A Guide to Designing Workflows: Best Practices, Tips, and Templates

February 18, 2023
Workflow Automation

There's one thing that almost everyone looks at initially when trying to improve a process - workflow design.

But it's not limited to just establishing a superior layout, graphing integrations, or enhancing messaging. Instead, the workflow design must be the primary focus to optimize and streamline a process. 

In light of this, here's a comprehensive article covering a wide range of critical aspects of workflow design, including best practices and effective tips for designing a workflow, potential problems to look out for, and some noteworthy examples of workflow design templates.

So, let's get started.  

What is Workflow Design?

The workflow design is the process of detailing each of the tasks, activities, operations, and processes in a visual/graphical format, such as flow diagrams or flowcharts.

With the help of an effective workflow design, all the team members and stakeholders involved get an in-depth insight into each task involved in the process. 

Workflow design serves as the cornerstone of every undertaking in a company. When it gets deployed perfectly, it can assist in boosting the operational efficiencies of all businesses, regardless of the industry in which they operate.

More than 80% of business executives admit that they are boosting the productivity of remote workers by integrating automation into workflows. 

Employees not only save a considerable amount of time but also avoid obstacles, operate more efficiently, and make tremendous strides toward their goals as a result.

Workflow with man holding a tablet computer

Image source

Since one needs to set out the process flow diagram with immense detail and identify multiple decision points, developing the ideal tool for workflow design is not that straightforward.

What looks and sounds fantastic on paper might not be that successful in practice. Multiple iterations of designing, deploying, testing, and refining the workflow design are required in order to arrive at the optimal version.

Ideally, rather than attempting to build a fully-fledged sophisticated workflow system initially, begin with a more manageable goal of developing a minute portion of the process.

3 Fundamental Components of Workflow Design

There are three fundamental components to every workflow design undertaking. These key components stay the same regardless of the type of process utilized.

Each stage that constitutes a workflow belongs to either of these components:

  • Input

Every workflow begins with the first component, which is the input. It means the resource that either concludes or initiates a phase of the workflow.

  • Transformation

It means both the direction or procedure by which input gets processed, as well as the subsequent actions that take place when it is obtained.

  • Output

The ultimate product or deliverables of a workflow process is referred to as the output. It's what emerges as a consequence of the transformation. The output can also fulfill the function of the input for the phase that comes after it in the workflow.

Even at a more advanced level, every workflow procedure might get boiled down to one of these three components. In fact, most processes involve a blend of several inputs, transformations, and outputs at various phases of the process.

When carefully explored, the following four outcomes should be produced by these three components of the workflow design:

  • A scheduled list of the actions, clearances, and evaluations to be completed
  • A reduction in the amount of time spent on redundant activities
  • A lower overall rate of human-induced errors
  • A more reliable and consistent order of tasks that is repeatable.

Ideally, workflows should be capable of being reproduced and should contain distinct components that characterize a process. If it cannot be expressed in words, then there is most likely some aspect of it that's not well understood.

Best Practices to Follow While Designing Workflows

To design a workflow that is most effective and valuable to the processes, adhere to the best practices detailed here:

  • Figure out The Most Suitable Workflow Design

Be familiar with the workflow design type that functions most effectively for the various processes. There are primarily two types of workflows:

  • Linear, which is optimal for straightforward and brief processes
  • State machine, which is optimal for monitoring and tracing the development of a process.

Determine the kind of workflow that has to be built and then move forward from there.

  • Consider Splitting Workflows

Whenever feasible, workflows should be divided into sub-workflows.

When deployed, more manageable and concise workflows result in increased productivity, a quicker resolution of problems, a simpler testing process, and an overall improvement in workflow performance.

  • Include only Applicable Lines of Business Systems

Include only the most essential activities to keep your staff from becoming overwhelmed and to keep processes as straightforward as feasible.

For instance, any data storage and transfer operations to complete should take place independently of the workflow. 

  • Add Visual Appeal to the Workflow

Incorporate as many visuals as feasible and appropriate for the workflow.

As one designs, modifies, and implements the workflow, the objective should be to produce a visual or graphic representation and show tasks as they advance from one phase into the next. 

  • Consider Workflows as Non-Linear Processes

Remember, workflows are intended to allow teams to revert to prior phases seamlessly, free of the constraints and latency that might otherwise result.

  • Organize the Steps Involved in the Workflow According to Their Priority

Use different terminology, sign conventions, or color combinations to separate the priority levels of the distinct activities so that everyone on the team can easily recognize the most critical requirements.

  • Utilize a Workflow Automation Tool 

Leveraging a workflow automation tool can simplify the process of creating and implementing workflows. It can also remove the obligation for professionals to spend time on activities that contribute less to overall productivity. 

  • Determine the Essential Workflow Modules Required

A modular workflow design must be capable of successfully accommodating the incorporation of new elements, features, or functions, as well as their elimination.

At the same time, the process should also have a clear design so that any challenges that may arise may be easily recognized and rectified.

When involved in workflow designing, several best practices fundamentally focus on attempting to pull the perspective from the workflow as much as possible.

Keep in mind that teams are responsible for designing workflows that other individuals can use effectively. 

Teams should take into consideration the experience of a first-hand individual. Do you think they'd understand this procedure? Can the team explain how this is a reasonable conception? Would they have access to sufficient supplies? 

Addressing these questions at regular stages during the workflow design process can help you produce the most comprehensive, efficient, and practical workflow viable for the company.

Useful Tips to Follow While Designing a Workflow

Here are some valuable tips in the form of a step-by-step procedure to design a workflow:

1. Select a Diagram Type 

Learn about the various kinds of workflow diagrams so that you can pick the right one for your team.

As professional standards, some industries may employ a predetermined series of symbols; if this is the case, familiarize yourself with the standard workflow practices used in the industry.

Several geometric shapes, as well as a variety of lines, arrows, and explanatory text, are common components of workflow diagrams.

Teamwork, business workflow layout with chart elements and people figures. Business plan. Flat vector illustration. Isolated on white background.

Image source

2. Task Identification

Meaningful task alignment in an organization requires first identifying which activities will be considered.

To ensure you don't forget anything crucial, have the team sit down and brainstorm the tasks and operations they need to complete. Operating sequentially involves figuring out which activities come first, middle, and last in your workflow.

3. Establish Relationships Among Tasks

Explain the connection between the many tasks you've listed. Think about which activities may be carried out on their own and which ones must be done thereafter.

You should engage with the people involved in the workflow to ensure clarity, especially if the tasks in the workflow have several or sophisticated dependencies.

4. Output Needs to Be Clarified

An effective workflow design shows the steps involved in completing a task and specifies the desired outcome.

By explaining in detail what should be accomplished at each step of the workflow's progression, you'll make the process more understandable and beneficial to everyone involved.

Each step in the process might have its own set of objectives, deadlines, and metrics for gauging success or failure.

5. Figure out Component Workflows

Determine if there is room for subdivision of the workflow by investigating its various components.

Don't forget to add details like individual activities and people to the ultimate diagram as they pertain to the sub-workflows described. It's easier to find and finish each step in a process if it's specified and divided as precisely as feasible.

6. Leverage Automation Wherever Possible

When designing the workflow, keep in mind the prospects for automation that exist within the process to achieve optimum efficiency.

Workflow diagrams should integrate these technologies and the data, resources, and components they demand. Modern technology has made it possible to automate numerous procedures, allowing faster, more precise outcomes.

7. Formalize Your Workflow Diagram

A diagram in the format of choice and complying with the industry standards should be generated once each workflow design step is finished.

Create a finalized draft utilizing a digital tool if already done informally, such as using a hand-drawn or digital sketch. Consider trying workflow design software solutions and then decide on which workflow style is best for the team.

8. Evaluate and Revise

Once the new workflow is in place, spend some time assessing how well it's working for the business. Using standardized KPIs and other means of quantifying performance is recommended.

If steps are lacking from the workflow or new connections may be made that improve efficiency, make the appropriate modifications and relay them to the team via a revised workflow diagram.

Potential Challenges to Look Out For in Workflow Design

Be wary of the typical blunders that seasoned workflow professionals have uncovered, and do your best to steer clear of them when you design a workflow.

Here are some challenges you might face when designing a workflow:

  • Executive support doesn't always reflect team affirmation

Ensure to acquire buy-in from the people who'll be carrying out the tasks rather than just the stakeholders who will have a hand in the process.

  • Avoid designing workflows without thorough demand analysis

Never construct workflows before analyzing their need in the business operations. Before trying to automate or incorporate a redesigned process into an existing workflow, be certain to have a firm grasp of the process in question.

  • Avoid integrating complicated workflow systems

Keep things as simple as possible, but realize that you will encounter numerous challenges before you arrive at the optimal solution.

  • Don't just rely on feedback

Dig further to find any shortcomings with the workflow. Allow everyone on the team some time to think about the workflow before reviewing, questioning, and testing it.

Similarly, it's critical to detach personal perspective from the process when building a workflow. This tendency to cut corners is surprisingly easy to slip into. 

To prevent such a situation, it's essential to listen to all recommendations received and act on only the necessary ones as part of the workflow's design and documentation process.

Some workflow design template examples

Have a look at these workflow templates implemented in real-world business settings to better understand how to design one. 

1. Manufacturing Workflow Template

These workflows must account for essentials like suppliers, raw materials, quality management, and packaging.

Manufacturing Workflow Template

Image source

2. Project Management Workflow Template

Teams can utilize such templates as a starting point for:

  • Proposing new project concepts
  • Securing buy-in from prominent stakeholders and executives
  • Developing concrete strategies for bringing those plans to fruition
  • Delivering projects with minimal hassle.
Project Management Workflow Template

Image source

3. Finance Workflow Template

These templates could be utilized for documentation of incoming and outgoing payments, financial reporting, forecasting, and budgeting activities.

Finance Workflow Template

Image source


Business workflows are essential for reducing inefficiencies and maximizing productivity, reliability, and performance.

Workflow designing tools can be valuable if you know how to put them to good use like Hubler. Such software solutions are necessary for a streamlined task management process, status monitoring, and meeting all due deadlines.

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