Workflow vs process

The primary aim of business process management (BPM) is to improve process. But what exactly is a process — and what’s the difference between process and workflow? It’s important to understand this distinction as you explore BPM solutions and methodologies.

Workflow

Workflow refers to how people act to coordinate a process and make it happen. What tasks must be completed? Who does what — and in what order?

The steps that move work through an organization add up to a workflow. Workflow is about managing relatively straightforward, repeatable tasks and processes. With good workflow management, an organization maintains oversight of processes (such as routing and approvals) and can easily monitor results.

Process

Merriam-Webster defines a process as “a series of actions or operations conducing to an end; especially: a continuous operation or treatment especially in manufacture” or “to subject to or handle through an established usually routine set of procedures.”

In business, a process is a sequence of steps that lead to a result. But in BPM, the word is used broadly to refer to how an entire system is designed and organized so that all its components work together and align with the business’s goals. These components typically include multiple workflows used for different departments, projects, products, and so on.

Know the difference

You may see these related terms used interchangeably. A marketer might find it useful to muddle the concepts to sell you on a solution that’s too complex and expensive for your needs. Also, with today’s technology, automation can be applied both to individual workflows and to process management as a whole.

Here’s a simple way to keep the terminology straight: Workflow is how people work together to get specific jobs done, while process is about how everything in your organization combines toward achieving your business goals.

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