5 Steps to Workflow Automation

Workflow automation is the quick and easy way to achieve your desired task in an efficient manner with consistent and accurate results the first time and every time. When should a business consider automation?

When there is a process (usually repetitive) to implement a series of tasks, it is typically managed manually with a bunch of paper files or at best with a combination of spreadsheets and good old email. Automation helps in streamlining this process with less human intervention, thereby removing the possibility of human errors. Business process automation gives you better visibility of the various tasks, can pinpoint bottlenecks and suggest areas of improvement and thereby increase the overall business productivity. Now, with all these thoughts on automation, how exactly does a business identify the steps to reach the stage of maximum efficiency or a fully automated workflow process?

Before a business moves to workflow automation, the management must perform a self-evaluation with their team to come up with answers to the following questions – Is the organization ready to work smarter?, are the employees ready to move from the traditional working methodology of spreadsheets and files to a new system as a team? Once automated, can the organization work with lesser manpower and still deliver products or services with same or better quality? The answer to all the above queries will determine the decision the management makes and a workflow application to make a smooth transition from your traditional mode of working to the automated approach will be inevitable.

The automated workflow that your organization opts for should only automate the repetitive steps of your workflow for better results. It should give you the flexibility to make any additional changes in the future if required. The new automated workflow should not be a forced-upon system added to your existing workflow, it should be just an improvisation of the required specific areas of the workflow. It should not require the users to master any new programming languages or skillsets to operate the automated workflow.

Now, let’s take a quick look at the 5 major steps which every business will consider before they move completely to automation.

  • Identify repetitive tasks
  • Define business goals
  • Select the right workflow automation solution
  • Train the users
  • Measure key performance indicators and improve your workflow

Identifying the area that has repetitive tasks should be the first step when a business considers moving to automation. To identify the problem, a deep understanding of the business is essential. The best way would be to make a visual representation of your as-is workflow with help of flow diagrams and understand your business workflow better and identify the repetitive tasks. Now you can create an ideal workflow that improves your existing workflow and may be simplifies the process. This is a key step that needs to be done in close consultation with the other stakeholders and the actual users of the process. You might also consider the net savings in terms of time saved and effective cost savings. This will help in presenting a clear business case to support automation of these business processes.

Once you identify the problem, the next step will be to define your business goals using your current manual workflow as the benchmark. Your target could be related to improving the throughput or reducing cycle time on a single process or optimizing resources for more productive tasks. You might want your workforce to deal with less data entry and focus more on production tasks. It could possibly be anything, but you need to be able to justify how your business goals will be achieved by automation and how you will measure them.

The next step would be to decide on the means to the end. How do we wish to achieve the business goals? To arrive at a solution your next priority step will be to select the right workflow automation solution.

You could go through one of our earlier blogs “How to choose the right HR Software”. to get an idea of the best way to choose your solution provider.

There is a plethora of options available in the market for an automation tool. It is important to understand the ideal fit for your organization. More and more companies are moving to the cloud option that provides tremendous flexibility and lower costs. Would that work for you? How important is data security? Do you need to have a vendor that is compliant with government regulations like HIPAA or DoD? Based on your specific needs, you might want to shortlist 3 to 5 vendors and then do a deep dive into pros and cons of each solution. You might consider a cloud based safe and secure software like cflow which can create your workflow in minutes, but this might not be a great choice for all companies. Based on the goals that you have set in your previous step, select your workflow software to automate your business process. The selected workflow should be simple and user friendly and easily adaptable by your users.

The next step would be to train the workforce to use the new workflow software. Any new change brought in by the management is always met with resistance as it is seen as unnecessary by the employees. So it is imperative to involve the end users right from the first step and include them in the discussions so that they are made an integral part of the decision making process. This sets the end users to be accountable and brings the best ideas to the fore. Providing a clear transition path from the current manual process to the new automated system and giving them adequate training to help them get up to speed would go a long way in making this transition successful.

After you are done with the above steps, you are up and running on your new automated workflow system. Your business users will provide feedback on the process based on their usage and it is important to fix the kinks in the armor at this point. Then you are ready to do the final step which would be to measure the key performance indicators and improve your workflow. Continuous monitoring and measurement of your automated workflow will help identify bottlenecks and suggest areas of improvement. Continuous assessment of your newly upgraded workflow will help your team become more efficient.

I hope the above steps guide you in the right direction to move your business workflows towards automation and greater productivity. Let us know if these steps were helpful in migrating your manual processes to automated processes. Feel free to share with us your experiences.

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