“Workflow” and “process” are common buzzwords in business process management (BPM). Although some people use the words interchangeably, there are major differences between the two. Understanding these variations will help you improve business operations. Explore the difference between workflow and process below.
What Is a Workflow?
Workflow describes a series of tasks that should be completed according to pre-defined business rules. The task can be any activity in the organization, such as an employee filling out an expense form and handing it to a manager for approval. You can display workflow procedures on digital signage to remind employees of the right way to complete tasks.
Typically, employees in a particular company follow the same rules to complete their tasks. A firm easily oversees processes like approvals and routing and monitors results with good workflow management systems.
A workflow can involve one employee or multiple actors and departments. A common example of a workflow is employee boarding, where an employee fills out personal information on a form and submits their digital signatures to HR.
Then, HR routes the information and approvals to IT, department managers, and other interested parties. When the new employee reports to work, HR has everything they need to start working. As demonstrated, a workflow has a clear start and endpoint.
Other examples of workflows are:
- Purchase approval requests
- Adding a new customer to the database
- Expense reimbursement
What Is a Process?
A process describes a set of connected and repetitive tasks that fulfill a specific organizational goal, such as delivering exceptional customer service. It includes all the activities needed for the company to run successfully, like:
- High-level administration
In practice, business processes feature multiple workflows across departments and projects. Common business processes include invoicing, billing, onboarding a new client, and contract management. Mapping a business process workflow involves assigning tasks, defining completion dates, and drafting the order of tasks.
We can categorize business processes into:
- Management processes like strategic planning that oversee and control tasks related to different business systems
- Operational processes that are vital to the proper functioning of the business
- Supportive processes like document management that support operational activities
The Differences Between Workflow and Process
Although workflow and process appear similar, there are key differences between the terms. First, the sequence of steps to complete a specific task is the prime consideration in business workflow. In contrast, a business process relates to the workflows, people, data, and reports concerned with attaining specific business objectives.
Another meaningful difference between the two is that processes tend to change organically as the company grows. In contrast, companies’ detail, plan, and analyze workflows with less flexibility. Other variations include:
- A process can happen without designated workflows, but companies create workflows to support specific processes.
- Workflows are tactical as they define how to accomplish processes. Without designated workflows, processes like delivering products to customers are disorderly and tedious. In comparison, processes are strategic as they concentrate on achieving a specific end goal.
- Most companies use workflow automation software to automate workflows like payroll processing, while not all processes are automated.
Workflow management is the optimization and automation of workflows to reduce redundancy and errors and increase profitability and output. Generally, there will be issues with a company’s workflows if its processes are not running seamlessly.
Human error, supply chain bottlenecks, tech problems, and logistics issues cause workflows to fail in many cases. Other workflow systems eat up too many resources and affect the company’s profitability.
Workflow management involves tracking employees’ tasks to ensure they produce the intended result. For instance, you can analyze how the procurement team completes purchase requisition, invoice requisition, and other tasks to identify resource wastage and opportunities for improvement.
In principle, you don’t need software for workflow management. However, a workflow management system is the best tool to boost project efficiency and enhance collaboration between various stakeholders. Invest in cloud-based workflow software to increase the efficiency of your firm’s workflows at a low cost.
Business Process Management
Business process management is a practice of looking at all the company’s processes individually and in total to identify inefficiencies and areas of improvement. In other words, it is the way your organization analyzes, improves, and manages business processes.
BPM is not a technology. Rather, it is the techniques and structure methods that companies use to monitor and change business processes. However, some technologies simplify existing processes to help the business achieve goals like better cost-efficiency.
Business process automation is the adoption of software to automate daily, repetitive tasks. A reliable platform features highly functional forms, communication, notifications, and a robust workflow engine. In addition to automating process documentation, business process management software also reduces human input, centralizes information, increases transparency, and reduces errors.
As demonstrated above, understanding the difference between workflow and process is vital to streamlining business operations. In essence, workflow is the repeatable steps needed to complete a task. A business process is the collection of interconnected steps performed by various stakeholders in a company to achieve a specific organizational goal.