Approvals can be required at any stage of a task—at the start, midway, or just before completion. Regardless of when the approval is needed, what’s crucial is to obtain the needed response to move a project forward at the soonest possible time. Approvals are also necessary for standardizing processes, setting expectations, minimizing mistakes, and improving efficiency.
But when approvals are delayed, work stalls, and productivity is dampened. While some personality types are associated with these bottlenecks, slow approvals are also due to the ongoing reliance on email and Excel. They remain to be the tools of choice of many teams, as they’re free or relatively cheap and flexible enough for various needs. But relying on the EE stack alone can be difficult due to its limitations. Let’s take a look at some of them.
The Downside of Using Spreadsheets and Emails for Approvals
Sometimes the tools that you’ve depended on for so long may no longer allow you to cope with new job expectations. Here are some reasons why you may have to look at options beyond spreadsheets and emails for your approval process at work:
Spreadsheets are prone to human error and manipulation
A piece of wrongly entered or copy-pasted data in an Excel cell can throw off the whole spreadsheet. Whether it’s by accident or malicious intent, the erroneous entry can be dangerous when the files in question pertain to sales and payables.
Spreadsheets have to be constantly updated manually
Since Excel spreadsheets are stand-alone and static files, you’ll need to enter new information every time there’s any progress. When needed, you have to distribute them to stakeholders manually after updating the files. If a spreadsheet is a shared document, strict rules have to be in place to avoid mismanagement.
Email chains can flood your inbox
You may need to spend time and mental energy sifting through your inbox to find urgent emails that need action or approval.
An email thread can grow long and confusing
Consolidating feedback can be time-consuming when many people take part in the review process of a project or task. Reviewer or executive input or instructions can be missed.
Emails and spreadsheets don’t provide instant summaries or insights
You have to devote time and effort to sort and read through mail as well as update and analyze spreadsheets to determine trends or the status of a project or task.
You need to manually set up a hub for centralized access to files
You’ll need to manually create a folder, say in your network server, and direct your team to access and save files there. This can work for a small team with a handful of members in one physical office. But this setup won’t suit a larger organization with many departments and locations.
It’s Time for an Automated Workflow Tool
Like any other workflow, an approval workflow provides structure to the process. This ensures that there’s clarity and visibility about who’s responsible for granting the approval, when to expect a decision, and what the succeeding steps are down the line. When such a process is in place, the approval route becomes a dependable one, as work is approved the same way every time.
Today, many companies have and are transitioning toward automated approval workflows to ensure their teams adhere to a uniform process. You too can choose software that you can tailor-fit to your organization’s needs. Such tools have features that allow you to set the following (These are also points you need to settle before acquiring an online solution):
- How do you want requests to be submitted
If you want users to start with a form, you’ll have to identify all the details that users need to supply the software when initiating a request.
- Steps involved
List the stages and the criteria that must be met in each level for a request or submission to move to the next stage.
- Approvers of a request at each stage
There can be one or more approvers in the process, but be sure to identify them and what they’re expected to do.
- Conditions that will result in an automatic approval or rejection
Clarify the parameters and the actions to follow when a request is granted or rejected. For example, you can program your software to activate a notification when a request is approved.
- Persons authorized to edit a submission
Name the team member or state which roles can make changes, and specify at which stage changes are permissible.
Benefits of Approval Workflow Automation
Automating your approval workflow can benefit your teams through:
Better coordination and faster turnaround
As an integrated system, you can use the workflow solution to communicate with the assigned approver and anyone else on the team with whom you need to work with once your request is granted. This makes it easy to send reminders, ask for clarifications, and share files with approvers and colleagues to get—or keep—the ball rolling.
This is good news to 52 percent of marketers who blame approval delays for their missed deadlines.
Improved accountability and compliance
As your approval software is accessible to everyone in a team, everyone can see the status of a request from the moment it’s submitted. With greater transparency, approvers and the rest of the team become accountable to fulfill their responsibilities to bring the task to the finish line.
Moreover, standardizing criteria and setting guidelines aid approvers in achieving maximum compliance.
Unlike emails and spreadsheets, you can easily pull up a request and access related information within one approval software. This helps shorten the time for approvers to examine a request or for colleagues to check the status of a task and get it through the next step toward completion.
When you use an online and cloud-based workflow solution, you save on paper-based forms and printer ink. You also reduce the risk of missing a step or forgetting your benchmarks because once you’ve set up your workflow, the stages and criteria are saved. This makes it easier to spot any errors and make corrections, minimizing costly repercussions if they weren’t detected before a task or project is finalized.
After launching your automated solution, you can stay ahead of potential issues by getting feedback from users. Team leaders and approvers should also identify stages where they and their co-workers may tend to get stuck or need extra support, so they can fine-tune the program if needed.