Anyone who's got skin in the business game, especially for a long period of time, will happily regale you with the struggles they've endured and overcome over the years.
As a small business owner, I can tell you that the challenges of running a business are limitless. You're constantly inundated with one challenge or the other, and even the best-laid plans can go askew (a lá sh** hits the fan).
What's the status of approval?
I sent you an email, have you checked it?
Lauren, can you send me the documents again? (Anyways, Lauren, our content editor at Scribe, won't be caught making this mistake. She's highly organized and is a workflow creation Jedi, thanks to Scribe😎✌🏽)
These are common words you hear in organizations where workflow is manually handled. The resultant effect is usually more confusion, frustration, and the inability to know where things stand and what needs to happen next.
This is why effective business project management is crucial; however, it’s much easier said than done. Modern organizations should be able to achieve seamless end-to-end workflow management. When an organization's core operations are clearly defined and run with care, the business runs smoothly — enabling teams to focus on bigger problems instead of finding old emails, keeping them unified and on track to manage increasing business complexities; and of course, ensuring that the quality of all projects handled is maintained.
In this article, we’ll review what workflow management and workflow management software is, discuss the best workflow management software, and highlight some important features that every workflow management solution should have, especially if you're a project manager looking to scale your operations.
What is workflow management?
"Workflow” is a collection of individual tasks that are completed to achieve a larger goal in the process." “Management” involves someone or something supervising overall strategy.
Workflow management is the coordination of tasks that builds up within a team or organization to complete a larger project. Workflow has to be a repeatable process that can happen multiple times in succession. A key part of understanding workflow is that it has to contain:
- Input: The things you must add to begin a task.
- Transformation: What happens during the task.
- Output: The result of completing a task. Note that output can also be the beginning or “input” of another step.
For example, if you're a project manager, your workflow could be creating process documentation in Scribe. The input would be getting your documents ready and turning on your Scribe recorder.
The transformation would be watching Scribe instantly turn your process into a step-by-step guide. The output could be sharing it with your colleagues to improve process consistency across your organization OR sharing it with your customers to boost customer onboarding and adoption.
What is workflow management software?
Workflow management software (WMS) are tools designed to help streamline routine business processes for optimal efficiency. In other words, WMS boosts an organization's overall efficiency by cutting out human errors—either by ensuring people know what to do and making sure nothing gets missed or by using automation.
Automated tools can enhance employee productivity by performing tons of repetitive, menial tasks repeatedly without making mistakes.
Basic components of a workflow
A workflow consists of the following three components:
- Predefined steps: They're a predefined framework of tasks designed to provide clarity on what happens at each stage of the workflow until the end. Steps in a workflow can be linear, branched, or a mixture of both; and can either be manual or automated depending on the nature of the workflows.
- Stakeholders: These are the people tasked with carrying out specific responsibilities in the workflow. For automated workflows, the stakeholders' tasks are minimal to nothing since all steps are completely automated. They are only active when certain conditions or problems arise in the workflow. Additionally, stakeholders are assigned to either each step of the workflow, a group of steps, or the entire workflow.
- Conditions: Think of conditions as rules for the workflow, as they're particularly useful for approval-type workflows where some steps are skipped based on the information. Conditions determine when a particular step is completed and what the next step should be.
Why do you need workflow management software?
Some of the benefits of workflow management software include:
1. Cost reduction
Experts estimate that companies lose up to $5 trillion yearly on repetitive tasks that yield no productivity. If your employees are constantly spending time on menial or repetitive tasks, it gives little to no room for them to focus on tasks that truly matter.
Therefore, having an effective workflow management software keeps your employees focused on high-value tasks that would positively impact your revenue bottom line.
2. Reduced errors
Almost 90 percent of spreadsheets contain errors, forcing teams to spend hours (sometimes weeks or even longer!) tracking down the faulty cell. For example in 2012, JPMorgan Chase lost more than $6 billion in its “London Whale” incident, partly due to Excel spreadsheet errors (including alleged copying and pasting of incorrect information from multiple spreadsheets).
Operating with zero errors is impossible. However, using workflow management systems make it easier to prevent errors from happening in the first place. Plus, if they happen, your software can easily detect and call your attention to the problem. In turn, you can easily solve the problem and prevent it from happening again.
3. Enhanced collaboration
Unlike teams that spend their time trying to track down information buried in archives, workflow management software ensures that each step is laid out, the right technologies are linked in, and that the right people are updated — always, and can access information with a few clicks!
4. Improved productivity
Thanks to workflow automation, your teams save a lot of time sending emails and updating information in multiple tools. Additionally, they don’t need to wait for approvals to reach them. They can easily track each workflow progress and stay in the loop.
5. Improved compliance
A powerful workflow management system is akin to a guardian of regulatory compliance. For organizations in specific industries like healthcare and banking, here's how workflow management software can help maintain impeccable record-keeping:
- Generates a step-by-step record showing precisely how a process was performed.
- Eliminates the possibility of missing a crucial process step — since tasks are mapped out, automatically performed, and tracked; hence, making it almost impossible to skip over a vital one.
- Reduces copying and pasting to fill out forms and databases. Workflow management software automatically exchanges data, creating a “single source of truth” unmarred by the dangers of manual transfers.
What does a workflow management system (WMS) do?
When considering what workflow management software to buy, you're looking for a tool that:
- Automates repetitive processes.
- Follows up automatically/sends reminders about uncompleted tasks in the process.
- Manage work the way you want.
- Creates custom workflows.
- Streamlines repetitive processes.
- Allows you to create and assign tasks.
- Synchronize tasks in every stage.
- Makes task management easy.
- Create stages in which tasks can be defined and moved.
- Adapts to changes along the way.
- Define stages and move tasks into stages.
- Integrate workflow with every task list.
To get the true value for your money, check out essential features you shouldn't compromise on.
1. An intuitive, code-free workflow designer
A great workflow management software is meant to simplify your work, and not complicate it. Therefore, it should do all the complex work in the background, out of your sight. Your job as the user is to fill in the gaps created. If this isn't the case, consider the workflow management solution counterproductive.
2. Task & workflow automation
Automation is key to efficiency and productivity in the modern workplace. It gives you more time to focus on other important tasks, rather than drowning in menial, unnecessary tasks.
Manually executing every task is not only exhausting and time-consuming but also expensive. Therefore, a good workflow management software should automate repetitive tasks as instructed by you.
3. Role-based access controls
An organization's employees aren't privy to every piece of information or document it creates. To safeguard your company's privacy and security, you should share confidential details only with concerned stakeholders. A good workflow management software system should enable you to provide information on a need-to-know basis.
4. Cloud-based technology
Gone are the days when work could only be done in the office or certain locations. Thanks to remote work, employees can work from anywhere, irrespective of time zones. For an organization to function effectively, you need access to relevant documents from anywhere. Apart from remote access, cloud-based technology should also be 💯 serious about compliance and data privacy — only authorized parties should access it.
5. Integration with other cloud apps
Once a nice-to-have, integration is now an essential feature for any workflow management software worth its salt.
With today's workplace complexities, workflows cannot operate independently from other processes. For example, if you wanted to integrate your Gmail into your workflow management software for easy access, your emails should come into your software instead of you having to manually retrieve them.
Calendars, contact details, cash flows, documents, sales reports, etc. should all flow seamlessly from your workflow management tool to your email, CMS, calendar and financial software, amongst others. If your workflow management system can't smoothly integrate with other tools, it's time to consider buying a new one.
6. Customizable notifications
Notifications can become irritating and distracting when it becomes too much and irrelevant to their recipients (think of spam in your email). A good workflow management software should save everyone the stress (and possibly embarrassment 😢) by customizing notifications to relevant stakeholders only.
7. Parallel branches
Business processes may be sequential, but they differ too. Therefore, aim for a workflow management software that allows you to create different process patterns. For instance, onboarding a new customer requires a different process when compared to dealing with a returning customer.
8. Flexible design
A good workflow management software understands that businesses are different and constantly evolving. Therefore, the software design should be flexible to adapt to individual business processes. It should be able to accommodate your business needs flexibly.
The 5 best workflow management software you need in 2023
G2 rating: 4.8/5
Capterra rating: 4.9/5
Price: Free. The pro version starts at $23/month, while businesses looking to scale can schedule a demo for the Enterprise version.
Vendor's promise: Document and share any process in seconds. Scribe is a fast and easy way to share what you know.
Scribe is an intuitive project management tool that allows you to document workflows instantly for any repetitive digital process. Scribe is a no-code workflow management software that automates process documentation and SOPs by instantly turning processes into step-by-step guides. This ensures that:
- Knowledge base creators spend as little time as possible documenting processes while still providing accurate information.
- There's improved consistency across your organization.
- You can automatically redact sensitive information to protect your company's data privacy.
With Scribe, all you have to do is:
- Turn on your Scribe recorder to document your process.
- Get an automatically generated step-by-step guide complete with instructions, screenshots and clicks.
- Easily edit screenshots and add annotations, texts and custom branding.
- Embed Scribes in the favorite tools you and your team love.
- Share your process guide with anyone, anywhere — with one click!
G2 rating: 4.7/5
Capterra rating: 4.7/5
Price: Forever free plan with support for unlimited tasks and members.
Vendor's promise: ClickUp brings your team together to plan, track, and collaborate on any project — all in one place.
ClickUp is a workflow management software that allows you to create your custom views. It offers comprehensive time and task management features and promotes collaboration between teams. Its simple, visually appealing look also makes it a fave among project management teams around the world.
ClickUp is super useful for process and workflow automation, as it allows users to create specialized templates to automate portions of their workflow, offers project views including Gantt, calendar and timeline view and includes a global timer that sets clear project expectations with time estimates and monitors time spent with detailed reports. It also aligns your team with features such as checklists, mind maps, task dependencies, docs and wikis, amongst others.
G2 rating: 4.3/5
Capterra rating: 3.9/5
Price: Small business plan starts at $15/month per user, corporate plan starts at $20/month per user, while middle to large businesses would have to contact the sales team to get a quote for its enterprise plan.
Vendor's promise: 10,000+ companies—from startups to Fortune 500s—use Kissflow's self-serve platform to build and manage business processes across departments.
Kissflow is an easy-to-use workflow management solution designed to boost productivity, help teams visualize workflows, define responsibility amongst team members, and keep everyone on the same page within the organization.
Kissflow offers the following features:
- Fully customizable forms to aid automation and streamline workflow.
- Access control that defines roles and responsibilities across the organization.
- Progress tracking features (Hold, In-Progress, and Done states) to get accurate data on what your team is working on.
- Powerful reports to aid smart, data-driven decisions
- Automatic reminders for when tasks and projects approach their due dates.
- Integration with other tools.
G2 rating: 4.4/5
Capterra rating: 4.7/5
Price: 15-day free trial, with its annual plan starting at $39.97.
Vendor's promise: Manage projects online, delightfully!
ProProfs Project is a smart workflow management software that offers real-time updates of the project life cycle to help project managers and teams complete their tasks efficiently.
With ProProfs Project, you can easily manage tasks, subtasks, and deadlines effortlessly, create custom workflows and visualize the project overview using Kanban boards and Gantt charts. Its actionable reports feature empowers teams to easily identify problem areas to make informed decisions for performance improvement.
The project management tool also generates invoices, provides an option to customize bills, and allows you to create custom workflows suitable for your project needs.
G2 rating: 4.6/5
Capterra rating: 4.7/5
Price: Free plan for individuals or very small teams just getting started with Airtable. It offers paid plans such as Plus ($10/seat/month), Pro ($20/seat/month) and an Enterprise version whose quote can only be gotten when you contact the sales team.
Vendor's promise: Accelerate work and unlock potential with powerful apps that connect your data, workflows and teams.
You'll particularly like Airtable if you’re looking for a workflow management software with a unique Excel-like framework. Airtable is used by teams all over the world, and its ability to function as a fast, modern spreadsheet has made it gain a huge following, especially for workflow management purposes.
Thanks to its interface designer features, you can easily create interfaces that match the way each person on your team works, irrespective of what they are working on.
You can also share data within Airtable, pull in data from other platforms, consolidate data sources and control who sees what. It also offers a Grid, calendar, gallery and Kanban view for viewing projects in the way that works best for you.
Effective workflow management is crucial for the smooth running of any organization. Workflow management involves coordinating tasks to achieve a larger project, and it should be a repeatable process that can be completed multiple times. Workflow management software (WMS) can help streamline routine business processes and boost overall efficiency, by cutting out human errors and using automation.
A good WMS should have predefined steps, stakeholders and tasks, and automation features to improve employee productivity, and provide clarity and transparency on what happens at each stage of the workflow.
This list is your first step to managing stronger, and more powerful workflows!