What is Workflow Management and How Can Software Help?

Aug 3, 2016 9:15:49 AM / by Heather Lancaster

Tech Target describes workflow as a series of steps necessary to complete a task or goal, with a defined specific order. These series of steps may be linear or looped based on decision-based branching.[1]

The way a lot of companies define workflow is the ability to take a business process and repeat it. These processes could be completed by one person, multiple departments, or even across an entire company.

Either way, you want to make sure to get the same results each time the process occurs, regardless of who does it.

How many times are processes passed along by employees during training but without anything documented? Have you ever gotten an email that informs you that a process is being changed going forward, but it’s only for a small subset of the items that you handle? How do you remember what the change was?  When changes happen, everyone finds them easy to remember, right? We all know this depends on complexity.

With any company, it’s important to know how to manage your business processes. Some are very straightforward and easy to remember. But, that’s not always the case when you involve multiple people, changes to long-standing processes, or bringing on new employees. Do steps get missed by trial-and-error until every detail is ironed out? Will employees remember what to do in one-off odd situations?

Are you able to report on your processes and assure management that each step is completed the same way and in a timely fashion? Can you say exactly who did each step and when they were completed? What about sending alerts if the process gets hung up at any step? It’s likely that you will want a workflow management system to help set up, complete, and monitor your processes.[2]

Here are three examples of where Workflow Management shines:

  1. New employees

How many times in starting a new job do new employees try taking copious notes trying to absorb everything? And how many times do you wind up repeating certain aspects of that training? New employees are frequently trained by other employees in comparable jobs. What happens if there are company-mandated steps left out of the training? Can you guarantee that over time the processes remain the same?

  1. New business processes

Businesses change and adapt all the time. Whether it’s new product launches, quality control, operational procedures, or just day-to-day needs, staying flexible keeps you ready to tackle any business challenge. It means being able to pivot and add in new layers of approval or additional steps to complete. All these changes need to be communicated and then remembered by your staff. There’s a whole level of workflow called Business Process Management that, depending on the nature of your business, you can implement to help with any standard activity.[3]

  1. Change control/change management

This formal process exists to make sure that no changes are made to any product or system without coordination, trying to reduce risk incurred by unapproved changes. To implement full Change Management can seem overwhelming, but every business can implement only the portions that directly impact their business.[4]

In all of those cases, what if most of those processes were documented so that you didn’t need to rely on the memory of employees? That’s where software comes in.

Workflow Management through Software

Having software gives you an organizational opportunity to document your workflow and make sure each step is defined accurately. It can take into account variables and changes that may make any particular situation different.

Let’s think about this scenario. Your business is growing, so you’ve found the next new employee. When they show up for work on the first day, has their office space been set up? Does everyone know that they’re due to arrive? Do they have email access, company IDs, and system access ready to go?

When Human Resources works with the employee, what benefit options are they offered? Does it depend on whether they’re full or part time? As the employee is being trained for their specific role, how do you make sure that any specific business processes are taught uniformly?

Good workflow software will present you with a list of things to do, dependent on the situation.

Is the employee full time? If yes, then they have certain insurance options offered to them. If no, perhaps a benefit package would be different. Depending on the way the question is answered, the software will walk you through different sets of steps.

What does the employee need as far as IT equipment goes? Has their email been set up for when they arrive? Good workflow software will tell you who completed that step in the process and when they completed it.

Types of Workflows

Employee onboarding is one major workflow that software helps with. Any operational process could benefit by better documentation and software, such as:

  • Employee Separations
  • Employee Status Changes
  • Purchase Requests requiring management approval
  • Information Technology Change Management
  • Compliance Audits
  • Product Return Authorizations
  • Software Configuration Changes
  • Website Edits
  • Price Requests
  • Discount Approvals
  • New Client Setup
  • Software Evaluations
  • Documentation Requests/Adjustments

Your specific workflows vary depending on what type of work you do and the industry you do it in. One thing to consider if you are researching software to help manage your workflow is to find something that works across the entirety of your company.

How are you currently managing your workflows?

Next post, we’ll talk about how Issuetrak can help with your workflow management needs.

[1] http://searchcio.techtarget.com/definition/workflow

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workflow_management_system

[3] http://bpm.com/what-is-bpm

[4] http://itsmtransition.com/2013/02/how-to-implement-basic-itil-change-management/

 

Topics: Work Flow

Heather Lancaster

Written by Heather Lancaster