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Work Streams: Definition, Benefits, and Tools

Large enterprises, startups, and innovative companies are constantly on the lookout for agile ways to improve their processes, encourage cross-team collaboration, and spread exciting ideas within the organization. They develop, test, and assess projects, work packages, processes, and products internally using dynamic workgroups formed from teams within the company.

These ad-hoc teams and the activities they execute are called work streams. They are nimble, single-focused, and creative in pursuing their goal. Work streams are typically different from the day-to-day responsibilities team members fulfill in their roles.

This article discusses all you need to know about work streams, the differences between work streams and workflows, and how work streams make organizational processes more efficient.

What Is a Work Stream?

A work stream is a cluster of tasks and activities to be completed by a team of assembled workgroups. Different work streams may converge to achieve a common goal. Work streams may bring together individuals from cross-functional teams or be siloed within a team and its members.

Let's imagine a work stream in a manufacturing company. It could be put together to build and test a new product feature. This work stream would bring together teams and individuals from the procurement, engineering, and quality control departments. 

Many organizations and management consultants use work streams differently. Work streams are unique to each organization and very broadly means the different ways of working within the organization that do not fall under the typical purview of projects, programs, products, or processes.

What Is the Difference Between a Work Stream and a Workflow?

Work stream: entrepreneur presenting to her team

Workflows and work streams are often mistaken for each other, but they are not to be used interchangeably.

A workflow is a defined sequence of tasks within an organization that teams follow to achieve a goal or complete a project. In contrast, a work stream refers to the product or output of often unrelated workgroups.

Both are management tools used to distinguish between linear and nonlinear work processes. Whereas a workflow depicts "how things are done," a work stream changes according to the goals and needs of each particular work stream.

4 Ways a Work Stream Leads to More Efficient Processes

Work streams help to organize business processes within a company. They do this in the following ways:

1. Streamlines Processes

Work streams help to streamline functions in dynamic and sometimes complex projects or programs. When people from different departments and workgroups come together to achieve a common goal, they can work together in a work stream and create rules and processes that work for them in that context and move them toward the set goal.

Since everyone in the work stream is involved in the process, they can set up a collaboration system, make adjustments for a more seamless outcome, and contribute their unique expertise without dropping the ball on their day-to-day responsibilities. 

Better processes may be developed in a work stream and piloted across the organization, resulting in better organization-wide processes and competitive advantage. Work streams have the potential to transform business processes by testing on a smaller scale. Executives and stakeholders can assess the success of different work streams and sign off on the best processes to be implemented company-wide.

2. Encourages Resource Sharing

Due to their dynamic nature, work streams facilitate and encourage efficient resource sharing between the involved workgroups. Functional teams and departments may have multiple projects that are purely internal to the group vying for their resources.

Work streams, on the other hand, may be doing projects benefiting multiple teams with the same resources. They bring together all the teams that would benefit from the work stream. They can all contribute the needed resources to achieve their goal, thereby increasing the capacity of the work stream without expending more organizational resources. Work streams are able to leverage knowledge, budgets, expertise, and other resources across functional teams and projects.

3. Serves as a Separate and Dynamic Approach

Manager guiding his team

Work streams provide a different approach to solving problems or getting things done. They allow the best talent in the organization to collaborate on common goals in a way that manages and allocates resources purposefully and effectively. Work streams can create, test, and pilot new, unconventional, or non-operational work that spearheads innovations and new ideas in an organization.

On the one hand, it may seem that work streams take over the need for formal projects and require additional support, coordination, and a management layer that feeds into or reports to traditional governance structures, but this is hardly the case. Instead, work streams create room to progressively complete relevant, non-operational work by different workgroups in a company.

4. Supports Automation to Improve Processes

Work streams use automation to support flexibility for team members' primary duties and schedules. Automations in work streams enable better process and project management, leaving room for better dependency management. 

Imagine a work stream in a health care facility set up to interview and recruit employees. Workgroups involved may include HR, management, and specific teams, e.g., IT for a software engineering role.

The work stream creates a workflow sequence where applications are received from a form on the website and sent automatically to a shared folder everyone involved can access and comment on. Their comments are automatically added to a shared spreadsheet and ordered from the highest-rated applicants to the least. The work stream members can then meet to discuss after an automated reminder is sent to all their inboxes. Once decided, an automatic offer letter is created from a template and sent to the applicant. Upon acceptance, the first onboarding email is sent.

Anyone in the workgroup can check on the project status at any time and receive notifications when their input is required, or a pending task is almost due.

Use Pulpstream to Create Effective Automated Work Streams

Without losing time on their day-to-day work responsibilities, work streams can set up automation using process automation software like Pulpstream to move the process forward automatically and compile data and insights from the overall performance.

Let's take a look at a work stream from Pulpstream's digital station. This shows the steps to creating a basic work stream to manage expense approval requests using Pulpstream software. The work stream manager can easily set up a work stream, communicate its core purpose and tasks, and create templates to approve or reject new requests.

Whether you're leading a team or workgroup to create new processes, achieve a goal, or restructure a process, Pulpstream helps you create more efficient processes within your organization. Pulpstream's no-code platform makes it easy to develop, streamline, and automate business processes according to relevant compliance regulations. You can simplify workflows and work streams and save time and resources with Pulpstream.

Are you ready to organize and create more structured custom processes with work streams? Contact us at Pulpstream for a consultation or request a free demo today.