Workflow management: What it is, its importance, and how Vendr helps manage workflows
Discover how workflow management can drive business efficiency and learn how to choose a workflow management software system.
Workflows help you get work done by completing a sequence of tasks. Moreover, they’re how you get repetitive tasks done repeatedly. If designed well, workflows save you and your company time and money.
For the most part, workflows are helpful—unless they become unruly and cause more work than they omit. In this case, implementing a workflow management system is key. But what exactly is workflow management?
What is workflow management?
A workflow is a set of steps your team members go through to complete a specific business goal. Workflow management controls and coordinates these many processes within a system to help companies achieve repeatable goals. Therefore, workflow management is business process automation.
Workflow management vs. project management
Workflow and project management systems share some similarities. For example, they both coordinate the completion of tasks to achieve goals. However, they differ in the type of goals they attempt to achieve, who completes the specific task, and how tasks are measured.
Why use workflow management software?
Managing a workflow through email or another manual method hurts visibility.
When tasks aren’t managed in a dedicated workflow management software tool, team members are unable to check in on progress and task statuses or provide support to teammates, leading to questions like:
- Who has completed which task?
- Where are we in the workflow?
- Where’s the document?
- What’s next?
Workflow management software helps team members answer these questions for themselves and allows businesses to improve compliance with existing processes and policies.
Businesses create these policies and procedures to help keep deadlines on track and maximize productivity, but they’re only helpful if followed.
Workflow management software allows leaders to build automated processes that ensure policies are followed.
What is a workflow management system?
A workflow management system (WfMS) is a software tool that allows an organization to document its processes, standardize them, and store them in a central location. This optimization allows all stakeholders to access, arrange, control, and track workflows.
Therefore, the process reduces the need for asking fact-finding questions that the system can answer. In other words, no more hunting through buried email threads to find process answers.
Another benefit to a WfMS is that it automates tasks not requiring a human hand. For example, suppose a workflow awaits the completion of a pending assignment. The tool uses workflow notifications to remind the assignee about the task if they don’t complete it by the due date.
WfMS is also known as business process management (BPM). BPM denotes many workflows and processes, supporting the entire business process development cycle.
Workflow management systems can use three different workflows:
- First, sequential workflow: Linear like a flow chart, this workflow moves step by step and never backward.
- State workflow: This workflow might move backward, but only for a dependent reason, switching “states” in the process.
- Rules-driven workflow: Non-linear in form; this workflow uses rules or conditions to determine the progression, using expressions such as if, then, or else.
Workflow management best practices
Build a workflow plan first
Before diving into your workflow management tool and automating various aspects of your business operations, sketching out a plan for the workflows you’re designing is crucial.
Doing so will give you a clear step-by-step view of the workflow to be automated and prevent you from skipping stages or designing unnecessarily complex rules.
Say, for example, you’d like to automate the new employee onboarding process.
A simple list like the one below should be enough to provide the basis for your custom workflow, though you may wish to use a Gantt chart diagramming workspace for more complicated initiatives with multiple automation pathways:
- A candidate is approved for hiring
- Send contract
- Signed contract received
- Onboard the employee to Slack, Trello, and Salesforce
- Send health and safety documentation
- Signed health and safety documentation received
- Book first-day onboarding meetings with team leaders
- Set up payroll
Consult with relevant stakeholders
Before creating any workflow, it’s best practice to consult with the person in charge of whichever team’s work you want to automate.
This leader understands current business processes, team collaboration, and task management needs inside and out and can help you design an efficient and effective work management process that aligns with and improves existing procedures.
For instance, your marketing team lead might inform you that their team is much more comfortable working on Kanban boards, so you can build an automated process in Trello to maintain a similar working style.
Avoid overly complicated automation processes
Modern workflow automation software is powerful, meaning your tool can quickly become a weapon that complicates processes rather than simplifies them.
The best practice is to keep automation recipes as simple as possible and avoid overly convoluted decision trees that place a larger burden on your workflow management solution’s real-time processing.
Project management software like monday.com, Wrike, and Asana often offer customizable workflow templates, which can be a great way to keep workflows simple and within the tool’s capabilities.
Allow time for testing and debugging
Building effective automated workflows can be complex, and it’s best not to rush.
Every time you use your workflow management tool to build a new process, allow time to test, debug, and rework the workflow before launching it in a real-world context.
Additionally, it’s a good practice to schedule regular workflow performance reviews to ensure they align with current operations.
Annually is likely a good cadence for this, though younger and more agile companies may want to bump this up to a quarterly or six-monthly review interval.
How to choose a workflow management system
Not all workflow management software solutions are the same. So before you choose a WfMS, conduct internal research. In other words, ask these questions about your company’s needs:
- What does your company need in a workflow solution?
- Are there features your company can’t do without?
- How many users will the WfMS serve?
- How quickly do you need the WfMS?
- Will your company need additional IT support for the WfMS?
About workflow management system features
While asking the previous questions will help you understand your company’s needs, the following will help you choose the right tool and vendor. A proper WfMS offers the following features:
An easy-to-use interface
The tool should be simple and user-friendly and empower you to design, manage, and track workflows with no-code or low-code drag-and-drop ease.
Cloud app integration
The WfMS should be cloud-based and connect with other cloud apps like CRM, ERP, and HRIS. Integration ensures your workflows accomplish any task on any tool in any cloud.
Reporting based on key performance indicators (KPIs) takes productivity and efficiency to another level using metrics. Choose a WfMS that helps evaluate your methodologies and measure and monitor your KPIs to find and eliminate bottlenecks.
No WfMS is worth its salt if it can’t automate processes, including everything from automated workflows to automated routing. It should also automate workflows and tasks that don’t need human intervention, like financial reports and approval workflows.
Notification automation and management
One of the better benefits of automation is notification automation, and the WfMS should automate all notifications.
Workflows without dependencies should have the ability to create tasks that happen simultaneously. This ability is called parallel task branching.
Access control management
The best workflow management software platforms allow you to grant access and access levels to your team. And as such, access control management should allow you to customize each user’s view and permission level. This way, you share information with only the right people.
Choose a WfMS tool and vendor with transparent and flexible pricing models. Whether it’s a monthly pay-as-you-go on a per-user basis or a flat fee, make sure it meets your company’s needs.
How Vendr can help manage your procurement workflows
Say goodbye to frustration and hello to coordinated approvals and centralized conversation, status, and decision-making. With quick access to essential information and expert SaaS consultants ready to negotiate alongside you, Vendr Workflows streamlines the software procurement process for excellent outcomes.