Using paper when digitization can suffice is wastage of resources and an insult to the forests that had been denuded to manufacture those wasted sheets.
Creating another entry for a transaction that can’t be located for one reason or another is a waste of time and energy – two equally valuable but limited resources. As well, scrambling to locate an important file or document while in the middle of a litigation can be costly.
Similarly, getting penalized for late payments because the invoice sent by the supplier ended up in the wrong department and was not processed on time, or paying for raw materials and supplies that never found their way into your company’s premises – these and others are some of the reasons businesses must stop and rethink their business strategy, especially if their workflows are still being done manually.
Before you get excited though, first things first. While workflow optimization sounds like the best course of action to take at this juncture, remember that automation plays second to your strategy.
Without a sound strategy, even with a tried and tested workflow management software in place, you’re not doing your business any favor.
Workflow management vs. project management
Before we proceed, let’s address one question a lot of entrepreneurs ask: what’s the difference between project management and workflow management?
Good question, of course.
While the concepts behind the two are essentially similar, workflow management and project management are distinct from each other. Project management, as Investopedia puts its, refers to the planning and organization of resources to move a specific event, task or duty forward to completion.
Workflow management, on the other hand, refers to the simplification of routine or repetitive tasks, examples of which are budget and contract approvals, bug tracking, employee hiring and training, logistics and resource allocation, just to name a few.
Your business strategy and workflow automation
Just like modern-day technologically-anchored tools that can do your business more harm than good if not well thought-out or properly implemented, such as deploying CRM without first figuring out your goals and application strategy, before you choose a workflow automation partner, you have to first outline your approach.
If you need help with mapping out a blueprint, consider the following guide questions:
- What exactly does your workflow intend to achieve? What are the steps needed to arrive at the end result? What are the constants and variables that need to be considered?
- Does the workflow require inter-department collaboration?
- Are there any steps in your current work sequence that aren’t particularly working as you had initially envisioned? Is your workflow the type that needs to be tweaked every now and then to arrive at the specified result? If this is the case, you’ll need an automation software that is easily customizable as opposed to one that needs complex programming to work in line with the needed alterations. Not all workflow automation software have this capability.
- To make your current workflow more effective, which steps, tasks or sequences do you plan to keep and eliminate? Are there similar tasks that can be done as one, instead of separately, to minimize, if not completely eradicate, redundancies?
- If workflow automation turns out to be the best bet for your current workflow inefficiencies, how do you plan to deploy the software? On premise, in the cloud, or both?
- Are there existing software considerations that need to be kept in mind when selecting the best workflow software – CRM, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft SharePoint, for instance? If yes, keep in mind that there are workflow automation solutions that offer third-party software integration through API (application programming interface).
- Do you intend to incorporate pre-defined forms, lists and templates into the workflow? If you do, knowing that there are workflow automation systems with embedded forms creation capacity should help when it’s time to select the best workflow automation software.
- Can the company afford business downtime to train management and personnel on the mechanics of a workflow solution software? As change can evoke a sense of fear in the workplace, especially in the beginning, you will need to have a change management solution ready once you choose to automate your workflows.
Depending on your business protocols and specific workflow needs, these and other pertinent questions should help set the stage for your winning workflow strategy. And once your strategy is in place, while crucial, pinpointing the characteristics of a possible workflow automation partner wouldn’t be as difficult.
Keep in mind, productivity tools are practically useless if you’re not sure how to properly manage and align them with your specific business objectives. The same is absolutely true for workflow automation software.