Looking for a better way to improve communication in your team and complete projects faster? Visual workflows are the solution you seek.
Humans are visual beings. From an early age, images are one of our favourite ways to illustrate ideas and data.
There’s no reason NOT to use the visual presentation of processes in your company as well.
It’s an effective way to improve communication, reduce misunderstandings and organize work more effectively.
In the guide below, we will walk you through everything you need to know to get started with visual workflows.
What Are Visual Workflows?
Simply put, visual workflows are processes that have their digital or physical, visual form that illustrates said process step by step.
They can come in a variety of forms, but at the very core, they all do one thing: guide you and your team from one stage of work to another in a way that can be monitored and observed in a simple, visual way.
Why Are Visual Workflows Worth It?
“Visual information makes it easier to collaborate, and generate new ideas that impact organizational performance, said Harris Eisenberg at T-sciences.
Images are easier to understand and remember. Visualized processes are easier to follow. But there’s so much more to it.
Let’s break the benefits of visual workflows one by one.
They Help You Optimize Existing Processes
Certainly, you have some processes already in place. You organize your work, client management or sales activities according to certain patterns.
Now think that these processes can be optimized, streamlined and improved.
Visual workflows are one of the ways to do it. Working with something visual makes it easier to adapt and improve. Once your processes are visualized, you see clearly where you can improve their particular elements.
This allows you to discover weak points which you had no idea about before. Visual processes leave nothing hidden or covered, giving you full control of what’s happening and what you can optimize.
They Improve Your Workload Management
Workload management is one of the essential aspects of every business. What you want to avoid are problems such as:
- Idle stages of your processes with others are being overactive
- A group of employees having little to do while others are overwhelmed
- Periods of inactivity followed by schedule packed to the brim
You can easily resolve these issues with virtual workflows. For example, a well-structured workflow can help you move work from overloaded employees to the idle ones who can help out. And you can do so easily because when the workload is visual, you know exactly what you’re moving and to whom.
They Help You Plan Better
Visual workflows allow you to understand and optimize your schedule. It’s easier to work with visual data and preview project archives in a readable form.
For example, a linear workflow shows you clearly that it took your team two weeks to complete Task A and the most time-taking stage was its approval. With such information easily available, you can plan your next, similar task around the previous timeframe and already valid estimates.
They Clarify Processes And Reduce Mistakes
Like we said above, visual workflows are easier to adapt to, follow and optimize. Now, let’s focus on the following part.
You want to keep your processes simple and easy to follow so your employees are always on the same page. With visual workflows, the flow of tasks, actions and elements is self-explanatory. Mistakes are less likely to occur and your people will know when it’s their time to step in.
Sometimes, creating visual workflows will lead you to simplify processes that are too complex. And that’s a benefit in itself.
They Decrease The Need For Communication
Because of visual processes being clearer and available in a form an employee can preview, they also decrease the need for communication.
This is practical when your team is remote or you work with freelancers and your online availability times don’t align.
For example, questions that your team will no longer have to ask can include:
- When is my turn to step in?
- What steps do I need to follow to complete the task?
- What stage is the task currently at?
- What’s next to be done?
- Who worked on the task before me?
When answers to the questions are in the workflow itself, there’s no need to ask questions. Or wait for an answer.
3 Basic Types of Visual Workflows
The Agile Alliance defines Kanban as “a means to design, manage, and improve flow systems for knowledge work. The method also allows organizations to start with their existing workflow and drive evolutionary change. They can do this by visualizing their flow of work, limit work in progress (WIP) and stop starting and start finishing”.
Simply put, Kanban methodology revolves around creating a board on which one column represents one stage of a process. Items or tasks placed on each column are moved from one stage to another to visually reflect the progress of work.
Gantt Chart is another way of illustrating the flow of tasks on the timeline and their mutual relations in a visual way.
Gantt.com says that the Gantt chart is “one of the most popular and useful ways of showing activities (tasks or events) displayed against time. On the left of the chart is a list of the activities and along the top is a suitable time scale. Each activity is represented by a bar; the position and length of the bar reflects the start date, duration and end date of the activity.”
From a certain point of view, the Gantt chart is a more powerful method of planning, visualizing and monitoring projects and their internal dependencies. This, however, makes it more complex than a simple Kanban board.
Flow charts, or process flow diagrams, in opposition to Kanban and Gantt, don’t have a structured form. Like a mindmap that you can customize according to your needs, flow charts can be easily modelled, changed and recreated.
They scarcely are used for tracking assignments; more often than not, they illustrate the steps one by one and work as a go-to source.
3 Things You Will Need For Creating Your Visual Workflows
Before you jump into creating your visual workflow, there are three basic things you must ensure before you can proceed.
Your Process In a Documented Form
Start by documenting the process you want to visualize. It’s a simple step – you can start by describing tasks and stages in a document.
This serves three main goals:
- Help you understand what you’re working with
- Allow you to keep the process in its original form
- Help you decide which steps are unnecessary for a simple visual workflow
An Online Platform
Best visual workflows are created in online collaboration platforms. Most of them include Kanban or Gantt chart views which automatically makes creating visual processes much easier.
Keep your visual workflows online so they are always available. This way, no matter where your team members are and when they work, you can monitor the progress of work.
Your Team’s Cooperation
Last but not least, your team needs to be on board. If people won’t stick to the idea of visual workflows, there’s no point in starting.
They should agree on these matters:
- Visual workflows are better than our current ones
- We will adjust to the new rules coming with visual workflows
- We will actively collaborate to improve and optimize our visual workflows
How to Create a Visuals Workflows
Step #1: Understand Your Process
Here’s the thing: while visualizing processes help your team understand the process, that process also must be understood first before the visual workflow is created.
To simplify it: for the other people to be able to better understand the process, the person creating the visual workflow must already understand it thoroughly beforehand.
That’s why you should begin with documenting the existing process, analyzing it and understanding it. Look at its strong and weak points. Talk to your team to discover what they hate and what they love about the current way of managing tasks.
Step #2: Simplify It
Your original process may be too complicated. If it’s possible, consider simplifying it for the sake of two make reasons:
- making it easier to visualize it and fit in form of a Kanban board or a simple flowchart
- removing elements that are unnecessary and may only additionally complicate the process
Simple processes are easier to visualize and follow. While it won’t be always possible to create a streamlined process, always aim for keeping it as straightforward as possible.
Step #3: Create Stages
The next stage is simple. Basing on the document flow of your process, create stages in your online platform. Ensure they follow a logical order of events and those most essential are always on the front.
If you decide to go with a Kanban, you can also use the “back” of your boards to create stages unrelated to your visual workflows directly. There, you can keep items such as useful links, materials, FAQ and general guidelines.
Step #4: Test It With Your Team
The next stage is to test your process with your team. There’s a possibility that your visualized workflows will be different from your original processes. That’s why everyone on your team should contribute to testing the new workflow and provide feedback.
Give it as much time as needed to gather enough objective comments and move to the next stage.
Step #5: Optimize It
Lastly, you’ll want to optimize what you created. It’s more than likely that the initial form of your workflow will be imperfect. Don’t let that discourage you and optimize your process instead. Add, remove and shuffle stages and dependencies as it is necessary. Brainstorm improvement ideas with your team.
Then, go back and test it again!
Bonus Step: Keep Optimizing!
Don’t forget that creating processes in general, not just visual workflows, is a work always in progress. Your business and team will evolve and change and with it, the way you work. For that reason, always test your visual processes and monitor productivity. Step in instantly if issues arise. Don’t let your processes age!
Visual Workflows: Final Thoughts
Visual workflows are a wonderful productivity improvement method, especially for teams that are working remotely. They’re simple enough to introduce and open so many new doors to higher levels of efficiency.
With the tips provided above, you’ll now be able to create visual workflows for your team as well.
Ready to give it a go?