How to Define Business Process Workflow

Auto assembly line with unfinished cars that demonstrates business process workflow

Business process workflow is everywhere. Any business that offers a product or service uses business process. Some do it poorly without defining business process, while others do it well with defined and enforced business process workflow. All businesses are process oriented, and without well defined business process no business can be sustainable.

So, what is business process, and what does it mean when you use it with the word workflow?

Business process is simply defining and enforcing repeatable steps to accomplish work. It’s a function box. When we define a business process we are defining a function. A workflow item is a function input that moves through the process function in order to achieve a result. A business process workflow takes that concept one step further and draws that process function on a chart with boxes and arrows to build a technology based solution to enforce the defined process.

There is no question that business process workflow is important, yet so many businesses struggle with the basic step of accurately defining a particular business process.

We get it. It’s confusing, and unless you have a background in six sigma or lean process, you’re probably not that familiar with process improvement concepts. That is normal. In fact, that’s why we are writing this article. If you can define your process well, then you have a great foundation to build on as you give consideration to the idea of process improvement. Below are some helpful steps for defining a business process workflow well.

Crucial Questions to Define Your Business Process Workflow

The building blocks for great writing are also the building blocks for great business process definition. Who, what, where, when, and why? These questions will ultimately carry you through all the steps of defining a workflow process. To begin defining your process, lets start with the who’s.

The Who of Your Business Process Workflow

What functional groups are going to touch this item as it moves through the business process? The first crucial step to defining a business process well is understanding what roles are involved in the process. Once you gather your people, you can help them understand the business process workflow holistically so as to put everyone on the same page with the same expectation about the end result of all the steps in your process.

The What, Where, and When of Your Business Process Workflow

What does each functional group involved in your process do? Do they build? Do they inspect? Do they approve? Where does their work happen? (inside or outside the network?) These are the steps that form the process. At this point you ought to be able to assemble a logical progression of actions being performed by specific roles that will yield a consistent, timely, and satisfactory result.

Data Matters

What data elements do you need? Armed with the information you have already collected, you should be able to define the data elements that drive decision making within your business process workflow. This will provide the structure for your forms and databases.

While you’re at this point in the definition of your business process workflow, go ahead and define all of your business rules for making decisions. Think in terms of If, Then, Else statements. There should be no undefined business rules. Poorly defined business rules yield poor results, so tighten it up and make everything logical and repeatable.

Securing Your Workflow

What security roles do all of the functional groups involved in your process need to have? Implementing security roles is tricky at best. Everyone wants permissions for everything, but most people don’t need permissions for almost anything. And of course, there is always an over zealous new hire in the IT department that seems to make it their purpose in life to keep people from doing their job efficiently because they have security locked down so tightly.

Our recommendation is to define the roles and responsibilities for the owners of the various steps in your workflow, and let your favorite workflow professionals guide you through the process of setting permissions.

Build Your Workflow

I should take a moment to note that we built our business doing business process workflow consulting and solution implementation using a tool, now owned by Microfocus, called Solutions Business Manager. SBM, as it is affectionately known, is a software suite that allows you to implement user defined business process workflows in your organization. It can be used for Change Management, Operations Process, ITIL Help Desk, HR Organizational Processes, or any number of creative business solutions.

Using SBM, take the process and related information you have collected up to this point and flesh it out into a diagram of states and transitions. Think of states as nouns with owners and transitions as verbs or actions. First, form states by combining the functional groups with the short description of what they do. The what is the state name, and the who is the state owner. Then, tie those states together with transition arrows which are the actions completed within the workflow. This is how the who, what, when, and where come together and then are executed as a business process.


You might have noticed there was one question left unanswered. Why? The answer to this question is because business process workflow removes process variation caused by the human element with the end goal of accomplishing work in a way that is repeatable and efficient. If we can grasp the bigger picture of a holistic business process and help others involved to grasp the same, we are positioning our team for success.

These are the nuts and bolts of defining a business process workflow. If you can give this information to your workflow consultant or developer on staff, they will be able to develop your workflow solution with the same quality and efficiency that you want to achieve with the installation of your new business process workflow solution.

For more information about our business process workflow consulting visit our website, blog home, and be sure to contact us.

Check out this free SBM Resource: 9 SBM Pain Points You Don't Have to Live With

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