Demystifying workflow management isn’t really rocket science. While the term “workflow management” may initially sound like you have to have some sort of special degree to fully master it, the truth is workflow management is something you likely already do on a daily basis—when you get a task done.
A workflow can be likened to a relay. At the sound of the starting gun, the first player runs to the second to pass the baton, who, in turn, does the same to get to the third, until the final team player crosses the finish line.
Project management vs. workflow management
While the concepts behind project management and workflow management are essentially similar, the two are not interchangeable.
Project management is about resources, planning, coordination, and responding to changes in order to get something big done. Keep in mind, projects can be temporary in nature.
Workflow management, on the other hand, is about managing repetitive processes or routines, examples including, but not limited to, hiring and onboarding new employees, bug tracking in software development, budget and expense approval, and employee and product certification.
Workflow management – the benefits
In today’s technologically-driven world, managing a workflow usually involves automation systems to expedite work completion while upholding your business standards. Examples of such systems include Comindware Tracker, PerfectForms, AtTask, Bizagi and Clarizen, to name a few.
When dealing with teams and departments needing to collaborate on an ongoing basis, workflow management systems go beyond effective communication and efficient task delegation. That being said, listed below are twelve cumulative reasons why workflow automation might be the solution to some known workflow issues (such as missing documents for processing, incurring penalties for late payments, workforce complaints stemming from requests not being addressed promptly, among others):
- Less time and effort to complete tasks
An automated workflow systematizes task distribution and execution without constant manager supervision. And, there is no need to worry about task duplication because each task is accounted for.
- Hassle-free alteration of workflow protocols when necessary
One thing really neat about workflow automation is the ability to design and deploy a workflow and then change the protocols, when needed, without disrupting ongoing operations.
- Real-time visibility into the status of the workflow
For managers to make sure their projects are moving as planned and on schedule, they have to have full visibility of the status of the workflow. In the traditional work setting, this is accomplished through email exchanges, instant messaging, or status meetings. With a workflow system, a centralized dashboard can provide real-time status updates in the form of lists, charts and templates.
- Single data and documentation repository
In most workflows, documents such as invoices, receipts, and request submissions are necessary. If a task requires inter-department collaboration, the possibility of these documents getting lost or misplaced while in transit is always there. With a workflow system, you have a repository where team members can upload and retrieve pertinent files from a single location.
- No complex coding or programming know-how required
While not all workflow automation applications are the same, the right software supports user-friendly navigation and protocol alterations without the need for complicated programming.
- Automatic notification of next-step tasks
Email is one of the easiest ways to communicate. The right workflow management software automatically pushes email notifications when new tasks are created, as well as scheduling a new item in the user’s to-do list.
- Integration of multilevel processes
Some tasks start out as simple sequences but tend to become a bit more complicated overtime. The right workflow software should be able to handle complex, or looping, sequences.
- Easy identification of best practices and AFIs
The right workflow engine supports archiving that allows managers and other users an insight into the best solutions to similar situations. And because all processes and documentation are stored in a single place, figuring out areas for improvement becomes relatively effortless.
- Strict logging of time and activities for subsequent auditing
Automating your workflows also means automatically capturing logs (i.e., how long it takes for an employee to complete a task) that will eventually be needed to assess the workflow’s overall success.
- Security of access according to pre-determined user authority
Despite the workflow being shared among users and teams, role-based access control (RBAC) models are used to manage administrative and other operational changes. This means those without authorization should not be able to get into the system, even if they’re from the same department as most of the users.
- Real-time reports generation
Because of the presence of a main dashboard that gives the manager real-time visibility into the status of the workflow through lists, charts, graphs, forms and templates, reports generation can be done with a few mouse clicks.
- Automatic forms integration
Business tasks normally always require forms (for invoice approval, contract approval, leave request, supplies/raw materials request, and others) for faster facilitation and processing. Although not all, some workflow management systems have embedded forms generation capacity that eliminates the need for third-party forms-creation software.
When managing your workflows, one thing to do before shopping for the most fitting workflow automation software is to determine whether or not getting one is really necessary. Not because someone you know is gushing about the effectiveness of the application means you should deploy one in your environment, too.
But once you decide to automate your workflows, the benefits to your organization can be huge – as long as the execution complements your strategy.