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Why Workflow Management Is Essential to Business Success

May 27, 2020

workflow mgmt

The world has significantly changed thanks to technology.

Consider Uber, GrubHub, or Amazon. They provide routine services at the tap of a button, and everything runs like clockwork, with no emails or calls involved. There are no long meetings, or coordination efforts to iron out the details. This helps these companies focus more on their strategic growth- what promotions to run, which markets to expand, and the likes.

Do our businesses also operate with similar ease and smoothness? Let’s assume your company was supposed to email a prospect on how your product is GDPR compliant. But they blew the deadline, and you lost the enterprise deal. Now you want to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. However, with marketing, engineering, and legal teams involved, and multiple email threads and chat conversations, neither are you sure who was responsible for sending it, nor can you pinpoint why the delay happened.

A significant amount of work that happens in any organization involves following a sequence of steps repeatedly: approving documents, onboarding clients, and managing purchases and accounts receivable. Distributed teams working with multiple tools are involved at different stages of these processes, and the end result is organizational silos and chaos.

Automating such routine business workflows and standard operating procedures will help streamline your everyday operations, improve turnaround times and increase visibility into process bottlenecks. It’ll help free employees from “busy work” and instead let them focus more on meaningful work, and strategic growth. And it can make it much easier to keep your show going, even if all your employees cannot be physically present at a common workspace.

7 tips for creating an efficient workflow process for your team

An inadequate workflow will only lead to ineffective outcomes. A good one, on the other hand, ensures consistency and faster response to requests. Below are a few essential tips to create efficient workflows that could work for you. These are not hard and fast rules, and can be modified to suit your business needs.

1. Identify boundaries

Identify the start and end points of the process you pick. For example, travel requests begin when an employee requests to travel, and ends when the trip is completed, and the expenses are tallied. However, this is not the only case, and it can also end if the manager rejects the request or if the trip is canceled. It’s important to understand the different ways a process can be triggered and what its deliverables are.

2. Break down existing processes

Once you have identified the boundaries, work on breaking down the process into distinct steps. Find out what needs to be done at each step and what information is required to perform these activities.

Should the purchase department wait for the finance team to approve expenses that cross a certain amount? What candidate information and documents does the HR need to finish background verification? Should your payments tool be notified when a client processes the fee? Discuss with the teams involved and understand how the process happens currently.

3. Identify sub-workflows, parallels, and loops

Getting marketing collateral ready is more a linear process, possibly with back and forth exchanges at the review stage. Meanwhile, setting up accounts, background verification, and providing equipments are all done in a parallel fashion by multiple teams while onboarding an employee.

Similarly there are times when a particular step can warrant a separate workflow for itself. For example, vetting a supplier while handling a purchase request might be a mini workflow itself. Analyze if such loops and sub-workflows exist. Determine if a particular task must be finished before moving to the next, or if some tasks can be done simultaneously. Incorporate all your findings while building the workflow. 

4. Identify gaps, flaws, and redundancies

It’s important to eliminate waste, while pumping up efficiency into your workflows. So once you’ve your current workflow on paper, identify where the troubles lie. The best way to do this is to brainstorm with the stakeholders and understand the process from their perspective.

The employees who get the work done can explain what part of the process is a hassle for them. They probably have difficulty in getting the right information when they need, or knowing what to do next. There might also be some unnecessary steps that add no value. Similarly, discussing with the requestors and the management can help uncover the black box of your current workflow model. Work on addressing these issues when modifying your workflow.

An additional benefit of such brainstorming is that when you have a modified version of the workflow in place, employee buy-in can be taken for granted. Given that they have invested a good amount of their time to help shape the process, your team will be more than happy to do dry runs, improve the workflow, and also convince others to adopt the new methods of working. 

5. Automate where possible 

Do you need to notify managers to approve requests? Do you want to automatically kickstart the customer onboarding process every time a new deal is closed in your CRM? Can you dynamically assign tasks to teams? It’s not always necessary for humans to intervene. Identify such portions of the workflow and automate them. 

6. Define roles and responsibilities 

Once you have the process steps defined, clearly establish who will be the process owner, and who will be responsible for each step. For example, while a marketer will own the process of publishing a marketing collateral, several teams including design, animation, and editorial might be responsible for the individual stages in the workflow.

7. Analyze and improve 

After you have clearly laid out all that your workflow entails, do a few dry runs and regroup to assess. What’s working well? Is something slowing down the process? Should you change the order of the steps? Make the necessary changes, run and assess once again.

There’s no one right way to build a workflow, and what works for one business needn’t work for another. Find what works best for you and your teams, review periodically, and ensure that your workflows are aligned to the best interests of your company.

What is workflow management software?

Documenting your workflows is only the first step, and in many companies, it results in ineffective paper runbooks. Here is where automation can be your best friend. Digitizing your everyday processes with workflow management systems replaces paper trails by digital, and ensures that you run a delay-free organization.

Workflow management software helps automate repeatable workflows, executes them with compliance and audits, and also optimizes the processes for better outcomes. Below are the critical capabilities of any workflow management system.

Digitize steps, roles, and responsibilities

Workflow management systems can help model all process steps online, along with who is in charge of each step, and what they should do.

Automate decisions

A travel process can flow different ways, depending on whether visa is required or not. A hiring process might have to be closed if the candidate doesn’t respond to calls and emails for a couple weeks. Workflow systems automate such decisions, while also leaving room for employees to exercise judgement when required. 

Automate actions 

The design team must be notified once a marketer has finished writing the newsletter content. Inventory must be automatically updated after providing a new employee with equipments. A task left undone past the deadline must be escalated. Workflow management software helps automate such actions.

Contextual extensibility

All teams work with a plethora of tools to get their work done. Workflow management systems can help connect to these third-party apps to push and pull data when required.

Facilitate collaboration with RBAC

Workflow management tools ensure that everyone has access to the required data, when they need. They also have features in place to protect confidential data.

Optimization 

Is a process taking too long? Is work delayed due to the workflow, or due to the people involved? Good workflow management systems have a bespoke, dynamic reporting module that helps create personalized reports.

8 benefits of workflow management software solutions

The most tangible benefits of workflow management systems are improved cycle times of regular processes, and decreased costs. Read on for details on what impact they can bring to your operations.

Reduced operating costs

All your workflows are mapped online in workflow management systems - all the steps, along with who is responsible for each step, and what they should do. The systems also help automate decisions, exceptions, notifications, and those parts of your process that don’t require manual intervention. This helps minimize human errors, reduce the turnaround time of your everyday operations, and in turn, reduce costs.

Improved accountability

By letting you assign the right tasks to the right people, workflow management systems ensure improved accountability.

Better transparency

Workflow management systems help your employees know what exactly they should be doing, and when. Your teams can access relevant data when they need, thus avoiding any communication roadblocks. These workflow systems allow businesses to control access to data based on roles, thus ensuring better transparency, while also maintaining data security and privacy. They also keep requestors informed of the status of their request.

Enforce process adherence

With the whole process mapped online, compliance is an assured benefit of workflow management systems. There is no possibility of missing a step, emailing the wrong person, or exposing confidential information. These systems also maintain a historical trail of all activities, thus ensuring audit readiness.

Seamless collaboration

With proactive alerts and notifications, integrated tools, and automated workflows, workflow management systems help different teams collaborate smoothly on a single platform, and work effectively. Good workflow products are also available across devices, thus enabling access to processes on the go. 

Optimized processes

Analyzing process reports and charts helps identify bottlenecks, anomalies, and also areas for improvement. In-depth analysis can help understand if the workflows need to be modified, or if your teams need to be trained better. Taking necessary action can result in better operational KPIs. 

Easy change management

Business processes keep evolving. Policies might change, compliance practices might change, or maybe a new manager would simply like to try something different. It’s also important to quickly respond to the changing market opportunities and challenges. Flexible workflow systems help businesses make such iterative modifications to their processes easily, and also help understand the impact on their profitability. Training the employees on the new methods is also a breeze since all they have to do is follow the tool.

More amenable to work from home

The world as we know it is shifting focusing on to how we work rather than where we work. As teams adopt new ways of working, workflow management software enables effective team collaboration regardless of location. It helps implement remote working in a structured manner, thus increasing productivity at reduced costs.

Final thoughts

Given today’s ultra-competitive market, distributed teams, and multiple tools, a solid workflow management strategy is required to ensure business continuity. An efficient process will help minimize errors, eliminate redundancies and drive productivity. A good workflow management software can help achieve this with speed, scale, and flexibility. 

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