Project Management Workflow Process Explained (Inc Examples)
All the buzz around the water cooler seems to be about the project management workflow process, am I right?
What are project workflows, and how does workflow development ramp up your team’s project activities? This text will look at the pros and steps of project workflows and give some project management workflow examples.
What does workflow mean in project management?
Project management can refer to many different aspects of the business process. In the world of project management, you can talk about programs, process management, and finally, workflows, which is our topic today.
So what are workflows in project management? What do workflows do? And how are workflows different from other aspects of a project management methodology?
Workflows in project management are mainly about establishing all the jobs required for completing a successful project. In other words, a workflow lays out the tasks and subtasks to be undertaken by the project team members.
But what is significant here is the order of the jobs and individual tasks. In a project management workflow, it is necessary to complete one step of jobs, tasks, or deliverables before another job or task can begin.
One does not have to handle PM workflows on their own. These days, said workflow is typically organized using CRM project management tools, workflow planning tools according to your time zone, such as Figure it Out (FIO), and much more. There are many great project management software kits out there that include workflow tools like workflow automations.
In managing workflow, it is the sequence of the project lifecycle that matters, not unlike the PM waterfall method, for example. That said, one can find project teams using workflows in other project management methodologies like agile project management.
Another way to think about what makes a PM workflow unique is that it is definitely not just a checklist.
Checklists and to-do lists no doubt offer useful functionalities for project work, but they lack the emphasis on task management sequencing and the order of jobs which is key for instructing project team members on what work to do next. Indeed, knowing how to build workflows is one of the core project management skills, a basic requirement for thriving in any PM role.
Why is project workflow management necessary?
There are many benefits and advantages to applying workflows to optimize project plans and streamline the project work. Lets’ go over some of the pros of project management workflows.
In brief, here is why project workflow management is important:
Transparency and visibility
Central planning and common tools
Reduces risk, identifies problems
First and foremost, project workflows help the project team members stay organized. It is a great way to clearly communicate what needs to be done, who needs to do what, and in what order should the team complete tasks.
Using workflow templates is another way to amp up the level of project organization across your operation, whether these be shared dashboards which display things like task assignees or due dates, or network workflow diagrams like flowcharts that show orders and dependencies.
Transparency and visibility
Many projects suffer from a lack of transparency, meaning it is hard to know why certain decisions were made, who made them, and most importantly, who is in charge. With project workflow templates and dashboards, you get a heightened degree of project visibility for everyone on the team, no matter the company hierarchical structure.
Good project workflows also make visible what kind of project metrics will be used to measure success. Many project management tools include dashboards and other features for good project visibility, like the effective Kanban board system.
Central planning and common tools
Something that regularly hinders good project workflows is when various individuals or departments all use different tools to communicate, collaborate, share files, and track project progress.
Part of the solid project management workflow method is to delineate early on the common set of tools and apps that everyone will be using, or if some departments need different software, PM workflows can at least ensure it is compatible with the rest of the project team.
This is a large part of streamlined teamwork. Defining a common set of work tools is part and parcel of having a good centralized resource for the project that everyone can refer to.
Reduces risk, identifies problems
No project will ever proceed from kickoff to completion without a few hitches in the road. By applying the project workflow management method from the outset, it allows the team to get a good idea of potential risks along the way.
This can include going over budget, getting held up at task bottlenecks, spotting inefficiencies in the project scope, as well as allowing for some space to address the unknowns as they may arise during the project progress. With workflows, errors, issues and delays are more likely to be one-offs than recurring.
Projects have teams, managers, stakeholders and clients. While clients may be the stakeholders themselves, stakeholders can also be the company bosses or department heads. Regardless of who the stakeholders are, project management done via workflows is a great way to keep them up to date with current project statuses.
Workflow management tools serve as efficient ways to keep stakeholders in the loop with things like automatic notifications. However, workflow templates can also be viewed, shared and updated by anyone who has a stake in the project.
What is involved in a project management workflow process?
There are usually several steps involved in setting up a good workflow project management. In order to ensure the workflow development is as user-friendly as possible, it’s a good idea to follow these steps carefully and not skip out on any of the details. Here are the 5 steps of project workflows:
Lay out the project steps
List all the project tasks
Define your tools and resources
Delegate tasks and assign roles
Test, get feedback, improve
1. Major steps
The first part in setting up a project management workflow is to define all the major steps of the project. This is not so much about specific tasks and subtasks, but more about the total phases of getting the project together. This step can be likened to the phases in a waterfall methodology, but it does not need to follow that inverted tree diagram. Here you can specify the critical points, milestones and goals of the project.
2. List all the tasks
Once the first step is complete, now is the time for the second step of project workflows that includes the tasks and subtasks. What Is crucial in this step is to lay out the order and sequence of the tasks that need to be completed, as well as task dependencies, meaning which tasks must be done before others can be started. A workflow diagram like a flowchart can be of use here.
3. Tools and resources
Now that the step with the tasks is done, you can move on to step three of project management workflow building. In this step, you figure out which tools the project team will be using, as in for example which apps, templates, metrics and dashboards.
What’s more, it is in this step that you can begin resource allocation management as well, making sure that each individual or team unit has the resources they need to get the job done.
4. Delegate roles
If you’ve planned your steps, tasks, tools and resources, you are ready for step four of project workflows. This is where you assign roles to team members and delegate tasks. In this step you should also arrange things like permissions and hierarchies so that people know who to report to if they have questions or must request that changes be made.
5. Test, feedback, refine
The final step of setting up project management workflows is to begin running the project work. During this step, it is invaluable that you collect real-time data on project progress and test to see if your results are lining up with your plans and expectations.
Getting feedback from your project team must be incorporated when going back to refine and improve the project workflows. Some projects are one-offs, but others are of a repeat nature, which means this step can save time and money for future projects down the road.
Project workflow examples
Are you ready for a project workflow example or three? Yes? Great, because we've got some great examples here for you.
Project workflow example 1: Overhauling a database
The company database includes clients, order histories, and engagement archives, but it is very disorganized, as if it’s all been done with Microsoft Excel. Now the company wants to implement a new database software to organize their system.
Figure out exactly what you want in the software. How long it will take to pick a SaaS and how long to implement it. Understand that some people will need to be experts before others to help the rest of the team with learning the new tools.
Make a list of all the tasks necessary to undertake this project. They can review many apps, do free trials, speak to sales offices of the software vendors about pricing, and decide how many people on the team will be using the software and what kind of training they will need.
What kind of resources will you make available to those in charge of finding and implementing the new software? Will you still need to make use of other apps as work-scaffolding while you set up the new system, and should you continue to make use of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets in the meantime.
Now you can actually delegate tasks to your team. Pick someone to review and test out apps and maybe begin making budget comparisons with different vendors. Once the app has been purchased, decide who will be the app ambassadors and who will be the trainees.
You’ve finally chosen the system, made the subscription, and have begun onboarding your team and populating the new database with data from your old spreadsheets. In this step of the workflow, keep track of how well your team is performing, how much the new software is living up to expectations, and be ready to pivot if enough issues and problems arise.
If the workflow has gone smoothly, save the steps you’ve been doing to apply to the next time your company needs to integrate a new software or tool to your stack.
Project workflow example 2: Onboarding a new team
The company wants to add a whole new department to their operations. Maybe it is a marketing department, and in the past they always outsourced marketing work to third parties. Now the project at hand is to build a new in-house marketing team, hire the staff, train them and put them to work.
Figure out how many people will be on the team. Where they will work. What the salaries will be. How you will go about hiring them and who will onboard them.
Break down each step into smaller tasks. For example, when it comes to hiring, plan where to place the posting, what kind of information you will request from the applicants, how you will review the resumes, when to invite interviewees to come in, and how you will decide whom to hire.
Setting up an online application portal. Pick the days where the interviews will be held. Book meeting rooms for the interviews. Likewise, you will need to figure out which marketing software and tools you will want this new team to be using once they are ready to go.
Get your HR department together and decide who is going to make the application post, who will go over the CVs and contact the applicants, who will do the interviews, and who will make the final decision about whom to bring on board.
Now that you’ve begun building this new marketing team, see what’s working and what isn’t. For example, if your posting for the jobs is not getting enough engagement, try writing it differently or posting it in new places online. If none of the applicants seem to make the cut, figure out if your qualifications are mismatched, or if your interviewer is too difficult.
Project workflow example 3: Building a new road
You are a construction company tasked with building a new road for the city to lead to their brand new office-industrial complex built atop an abandoned quarry whose roads have been overgrown for decades.
You know the major steps of the project include clearing the path where the road will be. Then level out the space. Pouring the cement and making sure it's clean and flat. Waiting for it to dry. Running tests by driving heavy trucks across the road. Then having a road-opening party.
For each of those major steps there are a necessary series of tasks. For example, clearing the road means hiring hands and renting machinery like excavators, bulldozers and dump trucks. Pouring the cement requires ordering the materials and making sure you’ve planned a good day weather-wise to lay everything out.
Decide what kind of cement and from whom to buy it. Same thing goes with the machinery and equipment. Plan a budget for the rental and purchasing of materials you’ll need. Have a contingency plan in case you run out or if any of the materials don’t work as planned,
Hire the teams and make sure the teams know who is in charge and who reports to whom. Accountability is crucial in large-scale construction projects so make sure to assign permissions and hierarchies.
As you build the road, watch out for cracks in the project as they may arise. Otherwise, when the project is done, make sure to perform regular checks on the integrity of the asphalt and be ready with a repairs plan if they need to be done.
Key takeaways on workflow project management
There are indeed many advice articles out there on how best to do project management, with a lot of them praising the efficiency and optimization you can get from project management workflows.
The most important point that we’ve been trying to make in this article is that workflows are not so much a strict methodology for project management, but rather it is a solid PM tool which can be used alongside many other methodologies, from waterfalls to agile PM to critical path methods.
What’s key about workflows is the way it gets you to think about project management first in terms of major steps and critical phases, and only afterwards to begin planning the tasks, sequences, roles and resources. Remember, a project workflow is not a checklist of things to be done, but a highly structured order to ensure projects nail their scopes while staying on budget and on deadline.
Well traveler, we’ve reached the end of the road on this project management workflow journey with examples. Are you an expert in PM workflows yet? You should be. And you’re welcome.