Craft Museum Workflows That Include the CMS

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

August 16, 2023

Workflows are administrative documents that can walk one or multiple people through a functional process from beginning to end. 

The most effective workflows are those that include instructions for each step. While they can be time intensive to craft, they tend to last for the duration of the function’s relevancy. The workflows we create will have a few triggering events that necessitate a workflow update: staff change ups, changes to best practices, or the use of new technology. Workflows are an excellent investment because they support the successful execution of our work each and every time. Regardless of whether it’s “just you” as a solo arranger, you with a team of volunteers, or you and a department of staff; workflows are important for everyone.

The following is an overview of steps to crafting a workflow:

  1. Identify areas of function aka workflows
  2. Capture the triggering event
  3. List each step
  4. Consider what’s needed
  5. Define completion

1. Identify Workflows: Identify areas of function aka workflows. This will typically include accessioning, conservation, exhibit creation, loans, inventory, etc., and each area will have its own workflow.

2. Capture the Triggering Event: For each workflow identify the triggering event that leads to the first step in the workflow.

3. List Each Step: List out each step, paying particular attention to when a task may lead to a different person in the process. Document how the handoff should occur and how the next person in the flow is notified.

4. Consider What’s Needed: Consider what’s needed for each step in the process. Sometimes it’s information whereas other times it’s a product. For example, a cataloging workflow likely includes the need for object data (information) as well as a digital image (product) of that object.

5. Define Completion: Define when the workflow is considered complete. This is the last step in this particular process, even though it may trigger a different process to take place. For example, new objects are cataloged and given accession records. The object record creation is complete but it may trigger a new loan process for one or more of the new objects to go out on loan.

How to Craft an Easy-to-Follow Workflow

Once you’re satisfied with the information you’ve included in your workflow it’s time to format and style it to its maximum usefulness. Each of our brains has a preferred way to take in information, so offering your workflow information in a few different informational displays will aid in its efficacy.

The following is a list of suggestions to incorporate in the format and styling of your workflows:

  • Use both text and illustrations
  • List out the steps and number them
  • Create a visual of the beginning of the workflow to the end
  • Provide specific instructions on where to find needed items
  • If there are standards to be followed then reference them
  • Off examples of how something should look

Events that Will Trigger Workflow Amendment

There are three main triggers for workflow amendment:

  • Staff change ups
  • Changes to best practices
  • The adoption and use of new technology

When this happens there is usually only one or two areas of the workflow that needs to be amended. Perform the changes as soon as possible so that the workflows aren’t considered obsolete. If a portion of the workflow is out of date staff—understandably—abandon it.


Workflows are helpful to everyone. They aid in onboarding new staff, help enforce standardization, and capture the level of work needed for each function performed in the museum. Have fun crafting these workflows and tweaking them so that they work the best for you and your team.

Additional Reading

Museum CMS 101: Workflow and Record Construction

The Importance of Sustainable Museum Cataloging & How to Achieve It

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

To learn more, please join us for How to Prepare for q New Museum CMS, presented by Rachael Woody on Wednesday, August 30, 2023 at 11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern. (Can’t make it? Register anyway and we will send you a link to the recording and slides afterwards). Register now or call 604-278-6717.

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