Tips for Setting up a Project Workflow & Common Pitfalls to Avoid

Posted on May 8, 2019 - By Martina Bretous

For a long time, project managers designed project workflows in an informal way. There wasn’t a set structure for organizing projects and each manager often used his or her preferred method. Now, things are changing. More companies are implementing project workflows that are standardized across their organizations, in an effort to optimize results and streamline communication. Cross-functional teams rely heavily on workflows to gauge progress and identify issues.

However, setting up a project workflow can get complex very quickly. Companies often face problems when deciding how to prioritize tasks and keep everyone on the same page. This is where technology comes into play. There are numerous resources available to companies to assist in building efficient project workflows. It’s just a matter of finding the one that meets your company’s needs. Above all, a project workflow should be a resource, not a source of confusion.

Build an Agile Workflow

Squads, chapters and tribes are all terms to describe the same thing: a group of people, each with a specific set of skills, who team up to complete a project. Instead of delivering a big project at the very end, teams release their progress in smaller intervals for a higher quality result. This type of structure is known as an agile workflow, which is a project management methodology meant to improve team collaboration and improve efficiency. Agile development helps teams optimize their results and remain flexible in evolving markets. When building a workflow, you want to keep it simple with a few components:

  • Team
  • Goal
  • Tasks
  • Status
    • Work has not been started
    • Work in in progress
    • Work is in the review stage
    • Work is done

Depending on the industry and the project, the workflow states may vary. For instance, a news publishing company may have a workflow focusing on content with four states: research, write, edit and publish. Too often, companies overcomplicate their workflow, leading to more confusion and less results. A simple and straightforward approach often works best. It’s important to make sure all teams follow the same workflow, as it can quickly become a headache to track the project when each team uses a different process.

Using an agile workflow also means being flexible and making changes along the way. You may find that as the project develops, certain issues are affecting the team’s efficiency or requiring more time than others. This requires a willingness to go back to the drawing board and assessing what needs to change to meet your goal. From there, you can make changes to accurately reflect the project’s status.

Avoid Inaccurate Timelines

Project workflows typically have a set timeline, meant to ensure that the team remains on schedule. A big pitfall that project leaders face is setting unrealistic timelines. Often, this is a result of a lack of historical data. If a team does not have previous data to inform their current project, they may underestimate the work. Then, they overextend themselves to meet the demands of stakeholders.

To build an accurate project timeline, the first step is defining the goal. When several teams and/or departments are working on one project, each may define their goal differently. Setting a common goal helps everyone build from the same vision. The second step is creating priorities and building milestones around them. This helps coordinate tasks to ensure that all the moving parts align with the set objectives.

The next step is where it can get tricky: deciding on a timeframe. In this phase, it’s critical that project leaders involve the team. Together, they can break down each task and estimate how long it will take to complete based on previous ventures. Visualizing the roadmap is the last phase in building a project timeline. It’s a great way to bridge any gap in information and guarantee that everyone is on the same page, as it relates to milestones, tasks and priority deadlines.

Use Project Management Software

When companies have several departments working on a project, miscommunication and redundancies are a potential side effect. Cross-functional teams are proving to be more productive in accomplishing tasks, as they communicate more efficiently. Although having regular meetings is a great place to start, it shouldn’t stop there. Companies now have access to numerous online tools to streamline communication and project management within their organization.

Websites like and Jira are project management software that helps companies distribute tasks, track progress and complete projects much quicker than before. These sites are intuitive, implementing agile methodology to promote communication and efficiency. While features vary from one software to the next, the most common ones are:

  • Private and shared workspaces or boards
  • Project tracking
  • Detailed reports
  • Customizable workflows

To decide which site is best for you, consider your company’s upcoming projects and objectives. You will also want to identify areas of improvement. Are your departments struggling to meet project deadlines? Is communication inefficient? Once you identity these issues, you can select the features that will foster collaboration and improve efficiency within your organization.

Notify Other Members of the Organization

Concordance between departments and throughout the organization is part of what makes a workflow a critical aspect of any project development. With this in mind, it’s important that the workflow is available to employees beyond those who are directly working on it. During this process, project managers should decide what information would be valuable to other members. This may include:

  • Completed work
  • Work in progress
  • Average time to complete each task
  • Issues to address