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April 28, 2014

Workflow Series 1 of 4: What does workflow really mean?

Workflow.  The operational buzz word thrown around in meetings. But what does it really mean?  Who does it impact? Why does it matter? And how can looking at workflow in different ways create more value?

This four part series will look at workflow in a way that makes business sense out of business school jargon.

What does workflow really mean?
The simple definition is the process or steps used to perform work.  That can be anything from a task, a product, a service...since they all require at least one step to complete.
So really, everything we do essentially has a workflow. The key to understanding what our workflow is comes down to listing the individual tasks and the inputs needed (i.e. time, labor, parts, etc.) and mapping out the order of the tasks.  We do most of this already, and don't even realize we are actively managing workflow to run daily operations.

Once we look at workflow from a more practical perspective, one can see that any business has some type of workflow.  And the goal is to manage that workflow in a meaningful and productive way.

The series example part 1: What?
Jimmy runs a successful business.  He has several hundred employees ranging from front office and production to distribution and delivery.  In any given day, thousands of tasks are performed to manufacture and sell one order.

Jimmy has managers that run each department and set schedules to meet demand.  These managers work together to complete the orders.  Let's take the shipping department. Paul, the shipping manager, oversees the daily tasks in the chart below.  This is what the shipping department's workflow looks like.

 Order received
  Dispatch plans load and routes

 Shipper fills order
 Dispatch schedules delivery
 Shipper packs order for shipment
  Orders loaded onto trucks
 Trucks out for delivery
Orders delivered

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