What is Workflow Optimization?
Workflow optimization means enhancing the efficiency of the workflow process by incorporating workflow automation. You need to conduct workflow analysis before starting your workflow optimization process. Though automation is an important part of workflow optimization, it is not the only part. You need to carefully plan the optimization process before jumping into automation.
The organization that has implemented successful workflow optimization should have adhered to certain best practices. By having a clear understanding of these practices, you can improve your overall operational efficiency and gain a competitive advantage.
A Great Automation Quote From Bill Gates
Every now and then, we find ourselves quoting Bill Gates on workflow automation.
"…automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency… (and) automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency."
This clearly means that you can’t tack on some automation solution, and expect things to automatically get better, smoother, faster, and cheaper. Here are some workflow optimization techniques to help you streamline your business process.
Benefits of Optimizing Workflows
Upgrades your operational efficiency
The first and integral benefit of optimizing your workflows is it will improve the overall efficiency of your workflows, making your employees more productive. It ensures that your day-to-day workflows are smoothly executed, saving the valuable time of employees who are often stuck with redundant administrative tasks.
Improvement in work quality
Implementing workflow optimization can reduce the instances of human errors. The workflow mapping feature helps ensure your workflows are placed correctly. This will prevent the unnecessary confusions that arise between team members. Furthermore, this helps your business deliver high-quality results, which will raise your company’s reputation and attract potential leads.
Easy access to accurate data
Workflow optimization ensures easy access to up-to-date relevant data, which will help employees complete their tasks much faster without committing any expensive mistakes. Ultimately your company will establish high standards of data security and integrity.
A more nimble organization
Workflow management helps standardize your workflow processes, enabling your team to respond and adapt to changes more quickly.
When you have spotted the scope for new opportunities, you can check your workflow diagram to see where it could be fitted and the opportunities that could be leveraged. You can stay agile and stay ahead of your competitors. With the ability to implement changes as and when required, you can remain competitive and avoid any threats or challenges that can arise in the future.
More Transparency and accountability
An imperative feature of workflow optimization is it evaluated the performance of those involved in the workflow which means there is accountability. Through accountability, their performance can also be monitored, which will boost productivity. Since you can share data across departments, it establishes a sense of transparency. Everyone is well informed about who is working on which tasks, avoiding any miscommunication and task redundancies.
Examples of workflow optimization
To get a better understanding of workflow optimization, look at these examples:
Inventory Management Workflow
If you are a business that involves raw materials stored in inventories, you will be required to track the stock available, its usage, and order time. Once you get to know how to successfully manage inventory, you will need to come up with the steps involved.
This is how a rough workflow would look like
- Low stock alert
- Ordered Goods
- Management approval
- Getting in touch with the vendor
- Goods have been delivered
- Goods have been reviewed and stored.
There are certain dependent tasks that need to take place like order management, inventory management, initiating purchase orders, etc.
Onboarding new employees' workflow
Hiring new employees is not a cakewalk. It involves multiple workflows among multiple departments. There is a constant movement of information from HR to teams and managers to ensure the right candidates are selected. New employees have a set of tasks to complete before finally settling into their roles.
A new employee onboarding workflow can look like this:
- Role vacancy submission to HR
- Create a job description
- Get approval from the teams for the description
- Post job description on relevant job portals
- Asses candidates
- Select the candidates for the interview
- Hire the candidate based on their performance
- Remove the vacancy
- Collect their relevant documentation and store them
- Ensure the employee completes their training
Top Workflow Optimizing Strategies
A well-crafted workflow optimization strategies increase efficiency, offering a streamlined workflows pattern
Keep it agile
Visualize the step-by-step movement of the workflow you are intending to create and emphasize on the interaction, collaboration, and its adaptability aspects.
Draft a business process improvement plan
After a complete analysis of your current workflows, the managers of BPR will draft completely new workflows that can achieve better results.
Lean is used to optimize workflow by identifying opportunities for eliminating waste. Waste here means practices that don’t serve any purpose, unnecessary meetings, repetitive tasks, and documentation processes that reduce after implementing lean practices.
Take the help of Six Sigma experts
Identify and discard process deficiencies. Six Sigma experts use statistical quality management methods to determine the likelihood of a process having a defect.
Look for the factors causing the limitation
Identify the constraints in your workflows that prevent your organization from achieving specific goals.
Refine your processes completely and eliminate any inefficiencies
Workflow Optimization - Best Practices
Follow these best practices to get the most out of your workflow optimization
Connect with third-party services
The ability to integrate the relevant systems involved in a workflow is essential to enhance efficiency and reduce human errors. There are plenty of third-party systems like CRM and ERP whose APIs can be used to automate the processes. Your workflow automation systems should be able to integrate with APIs so that you can exchange data between them. Without this feature, employees would have to manually undergo this process.
Embrace Conditional Logic
Using conditional logic, you can automate the manual decision-making process. Complex workflows can now make decisions on the behalf of the users based on a preset logic. For example, if it’s a request for reimbursement, you can use a conditional logic that automatically denies the request if it exceeds the budget.
Notifying the stakeholders
The most time-consuming aspect of the workflow is the communication between the various stakeholders. When there are multiple stakeholders involved, they need to coordinate, set meetings and ensure the work is completed. Most of this can be automated by having alerts set up within the workflow itself. For example, if the workflows have people from multiple departments involved at different steps of the processes, you can set up automatic notifications to notify them of approvals, changes, and follow-ups.
Get rid of manual data entry
Having to feed data manually is time-consuming as well as prone to human error, which can cause delays and backlogs. Though you can’t remove data entry completely, you can reduce it at critical places. You can ensure your workflows get the data from the original courses and through integration without the need for manual intervention. In addition to having integration, you should also incorporate automation systems that sync data from your databases, etc.
Track relevant metrics, report analytics and enable workflows
Once you have optimized your workflows, collect relevant data and track the metrics of the workflows to get an understanding of any potential inefficiencies and ways to fix them. When the metrics are going down, you can enable alerts that notify management to address them.
Workflow Optimization Techniques
1. Link Your Form to Master Data
One process many companies try to make super-efficient is the Purchase Requisition. It seems pretty cut and dry – a team leader needs to make an order from an approved vendor, so they fill out a form and get approval.
But it often gets complicated when the procurement team has to manually key in all the requisition data such as laptop names, quantity, name of the requesting department, etc. to their purchase order system.
In addition to the chance for manual errors, if the team lead doesn’t know how much of their monthly or quarterly budget is already exhausted, they might make requests that exceed the budget. Similarly, what good is it for a manager to approve the request if they don’t know the current budget available?
The best workflow optimization technique in this situation is to link the form to some master data. For example, you can create an automated form that only lets users select from approved vendors, and then automatically populates other fields based on requests. This will cut down on errors and makes things flow smoother.
Similarly, you can create a dataset that has monthly or quarterly budgets for different departments. When you link your form using this workflow optimization technique, the user will be able to see the beginning amount and the current amount which deducts all the previously approved requests.
2. Create Conditional Steps and Branches
This workflow optimization technique is useful when you have a process that works mostly well, but has some exceptions. Such as getting the VP’s sign off on a new marketing campaign. It’s definitely needed for the big push around a major conference with a big spend, but less important when trying to promote some new blog posts.
Rather than spending time designing new processes for every situation, you can create a conditional task. This workflow technique involves tagging a particular task to only happen in a specific situation, such as the total cost of the campaign.
Similarly, you can create separate branches of a workflow based on a condition. The creative process for a blog post and landing page might start and end the same way, but have unique steps in the middle. Housing them both under the same workflow by creating two parallel paths is a great way to get workflow optimization.
3. Integrate a Workflow With Other Software
Using a workflow software like Kissflow is a great way to achieve workflow optimization. But a lot of your work happens in other software such as financial, HR, admin, and more.
One of the more efficient ways to optimize your workflows is to integrate the workflow so that data can pass from inside Kissflow to any other cloud-based app. For example, you can integrate your purchase order with a financial software like QuickBooks so that you can automatically generate an invoice once the purchase is fulfilled. Here’s a simple tutorial to integrate Quickbooks with Kissflow through Zapier.
4. Dovetail Workflows Together
One common problem when thinking about a workflow is making it too big. Where does the sales cycle begin and end? You might link it all the way back to creating a lead from marketing and continue it all the way through customer onboarding and support.
However, creating a massive streamlined workflow like this invites more problems than it creates. Instead, you can create separate workflows such as sales quotations, sales orders, and customer onboarding. Each workflow can be separate, but you can create triggers so that as soon as one of them ends, another begins.
5. Switch Approvals to Notifications
Too many approvals or too few? It’s always a balance of more control or more flow. Senior leaders like to be kept in the loop, but they can also be a logjam point for your process.
Solution? You can still keep them in the know with a simple workflow optimization trick. Just tweak their approval steps and configure the workflow to send them email notifications for important steps of the process. They can jump in when available and give insight into important points.
Figuring out what’s slowing down your processes and applying the right kind of workflow optimization technique is crucial to your operations, even if it is mostly automated.
Applying workflow optimization techniques like the ones mentioned above is necessary because you have to constantly adapt to the new process requirements and their payload once your operations scale up. So be open to embracing new workflow optimization techniques to your processes, even if they are already automated and look efficient.