What you need to know about Workflow Automation Software
When it comes to your business processes, do you have challenges with accountability, inconsistency, missed steps, quality control, and delegation? If so, you are like just about every other business out there, but you can choose to be better. There is a category of software known as “workflow automation” software that will help you address all these issues.
What Is It?
Workflow software enables automation of your business processes. You use the software to outline steps involved in your key business processes, including who is involved, what they have to do, and when. Then the software notifies everyone involved based on the timing and steps that you’ve defined. If implemented correctly, everyone knows their assigned activities, they receive reminders if they run behind, and managers can easily check whether their team is on task. Even complex processes become easy to manage.
How Does It Work?
Workflow software can be set up for just about any business process. As an example, let’s look at the hiring process. Once you’ve identified the need to hire a new staff member, there are many steps that must take place. For example, once the position is approved, you’ll need a job posting and you’ll start screening resumes. If you break it down into a workflow, it might look something like this:
- Manager approves new/replacement position
- Manager (or maybe HR) updates the job description
- HR posts the job to an online job board
- HR waits for resumes to come in
- HR screens resumes as they arrive; if approved they forward them to the hiring manager
- The hiring manager screens the resume; if approved they notify HR to schedule an interview
There will be many more steps regarding the interview itself, additional screening steps, sending an offer or rejecting a candidate. These steps may seem obvious, but when several people are involved, it’s easy for steps to be missed or delayed. Using workflow software ensures that each step gets the attention it should, and then communication flows smoothly from person to person as steps are completed. It also ensures that you follow a consistent process every time you hire someone, which reduces the risk of any HR liability.
How Do You Choose?
There are many software solutions out there. You may even have workflow capabilities built into software you already own. If you have something already, take a look – having workflow integrated with software you use is far simpler than setting up a brand new application.
Ease of use is a critical component. Check out how easy (or hard) it is to set up a new workflow. Don’t just watch a demo; try it out yourself. Processes can be complex, but it shouldn’t take a programmer to configure them. Look into reporting, to make sure you can easily see workflow statuses and manage your processes. See if your workflow software can link directly into other software tools that you use, so that your team doesn’t have to constantly switch between applications. It must allow complex logic: a single chain of events, multiple chains with multiple people, different paths for approvals versus rejections, time-based activities such as reminder notices, etc., as well as any combination of these items. Activities should be linked to positions within the company (e.g. President, HR Manager, Operations Manager, etc.) instead of specific people.
Many packages have extra features, which include anything from project management to file storage to forms management. If these features have value for you, weight them accordingly during the selection process.
Keys to Success
The hardest part of rolling out workflow software is the non-technical side: you have to clearly and accurately define your business processes. The more time you invest in setup, the better the software will work for you. It works in reverse, too: because the software requires very detailed, very specific definition of your business processes, it’s a great opportunity for process improvement. Don’t limit yourself to doing what you’ve always done when there might be a better way.
Get off to a good start by selecting only one or two processes. If you try to do more, you’ll get bogged down and overwhelmed. Pick the one or two processes that right now are the most painful, and work on getting those set up perfectly. Many vendors offer training – take them up on it. Involve key members of your team. Make sure they call support if they run into issues they can’t solve. Ask for advice and best practices. Most processes you set up may have your own personal flair but they are not unique, so the consultants you work with are bound to have good suggestions and experience that can benefit you. After you’ve been through the workflow process a few times, regroup and see if further changes need to be made. Keep tweaking the process until it runs as smoothly as possible.
Be sure to limit who has access to configure the workflow processes. When you invest a lot of time getting the software set up properly, you don’t want just anyone to be able to go in and change it. Someone might not understand all the ins and outs of why a process is set up a certain way, and if they start making changes they might break it by accident. The business side can be complex; it also takes time and training to understand how the software itself works.
Once you have those first processes nailed, pick the next two or three that will provide the most benefit. Repeat what you did with the first few processes: carefully review the steps, involve the team, get advice from your consultants, and keep tweaking the process until it’s smooth. You want these to be perfect too. The more you do, the easier it will be to continue expanding into new areas. Still on the fence about workflow? Take a moment and imagine what your business would be like if all your processes were this streamlined!