Uptime Blog

What is a Workflow?

xMatters ON Jan 12, 2022

Workflows are no stranger in the DevOps world. But where did this term come from, and what does it really mean?

Perhaps it’s no surprise that workflows originated from the industrial revolution, which brought powerful machinery for mobilizing huge workforces unlike ever before. To maximize the potential of these new industrial tools, people had to first figure out the best way to use them to get work done as efficiently as possible. Henry Gantt—who you may know of if you’ve heard of a Gantt chart—determined that a workflow can be developed from knowing three key components:

  • What jobs are being done?
  • Who is responsible for each job?
  • How long does each task take?

One of the most widely known and influential thinkers on modern management, Peter Drucker, promoted the significance of a workflow with his famous adage, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Workflows provide an opportunity to define and track success, optimizing how a task is completed.

What is a Workflow?

To put it plainly, a workflow is a sequence of steps that accomplishes a task. As the word “workflow” itself suggests, it can be understood literally as work flowing from one stage to the next. More specific definitions mention that a workflow involves a multi-step sequence, more than one person, and a transfer of data from one step to the next.

In software, workflows can exist either within one tool or between multiple tools, bringing up what is known as a DevOps toolchain. DevOps toolchains enable development and operations teams to automate and integrate workflows seamlessly, cutting down the manual work needed across the entire software development cycle.

Types of Workflows

Generally speaking, there are three major types of workflows:

  1. Process workflow. A process workflow is used to depict repetitive, predictable tasks. This type of workflow is what most people tend to be familiar with.
  2. Case workflow. In a case workflow, the path to complete a task isn’t clear from the start. Some investigation and diagnosis are required before knowing what steps to take.
  3. Project workflow. A project workflow consists of steps that are structured but can vary depending on the task. This type of workflow is ideal for keeping complex projects on track as there may be more flexibility along the way.

The Impact of Workflows on Incident Management

While workflows can be valuable anywhere, they can have a truly profound impact by helping technology teams resolve incidents faster. No one wants a major customer-impacting incident or even a minor glitch hanging around for very long.

As reliance on digital services continues to soar, development teams are tasked with not only providing innovative (and frequent) new services to customers but also minimizing and preventing every little thing that could derail a release. Incidents aren’t just uptime vs. downtime. Even a slow or unstable service impacts the customer experience. Workflow automation is key to speedy and efficient remediation that minimizes negative impact on customers.

Here are five of the most common capabilities of an automated workflow:

  1. Proactively manage and resolve issues: Your monitoring tools are the first line of defense for detecting performance degradation or anomalies that indicate an incident is brewing. You can take action early with a workflow that includes automated steps for translating critical alerts into action—before it impacts customers.
  2. Streamline communication: During an incident, on-call resources typically turn to a ChatOps platform like Slack to collaborate on any service degradations that can arise. An automated workflow with a step that spins up a dedicated Slack channel pre-populated with your incident data can save time and resolve incidents faster.
  3. Service desk support: Service desks are a vital part of many organizations, empowering them to keep track of issues and requests. Leveraging an automated workflow that integrates with your service management solution enables organizations to streamline communication plans and automatically notify on-call responders when an issue requires attention.
  4. Incident response and management: Why wait for someone to log into their ticketing system or email inbox to see an incident notification? Launching an automated workflow can immediately engage the right people with the information they need to kick off the triage and resolution process.
  5. Automate remediation: Deploying changes can sometimes cause unexpected breaks in other areas of the software. Having an automated workflow that can rollback a deployment allows teams to diagnose and resolves issues with their latest commit before customers even notice.

Next Steps

You don’t need to be a developer to integrate with other applications and build automated workflows. With xMatters code-free workflow builder, Flow Designer, you can have complete control over your workflows—no code required. Create your first workflow today by signing up for a free xMatters instance!

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