Whether by design or necessity, employees tend to get into a routine, particularly when performing repetitive tasks. These systematic processes are called workflows, and unless they impact someone down the line, it’s rare for anyone to give them much thought.

That’s something your organization should consider changing.

Improving upon well-documented workflows is a straightforward process that starts small but, over time, can significantly benefit performance and productivity at the team, departmental, and organizational levels.

What’s a workflow?

The workflow process is a standard operating procedure — a fixed, step-by-step process designed to deliver a specific business outcome. Whether an individual or team workflow, they automate specific tasks or entire processes to eliminate repetition and improve productivity.

Creating a workflow requires defining three components:

  1. The trigger is the event that launches the process workflow, like receiving a client request, a software failure, or a regularly scheduled update.
  2. The work is the series of tasks the team undertakes in response to the trigger.
  3. The result is the business outcome(s) the team’s work produces.

What’s workflow documentation, and why create it?

You can create workflow documentation for any process — strategy implementation, business reengineering, product development, you name it. You’ll use it to define, store, and manage operations by capturing either the steps necessary to complete a task or the series of functions required to produce a desired outcome.

Clear and centrally-located workflow documentation ensures teammates work efficiently and effectively. More pointedly, here are a few key benefits of establishing good workflow documentation:

  • Align teams: Defining a process to perform specific tasks and then building visibility around the workflow removes siloes, ensures procedural alignment, and increases certainty and confidence amongst team members that they’ll produce and receive deliverables that meet expectations.
  • Improve processes: Tracking a workflow makes identifying and alleviating bottlenecks and inefficiencies easier. Team members can spot opportunities to optimize workflows and improve processes as they become more familiar with each procedure.
  • Boost efficiency: Documenting workflows makes noticing automation opportunities easier, speeding up task completion and increasing productivity. Digital workflow documentation is also efficient and easy to access, saving time when you need information for a new hire’s onboarding or providing a refresher for an experienced worker.
  • Standardize outputs: Ensuring everyone follows the same optimized task workflow ensures your team delivers consistent and replicable results.
  • Preserve organizational memory: If a key employee leaves the organization, their replacement can follow workflow documentation to produce deliverables of the same quality sooner than if they had to figure out the correct process independently.

How to document a workflow: A 5-step guide

Depending on the type, documenting workflows can be an individual or team effort. Use the following guide as a template to format information and make things easier organization-wide. That way, you can create a library of processes for the organization with a consistent look and feel.

1. Define the workflow

Create a high-level overview of what’s involved, documenting the following items:

  • The event that initiates the workflow process
  • Factors that terminate the workflow
  • Milestones
  • Specific tasks for each stage

The level of detail depends on who’s using the document. If a team is already familiar with the process, assume a certain knowledge base when documenting this workflow. Increase the level of detail if implementing the workflow across a cross-functional team or company-wide.

2. Identify inputs and outputs

Document which resources are needed to complete each task within the workflow and the expected deliverables. Being aware of inputs ensures necessary assets are always available to those working on the assignments, and understanding results establishes the exact steps to include in the workflow.

3. Document steps

Outline each process step and who’s responsible for it. To keep the document evergreen, assign responsibilities to job titles, not individuals. Then, break down each complex task into smaller jobs until you’ve completely mapped the workflow. If you’re working with a team, walk through this process map together to ensure you’ve caught everything.

4. Review

Before finalizing the workflow and submitting it for approval, invite various internal and external stakeholders — like C-suite executives and relevant clients — to conduct an audit to ensure:

  • You’ve included every workflow task
  • Each step is relevant
  • Tasks aren’t repeated
  • You’ve streamlined the process for maximum efficiency

5. Visualize this workflow

Finally, use a flowchart, Gantt chart, or process road-mapping software to create a visual workflow diagram to improve readability and give team members an at-a-glance process understanding.

Examples of workflow documentation

Workflow in software development differs from marketing and IT, so it’s best to create customizable documentation templates and adjust them to your team’s specific needs. Here are a couple examples to get you started.

Marketing workflow template

A company’s marketing and legal departments require changes to the website’s “Contact Us” and “Privacy Policy” pages. Their request launches the following workflow.

Workflow name Website content change
Purpose Update website with new content
  • People: Copywriter, editor, graphic designer, content manager, site publisher, marketing manager
  • Assets: Copy deck with updated text, visual assets including images and buttons
  • Time: Two weeks
  • Budget: Internal development, no cost
Outcomes Site publisher updates or adds new content to the website
Trigger Request from internal stakeholders to update website content
Step 1 Assign a copywriter to review content requirements and generate copy
Assign a graphic designer to review content and develop visual assets
Step 2 Editor revises copy
Step 3 Copy and visual assets returned to content manager for approval
Step 4 Approved copy and assets delivered to site publisher and uploaded to the website
Step 5 Content and marketing managers review the content and deliver final approval
Step 6 The site publisher publishes updates

Software development workflow

A programming team is developing new software on a tight schedule. They need a clear workflow that streamlines development and approval processes to meet the project deadline.

Workflow name Software development
Purpose Develop and launch a new software
  • People: Project manager, product managers, software engineer, programmers (3), user experience and acceptance specialist
  • Assets: Project roadmap, market research
  • Time: Three monthsBudget: Internal development, no cost
Outcomes New software released to consumers with minimal bugs
Trigger A niche has opened up within the marketplace that the company wishes to exploit
Step 1 Product managers and software engineers meet to finalize the project’s concept
Step 2 Software engineer defines project parameters
Step 3 Project manager develops the project plan and initiates work (milestone)
Step 4 Programmers develop software iterations
Step 5 The user experience and acceptance specialist tests the software and sends the iteration back to the programmers for updates or transitions the program segment to the preview server for further testing
Step 6 Software engineer and user experience and acceptance specialist complete final quality assurance testing (milestone)
Step 7 Product manager approves the tested software
Step 8 Software uploaded to the production server for public release

The best tools for effective workflow documentation

Whatever workflow you’re documenting and implementing, be it information technology, product development, or project management, a visual roadmap simplifies the process. Try Roadmunk by Tempo, a road-mapping platform that creates audience-friendly process maps that help your team prioritize tasks, assign responsibility, and keep track of all of your workflows. Sign up today.