In modern management jargon, a business process workflow is the hierarchy of operations and division of work, in an organization. This hierarchy is adaptively modeled on the basis of changing demand, with a goal of optimizing the use of time and resources, to achieve maximum efficiency.
In the 20th century, the industrial revolution veritably exploded and management of the workplace became a science. People systematically studied the concept of 'work'.
People studied the anatomy of execution of a work or job to be done, from the conceptual point of view. They studied how to marshal the human and material resources at their disposal, for making the manufacturing process or any type of work, streamlined and efficient.
The focus was on improving the quality of end product while keeping in mind, the importance of nurturing human creativity and work satisfaction. The concept of business process management workflow was synthesized out of this.
Theoretical workflow management soon became a branch of operations research. Operations research is a branch of mathematics, that uses graph theory and mathematical modeling to optimize resource usage and achieve maximum output efficiently. It is also one of the top study topics in management training.
Workflow Improvement Theory
Process workflows were developed, based on certain improvement and independent theories that were an outgrowth of certain cherished business principles of discipline, dedication, precision, excellence and efficiency. They can be called work philosophies, which define the work ethics, the hierarchical structure and promote progress through synergy.
On the basis of these theories or paradigms, the workflow structure was developed. Here is a brief description of these different theories.
Six Sigma focuses on creating error free final products. It refers to a precise error toleration of not more than 3.4 defects per million in manufacturing. It is a systematic process, that focuses on ironing out errors in manufacturing, one at a time, with the application of scientific method.
Scientific method Is observing, analyzing and experimenting with the manufacturing process, until the desired accuracy is achieved. It suggests a hierarchical structure of leadership, with focus on quality improvement at every level. This theory was first developed and implemented by Motorola.
Billions of dollars have been saved by companies, who've implemented the strict quality control based six sigma regimens. Some of the methodologies used by six sigma practitioners are DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) and DMADV (Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify).
Total Quality Management
This is again a theory based on total improvement of quality, of finished product or service at every level, as its main principles. This management theory is applied by a number of organizations. It is based on some tested principles of Japanese philosophy, for improvement in quality of not just business, but also life.
Total Quality Management focuses on improving not just the product quality, but the quality of a work environment, through promotion of better coordination between different departments of an organization. It is devoted to the creation of a harmonious work environment, which will naturally foster quality improvement in products and services.
Business Process Reengineering
This is an algorithmic theory of management, that aims to create an efficient organization, through frank analysis at every level and feedback. It advocates adaptability of a business workflow, based on changing conditions. It involves a fundamental rethink of the entire business process, in order to achieve targets.
Innovation is a key factor pursued in the application of this process. The process has gained notoriety for promoting automation, which subsequently lead to mass layoffs in many companies which adopted it. Still, this cannot be considered to be a flaw of the process itself.
As the name suggests, this is a hard core management theory that focuses on creating a lean organization, that performs efficiently. All the decisions focus on avoiding superfluousness in resources and creating a lean organization, that can efficiently adapt to market dynamism and instability.
The theory emphasizes the elimination of 'waste' in all its manifestations. It is about achieving optimum balance in every piece of work. This theory is largely influenced by 'Toyota Production System', the process that converted the company into a global brand.
Examples from Some Organizations
Companies based on any one of the these core management theories or their own strategies, can plan, organize and decide the structure of their workflow. Designing one is essential for any business or organization. Not only does an efficient and carefully planned workflow reduce problems, but it also creates an automated structure, which functions on its own.
Total Quality Management (TQM) is the theory which can help such organizations improve the quality of newspapers they print, by improving the coordination between every department.
Another example is any manufacturing line which requires streamlined output, with quality check at every level. They follow the 'just in time' work model. This model is indeed ingenious, in the sense that it optimizes every resource that you have to the hilt and is designed to deliver manufacturing orders that come in at short notice.
Every part required in the manufacturing process is supplied just in time, so that there are no storage costs or overheads. For this, a manufacturer needs to have a dedicated group of spare part suppliers who can deliver at short notice.
Thus the design of a workflow is based on the principle of planning for the future, with a firm grip on the present. It is about smoothing out friction among different manufacturing departments in a unit and making them work and perform in harmony.
The whole aim of designing any workflow is to optimize output and profits, by efficiently adapting the system of work, to meet new demands and challenges.