Top 10 Features Every Workflow Management System Should Have

10 Features Every Workflow Management System Should Have

Neil Miller

February 10th, 2019 workflow  

In an effort to embrace automation, many companies start out with a system to manage their business processes to scale up their productivity.

What is Workflow Management?

Workflow management is creating and optimizing the paths for data in order to complete items in a given process. Workflow management includes mapping out the workflow in an ideal state, finding redundant tasks, automating the process, and identifying bottlenecks or areas for improvement.

A workflow management system (WMS or WfMS) is a software tool designed to help streamline routine business processes for optimal efficiency. Workflow management systems involve creating a form to hold data and setting a sequential path of tasks for the data to follow until it is fully processed.  It will automatically route the data to the predetermined tasks.

Smart business owners are looking at business process management, and easy ways to automate their workflows, to achieve a new level of efficiency. But in 2019, the search for a workflow management system is harder than ever.

Tasks in workflows may be done by a human or by a system. With so many options and so many products calling themselves a workflow tool, it’s hard to know what you will get. What was yesterday a simple kanban project management tool is now claiming to be a fully automated workflow system?

Workflow Management System

And the biggest irony of all is that when you try to implement these Workflow Management Systems, everything creeps to a standstill. You have to negotiate a price, do a trial version, and train everyone on the product, only to find out that what you picked lacks some of the key features every workflow management system needs to have.

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Whatever the state of your workflow management, using the right WMS tool with the right features is critical.

What Does a Workflow Management System (WfMS) Do?

When you are in the market for a workflow management system (WMS), you are looking for something that:

  • Allows individuals to automate repetitive processes
  • Follows up automatically on uncompleted tasks in the process
  • Gives an overall picture of the workflow along with performance metrics

To get the true value for money that a WMS promises, it should at least have these 10 essential features. Don’t settle for something that can’t keep up with your sequence of operations and doesn’t deliver on productivity.

10 Features Every Workflow Management System Should Have

1. Intuitive, Code-Free Workflow Designer

If you ask a process owner to create a workflow, she is likely to draw a straight line with key steps in the process, each requiring input, approval, or denial.

If you ask a programmer to make software for invoice approval workflow, it will start looking like the family tree of Oedipus.

A great Workflow Management System let’s you think in simple linear loops and does all the complex stuff in the background.

2. WYSIWYG Form Designer

In 2018, there’s no excuse for a form designer to be anything less than awesome. It’s got to be drag-and-drop. And you need fields, lots of fields. Text, numbers, maps, calculations, drop-downs, and more! If you aren’t initially impressed at the form designer of your workflow management system, chances are that you will outgrow it pretty fast.

Want to select the next actor of a task from the form? Want to link your form to a different database? Want to display live data from a website? All of this should be very easy to accomplish.

Your form designer should be simple and intuitive and shouldn’t require a consultant to walk you through it.

3. Integration With Other Cloud Services

Integration used to be a nice-to-have feature for workflow management. Now it’s essential.

Workflows don’t operate independently from other processes. Documents, sales reports, cash-flows, calendars, and contact details should all flow smoothly from your workflow tool to your CMS, calendar, email, financial software and more.

If your workflow management system isn’t incredibly easy to set up to integrate with other tools out there, it’s already outdated.

4. Cloud-Based Technology

The cloud vs. on-premise debate is pretty much over. Choosing an on-premise option is like betting that MySpace is going to make a comeback.

And it’s not just about access to your data from any location. It’s about who’s in charge of updates and maintenance. It’s about compliance and privacy of data. It’s about building a partnership with a vendor rather than just making a one-time purchase. Your workflow management tool needs to exist in the cloud if you want any shot to make it useful for your team.

5. KPI-Based Reports

Lots of workflow tools out there will let you create a simple workflow. But if you are serious about actually achieving a new level of productivity, you are going to need some solid reporting features.

When you first automate a workflow, you are entering a testing ground. What you thought was running smoothly might be taking much longer than you anticipated. You may realize you need a new step, or find that you have too many steps. A robust KPI-based reporting function in your WMS will let you see and analyze where the bottlenecks are and where to focus your attention.

6. SLA Status Indicators

A good workflow management system will be your one-stop-shop for all the core processes in your organization. So, your workflow tool may have more than 30 workflows running at any time. When you think about viewing all of these on a dashboard, you need a way to make sure you are staying current on all of your tasks.

SLA indicators can let you know which ones are the most pressing, and which ones can wait while you handle other tasks. The dashboard of your WMS should use color codes or a similar tool to draw your attention to the most pressing workflows.

7. Notifications When and Where You Need Them

The key to automated workflows is that you never need to push them. Like a pinewood derby car, as soon as you start a new process, it should keep going until it finishes without anyone needing to follow up.

The key to this kind of flow is notifications. An effective business Workflow Management System will send notifications via email or push notifications on your mobile to remind you of upcoming approvals. Users should also be able to customize the kind of notifications they receive.

8. Parallel Branches

All workflows are sequential, but some are special. Some sequential steps can happen at the same time. Take a travel request or a purchase requisition. It has a very predictable path, but what if it is for international travel? You may need a separate track that handles passports and other details of the upcoming trip.

Adding this kind of complexity should be easy and shouldn’t require a degree in computer science. Right from the form, you should be able to add a branch and create conditional tasks easily.

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9. Role-Based Access Control

Many workflows contain sensitive information that is not intended to be shared with everyone in the process. Every Workflow Management System should allow you to customize what each user can see and edit. Making a quick change to this part of the workflow should not break it or affect historical requests.

10. Transparent, Easy Pricing

Why invest a huge amount of capital into software that may cause you more trouble than it is worth? What if you only want to automate one process between a few people? Do you still need to invest a lot of money?

The best Workflow Management Systems operate on a monthly pay-as-you-go model where the fees are all-inclusive of running costs and you only pay for the number of users accessing the system. If a workflow tool won’t tell you the cost right on the website, it means they are trying to figure out how much they can get out of you based on your size and reputation. Pick a tool that is upfront and won’t give you sticker shock when the first invoice comes through. As you investigate your options, keep these 10 things in mind. Don’t settle for something less than amazing when it comes to keeping your workflows quick and seamless.

Questions to guarantee you get the right workflow software

1. What are your workflow needs?

You might require extensive workflow solutions for core processes that are spread across the entire organization. Or, you might need something more lightweight that puts the power of automation into the hands of your team leaders so that they can handle processes on their own.

Different products cater to different needs, and you want to pick the one that meets yours, but also gives you room to grow.

2. What are your non-negotiable features?

At their basic level, most workflow software is similar, but there are distinguishing features that can help you focus only on the best options for you.

Do you require on-premise hosting? How in-depth does your reporting need to be? Are there particular types of form fields you can’t work without? There won’t be a perfect tool out there, but you don’t want to waste time on options that you’ll have to abandon later.

3. How many users will you have?

Is this a software that will be used by the entire company, or just by a select group of people? Do you need to be able to add in external partners? Should people outside your system be able to start workflows without entering it? What kind of permission levels do you want to set? Check with different vendors to see what their current upper limits are for a number of users to know if they are the right choice for you.

4. How soon do you want to implement the software?

Some workflow tools take many months to set up, get trained on, develop workflows, and then put them into production. Other no-code tools like Kissflow require little to no training and can be implemented the first day you use it.

If you are looking for a workflow software that will only automate a single critical process, you can probably afford to take the time to get it right. But if you want something that will automate lots of processes in the organization, you don’t want to create a logjam by making it difficult to get off the ground.

5. How much support do you need?

The demand for support for software tools has grown a lot in the last few decades. Internal IT teams can no longer be experts in every tool. The vendor you are working with should be able to provide top quality support.

This usually comes in the form of instant chat support, broad documentation, and video guides. During your trial, intentionally interact with the support team to see how easy it is to get the answers you need.