The Comprehensive Guide to Effective Approval Processes

approval process

In only seven minutes, a financial technology start-up approves a small-business loan. That’s nearly 5,000 times faster than the 20 days a traditional bank typically take. With that in mind, consider that 67% of affluent millennials are open to using non-financial-services brands.

This case, cited in McKinsey report Introducing the next-generation operating model illustrates the importance of a seamless and agile approval process. They can be a game-changer for brands that seek an edge over competition and fast-paced growth. 

How effective and timely are your businesses’ approval processes? In this article, we’ll share everything you need to learn about the anatomy of an approval workflow or process, how to optimize it swiftly, and the benefits you can expect from this endeavor. 

What is an approval process? 

In the realm of business operations, an approval process is a structured sequence of steps designed to review, evaluate, and authorize requests or documents. This systematic approach ensures that decisions are made in a transparent and accountable manner, contributing to streamlined workflows and enhanced efficiency.

Effective approval processes benefits

The systematic approach to approvals brings a series of benefits to the team, minimizing confusion, misunderstanding, and errors that might waste resources like money and human labor. See other benefits below: 

  • Accelerated decision-making: an efficient approval process ensures that decisions are made promptly, reducing the overall turnaround time for tasks and projects. Moreover, quick decision-making enables organizations to capitalize on opportunities swiftly, especially in dynamic markets.
  • Minimized errors and compliance risks: structured approval processes include predefined criteria, reducing the likelihood of errors or oversights in decision-making.
  • Enhanced transparency and accountability: clear approval flows provide stakeholders with visibility into the status and progress of requests, fostering transparency. Also, assigning responsibilities and tracking each step instills accountability so that decision-makers are answerable for their actions.
  • Improved communication and collaboration: approval workflows streamline communication channels, ensuring that all relevant stakeholders are kept informed; they stimulate team and cross-team collaboration, as well.
  • Workflow efficiency: structured processes ensure that resources are correctly allocated and that everyone knows how to execute those processes; they also prevent unnecessary bottlenecks, optimize workforce productivity, and reduce delays and interruptions in task execution.

Phases and key elements to create an approval process

Crafting an effective approval process involves several key stages that contribute to the decision-making flow. Let’s examine each of these phases for a closer look at an effective approval process.  

Initiating the process

Before we begin the approval journey, it’s important to clearly define the nature of the approval request and ensure that all necessary documents have been prepared. This sets the stage for processing the request. 

Using paperwork, emails, or other unstructured forms of messages as process inputs can undermine this important initial step. Digital forms are far more precise and adaptable as the approval process evolves, speeding up the request analysis. 

Submitting for approval

A smooth submission phase ensures a prompt start. Establishing accessible and centralized channels for submission and clearly outlining the required documentation streamlines the initial triage and avoids back-and-forth. This is why it’s important to educate clients and stakeholders on channel usage and documentation requirements. 

The use of editable, digital forms or portals empower requesters to find information on their own – you can add them as support texts inside the same forms and portals they will access. 

Review and evaluation

This step encompasses assessing predefined criteria. Identifying potential bottlenecks ensures proactive measures to keep the approval process flow on track. 

By using a no-code business process automation (BPA) platform, teams can directly route requests to the most appropriate approver, eliminating the need for human intervention. Fields can be automatically filled according to the information submitted at the beginning of the process, and questions can be sent via email automatically when a problem is detected regarding information validity. Each of these tech-based actions speed up the final results. 


The heart of the approval process lies in decision-making. Clearly defining ground rules for approval, rejection, or revision, along with established escalation procedures, provides clarity and expedites the decision-making phase.

Decision-making is also easier when the process is running inside an automation software platform. Users can not only set predefined requirements for approval or rejection, but  automation rules for escalation, as well. In a procurement workflow, for example, purchases higher than a certain amount can be automatically routed to a supervisor or leader).

Notification and communication

Notifying stakeholders about the decision outcome and maintaining transparency throughout the process fosters trust and ensures that all involved parties are well-informed. It also avoids that they proactively reach out to the processing team many times proactively – and the team members lose time manually responding to them.

In the best scenario, stakeholders need to get updates in each step of the process. Ensuring this level of transparency is faster and simpler when you keep your service-oriented workflows inside an automation software platform. These solutions can notify requesters as their requests move through process steps.  

Tracking and record-keeping 

Documentation is not only a record; it is a vital aspect of compliance. Tracking every step and maintaining audit trails ensures accountability and provides a reference for immediate or future improvements. It also ensures that  no information is lost when team members leave the department or organization. 

Real business examples of successful approval processes

By implementing structured workflows that involve approvals for document submissions, training requests, and administrative tasks, businesses have significantly reduced the errors and wait time. Below, you will find examples of structured procurement and HR approval-based processes. 

Use cases in HR

Job opening requests are a traditional HR service workflow. An agile approval flow is critical to keeping the requester area operations running smoothly while simultaneously considering  the company’s needs and strategic goals. 

See how an organized job opening process looks inside Pipefy’s Kanban view:

The start form plays an important role in accelerating the process conclusion. In Pipefy’s editable digital form, you can include all the information needed using tailored fields, like “due date”, “email”, “long text (with a justification for the job opening)” etc. Field conditionals also help speed up the form filling, by hiding/showing fields according to the information provided:

Another example of a key HR approval process is that of vacation requests. When the HR builds a structured workflow to handle these frequent requests, it instills better tracking of due dates, approvals and team members’ performances. It also maximizes end-to-end visibility to the requesters, reducing constant follow-up requests to the HR and a poor client experience. 

Find an example of a streamlined vacation requests workflow in Pipefy:

HR results

When companies structure and centralize approval requests in a BPA tool, they usually see improvements in KPI attainment, increases in efficiency, and cost reduction. The ROI is even faster when the selected tool is as intuitive, flexible and easy to maintain as Pipefy’s no-code BPA platform.

Capgemini’s Brazil HR department was responsible for receiving and resolving employee requests such as bank account changes or benefits management. After measuring their process efficiencies (or lack thereof), they quickly realized how much their results could improve. 

They decided to implement Pipefy, and create a self-service portal for HR requests, “Talk to HR”. The forms gathered in this portal worked as inputs for automated and structured approval workflows. 

In less than a year after adopting the solution, the HR team reduced HR Request management costs by 42%, achieving a positive ROI within months. The SLA for those requests moved from 38% achievement to a monthly average of 98% achievement – with higher levels of customer satisfaction registered too. Read our Capgemini case study for more information.

Use cases in Procurement

On the procurement side, the best-known approval process is the purchase process. It is triggered by a purchase requisition – find the typical steps of a purchase approval flow bellow: 

Purchase teams can achieve flawless execution – improve lead time and optimize spending – by automating key process steps like task assignment, email notifications, and communication with suppliers. Pipefy connects all procurement tools and systems, allowing centralization, more agility (with less manual data transfers) and increased transparency for team members, managers and requesters. 

See how a purchase process looks like inside Pipefy:

Procurement results 

A global travel bags company was struggling with its inefficient, non-standardized purchase process, which led some departments to make purchases outside of the official approval process. The procurement team discovered these purchases only when the product or service provider requested payment. This was a huge problem for procurement team members and auditors. 

They decided to streamline this process by implementing Pipefy. First, the team customized forms to collect essential information for the purchasing process. After standardizing workflows, they set automated alerts to internal clients reducing the need for manual notifications. And connected Pipefy to their current ERP, centralizing management and increasing the automation reach. 

By eliminating manual tasks like the need to follow up with clients (Pipefy does this automatically), the procurement team saved over 2,370 paid employee hours in just five months, achieving a 177% ROI. They also increased process control, process visibility, and customer satisfaction. 

Best practices for effective approval workflows

Well-crafted approval workflows hinge on best practices that promote efficiency, transparency, and accountability. We’ve compiled the following list of best practices for those looking to optimize approvals:

  • Clear Documentation: Clear and comprehensive documentation requirements ensure that all stakeholders understand the criteria, steps, and expectations of the approval process.
  • Defined Escalation Procedures: Establishing clear escalation rules and procedures avoids confusion during the tasks execution and addresses potential delays or issues, preventing bottlenecks and ensuring the process remains on track.
  • Regular Process Reviews: Regular reviews of the approval process are crucial for identifying areas of improvement and preventing bottlenecks, ensuring that the workflow remains aligned with organizational goals and industry moves.
  • Automation: Automation, as mentioned above, offers a range of advantages that make a significant difference in efficiency, flexibility, and accessibility. They improve customer visibility (and satisfaction), reduce the amount of manual repetitive work, connect different tools to accelerate approvals eliminating manual data transfers, connect different workflows to increase collaboration and speed deliveries up and much more.
  • Data analysis: a data-driven approach can streamline decision-making. Automation platforms often make these metrics more accessible – Artificial Intelligence can also provide business insights in seconds that would otherwise require in depth analysis. See Pipefy AI’s example.  

Streamline the approval process with efficient automation

A well-designed and executed approval flow can help improve efficiency in a scalable manner, as well as  boost employee and customer satisfaction. The result is increased competitiveness and reduced lead times. 

When your service-oriented processes need an efficiently overhaul, Pipefy is the most cost-effective and flexible choice. It optimizes workflows by adding automation that cuts repetitive, time-consuming tasks, and streamlines communication and connections between teams and processes.

Pipefy also centralizes operations by integrating with your favorite software to unlock a seamless, streamlined, precise, and secure approval process. Pipefy’s no-code technology empowers any team responsible for handling approvals to build and automate workflows, without creating IT tickets and increasing IT’s backlog. 

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