Workflow vs. Process: How Are They Different?

Workflow software

Every business has processes, whether or not they call them that. 

If you operate a florist service, you have processes for getting inventory in, processes for creating flower arrangements, and processes for delivering them to people. If you run a medical clinic, you have processes for registering new patients, performing and documenting exams, and for prescribing medications.

And while workflows are highly beneficial in just about every type of business, you don’t necessarily need workflows to carry out processes. You could tell your new floral arranger to create an arrangement using carnations, baby’s breath, and roses and leave them to their own devices. It may turn out well, or it may not. 

But if you have a workflow designed just for creating such an arrangement, you can be far more confident that the end product will look as it is supposed to and meet your quality criteria.

Processes Are Strategic

Processes are things you do in support of a business goal. Some examples of processes include

  • Onboarding a new employee
  • Delivering products to customers
  • Preparing and selling tacos
  • Designing electric motors
  • Providing custom clothing alterations

In other words, the processes you do are what your business is all about. Processes may be simple or complex, and they may be done well and consistently, or badly and inconsistently.

Workflows Are Tactical

Workflows are about how you get processes accomplished. Without a defined workflow, providing IT services may be a process based on phone calls and sticky notes with scribbled instructions. With an automated workflow, it is an orderly process based on an online request form, automated notifications, and electronic checklists documenting exactly what steps were taken, when, and why. 

Laptop computer with several yellow sticky notes.

Workflows define the sequences of steps that take place in a process, lay them out logically, and make the processes better, faster, and more consistent. They often involve automation of key steps in the process. Processes don’t have to have workflows (though most should), but workflows are always developed in support of a process.

One Workflow May Be Adapted to Address Multiple Processes

Workflows can also be adapted to multiple processes with only small changes. For example, a workflow designed for the process of delivering IT services can be modified slightly to work wonderfully when used for managing building maintenance services. Or a workflow for ensuring new company policies are read and understood can be modified to ensure that people complete mandatory training. 

Workflows are tools, in other words. The same tool (a hammer, say) can be used to drive in nails, or it can be used to pry quarter-round trim from baseboard. And every worker knows that having the right tools makes all the difference between work that is efficient and consistent and work that is haphazard and harder than it has to be.

The following table summarizes differences between workflows and processes. 

WorkflowsProcesses
Designed for efficiently finishing tasksDesigned to meet business goals
Can apply to multiple processesA process typically has one associated workflow
Planned step by stepMay or may not be planned
Typically automated, at least in partMay or may not be automated
Workflows require processesProcesses don’t require workflows
TacticalStrategic

Designing workflows to make processes faster, more efficient, and less wasteful does not have to be arduous. The right workflow software makes it easy and straightforward.

PerfectForms is workflow software that allows creation of automated workflows, complete with automatic routing, alerts, and built-in mobile-friendliness, all without programming. Workflow creators can drag and drop workflow elements into place, so it’s easy to create workflows, test them out, and then fine-tune them as needed before deployment. 

The power of good workflows is evident in terms of efficiency, productivity, and savings of time and money. PerfectForms invites you to read through some of our many case studies that show exactly how workflows can take processes and make them better, helping businesses be more competitive, less wasteful, and more profitable.

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