What is a workflow system?
Workflow systems — also known as workflow management systems (WFMS) — are the software platforms used to structure, manage, and monitor workflows. Workflow systems offer a range of features and functions to manage workflows, but some are more critical to workflow management strategy than others.
In this post, we’ll review 10 of the most critical, value-adding features of a workflow system. These are capabilities that determine the quality of your workflows, as well as the level of control and visibility you can achieve with a given tool.
Why is a WMS important?
Workflows are complex. They depend on a wide range of stakeholders, information, tools, and handoffs to produce a specific outcome. Many workflows require input and collaboration from multiple team members in different departments. Organizing and visualizing work at this level can be time-consuming, frustrating, and prone to errors.
As businesses evolve, workflows change and scale. New people, tools, and information are added to existing workflows, and entirely new workflows must be built to support new products or processes. Many workflows are interdependent, and this brings another dimension of complexity to workflow management.
Finally, effective workflow management depends on the ability to monitor workflows, mine them for data, and then use that data to create actionable insights. Workflow management systems provide the visibility needed to optimize workflows and drive overall business strategy.
Choosing a WMS
Companies today have access to a wide range of workflow management options. Some companies may build their own platform internally. Others may rely on an assortment of apps and software. Increasingly, companies are choosing WMS platforms that bring a balance of structure and flexibility to workflow management.
One of the primary drivers of the move toward WMS systems is the need to integrate and harmonize workflows across departments. Workflow management systems support these efforts by consolidating data, improving collaboration, and democratizing workflow management by making it easy for users to modify or build workflows as they are needed.
10 Essential workflow system features
Below are 10 workflow system features that every company should consider as they explore their WMS options. These features give teams the control and visibility they need to optimize their workflows and drive business strategy.
1. Drag-and-drop interface
The brilliance of no-code software comes from two of its defining qualities: 1) it’s easy to set up and 2) changes to workflows or processes — as well as revisions to automations, rules, and reports — can be made quickly, without the intervention of a developer or admin.
No-code, sometimes referred to as “zero code,” gives users, managers, and citizen developers more opportunities to structure workflows and processes in a way that works for them. Using a drag-and-drop interface simplifies building and modifying workflows. As a result, IT teams and developers can focus on other priorities, rather than a backlog of requests to make changes to the WMS.
Estimates of how much of our work can be automated depends on the type of activity. By one estimate, up to 12 hours of work each week could be automated for about 60% of US employees. That figure represents a massive trove of time and money that companies could redirect to more important activities.Automating tasks with a workflow management system delivers four key benefits to the enterprise:
- Increases the amount of time available to focus on value-creating activities
- Significantly reduces opportunities for errors
- Improves customer/employee experiences by reducing delays and/or unnecessary steps
- Enhances collaboration by bringing consistency to communications and moving tasks through the workflow without additional steps
Look for a workflow management system that allows your team to automate tasks, keeps items moving through the flow, and lets you focus on more meaningful activities.
|A day and a half worth of activities can be automated for more than half of U.S. jobs|
Most teams rely on an ever growing number of apps and software to manage sales, marketing, and business operations. Between communication tools, databases, CRMs, and other tools, a typical stack is a complex machine.
Workflow management tools should complement, not complicate, your existing stack. That means using a WMS that provides a seamless experience for users by minimizing disruptions and enhancing collaboration through integrations. For example, a robust WMS should be able to integrate with:
- Collaboration tools such as Slack, Zoom, SMS, Google Drive, or Outlook
- Sales and marketing tools including Mailchimp, Marketo, Shopify, and Salesforce
- HR tools like ADP, Docusign, Zenefits, and Workday
- Finance tools such as SAP, Oracle E-Business, Quickbooks, or Sage Intacct
- Social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn
4. Forms and portals
One of the easiest ways to bring order and consistency to any process is by controlling the data and information that go into the workflow. For example, in a sales process it might make sense to require certain inputs (such as company size or contact information) before items progress through the workflow.
Forms can bring structure to the workflow by defining what information is included (or excluded) from the process. They also provide access points for external users, such as applicants for a job (from whom HR needs information before they can become candidates) or prospects (who can provide information that helps the marketing team decide if they are a qualified lead).
Forms can also serve as the starting point for new work items. Customers or employees can add requests or initiate new work by using a standardized form. External parties or non-users can add information to work items or initiate requests without having to go through someone on your team.
To make forms easy to find, they can be organized into portals so that internal or external users can find all relevant forms in a single, centralized location.
5. Workflow Templates
Mapping and planning workflows takes time. In some cases, it makes more sense to start with a template than to build the workflow from scratch. Templates can be especially useful for helping integrate workflows and processes to drive overall business goals.
A workflow management system that includes templates can be a game changer for growing companies. Businesses that are scaling, or that plan to scale in the near future, are likely to implement new processes and workflows to meet their growth targets. Templates can take much of the guesswork out of building these flows and add some guardrails to keep things on track as teams figure out how to modify the flows to make them more efficient.
6. Collaboration tools: notifications, shared inbox, and email templates
One of the challenges faced by every team is finding ways to keep work moving through the flow and avoiding backups caused by lack of visibility. Automated notifications can raise busy team members’ awareness of items that require their attention. Notifications can be sent via email, SMS, or integration with other collaboration tools.
Another important collaboration feature is a shared inbox. For teams that deal with a high volume of emails, the shared inbox can make it easier to assign and track incoming messages across the team.
A related time-saving feature that a WMS can provide is the use of email templates. Instead of composing every email from scratch, a predefined template makes it easy to communicate with timeliness and consistency, either internally or externally.
7. Multiple workflow views
Spreadsheets and email are two of the most common tools used to manage workflows. One limitation of these methods is that they don’t always make it easy to visualize the way work gets done.
Business processes depend on a series of workflows, and each workflow is made up of individual tasks, so it can be difficult to get just the right level of detail in a visualization. A common goal of workflow management is to generate visualizations that provide direction and insight without overload.
Workflow management systems that deliver multiple views, such as Kanban or calendar, have a clear advantage in this area. They are able to present data for specific audiences, so that users can see the overall workflow structure, handoffs between people or departments, statuses of each item in the workflow, as well as zoom into the individual tasks that contribute to a completed workflow.
8. Dashboards and reports
Visibility is a cornerstone of workflow management, and a WMS should provide easy-to-configure, no-code options for creating and modifying reports and dashboards.
Examples of useful reports include tracking time spent on requests, status reports, reviewing the types of requests received, and measuring productivity or other KPIs. Filters and labels can help you zero in on relevant information or combine data across multiple processes.
Dashboards provide a consolidated and customizable view of priority information regarding the workflow. They are especially useful for visualizing and organizing information so that it can be quickly processed and put into action. Integrations with other apps can create highly sophisticated dashboards that deliver keen, up to the minute insights from multiple data sources.
9. Conditional logic and rules
To bring even more control to workflows, the WMS should allow managers to enable no-code rules and conditionals. This feature builds a structure within the flow that predicts scenarios, reduces opportunities for errors, and creates consistent outcomes.
Conditionals guide the next step in the workflow depending on inputs. For example, if an employee is requesting time off, different approvals may be required depending on the nature of the request. A conditional will determine which types of information are required for the approval and then route the request to the appropriate party.
As businesses grow, processes and workflows become more complex. Workflow management in a dynamic environment requires tools that can evolve along with the business.
Whether that means building new workflows, modifying existing workflows, or orchestrating workflows to enable more efficient processes, a workflow management system should have the elasticity and capacity needed to help you scale your workflows and processes.
See why companies choose Pipefy for their workflow management platformWhy Pipefy
- What is a Workflow?
- Basic Components of Any Workflow
- Managing Workflows in a Hybrid Work Model
- Workflow Models: 8 Best Practices for Accuracy & Visibility
- Workflow Glossary
- Brief History of Workflows
- What is Workflow Automation?
- What is Workflow Management?
- How to Automate Any Process (or Workflow)
- How to Make Any Process More Efficient