Workflow vs Business Processes: The Pizza Analogy

The history of business processes started with workflow. It wasn’t until many years later that the terms “business process” and “business process management” (BPM) were coined.

The historical link between workflow and business process are why so many think their definitions are interchangeable.

One concept is complex. The other is simple. But both can be broken down by a delicious pizza analogy.

What is a Business Process?

To understand business process fully, we have to talk about businesses.

We know companies rely on team members to complete tasks. The tasks are assigned based on role requirements. The goal is to grow the company using these completed tasks.

Most businesses start small.

In the beginning, it was just you. All functions — product development, packaging, marketing, public relations, scheduling, invoicing, relationship building — were on your shoulders.

Employees were on-boarded when the company became profitable. Tasks were moved from you to your team members.

Afterwards, departments were established: human resources, sales, marketing, finance, and others. Each department is given individual tasks that add value to the company. Such as growth, revenue and profits.

Processes Within Teams

In business process, tasks are not contained to singular departments.

One team may complete a task, then it’s passed along to another department for finalization. For example, the marketing team will bring in a potential customer and then pass them onto the sales team.

The sales team will take these leads and close the sale. Then pass the next step of the task to the finance team.

The finance team handles receipts and invoicing. At this point, the sequence of tasks has ‘ended.’

But business processes aren’t always linear. Sometimes a sales team will not close the deal. The customer will be put back into the sales funnel where the marketing team will watch them.

The sales team may meet them again. But for now, they carry onto the next objective. The task ends here.

Later, that customer may decide to buy a product online, skipping the need for the sales team. They will go directly to the finance team who will send them a digital invoice.

Complex? Definitely. Processes aren’t necessarily black or white. Just as customer demands are not.

Businesses Process are The Pizza Dough

A business process requires flexibility, agility, frequency, consistently, and accuracy to get the job — in the above case, a new sale — completed.

You may find you need an additional sales team. Or to automate the invoice system so teams can work on other goals. Automation reduces delays so customers receive products and services quicker.

In the pizza analogy, business processes are the dough. They are the foundation that allows for tasks to be completed. They bend and shape themselves to become a sturdy, dependable system for the business to survive.

Without the dough, nothing else can be built upon it. And every pizza needs toppings…

Also known as the workflow.

What is Workflow?

The sequence of tasks designed to complete an objective is workflow. Tasks are the focus.

It’s quite simple compared to business processes. We know business processes cross departments. They require the implementation data, technological integration, and other variables.

Workflow is one part of a business process: it’s a stepping stone to finalize a step within the business process.

For example, a marketing team may need to develop content to attract new users. To get these users interested in products, they utilize technology and tap into user needs.

When a user shows interest, the marketing team moves the customer towards the sales team. The task for the marketing team — to take new prospects and turn them into potential buyers — is completed.

The end.

The workflow are the tasks each team must complete to meet their goal.

Workflow are The Toppings

A workplace will hurt if the workflow isn’t productive. But if the business process is broken? That can destroy the company.

In the case of the pizza analogy, workflow are the toppings. They sit upon the dough (the business process).

The ratio can be adjusted, the toppings can be changed to fit the need of the buyer. If they’re removed, the company exists but lacks the means to be a success — or in this case, lacks the means to become a delicious pizza.

Business Process Management: The Cook

A poorly optimized business process causes problems: noncompliance, inaccuracies, inconsistencies, lack of productivity, and slow delivery times to name a few.

Business processes are the foundation behind an organization — it’s the base that holds everything together. And if it falls apart? Everything else goes with it.

Workflow are the toppings sprinkled upon the pizza to make it better.

To ensure it is the best pizza, with a heavenly assortment of finely-tuned toppings, we introduce the cook.

In this case, the cook is business process management (BPM). With BPM, business processes are monitored and simulated, and issues are eradicated to ensure companies achieve more.

This may require upgrading technology to be agile. Or automating repeatable tasks to simplify workflow for reduced delay times.

BPM is the experienced cook with the right tools to ensure everything is baked perfectly (business processes) with the most delectable toppings (workflow) to ensure it’s a hit amongst customers.


This piece originally appeared on Capital BPM’s blog: Here.

For more highlights in business process management & modeling read here.