History is full of missed opportunities that resulted from simple misunderstandings. In 1999 NASA launched the $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter to study the Red Planet. The mission was going fine until the probe disintegrated on entering the Martian atmosphere. The error? Ground control sent instructions in English units, while the probe understood them as metric.
Application development doesn’t always involve such high stakes. But misunderstandings can cost businesses plenty. So, it’s especially important that anyone creating applications – whether development pros or line-of-business users – is always on the same page.
That’s certainly true for no-code application development. No-code is well-suited for automating workflows and streamlining processes. But just what is a workflow? How should professional and citizen developers understand a process? Many people assume that a workflow is just a small process, but there are important distinctions between the two.
Recognizing the differences can be crucial to the success of any no-code project.
Go With the Workflow
Let’s start with workflows. A workflow is a defined set of sequential and repetitive steps that follow a set of rules to accomplish a specific task.
Workflows might be flexible based on circumstances. Think of a passenger train on a track. Depending on commuter needs, the train might stop at a station, skip the next station, switch to a different route, be reconfigured at another station, or continue to a terminal. But it follows a set of rules, and it never leaves the tracks.
In an enterprise, a workflow might be used only by a small team in the finance department, involve a function like HR that touches every employee, or extend across multiple departments like procurement and operations.
Workflows are commonly categorized by type:
A process workflow is repetitive and follows a predictable path. An example is an expense reimbursement request that an employee submits to a manager for approval. Some workflow experts call these “rules-based workflows.”
A project workflow doesn’t always follow the same path. An example is producing marketing content. The path might usually be the same, but different content might involve different steps. It might be possible to automate some but not all of the workflow.
A case workflow also involves path flexibility. An example is a helpdesk support ticket. If the issue is easily resolved, the workflow follows one path. If it’s more challenging, it might follow a different path. Some experts call these “cognitive workflows.”
Trust the Process
If a workflow is a set of steps for a task, a process is the set of tasks necessary to achieve an organizational objective. Put another way, if a workflow is like a train on a track, a process is like the rail system that ties train routes together.
Processes also encode any relevant fields, forms, data, notifications, and rules to complete those tasks. They might also incorporate performance goals like achieving a certain level of speed, accuracy, or customer satisfaction.
For example, a travel and expense process might involve multiple workflows, data elements and rules, including the employee filling out an expense form, the manager approving the expense or making an exception, the finance department reimbursing the employee, plus budget allocations and notifications.
Processes are often categorized as:
Operational or primary
Operational processes play a direct role in company outputs, such as how it earns revenue. It might include creating a product, selling the product, or servicing the product.
Supporting or secondary
Supporting processes enable the internal functions of a company, such as HR and payroll.
Management processes coordinate and enable operational and supporting processes. They include things like strategic planning that empowers employees and optimizes business results.
No-Code for Getting Workflows and Processes Right
Workflow and process automation can optimize portions of a task or complex business activities end-to-end. Automation can speed process steps, reduce human error, and ensure the consistent flow of tasks. It can also eliminate mundane activities and wasted time to let workers focus on more strategic activities.
No-code application development is well-suited to automating and optimizing both workflows and processes. And because no-code app builders empower less technical employees to create their own applications, they can digitize workflows and processes in discrete components. This approach allows for iterative and cost-effective business improvements.
For example, no-code tools can enable users to create simple forms or interfaces that give internal or external stakeholders self-service tools to complete a task. They can also equip users to digitize a portion of a workflow for an incremental improvement or encode an end-to-end workflow for even greater automation.
Departments from HR and finance to marketing, sales and service can enable data capture, notifications, escalations, reporting and more. Customizable templates make building forms and applications with supporting workflows fast and easy. No-code apps can even integrate with existing systems to support broader processes and ensure both efficiency and compliance.
Just as important, no-code tools can empower professional development teams to work faster and more cost-effectively. Developers can use no-code to quickly and easily create robust, secure applications, forms and workflows that underlie enterprise wide processes. That way, they can focus on the more complex aspects of digitizing the end-to-end process.
Understanding the differences between workflows and processes can help your business know where to target improvements to work more efficiently, get products to market faster and serve customers better. With an effective no-code app builder, every employee can be empowered to standardize and accelerate the workflows and processes that drive your business success.