The words “workflow” and “project” tend to be used interchangeably. And while they have a lot in common, they each have unique goals.
Knowing what these things are will help you choose the most efficient system, adopt the right tools, and ultimately help your team succeed.
Now let's dive into workflow management, project management, and everything in between.
What is workflow management?
To understand what workflow management means, we first have to take a closer look at what a workflow is (and what it isn't).
By definition, a workflow is a series of steps that occur between the beginning and end of any task.
Whether these steps are dictated by actions, born out of habit, or made up along the way, workflow is the process of getting things done.
Workflow management, then, is the way we plan, organize, and implement the steps necessary to achieve a goal.
Much like project management, isn't it? While the two have a lot in common, workflow management is all about the sequence in which things happen.
linear progression. Once one step is complete, the next one can begin, and so on. Repetitive processes and routine goals are better served by workflow management because they are repetitive.
As enterprise workflow management creates an infinitely repeatable process, it can be really helpful in automating daily tasks, making teams more efficient, and reducing hurdles.
Day-to-day business operations often rely on team workflow management to perform at the highest and most profitable level.
It should come as no surprise that checklists and daily workflow management go hand in hand.
But the best part is that once the workflow is established, it likely won't be interrupted by employee changes or unexpected absences because most of what needs to be done can be reset or run automatically.
Also, business processes that depend on workflow management can be found in any company regardless of its size, industry, or products/services.
And while these tend to vary in complexity, you may already have some ideas for everyday operations that you can simplify.
Now it's time to take a look at project management.
What is project management?
A project is a carefully designed plan to achieve a goal. Whether carried out by an individual or an entire team, projects tend to involve a series of tasks.
These tasks are often unique to the project goal and can vary greatly from project to project.
However, each task is well defined, monitored, and evaluated every step of the way.
Although the steps may be sequential, as in a workflow, projects tend to have flexible structures complete with an open, concurrent task and space for adjustments or changes and come with constraints in the form of schedules, budgets, and resources.
It's also worth noting that projects tend to be temporary. Once the goal is achieved, the project ends.
Contrary to the cyclical nature of the workflow, every project has a limited lifespan that ends with some kind of handover.
This is where project management comes in. Project management determines the details associated with the completion of the objective.
Even if the project is uncomplicated, management often includes a set of tools, research, and skills that must be implemented.
And since no two projects are alike, managers must work to bring all of these variables together and then organize and communicate an effective plan—all while sticking to time and budget.
Project management is important because it helps keep teams on the same page about big-picture ideas.
In practice, it takes strong leaders with excellent communication and organization skills as well as insight to anticipate and solve problems before they occur.
What is the difference between workflow management and project management?
It's more than just terms. This section will show you all howgement and project management differ, along with some examples to further illustrate this point.
How are workflow management and project management different
- Workflow management is measured by task completion. Project management is measured by time. If you use workflow management, you know that the task will be done eventually, even if it is an urgent task. But if you use project management, your assignment will likely have a strict, non-negotiable deadline which, if you miss, could negatively affect the outcome. For example, a social media workflow may begin and end with posting on Facebook, but a social media project will consider how posts across all platforms work together to achieve a common goal.
- Steady workflow management. Project management has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Projects are a series of a specific set of tasks that are unique to the objectives of that one-time assignment. Once that is complete, so is your project. But since workflow management is all about completing repetitive tasks, each new trigger continues the cycle. You can finish a certain task, but the workflow you used to do will always stay the same and can be repeated an unlimited number of times.
- Workflow management is used by long-range teams. Project management is used by temporary teams. The workflow of receiving email in your office is static because your email is static, so no personnel changes are required. But once the project is over, the team can fall apart.
- Workflow management is often straightforward. Project management is complex and multi-layered. If you are hiring new employees, your workflow may include posting to the job board, reviewing applications, and scheduling interviews. However, it starts to become legitimate when additional steps such as skills tests, new workflow management training, and specialized certifications are required.
- Workflow management focuses on connecting a series of tasks. Project management focuses on planning, monitoring, and evaluating the success of those tasks. The customer service order workflow requires employees to first obtain the details related to the order. Then, they can proceed with solutions. Once this is complete, they can send a message to the customer telling them to do so. A customer service request project might take this information, evaluate its effectiveness, and monitor how the workflow supports or does not support larger customer experience goals.
- Advance sequential workflow management. Project management progress is not sequential. For an employee PTO application workflow, you must first receive an application before you can review it. On the other hand, projects include tasks that are not necessarily dependent on triggering events.
- The results of workflow management are measured by their completeness. Project management outcomes are measured by their quality. A blog post-production workflow may include sourcing keywords, coming up with a topic, and drafting the article. Your blog post-production project may include a comprehensive approach to fitting this piece into your most recent content calendar.
How are workflow management and project management similar
Now that we've cleared that up, let's go back to all the ways these strategies are similar.
- Both workflow management and project management can be used to complete simple or complex objectives. An employee can be turned into a workflow just like crafting a tweet can be turned into a project.
- Workflow management and project management can both be used to achieve small or large-scale goals. The annual tax receipt filing workflow can take two months to complete, similar to how an annual tax return project can be completed in one day.
- Both workflow management and project management can facilitate better collaboration. Both require your employees to communicate goals and work together to achieve them. Whether it's crafting an event guest survey or planning an entire brand activation, both activities rely on teamwork.
- Workflow management and project management can both streamline and simplify operations. It's easy to be on the same page when you have a written or visual reference to everything that needs to happen to achieve your goal.
- Workflow management and project management can be used simultaneously to increase productivity. You can use workflows within projects. For example, your agreement may need sponsors. Viewing these sponsors can be virtually transformed into a step-by-step iterable workflow.
Workflow management and project management go together like peanut butter and jelly
Because these two concepts get mixed up so much, managers often reach for the wrong project or workflow management software and applications to get the job done.
And while you now fully understand the difference between workflow management and project management, you can take advantage of tools like Wrike, which help to complete both simultaneously without missing a beat.
Being able to create workflow management and monitoring system, track project updates, improve team communication, and plan any process or task imaginable in one easy-to-use visual platform is beneficial to any successful project manager.
Final Thoughts: Project Management Process and Workflow
You can think of workflow management as "what" - what should happen and in what order it should happen.
On the other hand, project management is the 'how' - how it will be planned, how it will be monitored, and how it will be implemented.
But at the end of the day, these two distinct and effective processes are better together—especially when you use tools like Wrike to make it easier.