Approval flow is a key component of workflow management. Workflows encompass the entire lifecycle of a process or task, including the various stages, tasks, and approvals involved.
Approval flow is one aspect of workflow management that focuses specifically on the review and authorization of requests within the overall workflow. This blog focuses on implementing approval flows and how to create efficient approval flows using Cflow.
What are Approval Flows?
Approval flow refers to the systematic and structured process through which requests or tasks are reviewed, authorized, and approved within an organization. It involves a series of sequential or parallel steps where designated individuals or groups evaluate the request, provide their approval or rejection, and pass it on to the next level until the final decision is reached. Approval flows are defined by criteria and thresholds that must be met as the workflow progresses.
Purpose of Approval Flows
The purpose of an approval flow is to ensure that the appropriate stakeholders or authorities review and authorize requests in a structured manner, promoting transparency, accountability, and adherence to organizational policies.
By implementing an approval flow, organizations can streamline decision-making processes, prevent unauthorized actions, maintain regulatory compliance, and ensure that resources are allocated efficiently.
Approval flows can be applied to various processes and tasks within an organization, including but not limited to purchase requisitions, expense reimbursements, project proposals, leave requests, content publishing, document reviews, and more. The specific design and complexity of an approval flow depend on the nature of the request, the organizational structure, and the specific requirements of the business process at hand.
Types of Approval Flows
1. Sequential Approval Flow:
In this type of flow, requests progress through a predefined sequence of approvers. Each approver in the chain reviews and provides their approval or rejection before passing it on to the next person in line. Sequential approval flows are suitable for processes that require a strict order of approvals, such as financial transactions or document reviews.
2. Parallel Approval Flow:
In a parallel approval flow, multiple approvers review the request simultaneously. Each approver provides their individual approval or rejection, and the request can proceed if it receives approval from any one of the designated approvers. Parallel approval flows are beneficial for expediting decision-making and reducing bottlenecks, as multiple reviewers can evaluate requests concurrently.
3. Mixed Approval Flow:
A mixed approval flow combines elements of both sequential and parallel flows. It allows for a combination of sequential and parallel steps, depending on the specific requirements of the process. For example, an approval flow might involve a sequential chain of approvers up to a certain point, after which it splits into parallel branches for further evaluation by different stakeholders.
Common Use Cases of Approval Flows in Industries
Approval flows are commonly used in various industries to streamline and manage decision-making processes. Here are some examples:
1. Human Resources:
- Employee onboarding uses approval flows for hiring new employees, including background checks, offer letters, and contract approvals.
- Leave request approval flows make it easier for approving leave requests including vacation, sick leave, and maternity/paternity leave.
- Expense approval flows can be employed for verification and approval of employee expenses such as travel and reimbursement claims.
2. Finance and Accounting:
- Approval flows for purchase requests including purchasing new equipment, supplies, or services, ensuring compliance with budgetary restrictions and procurement policies.
- Budget approval flows for authorizing departmental or project budgets, including expense allocations and investment decisions.
- Invoice approval flows for verifying and approving vendor invoices for payment processing.
3. IT and Technology:
- In change management approval flows can be used for implementing changes to IT systems, infrastructure, or software to ensure minimal disruption and maintain security.
- Access request approval flows for granting or revoking access to sensitive systems, applications, or data.
- Software and hardware procurement approval flow for authorizing the purchase and deployment of new technology resources.
4. Marketing and Advertising:
- Campaign approval flows for authorizing marketing campaigns, including ad creatives, messaging, and targeting.
- Content approval flows for verification and approval of content before publishing, such as blog posts, social media content, and press releases.
- Partnership approval flows for entering into partnerships or collaborations with other brands or influencers.
5. Manufacturing and Production:
- Quality control approval flows for product quality checks at different stages of production to ensure compliance with industry standards.
- Production order approval flows can be used for authorizing the initiation of production runs based on demand forecasts and inventory levels.
- Material requisition approval flows can be used for approving ordering raw materials or components needed for manufacturing processes.
- Treatment approval flows can be used for authorizing medical procedures, surgeries, or treatments, considering factors like insurance coverage and medical necessity.
- Prescription approval flows can be used for approving and issuing prescriptions for medications or medical devices.
- Research proposal approval flows for research projects, including clinical trials and studies involving human subjects.
Example of Approval Flows:
This is an example of an automated approval flow for purchase requests and billing approvals:
Purchase Request Submission:
– An employee submits a purchase request through an online form or a designated system.
– The form captures details such as item description, quantity, cost, vendor information, and any relevant attachments.
– The automation tool validates the purchase request against budgetary limits or predefined spending rules.
– If the request exceeds the allocated budget, it triggers an approval process. Otherwise, it proceeds to the next step.
– The automation tool sends an approval notification to the employee’s manager.
– The manager reviews the purchase request, including the item details, cost, and justification.
– They can approve or reject the request based on predefined criteria or manual evaluation.
– The request moves to the next step if it is approved. If rejected, the employee is notified, and the process ends.
– If the purchase request is approved, the automation tool can initiate a vendor selection process.
– It can integrate with vendor databases or send requests for quotations to multiple vendors.
– The system collects and compares vendor responses, providing recommendations based on predefined criteria or rules.
– The automation tool triggers an approval request for the procurement team or designated personnel.
– They review vendor selection, negotiate terms, and ensure compliance with procurement policies.
– If approved, the process proceeds to the next step. If rejected, the employee is notified, and the process ends.
– Once the items are received or services are rendered, the vendor submits an invoice to the organization.
– The automation tool validates the invoice against the corresponding purchase request and relevant contracts.
– If the invoice matches the approved request, it triggers a billing approval process.
– The automation tool sends an approval notification to the finance department or designated personnel.
– They review the invoice, ensuring accuracy, compliance, and proper allocation of expenses.
– If approved, the invoice is processed for payment. If rejected, the vendor and relevant parties are notified, and the process ends.
Payment and Recording:
– The automation tool facilitates the payment process, generating payment instructions or integrating with payment systems.
– It records the payment details and updates the financial systems accordingly.
– The employee who initiated the purchase request is notified of the payment completion.
Throughout the entire process, the automation tool that you choose like Cflow keeps a detailed audit trail, providing visibility into the approval flow, decision points, and any changes made. This helps in tracking the status of requests, identifying bottlenecks, and ensuring compliance with internal policies and regulations.
How to Create Approval Flows using Cflow
Cflow is a cloud-based workflow automation platform that allows you to easily create approval flows and streamline your business processes. Here is a step-by-step guide for you to create approval flows using Cflow:
Step 1. Sign up for Cflow
- Go to the Cflow website and sign up for an account.
- You may need to provide some basic information, such as your business email address to get started.
Step 2. Create a New Workflow
- Once you have signed in to your Cflow account, click on the “New Workflow” button in the Workflow Setup from the menu to start creating a new workflow.
- Give your workflow a name and description to help you identify it later.
Step 3. Define Workflow Stages
- Each stage here represents a step in your approval process. Click on the “Add Stage” button to define your workflow stages.
- For instance, you might have stages like “Requester,” “Manager Approval,” and “Final Approval.”
- You can also set up parallel stages if you need multiple approvers to review the request simultaneously.
Step 4. Define Roles and Approvers
- For each stage, you need to define the roles and assign specific users as approvers.
- Cflow allows you to define roles based on your organization’s structure or job titles, making it easier to manage approvers as your organization grows.
Step 5. Design Forms and Fields
- To create the request form, you need to design the fields that users will fill out. Click on the form builder to start designing your form.
- Drag and drop form fields from the toolbar to the form canvas to add fields like text boxes, dropdowns, checkboxes, etc.
- Customize each field with labels, validation rules, and default values based on your requirements.
Step 6. Set Up Approval Rules
- Cflow allows you to define rules that determine when a request should move to the next stage. Click on the “Automation” button and go to the rules tab.
- Set up conditions based on form field values or other criteria to trigger automatic approval or rejection.
- You can also configure escalation rules to notify higher-level approvers or send reminders if approvals are pending for too long.
Step 7. Configure Notifications
- Notifications are essential to keep everyone informed about the progress of requests. In Cflow, you can configure email notifications for various events.
- You can set up notifications for different stages, including approval requests, approval status updates, and reminders.
- Customize the email content and recipients based on your requirements.
Step 8. Publish and Test the Workflow
- Once you have configured all the stages, roles, forms, rules, and notifications, review your workflow settings.
- Click on the “Publish” button to make your workflow active and available for users to initiate requests.
- Test the workflow by initiating a sample request and ensure that the approval flow is working as expected.
Step 9. Monitor and Manage Requests
- You can use the dashboard to monitor and manage all the requests in your workflows.
- You can track the status of each request, view the history of approvals, and generate reports to gain insights into your approval processes.
That’s it! You have successfully created an approval flow using Cflow. Cflow offers additional advanced features like integrations, analytics, and document management, which you can explore to further enhance your approval flows.
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Smart Approval using Workflow Automation
Smart approval using workflow automation refers to the process of automating approval processes within a workflow using intelligent technologies. It involves utilizing software systems and tools to streamline and accelerate the approval process, reducing manual effort and increasing efficiency.
- Workflow Design: First, you need to define the workflow for the approval process. This includes identifying the tasks involved, the order in which they need to be executed, and the individuals or roles responsible for each task.
- Automation Tools: Next, you’ll select an automation tool or platform that supports smart approval capabilities. There are various workflow automation platforms available that offer features specifically designed for approval processes.
- Integration: To enable smart approvals, you’ll need to integrate the automation tool with the systems and applications involved in the workflow. This could include connecting with project management tools, document management systems, communication platforms, or any other relevant software.
- Rule-based Approvals: With smart approval automation, you can set up rules and conditions that determine when approval is required. For example, you can define specific criteria that trigger an approval request, such as a certain budget threshold or specific document types.
- Notification and Escalation: Once an approval request is triggered, the automation tool can automatically notify the relevant approver(s) through various channels like email, instant messaging, or a dedicated approval dashboard. If an approver doesn’t respond within a specified timeframe, the system can escalate the request to the next designated person.
- Decision Support: Automation tools can also provide decision support by aggregating and presenting relevant information to the approver. This could include contextual data, previous approval history, or real-time analytics, helping the approver make informed decisions quickly.
- Tracking and Audit: Smart approval automation maintains a comprehensive audit trail, logging all approval activities and decisions made. This helps in tracking the progress of approvals, identifying bottlenecks, and ensuring compliance with regulations or internal policies.
- Analytics and Optimization: Automation platforms often offer analytics and reporting features that allow you to analyze approval processes, identify areas for improvement, and optimize the workflow over time. This helps in enhancing efficiency and reducing approval cycle times.
By implementing smart approval using workflow automation, organizations can significantly streamline their approval processes, reduce manual errors, enhance productivity, and improve overall operational efficiency.
Implementing efficient approval flows is crucial for streamlining business processes and ensuring timely decision-making. In this blog, we’ve highlighted some use cases and emphasized the importance of clear workflows, automated notifications, and flexibility in the approval process. You can use a powerful workflow automation tool like Cflow to create and manage efficient approval flows.
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