Project Management Guide
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Why Should I Use Custom Workflows in Project Management Software?

Workflows are defined sequences that project tasks follow as they progress from initiation to completion. Most project management solutions come with one or more standard workflows, such as the following:

  • Not Started
  • In Progress
  • In Review
  • Completed

Some standard workflows may also offer additional options such as “Deferred” and “Canceled.” Unfortunately, with basic solutions, these standard workflows can’t be edited or modified. If they don’t align with your organization’s processes, you cannot change them.

Project management software with custom workflows enables you to create your own sequences and status groupings so you can match them to the established processes and workflows of your company.

Why custom workflows are important

The ability to define custom workflows is a powerful yet simple project management software feature that enables your system to meet your team's unique processes.

It’s important to look for a tool that allows you to create workflow statuses that can map directly to each of your process stages.

Imagine if your chosen system only provided the following four stage options:

  • To be Completed
  • In Progress
  • In Revisions
  • In Review

What stage will you classify a task under if it’s in testing? Is this “In Revisions” or “In Review”? What if you want the design stage separate from the production stage, but your only option is “In Progress”

You can see how this lack of customization can lead to miscommunication, confusion, and inaccurate reporting of progress. Labeling individual tasks with statuses that align with your project’s processes and workflows makes it much easier to identify which step of the process work is in and whether it’s progressing according to plan.

Workflows tend to be unique to every organization. Each company creates and releases products in its own fashion. That's why it's essential to use tools that are capable of supporting your way of working instead of struggling to do it the other way around.

What if different teams, projects, and departments in your organization all have their own specific workflows? You need a platform that supports all of them.

Custom workflows let everyone within your company structure their work processes to move faster, and know where things stand. With custom workflows, you can create flows for everything from approval processes to bug tracking to content development and more.

In addition, custom workflows enable you to specify who should be added as an assignee to a task when changed to a particular workflow status.

When to use a custom workflow

Unless you only run simple projects that follow standard workflows or you’re new to developing project processes and are willing to build them around the limitations of your software, you need to be able to customize your project management software workflows.

You may wonder if you can avoid workflows altogether and create work-around scenarios using chains of tasks instead. While this is possible, it’s also very inefficient, especially if your projects ever include either of the following two scenarios:

1. Collaborative production

Suppose you're producing products or deliverables where the final outcome relies on input from multiple people. In that case, custom workflows enable you to schedule work more efficiently than using a simple chain of tasks.

With a chain of tasks, you would have to attach your version of a file to a task, mark it as complete, and notify the next person in line. The next person would then be forced to go back to the previous task, download your file, edit it, attach it to their own task, mark their task complete, and notify the next person. And so on.

As you can see, this creates a lot of wasted time and can quickly eat into your storage space.

By using a workflow, you only need to change the custom status of a single task and assign it to the next person who needs to work on it. This process enables you to use a file versioning feature to consolidate all of the work files and versions in a single location, thus streamlining your overall workflow.

Similarly, any notes, comments, or information saved in the description field will be easier to find, modify, and respond to when they're preserved in a single task.

You don't want people to spend time searching through multiple tasks, reading duplicate descriptions, and trying to figure out which comments are still relevant or have not yet been responded to.

With custom workflows, you can ensure all pertinent information is consolidated and attached to one task, enabling more efficient collaboration. 

2. Cyclical reviews

Let’s face it; the review process is often not a straight line from creator to reviewer to completion. Often, once the reviewer receives a file, product, or another deliverable, they have to return it to the creator for clarification or rework before they approve it.

When you don’t know if a product will be returned to a creator once or even five times, how can you build this cycle into your project? If you’re relying on creating single tasks instead of workflows, the answer is that you can’t.

Either the back-and-forth will happen outside of the system, losing visibility and accountability, or you’ll continuously need to modify your schedule and add in those new tasks.

Instead, by relying on custom workflows, you can bounce between statuses and assignees, moving “forward” and “backward” between creators and reviewers with ease.

Advantages of custom workflows in project management software

Custom workflows offer several significant advantages when compared with standard out-of-the-box workflows. Here’s an overview of the primary advantages:

  • Flexibility: With customizable workflows in your project management software, there’s no limit to how you choose to create or modify your individual task statuses or the overall flow of your work processes. If your business processes change over time or need to be adapted for different projects, it’s quick and easy to change the workflows in your software to match.
  • Visibility: You can run reports or build dashboards that show where project tasks are by status. This functionality enables you and your stakeholders to better understand where tasks are within your defined processes. When you can monitor by “In Draft,” “In Review,” and so on, you have more control than if your options are limited to “In Progress” and “Complete.”
  • Efficiency: Custom workflows enable you to reduce the number of tasks cluttering up your schedule. Even though you have fewer tasks showing up, you can gain more insight into progress. By color-coding and monitoring task statuses, it’s easy to understand the progress of tasks at a glance and see which ones may need your attention.

Further reading
blog post

5 Simple Yet Powerful Must-Have Project Management Features

blog post

11 Easy Ways to Configure Wrike for Better Productivity

blog post

Task Dependencies vs. Custom Workflows: When to Use Each in Wrike