Automated workflow series brought to you by: Comindware, web-based software solution for automating and managing business workflow processes
“It could be anything,” — a VP, the first time he saw a graphical automated workflow
So far in this series, we’ve defined workflow automation, examined some use cases, and discussed how to choose the right tool. In this final installment, we’ll expand the use case idea to show how specific uses actually derive from over-arching ideas. For example, a vacation request is really a change request, and so any workflow that you’ve designed for change requests will also define the process when one of your people just needs a couple of days off.
Your organization might have some “departments,” but there are business activities that need to happen across every work area. One such activity is a finance process. A typical finance process includes several steps:
- Setting parameters of need
- Determining initial budget
- Obtaining bids
- Choosing a vendor
- Writing up Scope of Work (SOW) (often with a revisit to budget and parameters steps)
- Getting the SOW approved (often by legal counsel in addition to management)
- Generating/paying a Purchase Order
- Having the work performed
- Evaluating Return on Investment (ROI)
- Capturing learning for next finance decision (next year, next project, etc.)
This same activity flow could happen within the IT team, when they need to purchase systems tools and/or services; within the HR team, when they are evaluating health insurance plans; or within the Marketing team, when they are setting up campaigns with various outlets. There is almost always a step for asking about budget, a step for consulting with legal, a step for running things through accounting, and so on, with typical bottlenecks along the way, such as CFO approval or running finalized deals through a finance committee.
Smart companies (lean, competitive ones who want to do more than push contracts around a desk all day and actually meet their business objectives) figure out a way to reduce friction in these duplicated processes. One of the most effective ways to reduce friction and achieve success sooner, is to automate some of this routine work.
If you were to spend an afternoon carefully thinking through exactly how your firm’s finance process works (see earlier posts for detailed questions to ask), you could design one workflow that could be deployed in any department. You’d have everything on one instance (no multiple solutions silo’d within departments), and everyone could work from the same data. This last bit becomes critical once you move past the “start-up” phase and need to document past funding allocations, respond to a compliance inquiry, or simply ensure that you are making sound financial decisions with solidly demonstrated ROI. With the right workflow in place, your teams could
- Address hidden bottlenecks;
- Know (explicitly) tasks and priorities, especially as things change;
- Streamline workflow processes; and
- Plan for accountability and audit trails.
Notice how the following workflow takes into consideration a sequence of tasks that are not necessarily department-specific.
As I mentioned before, a vacation request is really just a change request. Take a look at the following to see how this is true.
See the solution as a diagram, a flow, a computed process, so that when you are finished creating it, it actually goes to work for you automatically generating tasks, keeping track of their status and moving things along the queue.
If you are ready to try a workflow automation tool, here is one we liked. You can download the 30-day fully-functional trial of Comindware Tracker and see what it can do for you.
In an effort to figure out what exactly you want to learn during your download, the folks at Comindware are offering a prize to one of the first 10 people who leave a comment. The prize: premium online support with a 30-minute live online consultation so you can figure out what kind of workflow you need, and how to build it.
About the author: Kamille Nixon writes about how growing businesses solve their problems with tools built on a variety of types of databases, both graphical and relational. One of her articles made #5 of Information Management’s Top 10 Stories of 2011 .Subscribe to the Podcast