Non-linear workflows – what are they and why should I care? 🤨

 

We say that Workflow86 was built to handle complex non-linear workflows. What does “non-linear workflows” even mean and why should you care? We discuss this below. You can also🚩 sign up 🚩 for an invite to early access and go face to face with non-linear workflows right now.

Linear workflows

A linear workflow is, simply put, a workflow where tasks are arranged in a single line. You do Task A, then Task B, Task C and so on. Everything is sequential, so the workflow cannot progress until the previous step has been completed, and the workflow can only handle one task at a time.

If you take a look at most existing no-code workflow automation tools, you’ll notice that they focus on automating linear workflows, and for good reason —linear workflows are easy. They tend to involve simple, repetitive tasks which make them a prime first candidate for automation.

Non-linear workflows

In contrast to a neat linear workflow, a non-linear workflow looks like this…

It’s messy, its chaotic, its got a lot of moving parts. Let’s break it down into its key features.

Asynchronous task branching

This is where a workflow “splits” into multiple streams and tasks, each of which is executed simultaneously and independently from each other. You can see for example that Task A splits into Tasks B1, B2, B3, and B4. In real life, asynchronous task branching reflects situations where multiple teams are working on different aspects of a project e.g. a data breach may require tasks to be handled by the IT team, cybersecurity team, legal team and risk/compliance team simultaneously. 

Task merging 

In addition to being able to split into asynchronous streams, non-linear workflows are also able to do the opposite — merge or combine multiple independent tasks or streams when required. In real life, task merging reflects situations where the work from multiple teams is consolidated or brought together e.g. the IT team and cybersecurity team consolidating their findings together to reach a conclusion about the source of a data breach. 

When you combine task branching and task merging, you get the complex web of tasks and “workflows within workflows” which characterizes non-linear workflows. Orchestrating all of these tasks and accommodating all the possible branching and merging that can occur within a single workflow exponentially increases the complexity of the system that a workflow automation platform needs to handle. This is probably the reason why most workflow automation products continue to focus on linear workflows – it is a lot of work to do non-linear workflows well.

So why should you care about non-linear workflows? 🤔

Unfortunately, not all workflows in the real world can be rendered into a neat, single line of tasks. Sure, a lot of your admin tasks like copying and pasting data between two apps, or filling out forms are linear workflows. Think about how you handle large and complex projects like a marketing campaign or managing a risk audit. These are rarely linear processes where tasks can all be arranged into a neat single line of tasks. They have multiple tasks that need to be performed by different roles or teams at the same time which then merged together at certain points before being broken up again into more separate tasks.

Simply put, a lot of really important and high value work involves complex non-linear workflows with lots of moving parts. You should care because if you want to do more than just automate basic tasks and simple processes, you’ll be working with non-linear workflows and whatever workflow automation tool you are using will have to be great at handling this as well.

*It should also be noted that not all non-linear workflows are the same. Some products may allow you to create non-linear features in a workflow, but typically with quite a few limitations on how it can be used. Zapier for example allows you to create “paths” in a workflow, but limits you to 3 paths and this can only be placed at the end of a workflow.

Sign up for early access 👇

To get early access to a no-code automation platform designed specifically to handle complex non-linear workflows, go to get.workflow86.com

We are releasing invitations to early access users in batches over the coming weeks, so sign up now to get your spot.