Project Management Workflows

Project Management Workflows. The Direct Path to Success.

How do you use workflows in your project management strategies? How to define your processes,
taking your infrastructure into account to manage your project with a single workflow?

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Workflows consist of four elements: editors (roles), activities (tasks), results (products, artefacts) and states.


A project has editors that carry out activities in a specific order.


Activities produce results. A result may be a completed end product or an Excel sheet. Results then become the basis for subsequent activities.


Even if multiple editores are working on one result there should be one person responsible for the result.


In order for such a workflow to perform, results and activities must have states, e.g. in process or completed. This allows for date-related as well as content-related information on the progress of your project.

Workflow – a Definition

The term “workflow” describes the procedures involved in completing tasks – the defined sequence of steps required to produce results.

If you have ever worked in a team to create a new product or system then you know how important it is to order activities into a meaningful sequence. Using the defined workflow you can structure your project. You can easily optimize the repeated actions in your processes, improve the communication among the stakeholders and measure the progress according to predefined criteria.

A workflow consists of four elements: actors (in some models this is set as a role), activity (sometimes called tasks), results (often desired products or artefacts) and state. So-called cardinalities are used to define how often particular results should be generated or how frequently tasks should be carried out. Can a document like a business case only exist once in a project? Perhaps, but not necessarily. Or can two business case documents be generated at the same time? These kind of questions need to be answered when workflows are being defined. Software can help to ensure that these kinds of prescriptions are adhered to.

Read here how workflows differ from business processes »

A common Understanding of the Team Effort

In order for you to be able to perform well you need to rely on the groundwork of your colleagues. And your colleagues rely on the groundwork you do. As you can see, the success of projects hinges on the collaboration within the project. Workflows define the concrete ways of collaborating and improve the understanding and appreciation for your colleagues’ work.

Better Transparency

When you use clear workflows and states for the activities and results you will be able to easily recognize who is currently working on which products or artifacts. In this way the workflows improve your transparency.

Improved Communication

Working with defined workflows requires a lot less manpower as well as a lot less time for the provision of information. For example, automatic notifications are an effective way of keeping up-to-date with work packages ready to be processed, giving you more time to focus on the actual content and solution finding process. Which in turn saves time and money.

Increased Quality and Efficiency

Templates are an important factor when working with workflows. They make repeating activities easy, as well as the paperwork and the organization of information in general. You produce better results more efficiently.

Categories of Workflows

There are two kinds of workflows:

  • Firstly there are small, simple and logical workflows that only affect a few people. This kind of workflow does not require much attention – short verbal comments are enough for all participants to come to agreement, it is not necessary to have long meetings or to develop software systems. An example of this kind of workflow would be a two person project aimed at creating a website or booking conference rooms.
  • Secondly, there are more complex workflows that affect several people in a project or a department for an extended period of time. This kind of workflow is often developed as a model and is documented so that it can be used as an example in a future endeavor. With these workflows often workflow management systems, process management systems or process-based project management tools come in handy. An example of this kind of workflow would be: The release of documents in projects that need to pass project audits or company endeavors in “controlled environments” such as travel, the automotive industry and the car delivery industry, the rail sector or the pharmaceutical industry.

Types of Workflows

There are various kinds of complex workflows:

  • An activity is the most important part of an activity centered workflow, where editors with defined roles carry out activities and create results. There are often 1:1 relationships in this scenario; in other words, an activity would create a result and a partial activity which would create a partial result. The flow is defined by control flows in which the sequence of activities is set. Generally the end-beginning relationship (when A ends, B begins) is the standard. There is also a beginning sequence, i.e. a beginning-beginning relationship (when A begins, then B also begins), an end-end relationship (when A ends, then B also ends) or a leap sequence, i.e. beginning-ending (when A begins, B ends).
  • A document centered- or results-oriented workflow focuses on results. Explicit activities for creating the results (in many projects these are often documents) are secondary to this approach. The sequence for creating results is defined by the product flows and conditions that are connected to the results.

Challenges in Workflows

There are different challenges in defining and using workflows:

The level of detail – There is a temptation to anchor every triviality in a workflow so that it can appear more comprehensive and detailed. But what is an appropriate level of detail for an organization? An incremental definition with regular comparisons with reality can be helpful in this regard.

Unpredictability – some things can’t be predicted in projects. Nor should they. Otherwise the level of detail and the scope of the workflow also need to be broader. When working with a workflow it’s important to note that unpredictable events can happen – necessitating a change in the workflow.

The Change – the requirements in projects change constantly, as do the rules. This can lead to discrepancies between the workflow model and the workflow instance – i.e. between the description of the ideal workflow and the concrete application.

The Transparency – when working with a workflow you will be able to easily recognize which staff members are working on particular work packages and which staff members are waiting for specific work packages. This kind of transparency won’t be seen as an advantage by all staff members. It can lead to a desire in staff members to cover their own backs and pass the buck onto their colleagues.

It’s important to define a workflow that supports the cooperation in the project and that also suits the project participants and employees.

How Do You Use Workflows in Project Management?

Some workflows won’t work with particular projects. The steps involved in building a house, developing a rocket or moving house are completely different. In order for you to organize projects with the right tools it is necessary to define project types. Each project type has a set workflow, possibly with several options for special challenges. And even if different companies are active in the same industry, their workflows will still differ because the activities will have been strongly influenced by their specific presiding culture, the form of communication prevalent there as well as the cooperation and the internal and external rules that govern interactions.

Project management tools with workflow

You know your workflow, you have defined the roles or actors, know which activities need to happen in what order, the frequency at which they need to be carried out and the conditions under which this needs to take place. Now what? Should you document your workflow and publicize your workflow description in a wiki system somewhere? Documenting workflows in this way would not be incorrect but it’s likely that the documented workflow will be very different to the project workflow. If you would like to use the advantages of a defined workflow then you will need to think about how you would like to support your workflow with a workflow management system, a process management system or a project management software package.

Infrastructure is an important aspect in working with workflows in project management. There are special solutions for many disciplines. Requirements are managed in a requirements software package while projects get planned using classic Gantt charts and project applications get maintained in a separate table. Is that the best solution? Or do you sometimes ask yourself the following questions?

  • Who will look after the different interfaces between the tools for the interaction between the individual disciplines?
  • How do you teach the users the many different tools, terms and operational functions?
  • How will you automate the processes?
  • ho is going to pay for it all?