How to Analyze Workflows to Increase Efficiency

By Joe Weller | May 14, 2022

Workflow analysis is crucial to ensure that your organization operates at maximum efficiency. In this guide, experts give advice on how to analyze workflows in any work environment.

Included on this page, you’ll find steps to analyze your workflows, examples of workflow analysis and corrections, and special considerations for creating and analyzing workflows in a remote environment.

What Is Workflow Analysis?

The term workflow analysis refers to the examination and optimization of project management workflows. Companies use workflow analysis to identify errors in their strategies and highlight out-of-date, inefficient, or wasteful processes.

Steve Anevski

“Workflow analysis has helped me observe and improve the efficiency of my entire team,” says Steve Anevski, CEO and co-founder of Upshift. “This analysis has allowed me to engage with my employees more effectively and make informed decisions.”

When Is Workflow Analysis Appropriate?

Workflow Analysis Decision Tree

Workflow analysis is important any time your project hits a bottleneck or when you are wasting time on redundant tasks. You may also find it helpful to audit your workflows on a regular basis before these inefficiencies occur.

Workflow analysis can help teams identify the cause(s) of long wait times for deliverables between departments or why certain teams spend so much longer than others on the same tasks. If you have recently changed the use of any software or upgraded any hardware, you may find that your existing methods are now out of date. If you bring on a new manager or create a new team, you may want to examine existing workflows and account for any personnel changes. Any time you find an error in a business process, you may want to examine your workflows.

“It's definitely a best practice to analyze workflows on a regular basis,” says Devon Fata, the CEO of Pixoul. “But it is also necessary when making a major transition, such as to a remote workforce, or if you notice efficiency issues outside of regular analysis.”

Elements of Workflow Analysis

Workflow analysis requires a few key elements to succeed. First, identify the workflows in question, and collect data about them. Remain unbiased. Note the time needed for completion, completion percentage, and operation cost of each step.

  • Map Out the Steps: Make a list of each step needed to complete your workflow from start to finish. Consider creating a visual, branching decision tree to more easily visualize the process.
  • Estimate the Time Needed to Complete Each Step: Assess how much time you need to complete the task, and compare that to how long each task actually takes. If this information is not available, it may be a good idea to start recording it in the future.
  • Determine the Cost of Each Step: Add up the cost of each process step, including materials and labor. Is the cost abnormally high for the value of the task? 
  • Eliminate Redundancies: Remove any step of the process that does not move you closer toward your goal or that repeats the efforts of any other step unnecessarily.
  • Streamline the Workflow: If possible, automate parts of the workflow. For more information about workflow automation, read our guide to digitizing workflow.

Steps in Workflow Analysis

Workflow Analysis Steps

There are five steps to analyzing workflows. First, identify the workflows in question, and then collect data about them. Next, examine that data, and then make changes to problem areas. Finally, create a schedule to manage and adjust these workflows as needed.

1. Identify Workflows that Need to Be Analyzed

Create a schedule to analyze each of your workflows on a regular basis. If you are analyzing workflows for the first time, separate them by team or department and examine them methodically. 

“If some aspects of your workflows feel inefficient, they probably are, and that's a great place to start,” says Fata. “Especially early on, there are opportunities to go after low-hanging fruit by following your intuition. As you make these easy changes, you'll also practice the skills you will need to identify more hard-to-find efficiencies.”

2. Collect and Organize Data About Each Workflow

Gather and organize the data surrounding your workflows. Use saved reports, software logs, emails, and anything else you need to gain a thorough understanding of the historical use of workflows in your business. If you cannot find information that you need, make a note to create logs of that information going forward. 

For each workflow, do the following: 

  • Identify the task that the workflow is meant to accomplish, and verify that it meets its goal.
  • Determine the time each step should take to complete, and use past data to determine how long each step actually takes.
  • Take a look at the completion rate of each task and the workflow as a whole. Take note of steps that are difficult or impossible to complete.
  • Outline each step in the workflow from start to end.
  • Collect any reports and take a look at where they are stored. Note the naming structure of files and folders and the organization of drives.

3. Analyze the Data

Use the data you have collected to draw conclusions about the current status of each workflow. Identify things that are working well and areas where you can make improvements. 

“Make a workflow report of your team and different processes across the board. Once the report is complete, use statistical methods to determine which ones are performing at their optimal level. For the ones that aren’t performing well, figure out a way to either improve or eliminate them,” suggests Anevski. 

Ask yourself the following questions about each of your workflows:

  • Does each step make sense? Could a new hire complete them with minimal training? Look at each step as an outsider seeing it for the first time, and make sure that step is clearly written and easy to follow.
  • Are you spending a reasonable amount of time on each step? Note any steps that take a long time to complete or regularly come in past their deadline. Examine whether the problem is with the workflow or with the deadline.
  • Are any processes redundant? Identify why each step is necessary. You may find steps that can be reduced or eliminated altogether.
  • Do we need all of the data we are making people report? Often, companies require reports that supply information available in other places. Ensure that your employees are not wasting their time creating reports that no one references.
  • Is the information easy to find? Take a look at where you store reports and identify inefficiencies in naming conventions and record locations. Make a note of the information you would have liked to access for your workflow analysis, and ensure that you are recording and storing it in an accessible place.
  • Are there any obvious errors or outdated steps? As you change software or mix up your teams, you may find that sometimes steps, and even entire workflows, become redundant. Ensure that your workflows are up to date with the latest software and company procedures.

4. Make Any Needed Changes

As you find items that need to be changed, make those changes. Consult with your teams about steps and workflows that should be revised, and ask them how to do it. You may need to add, change, or eliminate some steps completely. As your workflows evolve, the analysis process will become simpler. 

“We have a philosophy of Kaizen, which is one of continuous improvement,” says Steven Bowman, CEO of A Line at the Door. “We are constantly looking for feedback from our teams and clients on ways to improve. Our workflows are no different.”

Expanding deadlines that are commonly missed, printing or copying material in larger batches instead of many times throughout a project, or using email templates or automating the writing of meeting invitations are all examples of ways that you can improve upon common workflows.

Learn more in our comprehensive guide to the Kaizen methodology and our guide to implementing continuous improvement.

5. Manage and Adjust as Needed

Create a schedule to check in on your workflows. As your business needs change, your workflows may become less efficient or out of date. It is best to look over workflows regularly so that you can catch needed changes before they create problems. 

“It helps to analyze your workflows regularly throughout the year. As workflow technology improves over time, so can the processes. Look at your workflows with a critical eye in each quarter to help to make informed decisions for the future,” suggests Anevski.

How Does Workflow Analysis Help Your Organization?

Regular workflow analysis can help your organization use its time more wisely, save money, and improve the morale of its employees. We’ve outlined some of the major benefits below:

  • Catch Redundant Processes: Regular workflow analysis can help you identify and address duplicate or outdated processes. Streamlining or eliminating these processes can have a major positive impact on your day-to-day operations.
  • Reduce Time Wasted: More efficient workflows mean your employees’ time is more productive. This results in more time spent on achieving your goals.
  • Save Money: More efficient employees means fewer labor-hours spent on the same tasks. More efficient workflows can also lead to money savings on office supplies, such as paper and printer ink.
    Abe Breuer
    “You may readily discover phases that can be automated or made paperless by looking at each part of a work process and observing everything from beginning to end. You'll end up with more efficiency and more profit after applying the modifications discovered through analysis,” explains Abe Breuer, the CEO of VIP to Go.
  • Improve Morale: Employees want to feel like their time has value. Morale improves when people can be productive and check tasks off their lists. “The data we gather from workflow analysis helps me make informed decisions, which leads to more meaningful tasks assigned to employees. Productivity helps keep everyone engaged, and they are then able to add even greater value to the team,” says Anevski.
  • Improved Overall Efficiency: All of the previous benefits add to increased overall efficiency for your teams and your business. As you establish best workflow practices, it will become even easier to analyze and maximize your workflow’s efficiency in the future.

Best Practices of Workflow Analysis

Workflow analysis is a critical process. From building on your own foundations to staying neutral and involving your team, we’ve rounded up some expert tips for maintaining best practices below.

  • Build on What You Already Have: Most businesses have workflows in place, even if they don’t document them officially. When analyzing and updating your workflows, build upon the working processes you already have.

    “Just because there is a problem with a workflow, it doesn't mean you have to start from scratch,” explains Bowman. “Break down your workflows into digestible segments, and then analyze the segments. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
  • Remain Neutral: Change can be difficult, especially if you were involved in creating a workflow that is no longer as optimized as it once was.

    “It can be tough to persuade individuals to do new things, especially when it requires them to change their current behavior,” notes Breuer. It is important to leave emotion and bias out of the equation when analyzing your workflows. If your analysis team has trouble staying neutral, it may be worth hiring a third-party consultant to help you through the process.
  • Use Software Solutions: Many software tools exist to assist with workflow analysis. Consider the use of a workflow engine to keep your operation running smoothly.
  • Make It Visual:

    Complicated workflows can be much easier to conceptualize when made visual. Chelsea Cohen, the Co-Founder of SoStocked, explains how her organization utilizes visual workflow strategies: “We start with a Kanban system. Kanban is one of the most straightforward methods for workflow analysis because it simplifies your entire project into a visual board. You can categorize major tasks into separate columns and have team members sign off in real time when they fulfill responsibilities. This makes it easier to identify points where your workflow starts lagging, so you can address them more rapidly.”

    Learn more about how to set up a Kanban board.
  • Track Time and Cost: The ultimate goal of workflow analysis is to save a company time and money, so make sure that you track the labor cost and average time taken to complete your workflows. With this data, you can track improvements, identify slowdowns, and address them before they become issues.
  • Analyze on a Schedule: Set aside time to look over your workflows. You may find that spending a few hours a month doing basic analysis can save you many more hours in the future. “There isn't a perfect time to perform workflow analysis. The early bird catches the worm. And regular process reviews help identify problems before they cost you time and money,” says Cohen.
  • Consult with the Team: Get input from the people using your workflows. “If you really want to figure out what's wrong with your workflow, acquire feedback from real users,” suggests Breuer. Everyday users will know better than anyone else if your segments are outdated or inefficient.
  • Make Changes: Don’t simply collect the data — fix the errors. Once you have identified inefficiencies, make the necessary changes to minimize or eliminate them. The goal of workflow analysis is more than just data collection: It’s about using that data to drive meaningful change.

Examples of Workflow Analysis and Correction

Wondering what corrective workflow analysis looks like in the real world? We’ve collected a few examples of common workflow issues and how to correct them with timely analysis below:

  • Labor Allocation Inefficiencies: Many businesses start small and expand quickly, which can result in issues that become magnified exponentially as the company grows. Consider a small business that started with six employees, all of whom document their time on paper timecards. A manager collects the cards and inputs the paper records into a spreadsheet. The manager sends the spreadsheet to an accountant, who determines taxes and paychecks for all employees and then generates and distributes paper checks.

    Five years later, this same company employs 35 people, but still uses manual time-tracking and accounting workflows. The employees each spend the same amount of time tracking their hours worked, but the higher-paid accountant and manager now spend a considerable portion of their day completing tasks that could be easily automated by software.

    Solution: When a company is small, the costs of time-saving software can seem prohibitive. By implementing time-tracking punch clocks and payroll software to improve these workflows, this company would save thousands of labor hours and dollars normally spent processing payroll.
  • Office Design: Even the layout and equipment of your office can lead to wasted time and money. Consider an office set up for dozens of employees with access to a single printing station. Workflows that include printing documents will take more time to complete for employees seated in rooms or floors farther away from the printers. More employees using each printer can cause backups in wait times and cost more in printer maintenance. Similarly, a budget inkjet printer that was purchased when the company was new cannot perform at the same efficiency as a laser model purchased with higher usage in mind.

    Solution: One way to maximize the efficiency of your workflows is to improve the efficiency of the physical movement of your employees around the office. Make sure that office supplies and print stations are located as centrally as possible or, ideally, spread multiple stations and stockpiles around the office. Ensure that equipment is well maintained and up to date; spending money on maintenance and upgrades will save costs on emergency repairs in the long run. You may also find that eliminating the need to print many kinds of documents, and instead displaying reports in a dashboard or storing them in an accessible cloud drive, streamlines workflows exponentially.
  • Nonessential Reporting: When introducing new workflow processes, many companies also tend to create new reporting methods. Imagine a retail company that opens a second location. Since high-level managers cannot be in two places at once, they implement a daily status report workflow for employees to stay up to date on essential store happenings.

    As time goes on and the company opens more locations, the managers find that most days are routine and uneventful. Managers stop reading reports daily because they take time to comb through and contain little useful information. As more stores open, more employees spend more of their time writing daily reports that are rarely read. When an incident does occur, managers may even need to spend time wading through folders of reports to find out exactly what happened.

    Solution: Improve these workflows by checking in on them as the company grows. With each new store, the company should consider what kind of data is actually useful to collect. Reports can be reduced in scope or frequency, or restructured to exclude irrelevant sections. You may also consider establishing a system of only reporting situational outliers to be easier to identify and make more of an impact.

How to Use Workflow Analysis to Improve Your Efficiency

Workflow analysis provides insight into your company’s operations that can help you save money, improve employee morale, and operate more efficiently. Analyzing your workflows regularly is the best way to inform changes to day-to-day processes and ensure they run smoothly.

Bowman explains how implementing workflow analysis helped save his company time: “Workflow analysis was critical in helping us operate more efficiently because it showed us where the bottlenecks existed and precisely how backward our workflow was. We built our workflows to catch exceptions. Each step was essentially a disqualifier to catch when things were not perfect. Only eight percent of our attempts caused a problem, but we sent them through our problem-solving workflow every time. By analyzing our workflow, we realized that this method was wasting a lot of resources. We then created a workflow wherein instances were treated as successful until they hit a tripwire, and we dealt with them accordingly. Far fewer eyeballs were needed for far fewer instances, which greatly improved our efficiency.”

Regular workflow analysis is critical for catching small inefficiencies before they become larger and more complicated. Workflow issues can build up over time and catch up with you before you realize if you don’t take the time to be proactive. The best defense is a good offense — identify and address workflow issues as early as possible.

Special Considerations for Applying Workflows to Remote Work Environments

Workflow analysis is critical for all businesses, but there are special considerations when transitioning to remote work. We’ve outlined some of the best expert advice from adapting new communication styles to changing your approach to creating workflows.

  • Change Your Mindset: Workflow analysis for a remote environment should not be a stopgap for a return to the office. Start thinking about efficiency in general, and incorporate workflows that make sense for both environments.

    “Workflow analysis has been essential in our transition to remote work,” says Fata. “Many of our processes were transplanted from an in-office environment without really thinking about it. Workflow analysis has helped us transform from a company that is doing remote work to a remote work-oriented company.”
  • Embrace Asynchronous Communication: Remote work offers flexibility in communication, especially when collaborating with people from different time zones. Embrace the use of asynchronous communication, and consider setting deadlines and reminders based on dates instead of the time of day.

    “Communication was made much simpler when we shifted to remote work. We transitioned to asynchronous communication, which helped free up more time in our workday. Employees don’t have to wait for their managers to leave a meeting and can just leave a memo detailing any important message,” explains Christiaan Huynen, the Founder of DesignBro.
  • Apply Processes to Larger Groups: The onboarding process became much simpler in a remote environment for many companies. Onboarding groups can be much larger and interdepartmental. A single HR employee can lead a group video meeting of dozens of new employees. New hires can navigate training and fill out needed forms at their own pace, and these documents can be submitted and approved easily, which saves time for the new employees and HR.

    “The process of onboarding and training new hires has become much simpler through a remote working model. The process has been automated, which allows the HR professionals to focus more on strategic assignments. The conventional process has seen a disruption through the use of different onboarding tools,” says Anevski. “I’m not sure we’ll ever go back.”
  • Consider Accountability: Some things become more difficult in a remote environment, such as ensuring employees are putting in the hours. You may need to create new processes to maintain accountability in time tracking.“Employees' working hours were an issue that was tough for our organization to tackle,” Anevski shares. “Oftentimes, we noticed that employees worked overtime on paper, but made no progress on the respective project in reality. They pretended to work late hours on projects to get a few extra hours of sleep in the morning.”
  • Utilize Software: Many tasks that used to be quick verbal checks can be made into quick radio button checks. Paul Sherman, Chief Marketing Officer of Olive, explains how they made an easy transition. “We used to confirm assignments and projects verbally when we were in the office — a quick phone call to a colleague or just walking over to their office to get the verbal ‘OK.’ We don’t do that anymore. When we reach a milestone in a project, we simply mark this in our project management software and the relevant parties get a notification about it. It’s a subtle change, but a useful one.”
  • Consider Technical Aptitude: When creating new workflows in a remote environment, it is especially important to consider the technical aptitude of your staff. Spend time training them on the software you use, and remember that your less tech-savvy employees might need a little longer to pick up the lessons.

    “You need to take into account how tech-literate your workforce is when changing workflows for remote work. Naturally, remote work workflows contain far more software programs than if you’re in the office, which means that everyone needs to be on the same page about how to use them. Schedule half a day, or even an entire day, to train your team on how to use these tools,” recommends Sherman. “Believe me, it’ll save you so much time and energy down the road.”
  • Maintain Flexibility: Let your employees have some say in their individual workflows, and trust them to come up with a schedule that works for them as well as the business.

    Teresha Aird, the Co-Founder of, describes how her company and employees approached a remote transition: “It was clear from the outset that providing the option for remote work would result in some employees initially struggling to balance work commitments with family or other distractions at home. However, we believed these early struggles would quickly be amended as employees and teams figured out their ideal remote workflows and adopted new habits to maintain productivity. This proved to be true, as many employees reported having to experiment with their workflows in order to determine the best order to complete their tasks in a remote setting. Many employees also slightly changed their schedules when going remote by taking an earlier or a later lunch break and starting slightly early due to the lack of a commute.”

Benefits of Workflow Analysis

The benefits of workflow analysis arise in both the short and long term. From increasing productivity to saving money and retaining employees, we’ve outlined the major advantages below:

  • Maintain a More Efficient Workplace: Regular workflow analysis can help establish a culture of efficiency. By regularly revisiting and revising workflows when necessary, a staff becomes used to adopting new practices that benefit the organization.
  • Streamline Workflows as Processes Evolve: As a company grows, so must its processes. You don’t need to break down workflows in order to improve upon them — many times small changes in technology or staffing require adjustments to workflows as well.
  • Improved Productivity: Streamlining workflows leads to less wasted time. The more efficient your workflows, the more time your staff will have to be productive.
  • Save Money: The less time you spend paying your staff to complete redundant or inefficient workflows, the more money you save. You can often save money in the long run by updating software and equipment used in everyday workflows as well.
  • Increased Employee Retention: Employees who feel like their contributions are important are more content and more likely to believe that the company values their time. Employees tend to stay longer with a company that makes them happy than at one where morale is low.

Workflow Analysis vs. Project Management

Project management is concerned with seeing a project through to its conclusion successfully. Workflow analysis aids in this process by ensuring that the team takes the most efficient route on every step to project completion.

A successful project manager can help identify inefficient workflows and make suggestions and changes where possible. Inefficient workflows can be difficult to pinpoint for people who do not work with them every day, so project managers must keep an eye out for processes that can be improved. This active approach to workflow analysis can help the entire organization with incremental positive change.

How to Choose the Right Workflow Analysis Tool for Your Organization

Choosing the right software tool for your business is an exercise in weighing your needs against available offerings. We asked the experts for their thoughts on some important considerations, from integrating with existing systems to automating common tasks.

“Our business philosophy is people, process, and technology — in that order,” Bowman explains. “Workflows, which are essentially your processes, are critical components. But even if you have the best people and the most up-to-date technology, your business can still fail with a faulty process or workflow. With the right people and the right, smooth-running workflows, applying the right technology can greatly simplify your workday. With the right people and workflows, technology can allow your business to scale.”

  • Ease of Use: Choose a workflow analysis tool that is easy to learn. Make sure that the tool you choose also provides good access to technical support.

    “As workflows are a critical part of your business processes, the software that manages them must be easy to use. This includes the user interface (UI/UX), support for multiple platforms (Windows/Mac), devices (desktop vs. mobile), and don't forget easy access to support, because we all need software support from time to time,” suggests Bowman.
  • Low Code vs. No Code: Consider the aptitude of your team and their ability to code their own workflows. Many modern solutions include no-code technology that creates workflows using built-in templates that are much more accessible for the average user.

    “Not everyone has the technical expertise in your team to manage a complicated workflow,” says Anevski. “Analysis tools should be user-friendly so that everyone in your team can be part of the process. It should be as simple as A-B-C.”
  • Historical Changes: Consider a product that helps save and track your historical usage data. Compare your current and previous workflows to see how far you’ve come.

    “The feature I look for is always tracking historical performance, especially if you can break it down month by month or by day of the week or time of day. This can help you to gauge your improvement against your past performance, as well as identify efficiency cycles — ways that your workflow changes over the year or over the course of a week,” Fata suggests.
  • Cost: Choose the best workflow analysis system that you can afford. Don’t forget to weigh the cost-saving opportunities that increased efficiency might present.
  • Extensibility: Choose a system that can grow and change along with your company. It should also be dynamic and customizable to ensure that you can use it in many kinds of situations.

    “The extensibility factor will allow you to adapt, change, and grow without needing to change software packages or platforms,” explains Bowman.
  • Automation: Automating your workflows saves you time and money in the long run, so consider a platform that supports it. “Automation of the workflow can help you reach the peak of productivity. Your reporting system should allow you to manage every step involved up to the completion of the process,” says Anevski.
  • App Integration: Your workflow analysis tool should integrate well with the programs you already use. Many workflow engines offer support for popular group chat and cloud storage programs. Breuer explains that while integration used to be a “nice to have” feature, most organizations now consider it a requirement. Workflows do not work independently from one another, so it is important that everything flows seamlessly.
  • Access Based on Roles: Many workflow tools allow access to view or edit workflows based on the role of a user. Consider using these systems to empower your managers to create and manage their own workflows for their teams, and designate who can view and change them. Breuer suggests that teams use tiered access with their workflow management system to control what each user sees to preserve the security of sensitive information.

How Smartsheet Assists Work Analysis and Helps Improve Workflows

Empower your people to go above and beyond with a flexible platform designed to match the needs of your team — and adapt as those needs change. 

The Smartsheet platform makes it easy to plan, capture, manage, and report on work from anywhere, helping your team be more effective and get more done. Report on key metrics and get real-time visibility into work as it happens with roll-up reports, dashboards, and automated workflows built to keep your team connected and informed. 

When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time. Try Smartsheet for free, today.



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