If you work on projects or manage a team that does, you know how quickly a project can start to spiral. Without a proper project management workflow in place, things start to get tricky.
One of the most common threats to a project's success happens when contributors don't have clarity about what needs to happen, who needs to do it, and the order everything should be completed.
This kind of dysfunction has serious cost implications.
For starters, we know that the average company wastes 11.4% of total resources as a result of poor project management. And it’s surely a part of why more than half of businesses regularly go over budget on projects.
Project management workflows help your team avoid this kind of confusion by keeping team collaboration and trust high and helping people complete tasks more efficiently.
We’ve put together a step-by-step guide that shows agency leaders and project managers how to create project management workflows that increase trust, clarity, efficiency, and output.
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Project management workflow: A step-by-step guide
Project management workflow templates for different businesses
Best practices for using project management workflows efficiently
What is a project management workflow?
A project management workflow is a sequence of tasks that need to be completed in order for a team or individual to complete a project, reach a goal, or finish a process step.
It’s a way of breaking down complex processes and projects into smaller steps and then sequencing those steps in a logical order that allows all parties to complete their tasks successfully.
Having good project management workflows in place is key for project managers and leaders who want to see work get done without stoppages, arguments, waiting on dependencies, or confusion about who does what and when.
In other words, if you want your teams to run smoothly and face fewer snags along the path toward project execution, you need to provide project management workflows to those teams.
Step-by-step project management workflow guide
Creating a project management workflow boils down to listing all the steps in a project lifecycle. But if you’ve worked on projects much, you know that this isn’t quite so simple in practice.
Building effective project management workflows is easier when you have the right tools, including a quality project management software solution. There’s a reason why 77% of great teams work better when using project management software to track and organize tasks.
Teamwork is an all-in-one solution that helps you streamline your client work by staying organized in a central location with the features you need to create amazing client experiences. Whether it's time-tracking, billing, communication, or resource planning, we've got you covered.
Step 1: Create a list of jobs to be done
No matter what the scale of the job or process you’re creating a workflow for, you need to start by defining the boundaries. In large-scale projects, this can look like determining all the major steps of a project.
In smaller-scale situations, that work will have already been completed. Once you have a rough framework in place, it’s time to create a list of jobs to be done.
This list should include every task and step (in order) and should leave nothing out. Make sure to include the work that comes before and after the “main'' work, like getting stakeholder approval or doing final post-production checks.
Ideally, you’ll start noting which individuals or departments these jobs and tasks belong to as you create the list. You also want to make sure the tasks are listed in order — though you’ll have plenty of chances to refine this as you go.
Step 2: Identify what tools are needed to execute tasks
Once you’ve created a detailed list of jobs and tasks, it’s time to expand your search. Next, you need to identify the tools and resources that the team needs in order to get the job done.
Consider all types of resources you currently don't have in place (software, templates, files, collateral, etc.). Then make a plan to get your hands on those missing resources.
Step 3: Delegate tasks and establish roles
No project management workflow is complete without assigning tasks and steps to individuals (for one-off workflows) or departments. If you’re designing a reusable workflow, one that will be repeated for similar tasks or iterative steps, you’ll want to leave this general for now — list the department, but not the individual.
Bonus tip: Use pre-made project management templates for this to save you and your team manual work over the long run. Each project team can customize the template and fill in specific resources rather than department names.
Step 4: Test and improve workflow over time
No project management workflow will be perfect the first time around, so consider the first use of every workflow to be a trial run. Keep on testing and refining your workflows, making improvements and adjustments over time.
You can also run a new workflow past the team that will be using it. Most of the time, some of the people on the team have done some of these tasks before and can offer valuable insights.
Even if the workflow is brand new, showing it to a group can help uncover bottlenecks, dependencies, or even logical failures that you didn’t see yourself.
Project management workflow templates for different businesses
We mentioned the idea of templates in the previous section: they can save you project planning time by reusing good elements from a workflow across similar projects.
If you’re not all that sure where to start in building a workflow from scratch, a prebuilt templated workflow can get you started. We’ve built a wide range of templates that work across a range of scenarios and use cases.
These templates are powerful and effective, no matter which project management methodologies you’re using, from kanban boards to Gantt charts and beyond.
Many Teamwork users start with one or more of these templates, which they then customize overtime for their companies, teams, and clients.
Website project plan template
Building new websites is complex, involving all sorts of moving parts, from creative visual elements to the actual words on the page to the complex coding going on behind the scenes. Our website project plan template is perfect for creative agencies and web design firms looking to bring some structure and resource management to their workflows.
Design project management template
Creative agencies face the ever-present struggle of relying on top-tier creative talent while also trying to corral those creative people into measurable, predictable workflows. It’s never easy, but our design project management template can help. Use this template to bring order to the chaos, or customize it based on the way your team is already working.
Marketing plan template
Your marketing team faces unique challenges, with a dozen or more distinct project types, each with its own (very) different workflow. Add to that, your marketing team is probably filled with visionaries and dreamers — people who think big thoughts and don’t always love small details. Our marketing plan template can help your team stay on track during the process of creating and executing a marketing plan.
Invoice tracker template
Do you work with contractors, outside firms, or creative pros? Then you probably deal with invoices — you may even be drowning in them. Get your invoice tracking system back on track (and then keep it that way) with our invoice tracker template.
New employee onboarding template
Nothing is as crucial for setting the tone for newly-onboarded employees, yet the onboarding process tends to get neglected — or worse, left to the discretion of each hiring manager. The result? Some onboarding experiences are great, while others give a poor impression of what your business is like. With our new employee onboarding checklist template, you can systematize your onboarding process to make it consistent across departments.
Benefits of project management workflow
Planning out business processes, goals and milestones using a project management workflow creates numerous benefits for your team and your business. We’ll highlight three here.
Efficient workflows keep processes organized
When you build efficient workflows for your team, you turn a hodgepodge of unconnected individual tasks into something that flows beautifully.
Of course, before you can keep process documentation organized for your team, you have to get a handle on them yourself. Doing this with pen and paper or even with Excel is a real challenge.
Using workflow software or workflow management software can help you keep all project details in a central location, helping you keep processes organized and teams on track.
Project management creates greater project visibility
One consistent challenge with larger and more complex projects is maintaining project visibility. Project visibility can be defined as the ability of any interested party to check in on the status of project deliverables in real-time. It can include checking in on a project timeline, taking a look at a workflow diagram, or several other activities.
The point is that successful projects tend to be visible projects, not opaque ones. Project management and project management workflows work to bring greater visibility to projects, reducing confusion and increasing accountability.
Work is centralized, and everything is managed in one tool
When you build your workflows in a dedicated project management tool like Teamwork, you gain another benefit: centralization. Everyone who needs access to project data can get it — no more juggling spreadsheets or dealing with siloed email chains.
Everything resides in a central project and task management tool, including projects, invoices, and workload. This creates a far more straightforward work environment that lets your people focus on task completion, not on figuring out what they're supposed to work on next.
Best practices for using project management workflows efficiently
If you’re ready to start using project management workflows (or if you’d like to increase your efficiency with them), follow these best practices for maximum effect.
Automate tasks and recurring responsibilities as much as possible
In most non-technical environments, you won’t get into true workflow automation, but you can still automate aspects of your workflows. Even partially automated workflows can drastically reduce the time you spend building and tending to your workflows.
Most projects involve recurring tasks or responsibilities, or tasks that occur in predictable and repetitive patterns. Wherever you can avoid manually retyping or re-entering tasks like these.
The more robust your project management software, the more features you can expect to see around workflow automation. Teamwork's powerful automation engine can help you move more quickly and cut out repetitive work.
Identify broken processes and improve them
Despite your best efforts, the first version of any workflow is bound to have some issues. But often, if you look closer, the issues aren’t the workflow’s fault.
The interesting thing about moving to a workflow-based model is that you’ll almost certainly start revealing problems with existing processes. The processes have always been slightly broken — you just never had enough documentation to identify the problem before.
If you’re encountering issues like poor deadline management or missing project requirements, you’re likely looking at a broken process.
Commit to a philosophy of ongoing improvement. Then, when you encounter problems in your workflows — or your workflows identify problems with the processes themselves — you’ll be in a position to remedy those problems.
Establish expectations and hold stakeholders accountable
Next, make sure you clearly establish expectations surrounding the project and its workflows — and hold your stakeholders accountable to stick to those expectations.
If you’ve been operating in a project management environment for a long time, this point might seem obvious. But it’s especially important if you’re in an organization that hasn’t had formally-established project management principles in place until now.
When stakeholders feel no obligation to stick to a workflow or to critically evaluate a new one that you’re seeking to implement, then they aren’t invested in making it work. Yet when the project comes grinding to a halt, those same stakeholders may look to you for answers about why it’s not working.
Changing the culture of an organization isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort here. Make it clear that all parties are expected to follow newly-established project management workflows.
Or speak up when they see a problem with a workflow. This will help you get on your way toward establishing a better project management culture for your organization.
Enhance your project management workflow with Teamwork
Creating high-quality project management workflows is a proven strategy for reducing chaos and confusion within a project and increasing its odds of success. But even with workflows, keeping track of multiple complex projects (and the multiple workflows within each project) can quickly become overwhelming without the right tools.
Teamwork is an all-in-one project management platform built for agencies and others who deal with client work and billable hours. And it’s perfect for keeping track of both projects and project management workflows, too.
With Teamwork, you’ll keep all your project data in one centralized location. Anyone who needs access can get it, and your information (and workflows) are no longer siloed.