5 Familiar Enterprise Workflow Fails

Neil Miller

January 19th, 2017 Workflow Automation  

On the surface, implementing an enterprise workflow automation tool should be easy. You already have your processes lined up; all you need to do is digitize and automate them, right?

Hardly ever.

Enterprise Workflow Automation Fails

Many things prevent a highly efficient workflow system. Whether it is overly-complex software, unclear processes, or improvised workarounds, enterprise workflow software can often bring more chaos than it stops.

Let’s look at some of the more common failures of enterprises when they automate their workflows.

1. The Half-implementation

Many implementations start with a lot of excitement around the new tool. People marvel at how easy and human-centric it is and gasp at the new possibilities. The product is launched and everyone is very impressed. The company even brings in an expert to help set up some of the initial forms and workflows.

But that’s about where it ends.

No one enforces the use of the enterprise workflow system. People are free to use it “if they want”, but they are not trained properly nor are they encouraged or incentivized to do it.

The IT director feels like she did her job by bringing in the software and buying the licenses, but the workflow system starts decaying down to its digital half-life the moment after it goes live.

How to avoid this failure:

  • Give comprehensive training beyond a demo to users who will be responsible for creating workflows.
  • Require the workflow system to be used and don’t accept manual processes.

2. The Double Work

Another common failure of an enterprise workflow software is that it only manages the flow and not the work. Take a contract approval for example. Your workflow system might track the sequence of sign-offs needed, but in the end, the contract still needs to be printed off and signed at each step. This results in a file named something like FinalFinalContract4-BruceVersion2.docx.pdf

The same thing happens when a Purchase Order is approved through a workflow system, but then all the data still has to be manually transferred into your financial software. Workflow management tools can’t be just a parallel system that tracks approvals while the real work is done outside the system.

How to avoid this failure:

  • Make sure that when the final step is completed, the work is actually done.
  • Integrate your workflow tool with your other core apps for easy sharing.

3. The Workaround

The law of the (office) jungle is that work flows in the easiest and most familiar path possible. This means that if you are trying to implement a new enterprise workflow tool, most people’s initial response will be to find a way around it.

Whether it is asking for an exception, completely ignoring protocol, or even some shadow IT, employees can be pretty crafty about finding ways around using a newly established workflow tool.

While these same employees can list the benefits of a fully automated system, it seems easier to them at their stage in the workflow to do it the way it has always been done, just like it seems easier to keep riding on your balding car tires rather than going to get new ones.

How to avoid this failure:

  • Make the workflow as easy as possible to initiate and much easier than a workaround.
  • Block workaround attempts.
  • When workarounds are present, go back and examine your workflow to see how it can be improved.
  • Continually demonstrate the benefits at each stage of the workflow.

4. Automating a Bad Process

Another common failure is when enterprises automate a flawed system. Forcing a workflow management tool onto a poorly run process means delivering poor results faster than ever.

A workflow automation tool will never correct an inefficient process. In the name of automation, many enterprises digitize and automate processes that were always a source of confusion and chaos, without going through the important work of making sure the process is ready for it.

As Bill Gates famously said, “…automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency…automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”

How to avoid this failure:

  • Analyze and improve your process before automating it.
  • Interview people involved in the process and ask them how it can be improved.

5. The Stale Process

Let’s say you did a great job launching your workflow system. You trained your key leaders in how to make their own workflows and they came up with well-integrated forms and workflows. You even made it over the hump of getting everyone to adopt the new system and stomped out common workarounds.

So work just goes on perfectly forever, right?

Workflows are organic; they are always changing and adapting. It might be the creation of a new department, a new job, or new software. Certain approvals may become irrelevant over time, or someone only wants to receive a notification rather than being a potential logjam.

If you let your workflows sit unedited for too long, they quickly become irrelevant and the workarounds start, leading towards total abandon.

How to avoid this failure:

  • Encourage process-owners to do quarterly reviews of their workflows and identify areas of improvement.

Don’t Fall Into the Traps

Getting an enterprise workflow automation project off the ground is not an easy task, and there are plenty of failures to prove it. But workflow management tools are supposed to bring order and clarity to your business processes, not more chaos. Avoid these common failures, and you’ll be well on your way to smooth sailing.