot of manual data entry that caused human error and rework, taking time away from higher value tasks. These moments of process frustration and inefficiency are exactly what workflow optimization can help with.
Workflow optimization describes the strategies and measures taken to improve the flow of tasks and make processes more efficient. Common workflow optimization methods include identifying and removing bottlenecks, automating repetitive tasks, standardizing processes, and training employees.
What makes a process different from a workflow? These terms are often used interchangeably; however, workflow is typically used to describe a set of tasks that make up part of a process, whereas process is more often used to describe the complete set of end-to-end activities.
Efficient workflows boost productivity, save time and resources, increase your ability to adapt to change, and improve customer and employee satisfaction. Workflow optimization is part of the ongoing process of continuous improvement—making small, iterative changes to improve processes, products, and user experience. And these improvement methods should be tailored to your organization. What works for one organization might not work for another, and your workflow optimization methods should be selected to meet your unique organizational goals and needs.
Your organization probably relies on dozens to hundreds of workflows—many of which may be great candidates for workflow optimization. Here’s a quick look at a few basic examples:
Most organizations, regardless of industry, rely on onboarding workflows to orient new customers, employees, and partners. These workflows can benefit from optimization efforts like self-service onboarding portals and automated document processing to speed up timelines and improve the user experience.
Streamlining the workflow for invoice processing can lead to faster payment cycles and improved accuracy. By automating data extraction and validation and connecting data across different systems, such as accounting softwares, organizations can reduce manual data entry, minimize invoice discrepancies, and optimize the accounts payable process.
Optimizing workflows for customer support can lead to improved response times and greater customer satisfaction. By implementing ticketing systems, knowledge bases, and automated routing, organizations can ensure efficient case assignment, effective communication, and timely resolution.
To set yourself up for successful workflow optimization, consider these best practices:
To get started with optimization, you need to first understand the as-is state of your current workflow. Use a software tool like process mining, which analyzes event logs from your processes to automatically generate a visual representation of how they perform, with every step and variation included. It can even help with workflow analysis, pinpointing the root cause of bottlenecks and inefficiencies. And don’t forget to monitor workflow performance over time so you can stay on top of potential issues and continuously improve over time.
[ Want expert advice? Get the Process Mining Guide for tips on process discovery and process optimization success. ]
Setting a goal for your optimization project helps you prioritize which areas to address first based on your business needs and objectives. It also helps build ownership among stakeholders and gives you a directional clue for how to fix a workflow problem or address an inefficiency. This is important because without a clear objective in mind, your workflow improvement efforts might not have the effect you were expecting.
Automation platforms and business process management (BPM) tools are the bread and butter of workflow optimization. Many manual process inefficiencies can be easily addressed with automation, such as data entry or any other repetitive administrative task. And beyond the one-off automation of a task, these tools unify your people, digital workers, and systems to help ensure that your process automation efforts lead to more streamlined workflows.
Learn more about BPM. Get The BPM Guide: The Key to Workflow Automation.