Imagine this: you’re a manager at a bustling startup, it’s 5:00 p.m. on a Friday, and you’re ready to head home for the day—but you still need to check your email to make sure the expense report has been approved.  

So you open your inbox and notice you have an email from your CEO. Turns out the expense report is missing numbers for the office equipment. Then you spend an hour simply determining that one of your coworkers was left off a critical email thread, and it’s now up to you to provide the information and resubmit the report. And there goes a good chunk of your nice weekend.

This is the sort of scenario that workflow management is designed to prevent. But what is it, exactly? 

Workflow + Management 

If you don’t understand it completely, don't worry. Workflow management isn’t immediately understood—likely because there are so many moving pieces under that one grammar umbrella. 

So let’s start with the workflow. Put simply, a workflow is a sequence of organized tasks that, once completed, achieves a specific goal. For example, the above mentioned expense report—there are tasks and steps that need to be taken until it’s completed. 

Management enters the picture to make sure every step of the workflow is identified, organized, and well managed. And, left to only manual devices, that could involve a lot of oversight and inefficiency. But, when much of the tedious tasks are automated, not only is there much less chance of working until 10 o’clock on a Friday night, that expense report could be completed a week early.

A system brings it all together

A workflow management system provides the infrastructure that supports both the workflow and the management of it through a software application. This allows for automation (to some degree) of many of the workflow’s tedious tasks.

With a workflow management tool or system, you can map out your steps, assign tasks, and automate the mundane stuff (like the manual steps involved in emailing, paperwork and spreadsheets) so everyone’s always on the same page. And changing workflows takes just a few clicks, so your processes can evolve as quickly as your business.    

The benefits of workflow management 

When you automate your workflow management here are some of the benefits you and your team can enjoy:

  • More workflow visibility 
  • Increased efficiency and productivity 
  • Decreased redundancy
  • Fewer errors
  • A custom workflow for your exact needs 
  • Streamlined communication and information sharing

Types of workflows

There are generally three different types of workflow tools that are commonly used in the workplace: sequential workflow, state machine workflow, and rules-driven workflow. Each workflow can be implemented in different ways, depending on the needs of the company, the size of the project, and the people working on it.

Here are overviews of each:

Sequential workflows - This common, straightforward workflow involves a series of steps following one and other in a logical order (although the exact order may vary).

State machine workflows - The main difference with a state machine workflow is that more emphasis is placed on the status (or state) of the project rather than the steps, and team members can go back to an earlier step if they want or need to.

Rules-driven workflows - This workflow system allows “rules” to be applied to a software system so that if X happens then Y happens. For example, if an email contains the word “recruit,” it’s automatically forwarded to human resources. 

Some specific examples of workplace responsibilities that can benefit from workflow management include:

  • Project management 
  • Recruiting and onboarding
  • Sales and customer relationship management (CRM)
  • Customer information management 
  • Expense reports
  • Collaboration (with alerts and notifications)
  • Equipment or inventory management 
  • Tracking events
  • Content requests and approvals 
  • HR inquiries 
  • IT ticketing-items (that require access by multiple people) 

Reduce Manual Tasks and Accomplish More

Automation has come a long way since the Ford car company coined the term in 1947 when it opened an automation department. As reported by Forbes,  during the pandemic, many industries relied on technology and automation to help keep their businesses afloat.  

“The last year saw unprecedented acceleration that is likely to continue. Every business owner now understands what benefits are available from process automation and advanced IT infrastructure.”

And especially when it comes to workflow tools, automation can be an efficiency and productivity game changer. Consider this stat: Nearly 22% of employees’ time is spent on performing repetitive tasks that can be automated. But, with workflow management, that doesn’t have to be the case. 

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