A guide to project management workflow

Tamara Kalaba

Last updated on: February 9, 2023

No matter the size or complexity of your projects, a reliable project management workflow is often essential to their success.   

Today, we’re going to help you learn more about this topic and build an efficient workflow to use with your own projects. 

In this blog post, we will explain:

  • What project management workflow is,
  • Differences between project management and workflow management,
  • Reasons why you should have a project management workflow,
  • The process of making your workflow, and
  • How to fix broken project management workflows.

Let’s begin!

A guide to project management workflow - cover

What is a workflow?

A workflow is everything we have to do — all the tasks and actions we have to take — on our journey from point A (the start of a process) to point B (the end of a process).

The curious thing about workflows is that they are everywhere around us. Without workflows, we wouldn’t be able to achieve much in our lives. Essentially, they are the guidelines we live and work by. 

Most notably, workflows are a major factor in business, where they serve to describe the steps that take our work from initiation to completion. As such, they are an important part of a business work process, with the ultimate goal to improve efficiency.

What is a project management workflow?

Since every project consists of various project activities, a project management workflow would be the order in which we complete them

All the steps we take during that process lead us to a specific goal — a (hopefully successfully) finished project. However, to get there, we have to organize our tasks and activities into a meaningful and, most importantly, efficient sequence.

Does every project have the same workflow? Not necessarily. 

Although you could use the same workflow pattern for most projects, don’t be afraid to customize your workflows to better fit your needs and goals.  

In fact, once you create a project workflow (learn how to do this down below), ask your team for their thoughts on it and keep improving it until it’s perfect. 

The more effort you put into building your project management workflow now, the less of a chance it’ll jeopardize the success of your project later.

Example of a single project workflow in Plaky
Example of a single project workflow in Plaky

Project workflow example — recruitment process

Closing an open role is a type of repeatable workflow in the HR department. We can observe every open role as a different project but use the same pre-established project workflow for all of them.

The recruitment process consists of many tasks, and it can be broken down into a more detailed recruitment workflow:

  1. Identify a need for a specific role and define the ideal candidate.
  2. Establish job requirements and prepare a job description.
  3. Post the job ad to different outlets (websites like LinkedIn, the company’s Careers page, etc.).
  4. Review the job applications and applicant documents such as CVs, resumes, and cover letters.
  5. Assign test assignments or otherwise test the applicants’ abilities.
  6. Review test results.
  7. Schedule interviews with promising candidates.
  8. Accept or reject the candidates.
  9. Send offers.
  10. Schedule a closing interview.

Depending on the company’s policy, this workflow can be shorter or longer. Oftentimes, it’s better to make it as detailed as possible to avoid errors and potential delays.

Instead of going through a checklist each time, you can also rely on workflow management software to help you keep the recruiting process organized. 

For example, with Plaky, you can create your project workflow from scratch and easily define all the steps that make up your project-related activities.

Alternatively, you can use the pre-made recruitment template to organize the whole process. 

Here’s what Plaky’s recruitment template looks like:

Plaky’s recruitment template
Plaky’s recruitment template

💡 Plaky Pro Tip

Besides applying skills and techniques you use in project management to HR projects, you can also rely on HR management software to help manage the many areas of human resources. To learn more about HR project management and the best HR software in 2023, check out these blog posts:

Project management vs. workflow management 

Project management and workflow management are sometimes used interchangeably because of their similarities. However, they are not the same thing. 

Project management vs. workflow management — similarities

Some of the most important similarities workflow and project management share are as follows:

  • We use them to simplify processes that will help us achieve certain outcomes, i.e., goals.
  • Both are suitable for goals of various sizes and complexities. 
  • We use them to improve organization and collaboration within teams and, in general, our businesses.
  • Both workflow and project management can be used simultaneously. In some cases, a single project can be the deliverable of a larger workflow. At the same time, that same project has its own workflow.

Project management vs. workflow management — differences

What sets these two disciplines apart are their differences. These are the most obvious ones:

Workflow management is a more detailed part of project management 

Project management deals with planning, monitoring, and evaluating all the tasks established within a project. Meanwhile, workflow management focuses on optimizing the sequence of tasks that brings us to our final goal — the deliverable.

Workflows are repetitive, whereas projects are not 

Though some projects may be similar, each one will have at least one thing that sets it apart from the others. 

Workflows, however, transcend projects. We see them as cyclical functions within a business. They are the way things are done, over and over again.

Workflow’s progress is sequential, but a project’s doesn’t have to be

A workflow’s progress is most commonly sequential, i.e., each next task depends on the previous one. The same can be said for projects, as we can set up task dependencies within project management phases

However, projects can also have non-consecutive progress by consisting of tasks that don’t have to be triggered to be put into motion.

In short, workflow management handles individual processes, which are often repetitive and used every day within an organization. 

In contrast, project management focuses on planning and optimizing groups of processes (entire projects), which may share some similarities — but are always unique.

What are the 3 basic components of a workflow?

The three basic components of a workflow are:

  • Input,
  • Transformation, and
  • Output.

Input consists of all the resources needed to either complete a step in the workflow process or trigger it.

Transformation is everything that happens once the input is received and all the changes or rather transformations it leads to.

Output is what we get as the result of transformation. It’s the deliverable of a workflow process and can also serve as input for the next step in our workflow.

We could say that every process boils down to these 3 components. 

For example, if an employee wants time off, they have to put in the request first (input). The HR team processes this request, making sure all the regulations are met (transformation). Finally, the process concludes with the employee getting approval for their vacation (output).

Your workflow should also contain information about the following additional components:

  • Actors — team members and the roles they take over during the project’s lifespan,
  • Activities — everything we have to do to complete a single step in the workflow,
  • Results — the outcomes of a completed step or a sequence of steps, and
  • State — the workflow’s status when it is caught between different steps.

Benefits of a project management workflow

Establishing and maintaining a project management workflow comes with many advantages, the most important of which are:

  • Better and more transparent collaboration and communication,
  • Higher level of accountability and productivity, and
  • Reduced risks, mistakes, and redundancies.
  • Less stress and micromanagement.

Benefit #1: Better and more transparent collaboration and communication

One of the main purposes of a project management workflow is efficiency in collaboration and communication

Since it contains all the minute details about project tasks, milestones, and more, the workflow ensures the team is on the same page at all times — and working together.

A good workflow provides us with a better understanding of the whole project. It shows us in detail how it transforms from a simple idea into a product, service, or some other deliverable. 

As a result, it helps us collaborate with our peers more effectively and without delays or confusion. 

Better yet, it allows for a higher level of communication across teams and even departments. For instance, with a detailed project workflow, we would know immediately where to go and who to talk to if we needed any help or had to communicate project changes.

💡 Plaky Pro Tip

Wondering how to improve communication across all your projects? Check out this blog post to find out more about the importance of communication and how to effectively communicate in project management.

Benefit #2: More accountability and productivity

With a well-thought-out project workflow, you remove the guesswork at the task level throughout the course of the project

Every team member is assigned clear project roles and tasks, so there is a higher level of accountability. 

The workflow also serves as a map for everything that needs to be done before the due date. It can even be a reference at any stage of the project.

Apart from helping your team avoid confusion, this accountability directly leads to higher productivity. When everyone knows what they should be doing, it’s easier to get things done within a project deadline — and with more confidence. 

Benefit #3: Reduced risks and redundancies 

Since a project workflow visually shows the project’s lifecycle, it’s useful for spotting different risks and mistakes that could jeopardize the project. 

Naturally, this could influence the overall project costs in the end, and even our future endeavors. Any mistakes made throughout the project could:

  • Delay it, and cost us more money, or
  • Ruin it, and cost us future work.

An expert we reached out to, Randi Mays, a Project Development Manager at Oii.ai, highlights how a project management workflow helps keep the project budget in check:

Randi Mays

“The number one advantage of a project management workflow is making sure a project stays within scope and budget. We all know the challenges and constraints budgets pose, so managing expectations with clients at the beginning will better guide teams on both sides.

Better yet, a good project workflow should also have a positive influence on redundancies, or rather, a lack of them. 

As its implementation ensures everyone knows what to do — and is aware of the scope of their work — there is less of a chance of task overlap and people doing unnecessary work. 

💡 Plaky Pro Tip

What is the purpose of risk management, and how do you implement its practices into a project? Check out this blog post to learn more about this topic.

Benefit #4: Less stress and micromanagement

Finally, a well-crafted project management workflow can also help remove anxiety and stress from project execution. 

Of course, it cannot promise that nobody will ever feel the pressure of having to perform well. 

However, the workflow clearly outlines what needs to be done and guides the team every step of the way. That way, it makes stress a rare occurrence and promotes support and confidence.

Another major factor that contributes to stress in a collaborative environment is micromanagement. But with a detailed workflow and guidelines, there’s no need for it.

Instead of micromanaging, a great project workflow allows project managers to focus their attention on more pertinent issues and put more trust in their teams.

How to create a project management workflow in 5 steps

Now that you know what a project management workflow is and why it matters, let’s see how you could create a workflow for your project.

Step #1: Note every task or job needed to get the project finished

The first step to making the workflow is to list everything you have to do to bring the project to a successful close. Every bit of information here counts, so make your task list as detailed as you want.

At the start, you can just brainstorm and put down every task that pops into your mind. However, remember to analyze the list with your team and index the tasks chronologically

To ensure you don’t miss anything, consider all the deliverables of the project now as well. By knowing what your expected output is, you will have an easier time figuring out which steps will guide you to it.

Step #2: Consider and gather materials and resources

In general, the second step involves gathering everything you will need to ensure the project is a total success. The resources can include both tools and people.

When it comes to tools, you can list here all the devices, software, office supplies, and anything else that will come in handy while working on the project. 

As for the people, consider who would be an ideal addition to the project and how they could contribute.

As you move on to the next step, you will link different roles with different tasks or jobs. While you’re here, though, try to identify any deficiencies in regard to tools and people you may need and obtain them as soon as you can.

Step #3: Distribute tasks and activities among the team

Now it’s time to assign all those tasks you previously listed to the people responsible for them. However, consider here what kind of workflow you’re looking to create.

If you want this project management workflow to be applicable to a variety of similar projects, don’t be too specific here. In other words, don’t assign tasks to specific people but rather specific roles, such as Graphic Designers, Test Automation Engineers, Frontend Developers, etc.

That said, if you want this workflow to work for a one-time project, feel free to assign specific people to different tasks.

Make sure to distribute the work fairly and evenly, though — don’t make one person do more than the others.

Step #4: Create a project management workflow diagram

Drawing a project management workflow diagram is a fantastic way to visually represent everything you need to do for a specific project. 

Most importantly, the diagram shows in which order you have to complete the tasks. Better yet, it can depict how the tasks intertwine, i.e., show the task dependencies, project phases, and milestones.

There are many types of diagrams you can go for, though the most commonly used one is a flowchart. Here’s an example of such a diagram that shows an employee onboarding process:

Example of an employee onboarding process flowchart
Example of an employee onboarding process flowchart

When you’re ready to take your workflow to the next level, bring it to life using project management software. Plaky, for example, comes equipped with all the tools you need to create detailed workflows for any type of project you have in mind. 

Even better, you can use Plaky’s ready-made (but customizable) templates for your projects. Here’s one for employee onboarding:

Plaky’s employee onboarding workflow template
Plaky’s employee onboarding workflow template

💡 Plaky Pro Tip

Are you looking to enhance your employee onboarding program? Here’s a guide on how to improve and streamline the whole process:

Step #5: Test, modify, and deploy the workflow 

Once your project workflow is all done, you can test it before applying it to your project. 

Go through the whole workflow and look for inconsistencies, bottlenecks, and insufficiencies — anything that could jeopardize the project later on.

Try to involve the whole project team in this process, as they may be able to spot some other potential problems that you might have missed. 

Use their feedback to further optimize the workflow before deploying it — and to improve it once the project is already underway.

Bonus step: Automate your workflows whenever possible

Once you’ve established a good workflow, you can also consider automating it. The idea behind automated workflows is to remove as much manual labor as possible.

Automation is especially useful if you’ve noticed that some sequences of tasks keep repeating themselves and could be made simpler or more efficient. 

For example, tracking task status is made easier if you can get automated notifications when the task is approaching its deadline or is overdue. 

This sort of automation removes the need for a team member to let the project manager know about the task status. Instead, it reminds everyone that the project’s progress is stalled by that task — and it should be dealt with promptly.

Is your project management workflow broken?

It’s easy to presume that top-notch workflows are rather painless to establish and maintain. However, that certainly isn’t the case since companies still struggle to overcome some major project management challenges.

According to the PwC’s third global survey on project management, some of the issues that contribute the most to project failure include:

We can link all 3 of these problems to a broken workflow, as a well-thought-out one aims to prevent them. 

Your workload may also need some adjustments if you recognize that:

  • The project was plagued with many roadblocks that just kept popping up,
  • Additional work was needed to meet the constantly changing requirements, and
  • The team felt overwhelmed by the work that kept piling up.

How to fix a broken project management workflow

It is important to keep optimizing your workflow throughout the project’s lifespan and even after it ends if you’re looking to use the same workflow for similar projects.

One of the ways you can ensure your workflow is always up to standard is to use a project management tool such as Plaky. 

According to this Capterra’s report, such tools come with a range of benefits, the most notable ones being:

If there are multiple things wrong with your project management workflow, it’s time to revisit it. As Randi Mays puts it:

Randi Mays

“Whatever the reason, a PM needs to identify the problem so the workflow can be readjusted. Unresolved roadblocks make it impossible for a project to move forward, and you’re left with delayed updates to stakeholders and risk to budget and milestones.”

We recommend following these 4 steps to ensure you don’t miss anything while fixing your broken workflow:

  1. Try to understand your workflow better,
  2. Analyze the faults in your workflow,
  3. Make improvements — and be ruthless,
  4. Maintain and optimize your workflow over time.

Step #1: Try to understand your workflow better

Go through the workflow with your team and consider how well you understand it. Detail all the tasks and activities, how you approach them, what they entail, and how they influence the project.

Remember that your workflow shouldn’t be a mix of impromptu activities. To provide the results you want, it should be a precise framework your whole team can rely on.

Step #2: Analyze the faults in your workflow

Once you know all the minute details about your workflow, assess how well it’s working for you. Are there any shortcomings you’ve failed to notice, or is it haunted by redundancies?

The workflow’s purpose is to improve efficiency and make the work easier, not harder. Therefore, it should be simple enough to understand and use. 

Above all, there shouldn’t be any confusion throughout the workflow — everyone using it should know exactly how it works. 

Step #3: Make improvements — and be ruthless

No matter how attached you are to your workflow, remember that improving it is not a one-off thing. You may have to go through this process a few more times in the future, e.g., if the type of projects you cover changes.

Either way, it’s vital to get used to changes now and go through them as objectively as possible. Whatever doesn’t suit you in the workflow or doesn’t help you manage successful projects — has to go.

Step #4: Maintain and optimize your workflow over time

Finally, you should keep a close eye on your project workflow at all times to ensure you don’t miss any shortcomings. 

As you get important updates about the project, check whether and how they affect your workflow — and if you should optimize it further.

According to Randi Mays, communication is vital for fixing workflow faults:

Randi Mays

“Communication and documentation are keys to fixing a broken workflow. Collaborate with your team, don’t try to do everything on your own. Make it clear that team members need to check in and be transparent about their progress. If they are encountering roadblocks and have not communicated their concerns, the issues could start affecting other areas of the project.”

She also emphasizes the importance of keeping your team motivated throughout the project’s lifespan:

Randi Mays

“Monitor the project’s progress, assess risks and be sure that team members feel motivated. Highlight milestones as they are met, make sure they know their work is acknowledged and appreciated. This will keep the workflow moving forward.”

The easiest way to make sure your project workflow is up to standard is to rely on project management software. With tools like Plaky, you can build a workflow system that truly works for the projects you regularly deal with.

Plaky is equipped with plenty of workflow management functionalities that come in handy in a range of departments, such as marketing, HR, sales, and more. It is a reliable place for handling all the tasks found in the project workflow, as well as for internal communication with your team.

Free project management workflow templates

Since Plaky is free to use, you’re more than welcome to include it in your tools repertoire today. 

If you’re not sure where to start when building your project workflow, you can also use one of Plaky’s free templates. 

Strategy plan template 

Plaky’s strategy plan template
Plaky’s strategy plan template

Plaky can help you take your marketing strategy from just an idea to a fully detailed plan. The strategy plan template is ideal for:

  • Dissecting your strategy into phases and tasks, 
  • Tracking the strategy’s progress, and 
  • Keeping the team in the loop by sharing information in the task cards.

New clients onboarding template 

Plaky’s client onboarding template
Plaky’s client onboarding template

Onboarding new clients is a delicate process, but Plaky’s new clients onboarding template ensures you’ve got all the vital information you need in one spot. This ready-to-use template allows you to: 

  • Centralize your client onboarding workflow, 
  • Follow up on the onboarding progress of different clients throughout the phases, and 
  • Have quick access to any pertinent information about the clients at all times.

Non-profit campaign template

Plaky’s non-profit campaign template
Plaky’s non-profit campaign template

Non-profit campaigns require extensive planning, so Plaky’s non-profit campaign template ought to come in handy. With it, organizations can:

  • Structure their campaigns according to phases and tasks,
  • Assign tasks, set deadlines, and track task statuses,
  • Quickly share campaign information, files, and other data with everyone involved.

You can find more free templates in Plaky’s template center.

Conclusion: A sensible project management workflow is a job half done

A well-made project management workflow can be crucial to the project’s success. Some of its most notable benefits include:

  • Higher levels of productivity and accountability among team members,
  • Less risk, micromanagement, and stress,
  • Fewer redundancies, and
  • Better collaboration and communication throughout the project’s lifespan.

Crafting a project workflow requires precision and focus, so lend yourself plenty of time to focus on it. Build your workflow by following this 5-step guide:

  1. List all the tasks linked to the project in question,
  2. Gather your resources and materials,
  3. Assign tasks and activities,
  4. Create a project management workflow diagram,
  5. Test, optimize, and start using your workflow.

If all this sounds daunting, remember that technology once again has your back. Project management tools, such as Plaky, are equipped with lots of features that can help you build a robust project workflow to achieve the results you desire.

✉️ Have we helped you understand project management workflow better? Do you have some additional questions about this topic? Share your thoughts by contacting us at blogfeedback@plaky.com, and we might include your ideas in this or future posts. If you liked this blog post and found it useful, share it with someone you think would also benefit from it.

Author: TamaraKalaba

Tamara is a project management author and researcher who enjoys sharing her knowledge, tips, and advice on everything you may want to know about project management. Having spent years writing content on a great variety of topics, she recognized how passionate she was about this niche — and decided to pursue it full-time. When she’s not researching project management, she can be found devouring her never-ending TBR list or dabbling in a creative hobby like sewing or crochet.

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