Your Comprehensive Workflow Guide

What is a Workflow?

A workflow process is a predictable and repeatable set of tasks that take place between two or more people. Workflows are used across every kind of business and industry. Any time data is handed back and forth between humans and/or systems, a workflow is created. At its most basic form, a workflow is a sequence of approvals and inputs where each task is dependent on the previous one being completed.

A workflow is one of two main parts of a process; the other is the form used to capture and reference the data that’s meant to be processed. The form is the What of a process and the workflow is the How.

A workflow process is utilized by those in the business community who want to reduce roadblocks for their operational processes. Workflow management is a part of the larger discipline called business process management (BPM).

What are Some Workflow Examples?

Here are a few workflows common to most organizations:

Purchase Order

Requester ---> Manager Approval ---> Finance Processing

Employee Appraisal Review

Employee Input ---> Manager Input ---> HR Input ---> Payroll Changes

Blog Post

Topic Selection ---> Writer ---> Editor ---> Publish ---> Promote

What is an Automated Workflow?

Automated Workflow Transfers

There are two parts of a workflow that can be automated. The first is how the information moves from task to task. Historically, movement of data always happened manually. A manual data transfer might mean printing out a paper and handing it to the next person in the workflow. It also includes mailing documents, or even sending them via email. Anytime someone has to remember whom to send the data to next and push it to them, it is a manual transfer.

If data is transferred automatically, once someone is finished with a task they just mark it as done, and the system takes care of informing the next person in line that the item is ready.

Automated Workflow Tasks

In addition to the transfer of data, certain tasks can be automated. For example, if at the end of a New Hire Request an offer is made, the manager or HR officer must write the email or letter and send it to the candidate. If you automate this step, as soon as the previous task is finished, a system would put together the email and send it to the candidate.

What are the Advantages of an Automated Workflow?

A workflow that passes data manually moves slowly, is prone to errors, is very difficult to measure, and doesn’t have a neat audit trail.

Workflows consisting of mostly manual tasks generally get bottlenecked, and are also slow to complete.

An automated workflow process means:

  • Faster processing
  • Fewer errors
  • Better tracking
  • Detailed reports
  • Reduced costs

Automated workflows also delegate many trivial jobs to machines so humans can be more involved in strategy and innovative projects.

Processes automated in cloud workflow tools are getting even better. Cloud workflows are blazing fast, globally accessible, and more secure than ever before.

What Types of Automated Workflow Tools Are There?

If you are looking at workflow tools, you may be amazed at how many different types there are or how a workflow process can look different in different systems.

There are three main types of workflow tools.

Human-Centric Workflow Tools

In this kind of workflow process, the focus is on humans who complete tasks. Workflows that use a human-centric tool often have a lot of approvals or tasks that need some kind of human involvement. This workflow process might also have some automated tasks, but it is primarily used when humans are involved.

System-Centric Workflow Tools

The focus of this workflow process is how different systems communicate and perform tasks. For example, a marketing workflow might involve taking large amounts of data, running them through one program for analysis, cross-checking them against another system for accuracy, and then initiating deals in a Sales system. Since system-centric workflow process involve high interoperability between multiple systems, they are also known as integration-centric BPM, or IC-BPM.

Document-centric Workflow Tools

A third kind of workflow process is all about the end result being a completed document. This is popular amongst law firms, financial institutions, contract management companies, healthcare agencies, procurement business, engineering firms, etc.

Some documents need a specialized workflow software to optimize the processes. The tool is so designed that steps in a document-centric workflow can’t advance to the next step unless the data/activity from the previous step is formalized in a standardized document.

Rather than a human compiling all the data at the end of a workflow, formatting the document, printing it out, and getting signatures, a document-centric workflow tool will automatically do all these tasks and collect electronic signatures.

Top Features Every Workflow Tool Should Have

When it comes to offering features, not all workflow tools are made equal. Here’s an overview of the 10 most important features that your workflow system should have.

  1. User-friendly Process Designer
  2. Instead of only programmers, everyone in your organization should be able to create their own workflows.

  3. Simplified Form Builder
  4. A good workflow tool includes plenty of fields to choose from, a drag-and-drop designer, and a clean layout.

  5. Deployment On Cloud
  6. A cloud workflow tool costs less, has no maintenance, is more agile, and is more secure than on-premise options.

  7. Built-in Reporting
  8. The best workflow tools come with reports you can customize to track any item, user, or task with a click.

  9. SLA Status Indicators
  10. SLAs keep your processes on track and a workflow tool should let you configure deadlines and urgency.

  11. Real-time Notifications
  12. Customizable automated notifications will keep participants on the same page and alert them of new tasks.

  13. Flexibility in Creating Processes
  14. Some workflows can be complicated and require formulas, conditional steps, and parallel branches.

  15. Role-based Access Control
  16. For confidentiality and security, you should be able to make data fields editable, read-only, or invisible.

  17. Integration Capabilities
  18. A workflow tool should have easy connections to common platforms and open APIs for custom integrations.

  19. Easy Pricing
  20. Choose an option that you can pay on a monthly amount to get lower prices and a consistent spend.

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