workflow definition

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: How do SharePoint's BPM benefits measure up?
Contributor(s): Tang Wulong

Workflow is the series of activities that are necessary to complete a task.

Each step in a workflow has a specific step before it and a specific step after it, with the exception of the first step. In a linear workflow, the first step is usually initiated by an outside event. If the workflow has a loop structure, however, the first step is initiated by the completion of the last step.

Flowcharts and process maps are useful tools for visualizing the number and order of steps in a workflow. Flowcharts use simple geometric symbols and arrows to define if/then relationships. Process maps look somewhat similar, but they may also include support information, documenting the resources that each step in a business process requires.

Workflow can be automated with software tools that use business rules to decide when one step has been completed successfully and the next step can begin. Some workflow management software (WMS) programs can also coordinate dependent relationships between individual steps, a concept known as workflow orchestration. Workflow documentation and business process modeling are important aspects of business process management (BPM).

This was first published in October 2014

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