What is Workflow Management?
Although we do not intend to provide a perfect definition, you’ll see us attempting to simplify the topic into bite-sized concepts. In simple terms, workflow is a sequence of tasks performed specifically to achieve a business goal.
It is a collection of steps in a work process that, when performed, is collectively intended to achieve a pre-set business goal.
Workflow is a huge umbrella term that could mean different things to different people.
- At an individual level, it could mean a set of business processes that help achieve specific business operations.
- It means a collection of business operations or tasks intended to achieve a larger organizational objective at a corporate level.
Let’s set the record straight before heading further into the topic at hand. Here, confusion regarding the definition of process and workflow could arise, thanks to its overlapping features. A workflow is, usually, a repeatable process that can take place any number of times in succession.
- A process has a well-defined and specific purpose, an input and an output, while a workflow refers to a set of related tasks that form a part of a larger process.
- A workflow is a set of tasks that are interrelated with one another, which helps work to actually flow from one process to another based on pre-set rules.
A workflow has three main pre-defined concepts:
Sequence of Steps
A workflow follows a sequence of predefined steps. When a workflow is being mapped, you should ensure there is clarity about what happens during each task, the stakeholders, and the requirements. The next step in any workflow can follow a linear flow, a branched, or a mixture based on the process requirements.
Stakeholders should also be carefully defined as they are the people who are actually responsible for undertaking the particular task in the workflow. Stakeholders can be responsible for specific tasks or a group of tasks or, at times, for the entire workflow.
Different stakeholders enter the workflow to perform specific tasks or make decisions.
Every workflow follows specific rules and conditions. These rules are based on the process and business goals. The outcome of each step determines the progress of the work. In order to ensure adherence to standards, it is essential to have conditions at different stages of the workflow. Yet not all workflows are made alike – each workflow follows a different path depending on the need and goals. In a business, all work is interlinked. Yet, some tasks are performed individually without requiring inputs from other teams. Let’s now look at workflow patterns in brief.
- Sequential Workflow Pattern
Completing the first tasks is crucial for the commencement of the next step in this workflow series. In a sequential workflow pattern, the workflows through from one step to another in a simple linear step format. By using this pattern, even a complex process can be broken down into simpler steps.For example, an employee sends a leave request form to the Supervisor for approval. The Supervisor sends the approved form to HR for reporting.
- Parallel Workflow Pattern
Not many tasks are performed by an employee individually. Some tasks require a series of steps for completion, while some require multiple stakeholders’ participation. Since each step in the task is assigned to a different worker, the parallel workflow pattern makes it easy to carry out assigned tasks.
- Conditional Workflow Pattern
A conditional workflow uses pre-set conditions that the process follows. For example, if an employee requests travel reimbursement from the accounts department, and the manager has rejected the same request due to overshooting the budget threshold, the same should be reflected immediately in the workflow.
- Loop Pattern
A loop workflow pattern works best when a task requires multiple permissions, approvals, and reviews. For example, if you are releasing a PR regarding a new product, there would be multiple corrections, additions, and reviews before the final product are published. These numerous approvals and stakeholder involvement can be made easily using a loop workflow pattern. With this knowledge on workflow management, let’s quickly turn our attention to workflow management software or workflow automation.
What is a Workflow Automation/Management Software?
A workflow automation/management software is a software application or a tool that automates the sequential flow of work in a business process.
Workflow automation will not fix your broken process pieces, nor will it give you efficient results with an unstructured process flow. It is not a remedy for your sloppy business process. However, workflow automation will help you focus on the ‘how’ of a process rather than on the ‘who.’
Every organization handles several documents, forms, and data. It is a huge challenge to be able to sift through these documents and process them manually, even with a great pre-defined process. That’s why workflow automation helps us in managing processes. It helps users collaborate with other teams, reduce manual errors, and increase efficiency.
According to a statistic published by McKinsey, in an average workweek, a worker spends nearly 20% of their productive time looking for information or tracking down other colleagues who can help them with tasks.
Using workflow management software makes you more adept at aligning your business goals to your processes. A workflow management software connects:
- Planned Tasks
A business process cuts along department lines and business units. And a decision taken in one part of the department can have a huge impact on the organization’s overall efficiency. When departments don’t share their work, or when people at the decision points don’t share their knowledge, the workflow becomes disconnected.
But what is the solution?
Workflow mapping before management.
Complex business activity can be broken down into several smaller tasks that can be performed in a pre-set sequence to achieve business goals. And, when you build quality checks and performance metrics into the workflow software, you’ll be able to improve the efficiency of the system more effectively.
For example, a procurement process in a company might seem like a straightforward process, but it is a complex labyrinth of interconnected tasks. On the outside, the process could involve preparing purchase requisition, issuing orders, generating an invoice for received goods, and paying the supplier.
But this workflow process is made up of several blocks of individual tasks such as obtaining quotations, requirements from various department heads, review, and approval routed back into the same process. This is where procurement management software can come in handy and improve productivity.
Does Your Company Need a Workflow Management System?
Regardless of its size and process complexity, every company deserves a reliable and efficient workflow management system. It helps organizations run their workflow processes to their maximum efficiency.
Before answering the question of whether your company needs a workflow management system, it is time for a little introspection. Ask yourself,
- Are redundant tasks cutting down efficiency and employee performance?
- Are interdependencies causing a disconnect between departments?
- Are you looking for ways to improve compliance and quality in your products and processes?
- Do you want to reduce the costs and time taken to perform tasks?
- Are manual errors causing bottlenecks, failures, and delays?
If you said yes to all or a few of these questions, you might benefit the most from a reliable workflow management system.
You use a checklist; do you need Workflow Management?
Checklists are great tools to keep track of your everyday tasks. Almost everyone maintains some sort of a checklist. From grocery store shopping to vacation planning, we depend on our well-jotted down checklists to help us keep track of our progress.
On the other hand, a workflow is a sequence of activities or tasks where the completion of one step will lead to the next. Unlike a checklist, where there is no particular order in which the tasks are to be performed, a workflow has a pre-defined order for the interdependent activities or tasks.
We have a Manual Workflow in Place. Should we automate?
Manual workflows and automated workflow software work in similar ways, but workflow software offers benefits when compared with the manual process.
Look at this statistic – according to a study conducted by Plainview, a US-based software company, 43% of polled business leaders believed that too much paperwork caused inefficiency and wasted time at work.
When a document is physically passed from one desk to another, it might take a lot of time and effort to complete the process. Moreover, if you miss one step or person in the process flow, the entire process chain must be repeated. To avoid this in the future, you would try to add another level of editing, which could further slow the process.
A workflow management software will make the entire job much easier, faster, and error-free. The in-between redundant steps can be taken out of the process flow, making the workflow more accurate, consistent, and reliable. Additionally, an automated management system makes it easier for you to collaborate with other departments across locations easily and in real-time. Finally, workflow software improves productivity and accuracy manifold.
Is it important for the Workflow and the Process to Align Together?
Workflow and process are two closely connected concepts, even though they mean two different things. A business process is a group or series of activities that satisfy business goals. These activities are broken down into individual tasks or actions. Workflow is the routing of these tasks using a variety of tools in a repeated flow in real-time.
In much simpler terms, a process is an ideal way a business’s actions should be performed, while the workflow is how the tasks actually happen on a day-to-day basis. You cannot optimize the process without looking into the workflow. To maximize the benefits of the process, you should tweak, simplify, and optimize the workflow.
When Should You Use Workflow Management Software?
There is no specific time when you should opt for a workflow management system. However, as a general rule, if your business is struggling with any of the following issues, then a workflow management system could be a smart choice.
- Communication system breakdown or inefficient.
- Manual documentation and approvals are taking too long.
- Errors in the process reduce the efficiency of the output
- An old legacy system unable to cope with the necessities of the modern workforce
- Workforce not working to their optimum capability
What are the Benefits of a Workflow Management Software?
Every business has a strong fool-proof process plan in place, but tasks and activities rarely go from start to finish as planned.
For example, your employee might initiate a leave travel reimbursement request form and route it to HR. For the request to be processed, a couple of documents are mandatory. HR might send the file back to the employee if the documents are missing. Moreover, HR would require approval from concerned departmental heads and senior management to initiate the reimbursement. The entire process is a long road filled with dead ends and chaos.
Now, let’s show you another scenario – one where you have workflow automation software in place. With an HR and Admin automation system, it is easier for the employee to upload all documents and get approval in no time. Since external systems, budget, and manager reviews are configured into the system, it becomes easier to get the necessary approvals.
We know that a workflow management system provides innumerable benefits. Let’s look at a few here.
Helps avoid Common Errors
A business runs on documents and papers, and one of the most common problems a business faces is papers getting lost in the constant shuffle. With workflow automation software, this simple but critical issue can be resolved. You can prevent errors proactively.
For example, a Procurement workflow system can come in handy for an executive handling quotation management. There is little scope for errors or manual mistakes when the workflow is designed with the quotation threshold, budget, discounts, and rules.
Reduces Deviations from Standard
With a workflow process set in place, there are few chances of deviations from standards. A business process involves a lot of moving parts, and as such keeping, this machinery in a well-oiled condition is quite a challenge. However, with a workflow management system, it is possible to ensure compliance, reduce errors and improve accountability.
Eliminates Redundancy and Rework
Redundancy in tasks steals away crucial productive time from employees. It also helps in eliminating errors and rework related to redundant work. When you map a workflow, it becomes easy to identify process redundancies that reduce the effectiveness of operations.
Helps Monitor Tasks and Progress
A mapped workflow management system allows employees to monitor the process of their tasks, understand the stage of approval their requests are, and work towards their progress. Moreover, the management can also monitor the team’s progress and approve tasks or requests 24/7.
Reduces Paperwork and Documentation Time
Some amount of paperwork is necessary for any organization, but it can take away employees’ productive time. With a Finance management system, the department can reduce their dependencies on paper and improve their process time. In fact, there are costs and time associated with paperwork, and an automation system can help an organization enhance productivity and profit.
An automated workflow software will help your organization assign the right tasks to the right people with the appropriate skill set. Moreover, it also allows them to juggle multiple tasks from a single place easily.
Regardless of the process, you have in place, it is important to always check whether the employees are doing their work at the right time and in the right way. Workflow software reminds your employees of the nearing deadlines and sends alerts and reminders to ensure they are on the right track. It also lets the management know when a process is behind schedule so that they have enough time to make contingency plans.
Improves Integration and Connectivity
All business processes are interconnected, and sometimes businesses make use of different software and tools to work. An integrated automation solution can draw data from these disparate parts and function as a single application. A workflow automation software connects people, processes, and projects together seamlessly.
This point doesn’t need much explanation as one of the main benefits of a workflow automation system is increased productivity and profits. When all workflows are automated, the wait time is decreased, progress can be tracked, information extracted from various sources easily, and approvals received in no time.
Increases Trust and Control
In a workflow automation system, there is greater transparency and ownership. Everyone knows their roles, requirements, and responsibilities, and there is better control over the process. Employees have a complete understanding of their job requirements, and the managers are willing to transfer ownership and accountability of the tasks.
No organization is happy with the status quo. Every business – be it big or small – is always looking to improve its operations. It is not difficult to understand why – they are trying to improve, finetune, and improve their existing processes.
Sometimes there could be a stiff resistance to change, especially from employees who have been in the organization for too long. There is no logical benefit from building a new process and having to stand over the shoulders of employees just to see if they are doing everything right. But, with workflow software, you can simply configure new changes into the system, and it will automatically adjust the process flow. It will also notify employees about the new changes so that they are able to enforce the process accordingly.
What are the Must-Have Features in an Ideal Workflow Software?
When you are picking a workflow software, there are a few must-haves features every ideal workflow solution would have. Yes, there are several solutions out there in the market, but only a few offer customization capabilities and are feature-rich.
1. Simplicity in Building the Process
An ideal workflow software should have simple and easy-to-use capabilities. When the software is made using a process builder, it allows customers to define their business process easily using pre-set task sequences based on business goals and rules.
When the workflow software tools are user-friendly and simple to use, your employees will be motivated to keep using them. With the complete information about the new process, more employees will be willing to give their inputs to improve the process flow.
2. Flexibility and Customization
Good workflow management software offers immense flexibility and customization capabilities to businesses.
Even when your well-designed process doesn’t proceed as planned, your workflow management system should be able to help you out. It should be equipped to deal with unexpected changes or contingencies effortlessly.
You should be able to change the tasks – by reassigning, reopening, and deleting when the tasks don’t proceed as required.
You should be able to make decisions as required – by rejecting previously approved tasks or providing instant approvals.
You should process information from anywhere by correcting errors, requesting information, editing fields, and verifying documents.
3. Easy Drag-and-Drop Feature
A no-code, drag-and-drop feature goes a long way in ensuring even the non-technical employees and management can build a customized workflow system for their needs. The management and employees can make their own workflows, using as many or as few components within it.
A simple layout – without hidden texts, too many configuration options, several tabular columns running too many pages, and more – works best. The workflow templates should look good and be simple to use. Otherwise, the entire process will be counterproductive.
4. A Quick Form Designer
There is just no good-enough reason not to have an excellent form designer in this time and age. And forms should have every type of field you could think of – texts, calculations, maps, numbers, tables, layouts, drop-drop lists, and more. Get an impressive workflow management system that has an equally impressive and intuitive form designer.
5. Cloud-based Technology
Again, with the technology progressing at a lightning rate, it is crucial to have a cloud-based workflow option that allows for business scalability.
You should be able to access data from any location and at any time. It is equally about maintenance, compliance, updates, and data security. If you are investing in a system that doesn’t emphasize these concepts, you might be making a purchase in haste.
6. User-Friendly Interface
A user-friendly interface will assist employees in logging in, managing, tracking, and conducting tasks and monitoring processes. A user-friendly and simple interface helps in better performance and increased productivity.
7. Better Analytics and Reporting Capability
Choosing a workflow system that comes with a plethora of reporting and analytical tools is important. Information is constantly collected throughout the entire process. And, this information will let you know how each employee is performing, whether they are meeting the task requirements, the time is taken for completion, and if any task is overdue.
When you have a clear understanding of the workflow, you will be able to make clear decisions regarding resourcing, tweaking the tasks, and reassigning tasks. If, after analytics, you encounter bottlenecks at any stage of the process, you can take preventive steps and incorporate amends into the system.
8. Support Mobile Functionality
Pick a workflow system that comes with a built-in mobility feature.
An ideal workflow system will help you monitor your business process even on the move. Choose a mobile-friendly system that doesn’t require specific coding, has a mobile-friendly design and components. Make sure all the features work well on mobile as well as on desktop, without having to constantly change devices just because some features don’t work on mobile phones.
9. Better Connectivity and Interaction
Workflow software is ideal for enhancing collaboration between teams, better connectivity, and interaction between business units. Since it is a centralized system, everyone is aware of the operations, progress, and completion. Moreover, the same quality standards are maintained throughout the organization.
10. Enhanced Integration
A good workflow system should allow for better integration with third-party applications. Every organization relies on different third-party tools for their day-to-day activities, and an ideal automation system should be able to extract information and directly integrate it with all such tools.
Your content writer can write your blogs using a word document or any other third-party tool. By third-party integration in a marketing automation system, you can extract those blogs, review them, get approvals, and post them in no time.
11. Improved Process Control using workflow Engines
A workflow system allows for better decision-making and control over the entire process. Since you can build in pre-defined rules and standards, the work and decisions flow through the pre-set channels.
Additionally, workflow automation should lend you a helping hand by letting you control your processes and generate analytics when it deviates from the standards. A workflow system should provide you with key performance-based reports to make better decisions for your business.
12. Capability to Bring All Workflows in a Single Platform
Finally, an ideal workflow system will bring various aspects of the business operations into a single platform.
Since most of these operations are interdependent on each other, it is only smart to bring their dependencies together and route workflows through one another. This way, your employees, management, and other stakeholders can use, monitor, and manage the system more effectively.
Comparing Top Workflow Software
You might think we are a wee-bit biased putting Cflow on top of the list, but we have done so not without a good reason. Before we tell you all about our features, let’s start with an overview of Cflow.
Cflow is the ultimate no-code workflow management software. It is a cloud-based business process management system perfect for both small and medium-scale businesses. It helps you streamline your processes, identify bottlenecks, enhance productivity, and improve operational efficiency. With Cflow, you can easily and effectively transition from a spreadsheet-based system to a more automated and advanced workflow management system.
Cflow helps you manage, monitor, and collaborate Operations, Finance, HR, Procurement, and Marketing from one single place. Its features include compliance tracking, customizable forms and dashboards, third-party integrations, mobile access, and task management. What makes Cflow truly unique is that it is a no-code system that doesn’t require any technical knowledge.
Visual Workflow Builder
- Allows you to build an easy-to-use flowchart-based workflow for all your processes.
- Bringing the benefits of the no-code ecosystem, Cflow lets you create your custom workflows using their innovative drag-and-drop feature.
- You are better equipped to eliminate unnecessary steps and redundancies by visualizing the workflow.
- You also get pre-designed templates if you don’t prefer customization.
- Give your Cflow forms the exposure they need by plugging your website URL with your workflow.
- The public forms come with complete customization capabilities.
- Data sanitation and verification can be reduced as there is ZERO chance of spamming
- Seamlessly routing the public forms to the appropriate reviewer is built-in to the system
- Intuitive UI with one-click setup capability
- Define custom rules to optimize your workflows
- Immense customization options such as multiple operators and conditions
- Eliminate the dependency on IT or Technical people for setting up
- Unmatched third-party integrations available – SalesForce, MailChimp, SAP, Dropbox, Quickbooks, and more
- Integrates with over 1000 applications
- Connect and move data from external databases without the need for a single line of code
- Choose your favorite technology to connect with external systems – APIs or Webhooks
Analytics and Reporting
- Cflow provides comprehensive analytics and reports on your workflow bottlenecks, process timelines, and productivity statuses.
- Get everything you need right on your super-colorful, intuitive, and customizable dashboard.
- Get table reports, system reports, and custom reports as per your requirement.
2. Process Street
Process Street is a robust workflow management software that has become one of the favorites for businesses. Although it offers limited features and customization options when compared with other systems, it is nonetheless popular and effective. The increase in its application is that it can effectively manage recurring tasks and checklists.
Why Process Street?
Process Street is a simple tool that integrates more than 1000 third-party applications such as Zapier, Slack, and SalesForce. It has both free and paid user options, but even the free option provides users with several benefits. Its features include access permissions and control, collaboration tools, process automation and control, audit, and compliance management.
- No-code, drag, and drop feature
- Guest and user permissions for internal and external collaborations
- Conditions and pre-defined rules help the system adapt to changing scenarios
- Easy to use even for non-technical persons
- The support team is excellent
- Customization capability leaves much to be desired
- Permission assignment and the conditional logic setting is lacking
- Reporting tools are not up to the mark
Monday.com is an intuitive cloud-based workflow automation system. It is a code-free adaptive platform that effectively automates manual tasks easily. You can simply insert tasks into a workflow and create specific steps and conditions that should be taken to complete these tasks.
Monday.com is an easy-to-setup system that comes with several customization options for alerts and notifications. One of the main features of Monday.com is it allows you to view your workflows in a variety of ways, such as Gantt charts, Kanban boards, and integrate it with Trello, Slack, GitHub, and more.
With Monday.com, you can easily visualize your process flow at both macro and micro levels. Additional features include calendar sync, time tracking, Forms and Graphs, and insights.
- Highly customizable solution
- Easy-to-use and set up
- Provides seamless collaboration features
- Comes with an intuitive and user-friendly design
- Offer several project views for easy tracking of activities
- Requires up-gradation to access many options
- The search capability is limited
- Permissions need to be improved
4. Process Bliss
Process Bliss is a simple yet powerful workflow management platform that helps in eliminating errors and streamlining various teams to work together. It integrates your CRM, finance, and emails well and comes included with feature-rich apps like Microsoft Office 365, Google Calendar, Slack, Zapier, and more.
Why Process Bliss?
Process Bliss’s most valued features are its process management system, alerts and notifications, ease-of-use, third-party integrations, and more. It allows you to track several projects on a single view.
Process Bliss is a powerful template builder, easy to use, comes with quality analytics and feedback templates. The features include approval process control, auditing features, chat and messaging capability, customization ability, and goal setting and tracking. Has team collaboration and @mentions in comments.
- Has the ability to handle complex and simple processes easily
- Can scale and improve based on project needs
- Great report and analytics capabilities
- Competitive pricing
- Support and help team are excellent
- Public API is not available
- Not possible to track the timing
- The software can get slow
Asana is developed and brought to you by one of Facebook’s co-founders. It has evolved as an effective tool to manage, monitor, and schedule projects. Asana comes with great process management and automation capabilities. It comes with a straightforward UI and simple features that help several teams organize their workflows and management to monitor at both micro and macro levels.
Asana is a smart and intuitive UI that helps you manage your everyday work quite easily. Asana offers simplicity in organizing work – like your sticky notes. It allows you to list out and map all your tasks and view them all on a calendar to track your progress. Moreover, when you set conditions, you can monitor the project’s progress at every stage and identify bottlenecks effectively. A simple UI makes Asana a perfect tool for small to large businesses.
- Allows you to set milestones and break down tasks into subsets
- Let’s you create custom fields – with name, type, and values
- Comes with over 200 integrations, including Zoom, Google Calendar, Dropbox, and Office 365.
- The reporting and monitoring feature in Asana is handy
- It is an easy to setup solution
- The learning curve is quite steep
- You cannot prioritize tasks manually
- The mobile app comes with limited features
- It doesn’t allow you to track the time spent by individual members working on tasks.
ProWorkflow is a simple workflow management software that offers workers an overview of the tasks they have in the pipeline, progress, finished and overdue tasks. It allows both the team and the clients access to the workflow dashboard, making it a very transparent and high-visibility workflow system. Moreover, the drag and drop feature and customization capabilities make it one of the best workflow automation systems out there.
What makes ProWorkflow a suitable choice for both large-scale and small businesses is its customization capabilities and suitability for both mobile and tablet use. It comes with a plethora of tools such as GoogleDrive, OneDrive, Dropbox, and QuickBooks. Moreover, it gives a lot of control to the workers and management. Employees can also use their one-click replies feature, in addition to time tracking and workflow monitoring from any device and any location.
- With its API, you can connect almost any third-party application without trouble.
- It comes with a specific app for Android, iOS, and Blackberry
- Customization and ability to view in Gantt style timeline is an added feature
- Comes with a simple dashboard – easy learning for team members
- Workflow dashboard visible to both internal and external stakeholders – increasing visibility
- Dashboard widgets are sorely missing
- Your browser choice can impact the performance of the software.
- The reporting templates are not up to the mark
- The learning curve could be steep