Home|Nintex Blog|A Brief History of Workflow Processes 

A Brief History of Workflow Processes 

The concept of workflows is quite simple: everything must go through a process. For example, say George from Finance has a doctor’s appointment next Friday at 10 AM.

He has to:

  1. Pull up his calendar
  2. Note the exact date it falls on
  3. Write up an email to his supervisor requesting approval to use a personal day
  4. Wait for approval

Between Step 3 and 4, his boss now has to:

  1. Verify George’s allotted personal days
  2. Check that he has not used them all
  3. Log the request date into a database

George’s request, the piece of work, flowed through an entire process from start to finish: A workflow.

When Did This Concept Begin? 


While the concept of workflows has been around for centuries, Henry Ford introduced the first assembly line in 1913. Prior to this, people built cars unit-by-unit rather than part-by-part. This often took a lot longer and cost a lot more.

By creating a linear process of work, Ford sped up the process of mass-production and transformed the practice of manual labor.


During World War II, there was a high demand for the organization of work: Draft registration cards, decimal file systems and classifications of all sorts. Maintaining these levels of record-keeping required added structure to filing and information systems in small offices.

This called for an optimal workflow and its continual development.


Workflows hit full development in the 1980s when two major critiques of workflows were addressed.

They were deemed:

  1. Dehumanizing and suboptimal in their use of human beings
  2. Inflexible as the conditions of work changed

The workflows that started out as product-oriented processes for making cars more efficiently weren’t that efficient once they entered homes and offices.

This gave rise to new movements like Total Quality Management and Six Sigma that addressed these problems in the traditional workflow. New workflows left room for individual preferences and customization, and linked planning with execution. As workflows underwent heavy scrutiny, they developed into the familiar workflow we have today.

If It’s a Process, It Has a Workflow 

Even something as simple as a morning routine is a workflow. Turn off alarm, brush teeth, wash face, change clothes (pants, then shirt), put on shoes (right, then left).

Every process involves a workflow. When it comes to the processes at work, utilizing workflow automation allows workers to focus on the more important aspects of their jobs. With workflow automation, organizations can be more efficient, productive and successful.


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