Workflow Design
Productivity

A guide to successful workflow design

Learn the basics, best practices and process of designing effective workflows (and how Slack simplifies it)

By the team at Slack5th February 2024

Business processes can be susceptible to errors, especially human errors. But automating your processes by designing workflows can help while also speeding things up. In a survey of both Salesforce and Slack users, our customers saw a 28% increase in time saved with workflows. In this guide, we’ll explore workflow design—what it is, how to do it and how it can boost your team’s productivity.

The fundamentals of workflow design

What is workflow design?

A workflow is a plan or roadmap you follow to complete a particular project. It includes smaller tasks that must be completed sequentially to reach the goal.

With workflow design, you take each of these tasks and visually map them in a step-by-step sequence to get a clear overview of how your process flows. You can then use this logic to automate your workflows.

Key elements of workflow chart design

The three major components that make up a visual workflow diagram are:

  • Workflow inputs: They either initiate or complete a particular step in your workflow.
  • Workflow transformations: They indicate the change that will take place to bring up an output from the input.
  • Workflow outputs: These are the final results that you get through the transformation.

By using these elements together, you can create a workflow chart for your processes.

How to design effective workflows

A well-designed workflow can help you optimize and automate your processes to save time and effort. Here are some tips to design your workflows effectively. Let’s start with these best practices:

  • Use a dedicated workflow design software instead of spreadsheets.
  • Pick up simple processes first (the ones that have fewer steps). They’ll help you get acquainted with the workflow design tool.
  • Always begin designing from the starting node and build out from there.
  • Leave ample white space in the workflow UI to keep it free from clutter.

Workflow design process

Let’s now get into the details of the phases of the design process workflow.

  1. Define your starting point and the goals of your workflow.
  2. Brainstorm the steps involved in reaching the goals from the starting point. Then create a basic flowchart using these activities.
  3. Indicate the relationship between each intermediate step of the process. They’ll help you define the inputs and outputs of each task in the workflow.
  4. If you’ve got a complex workflow, identify and add sub-workflows to avoid clutter or confusion.
  5. Create while-do or repeat-until loops based on the requirements of your workflow.
  6. Manually test your workflow for the various activities it’s intended to automate and check if it brings the desired results. Adjust as necessary.

How to streamline processes with workflow models

Your workflows will broadly fall into one of these three workflow models. Choose which one suits your processes the best.

  • Sequential: Contains a series of steps that follow a straight, predefined path from beginning to end.
  • State-machine: Involves multiple loops between different stages of the workflow. As a result, the process doesn’t move in a straight line. Based on the conditions, each instance might take a different path from start to end.
  • Rules-driven: Moves in a single direction like the sequential model, but workflow steps might have “if-then’ statements or other rules triggered at each step. For instance, if an employee applies for leave, their request might trigger an eligibility notice and any related forms or next-step instructions.

Case study: Workflow design for request approval

Let’s look at a flow design for request approval. It involves two workflows, one each for application and approval.

In the first workflow, you can design a form for ‌employees to fill out. Once filled, it’ll trigger messages to the manager and the applicant. The manager is prompted to approve or reject with a field, button or even emoji.

workflow approval

For approvals, you can design a second workflow that notifies the employee of approval or rejection of their request based on the manager’s emoji reaction to the request from the first workflow.

What are some common pitfalls in workflow design and how can they be avoided?

Poorly designed, vague or incomplete workflows will cost you money and time. Look out for some of these common mistakes to avoid when designing your workflow:

  • Unclear processes: Understand your processes well before creating a workflow to avoid creating ineffective ones.
  • Notification overload: Make sure only the most critical messages are automatically sent as notifications.
  • Complicated workflows: Don’t go overboard with workflow design. Keep things simple instead of branching to multiple flows to avoid unnecessary complications.
    Insufficient training: Like introducing any new process, technology or tool, provide adequate training and documentation so they can understand the workflow design and how to use all its components.

Integrating Slack for optimized workflow management

If you’re using Slack, you can automate major chunks of your processes in the platform with our out-of-the-box feature, Workflow Builder. Workflow Builder is an intuitive no-code workflow design tool in Slack that enables you to create workflows by dragging and dropping actions and triggers.

You’re not restricted by apps either. Workflow Builder lets you integrate other tools in your tech stack (like Jira and Zoom) and include them in your workflows.

How Slack facilitates collaborative workflow design

What sets Workflow Builder apart is the collaboration it brings to workflow design. By default, all members in your workspace can create workflows that any team member or guest can access or use. You can share workflows via DM, bookmark them in a channel, and browse workflow galleries to see what’s been created in your workspace.

Start automating tasks with workflows

Designing your workflows well can save time by automating repetitive tasks, which can boost your team’s productivity and reduce the chances of manual errors.

And with Slack’s drag-and-drop Workflow Builder, you can design workflows in a snap and start automating your operations at scale. You can even create complex and multi-app flows with Slack. For instance, you can create a workflow to schedule a message to specific invitees with a Zoom meeting link and also add it to their Google Calendar events. There’s no limit to how well-designed workflows can help your team work smarter, not harder.

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