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Well-planned and orchestrated workflows are more crucial than ever, and you can easily uncover and rectify inefficiencies by using workflow visualization. 

You’ll likely be using workflow diagram software or workflow management software when it comes to workflow visualization (more on this below).

What Is Workflow Visualization?

Workflow visualization is the process of visually illustrating a workflow using diagrams, charts, or other graphical tools. It visually represents the process steps, dependencies, and relationships, making it easier to understand and analyze. 

Visualization can cover many use cases, depending on the workflow's complexity and the organization's specific needs. Some common visualization techniques include:

  • Flowcharts: Flowcharts use symbols and arrows to represent the sequence of steps and decision points from the start to the endpoint of each business workflow.  
  • Swimlane diagrams: Swimlane diagrams divide a workflow into lanes, each representing a different role, department, or team.  
  • Kanban boards: Kanban boards use columns and cards to represent different workflow stages.  

By visually representing the steps and dependencies of a workflow, businesses can identify bottlenecks, discover opportunities for optimization, ensure efficient resource allocation, and improve operational performance. 

Examples Of Workflow Visualizations

According to research by IDC, workflow inefficiencies cost companies 20% to 30% of their annual revenue. Workflow visualization is widely used across various industries and sectors to improve workflows. Let's take a look at some successful real-world examples of workflow visualization.

Example 1: Manufacturing Industry

In the manufacturing industry, visualization of workflows is crucial for optimizing production workflow processes. Companies use value stream maps to visualize the flow of materials, information, and resources from raw materials to finished products. This helps identify bottlenecks, reduce waste, and improve overall efficiency.

A car manufacturing company used visual workflow monitoring capabilities to streamline its business operations, specifically its assembly line.

Results: The car manufacturer achieved their final goals of increasing overall car manufacturing profit margins by 15-20% and reducing the average manufacturing time frame to 12-13 hours.

example of a simple manufacturing workflow
Here's an example of a simple workflow that might be used in manufacturing.

Example 2: IT Operations

Workflow visualization is instrumental in IT operations for effectively managing and resolving incidents, problems, and changes. IT teams use incident management boards or Kanban boards to visualize the status of different incidents, assign tasks, track progress to improve communication, reduce response time, and ensure transparency in the resolution process.

One telecommunications company implemented workflow visualization for their help desk to keep up with support tickets.

Results: By visualizing the ticket handling process and introducing 20 automated workflows, the company reduced ticket handling time by up to 39% using a help desk software tool.

example of an IT operations workflow
Here's an example IT process for managing support tickets.
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Example 3: Marketing Campaigns

Workflow visualization is also valuable in managing marketing campaigns. By visualizing the different stages of a campaign, teams can track progress, allocate resources effectively, and ensure timely execution. This helps improve collaboration, align marketing activities with business goals, and optimize campaign performance.

One software company visualized and automated the steps in its telemarketing campaign workflows to invite customers to a webinar and demonstrate its new product.

Results: The campaign achieved a 40% increase in registrations, a 25% increase in attendees, and a 20% increase in product trials.

Benefits Of Workflow Visualization

Workflow visualization offers a range of benefits to organizations. Let's explore some of the key advantages:

  • Increased clarity and transparency: Workflow visualization allows stakeholders to understand the process clearly and the steps involved, dependencies, and handoffs. This eliminates ambiguity, reduces miscommunication, and ensures everyone is on the same page.
  • Improved decision-making: Analyzing visualizations helps your company identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and areas for improvement. This helps prioritize initiatives, allocate resources effectively, and make informed decisions that drive operational excellence.
  • Enhanced collaboration and communication: Visualization promotes collaboration and communication among team members. Visualizing the workflows allows your teams to understand their roles, responsibilities, and dependencies easily. This fosters teamwork, improves coordination, and enables effective cross-functional collaboration.
  • Streamlined processes and efficiency: Through observation and the use of process insights technology, you can identify bottlenecks and areas of inefficiency and implement operational efficiencies. This eliminates waste, reduces manual effort, optimizes resource allocation, and leads to streamlined processes, increased productivity, and cost savings.
  • Continuous improvement and adaptability: By regularly reviewing and analyzing visualizations, organizations can identify areas for further optimization and make iterative improvements. This ensures that workflows remain efficient, aligned with business objectives, and adaptable to changing needs.

Drawbacks

Workflow visualization can be time-consuming, requires specialized skill sets, and isn't always well-received. As someone who has worked in process re-engineering, I've found that employees are sometimes skeptical about changing processes due to fears about job security. They're also limited when it comes to available time to dedicate to workflow changes. 

Explaining the benefits and putting an employee at ease might require some finesse—it's about practicing patience and understanding. 

How To Do Workflow Visualization

The step-by-step process of visualizing a workflow involves understanding the current state of your workflow, mapping it out, analyzing the data, and implementing improvements. 

1. Identify The Scope Of The Workflow

The first step in visualizing a workflow is thoroughly understanding its full scope. This involves identifying all the steps involved, dependencies, and handoffs between different stages. It's crucial to involve all relevant stakeholders to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the workflow.

2. Select A Workflow Visualization Tool

Manually mapping out workflows is not efficient. Similar to improving your workflows, having the right workflow diagram software tools to complete this process just makes sense and can save you a significant amount of effort and time.

3. Map Out Your Workflow

Once you clearly understand your current state and have the right diagram software, it's time to map your workflow visually. You can use various techniques, such as flowcharts, swimlane diagrams, or Kanban boards, to represent the stages and steps involved. The goal is to create a visual representation that is easy to understand and provides a clear overview of the entire workflow.

4. Walkthrough and Map Each Step

In my experience, walking through each step of a process and accurately mapping it requires hearing and seeing. As someone explains a process, they often miss some of the intuitive steps they do because it's so automatic. Sitting with the person as they complete each step can help you capture many of those missing pieces. 

5. Analyze The Data

Once your workflow is mapped out, it's time to analyze the data to identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and areas for improvement. Look for patterns, delays, and dependencies that may hinder workflow. This analysis will help you pinpoint areas where workflow changes can be optimized.

6. Implement Improvements

Based on the insights from analyzing the data, it's time to implement improvements to your workflow. This may involve eliminating unnecessary steps or introducing workflow automation to reduce manual effort. The goal is to make your workflow more efficient, productive, and aligned with your business objectives.

7. Document and Communicate All Changes

This is an important step. From start to finish, it's essential to communicate your purpose for the changes and what changes are planned. This gives ample time for subject matter experts to provide valuable input about potential issues before changes are implemented and to gain buy-in throughout. 

8. Monitor and Iterate

It's essential to continuously monitor your workflow, gather feedback, and make iterative improvements. Review your workflow management process regularly, gather data on performance metrics, and involve your team in identifying areas for further optimization. This continuous improvement cycle will help you maintain an optimal workflow over time.

Tools For Workflow Visualization

Workflow software typically includes features for workflow diagramming, workflow automation, or workflow management. 

Workflow diagram software will help you visualize our workflows, workflow management software will help you build out and organize your workflows, and workflow automation software is for speeding up and automating the manual parts of your processes.

Make sure to look for user-friendly functionality like whiteboards and workspaces to handle complex workflows that work with your company’s existing or planned integrations.

Workflow Visualization Best Practices

To ensure effective workflow visualization, it's a good idea to adopt the following best practices:

  • Involve stakeholders: I find that including all relevant stakeholders in the workflow visualization process makes a huge difference in overcoming resistance to change. It ensures a comprehensive understanding of why workflow changes are necessary and helps secure stakeholder buy-in. Collaborate with team members, managers, and subject matter experts to gather insights and create accurate visualizations.
  • Keep it simple and clear: Ensure that the design of your workflow is simple and easy to understand. Use clear labels, symbols, and colors to represent different steps, dependencies, and statuses. Avoid clutter and unnecessary details that may confuse or overwhelm viewers.
  • Regularly review and update: Workflow visualization is not a one-time activity. Regularly review and update your visualizations to reflect updates to processes, roles, or priority changes. This ensures that your visualizations remain accurate, up-to-date, and relevant to your organization's evolving needs.
  • Communicate and train: Effectively communicate your workflow visualizations to all relevant stakeholders. Provide training and guidance on interpreting and using visualizations to improve workflows. This will promote understanding, adoption, and collaboration among team members.
  • Iterate and improve: Continuously seek feedback and gather data on the effectiveness of your workflow visualizations. Analyze performance metrics, gather insights from team members, and identify areas for further improvement. Iterate your visualizations to ensure they remain effective and aligned with your organization's goals.

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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.