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Lackluster productivity, increased costs, low job satisfaction, and poor collaboration are all hallmarks of inefficient workflows. Achieving better results in less time can be accomplished by improving one thing—workflow efficiency. 

This is typically done using workflow management software or workflow automation software (more on this below).

What Is Workflow Efficiency?

Workflow efficiency is the process and approach to optimizing processes that involve resources, time, and effort required to complete tasks or projects. 

Workflow efficiency is achieved by eliminating unnecessary steps, automating repetitive tasks, and streamlining processes.

It involves identifying and addressing bottlenecks, optimizing resource allocation, and ensuring effective communication and collaboration among team members. This reduces stress, enhances job satisfaction, and achieves better operational performance.

What Causes Workflow Inefficiency?

There can be many reasons for inefficient workflows; here are some common causes. Understanding these factors can help you isolate areas where improvements need to be made:

  • Lack of prioritization: Failing to prioritize tasks can lead to a scattered approach, where important activities are easily overlooked, resulting in missed deadlines and lower productivity. Identify and document all processes and tasks and prioritize each by connecting them to company goals.
  • Poor communication: Inadequate communication among team members can lead to misunderstandings, delays, and errors. Set clear expectations and develop effective communication for a smoother workflow.
  • Inefficient processes: Complex or convoluted processes can slow your workflow and prevent you from completing tasks efficiently. Identify and simplify processes wherever possible to significantly improve workflow efficiency.
  • Procrastination: Procrastination can be a huge productivity block. Delaying tasks can lead to last-minute rushed work and unnecessary stress, impacting the quality and efficiency of your teams' output. Set schedules and stay organized to keep things moving forward on time.
  • Distractions: Constant interruptions and distractions can derail workflow and productivity. To encourage efficiency, minimize distractions and create a focused work environment.
  • Poor documentation: Outdated or poor documentation can result in confusion or missed steps. Ensure all process documentation is updated, tested, and clearly communicated in a timely way.
  • Skills gaps: Employees might come and go, and knowledge and skills gaps may surface during turnover. Make sure to hire, train, and retain employees with the necessary skills to complete all aspects of the job and provide value-added contributions. 
  • Outdated or non-existent workflow automation: Missing or legacy workflow automation software and apps may hold your processes back. Ensure you select and reevaluate the right tools, and weigh the usefulness of new innovations, like AI workflow automations.

How To Measure Workflow Efficiency

Measuring workflow efficiency involves assessing the time it takes to complete tasks, the quality of the output, and the utilization of resources.

Time used, quality, and resource utilization are a few parameters you can use to measure your workflow efficiency, and calculations will vary depending on your industry or what is being measured.

  • Time tracking: Keeping track of the time spent on each task or project requires time-tracking tools. Whether it's a simple spreadsheet, time-tracking software, or project management software, it's necessary to record the time it takes to complete different activities. This will give you a clear picture of where and how time is spent so you can identify any workflow bottlenecks.
  • Quality control: Assessing the quality of your output is crucial. If you consistently encounter errors and mistakes that need to be addressed, it's vital to implement a quality control plan. Depending on your industry, some measures can include customer feedback, peer reviews, periodic testing, or internal audits to ensure that your workflow is producing the desired results.
  • Resource utilization: Another important aspect of operational efficiency is evaluating how effectively your company utilizes its human resources, equipment, tools, technologies, and supplies. Are there inefficiencies or redundancies in your workflow that can be eliminated? Analyzing resource utilization can help you identify areas where improvements can be made to increase efficiency. Use this formula to calculate utilization: working hours / available hours = utilization rate
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How To Improve Workflow Efficiency

These eight steps can help you develop clear and robust workflows that boost your company's productivity.

steps to improve workflow efficiency
There are seven steps in the process for improving workflow efficiency.

1. Analyze Existing Workflows

Before diving into a strategy for improving workflow efficiency, it's essential to understand and analyze your current workflows. Take a step back and evaluate how you currently approach your work. Look for areas in your workflow where tasks tend to get delayed or stuck.

For example, if you often find yourself or others waiting for manual approval signatures, your workflow could incorporate digital approval routing based on authority and financial approval levels. Learn more about digital workflows here.

2. Identify Opportunities For Improvement

Identify your high-priority tasks and focus on them first: remove bottlenecks, reduce miscommunication, and optimize resources. This will help you stay focused and ensure critical tasks are timely.

For example, look for opportunities to group and route similar tasks to people who are overallocated in a way that allows them to complete things faster without compromising quality.  

3. Streamline Processes

Identify any bottlenecks or inefficiencies. Look for ways to simplify and streamline your workflows, eliminating unnecessary steps or redundancies. Automation tools like workflow process software can also streamline repetitive tasks, saving time and effort.

4. Set Realistic Deadlines

Establish realistic deadlines for your tasks and projects. Avoid overcommitting resources or underestimating the time required to complete a task. By setting achievable deadlines, you can reduce stress and work more efficiently.

5. Utilize Task Management Tools

Use task management tools or project management software to help you stay organized, track progress in real time, and effectively collaborate with your team. Explore different software options and choose the best one that aligns with your company's needs, culture, and goals.

6. Test The Workflow and Get Feedback

Implementing changes to your workflow is not a one-time fix. You must test new processes and gather feedback to ensure their effectiveness. Make sure to incorporate these steps.

  • Pilot test the changes: Before rolling end-to-end changes out, consider a pilot test with a small group of team members to allow you to gather feedback, identify any problems, and make adjustments as needed.  
  • Collect feedback: Encourage open communication and gather feedback from all relevant stakeholders. Ask for specific feedback on how the changes might impact productivity, efficiency, and overall satisfaction. Note any recurring themes or suggestions.

7. Iterate and Refine

Based on the feedback received, iterate and refine your workflow improvements. This might involve making further adjustments, addressing concerns, or exploring additional strategies to enhance efficiency. Make sure to incorporate these steps.

  • Define key metrics: Identify relevant metrics such as task completion time, error rates, or customer satisfaction.  
  • Implement tracking: Use effective methods and systems to track the identified metrics.  
  • Analyze results and take action: Analyze the data collected and identify trends or patterns. 
  • Continuously improve: Monitor the results and iterate on your improvements to adapt and thrive as things change.

Tools For Improving Workflow Efficiency

There are many tools and apps available to help you with workflow efficiency. Some might include:

  • Project management software
  • Time tracking tools
  • Communication and collaboration platforms
  • Workflow automation and management tools

If you’ve already got manual workflows set up and you need help automating and speeding them up, your best bet is workflow automation software. Consider workflow management software if you’re still in the process of setting up and organizing your workflows.

Look for user-friendly functionality and tools that can handle complex workflows and work with your company's existing or planned integrations.

4 Tips To Improve Workflow Efficiency

Over the years, I've learned a thing or two about improving workflows. I want to share four of them to help you in your process improvement journey.

  • Avoid rushing things: As you've likely gathered, workflow improvements take time and coordinated effort. Rushing this process will likely generate even more work stress and yield disappointing and costly results. Take the time to plan and execute every step with care and deliberate thought.
  • Start with a plan: Begin by outlining your goals, developing a plan for efficiency improvements, and prioritizing your tasks. This will help you stay focused, tackle the most important activities first, and ensure that details don't slip through the cracks.
  • Avoid multitasking: Multitasking is often overrated. Although it may seem efficient, it often leads to decreased productivity and increased human errors, and you may accomplish very little in the end. Focus on one task at a time to ensure quality and efficiency.
  • Group similar tasks: Grouping aligned and similar tasks together allows you to take advantage of momentum and minimize context switching. It can also uncover patterns and themes that help to connect dots that may not have been visible or obvious.

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Moira Alexander
By Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is a recognized thought leader and the founder of PMWorld 360 Magazine and Lead-Her-Ship Group, a digital content marketing agency where she helps companies create, market, and lead with engaging digital content. With over 25 years of business, information technology, and project management experience, she's been named one of the top global female thought leaders and influencers on project management, SaaS, and the future of work.