May 1, 2023

Workflow Automation: Guide on Automating Business Processes 

In today's fast-paced business environment, time is money, and every minute counts. Workflow automation is the key to streamlining business processes, increasing productivity, and reducing errors. By automating repetitive tasks, businesses can free up valuable time and resources for more important work. However, implementing workflow automation can be daunting, especially for those who are new to the concept.


That's why we've put together this guide to help you understand the benefits of workflow automation and how to get started. Whether you're in IT, healthcare, finance, legal, marketing, sales, human resources, or customer service, this guide will provide you with the tools and knowledge you need to automate your business processes and take your organization to the next level.

What is Workflow Automation?   

Workflow automation involves identifying tasks performed by employees and using tools, apps, and technology to automate them. This includes lead management, data input, follow-up emails, human resource management, and marketing. By switching manual tasks to self-operating workflow processes, businesses can save money and reduce the risk of human error.

automating workflows

Workflow automation can improve efficiency, staff job satisfaction, data and task accuracy, and productivity. For example, if an employee spends 12 hours a week entering data and their hourly rate is $50, the business is spending $600 a week on this task alone. Automating this process with workflow automation can save the business money and increase employee satisfaction

Benefits of Workflow Automation  

There are many advantages to implementing streamlined and automated business processes throughout your organization such as:


  • Improved quality control: Standard operating procedures provide a framework for consistency and quality control. With a well-defined team and the right technology, you can ensure that all products and services meet a consistent standard, enhancing your brand and keeping operations efficient.
  • Increased efficiency: Automating workflows, project management, order processing, inventory management, and more can address the efficiency pain points in your industry. This streamlines operations and saves valuable time.
  • Decreased operating costs: Automated systems are faster, more accurate, and have a lower error rate than manual processes. By automating tasks like data input, inventory management, and form processing, you can streamline operations and reduce operating costs.
  • Better compliance documentation and oversight: Workflow automation reduces the risk of human error, especially in heavily regulated industries like healthcare, finance, food and beverages, and pharmaceuticals. Automated systems can help ensure compliance and reduce the risk of costly mistakes.
  • Data-driven decisions: These systems provide quantitative insights into billing, sales cycles, and employee onboarding, among other things. This data can inform operational changes and drive strategic decision-making, providing a data-backed rationale for process improvements.

Workflow Automation Examples  

Automated workflows can be applied across multiple industries, and here are some examples of automation to provide inspiration:


  • IT: password resetting, creation of new user accounts, software deployment, backup management, software installation, and IT service desk management.
  • Healthcare: shift and on-call schedule creation, patient admission, patient discharge, and patient record transfer.
  • Accounting and finance: billing, payroll, expense approval, expense reimbursement, and budget approval.
  • Legal: contract review management and contract approval.
  • Banking: account creation and loan approval.
  • Marketing: management of email marketing campaigns and scheduling of social media posts.
  • Sales: quote approval, management of the sales pipeline, and scheduling of sales meetings.
  • Human resources: job application screening, recruitment communications, new employee record creation, employee onboarding, employee offboarding, employee record updates, timesheet approval, management of employee engagement surveys, approval of paid time off requests, approval of travel requests, and sending of annual tax forms.
  • Customer service: customer onboarding, management of customer service interactions, and management of customer satisfaction surveys.

How to Determine Which Processes to Automate In Your Business   

Determining which processes to automate is not a technically complex task, but it does require careful planning, collaboration, and critical thinking. It is not necessary for managers to be experts in the latest automation technology and methodologies to achieve transformative results.


Instead, identifying the right processes to automate requires asking the right questions to the right group of people, listening to their answers, and aligning them with long-term business goals.


Identify the most problematic or inefficient processes in your department workflow. Start with any processes that are still being done manually, regardless of their size or complexity. Break down every step involved in completing the target task, identify who's involved, and what technology is currently being used.


Define the ideal goals or solutions for those inefficiencies or problems.Ideate the exact steps for a perfect workflow and compare them to the current process in place. Seek insights from team members in the domains that require improvement to gather more ideas.


Assign a metric for improvement to the team to achieve the newly outlined process. Set goals to decrease the time or optimize the process.


Gather feedback from the team. To ensure the most comprehensible and adaptable automation solutions, it's crucial to provide everyone experiencing pain points with a seat at the table. Incorporate team feedback into the outlines.


Research tools and equipment that directly contribute to achieving the new process goal. Use technology, such as computer software, updated program features, a collaborative suite of work documents, or equipment installed into company vehicles, to facilitate successful process automation.

7 Steps to Automate Workflows  

Whether you’re looking to improve your project management process or workflow management system, you can easily build your own workflow automation solution.


Step 1: Understand the Workflow  

Automating workflows starts with gathering information on how the workflow management process currently operates. You need to understand how teams execute tasks, how they flow between departments, and what influences efficiency and project outcomes.


Also, determine what kicks off each task in the workflow and what causes them to change. Find out what those changes are and the criteria to consider each task complete.


In other words, formulate all the events and conditions that move tasks along your workflow. Keep in mind that the goal is to design a workflow automation system is by routing tasks to the right people.


Step 2: Draft the Workflow  

Before using workflow software to automate tasks, you should probably outline the entire process. Writing out your workflow in a Doc would work, but building a visual representation in workflow management software is more helpful for pinpointing inefficiencies.The top-notch workflow automation software not only provides a visual representation of the entire process, but it also enables teams to collaborate on the workflow simultaneously.

Step 3: Identify Opportunities for Integration  

Workflows may originate from various sources, such as online forms, emails, chatbots, instant messages, shared documents, databases, and third-party apps. Identify tasks in your workflow that require data from external sources and check if your workflow software supports these integrations. Make any necessary adjustments to the workflow to meet integration requirements, such as dividing tasks into smaller work units.

Step 4: Address the Inefficiencies  

In addition to tasks that can be automated with integrations, workflows may have other areas of inefficiency, such as bottlenecks, missing follow-ups, overdue tasks, lost data, and communication breakdowns. Identify these inefficiencies and reconfigure the workflow to eliminate them. For example, clarify the task's actor or determine where the single source of truth should be located.

Step 5: Create the Workflow   

Once you have properly outlined and addressed the inefficiencies in your workflow, it is time to bring it to life. The majority of workflow automation software enables you to create workflows in multiple views, such as Mind Maps, Process Maps, Gantt, or Calendar views, to provide your team with the most visibility. The best workflow automation software prevents you from switching between tools to draft, outline, build, and automate your tasks.

workflow project management

Use the information you gathered in the previous step to describe each task, and, depending on the complexity of the task and the workflow automation software you are using, attach a text document with the standard operating procedure. Eventually, add subtasks to tasks so that you can track work units smaller than a task. And don't forget to assign user roles (and permission levels) to your workflow participants!

Step 6: Continually Test, Monitor and Optimize Your Workflow   

After integrating your workflow and defining assignees, start and due dates for each task, run the workflow with a few testers and check if everything works as expected. If you encounter any issues, adjust the workflow and repeat the testing process.


Once the test is successful, it's time to deploy the workflow to the entire team and monitor its performance. If you identify any inefficiencies, take steps to optimize the workflow.


For example, if you notice a decrease in productivity, the workflow taking too long to complete, or the deliverables not meeting requirements, addressing these issues will be beneficial in the long run.


Setting KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for your automated workflow is a good practice as it helps optimize the workflow and provides evidence to senior managers that the workflow automation has generated the desired outcomes. Use dashboards, custom dashboards, and custom fields to report on your KPIs. Reporting dashboards can help track task progress and identify any roadblocks.

Step 7: Train Your Team   

It is crucial to train your team on how to use the workflow automation software, especially if it's a recent adoption. This will enable them to seamlessly transition into following the automated workflows.


When you make changes to a workflow, it's essential to communicate and prepare the team for the changes. In some cases, if the changes are significant and the team is new to workflow automation, a change management program may be necessary.

How to Measure and Report on the Success of Automation  

Abstract questions like "How can we speed this up?" or "How can we make things less complicated?" are the beginning of an automated business system. These questions turn into solutions through updated procedures and technology, which are then measured through metric tracking.


Data is at the heart of most business enhancements, including automated processes. To thrive, you need the right people with the right tools doing the right work, but you also need to measure, tweak, and measure again to see continuous improvement.


Without data-driven metrics and automation tracking programs, it's difficult to understand the full impact of your business equipment, technology, and trained personnel. Reviewing real numbers and percentages across every function of the organization is key to understanding the success of your automated processes. It not only helps you prove the point to the entire operation but also allows you to know precisely what's improved, where, and by how much.

What are the Important Automation Metrics to Track?   

It's not enough to just implement automation in your business processes. A well-planned automation assessment is just as crucial to ensure that you're working smarter and not harder. Your assessment plan must clearly outline tangible goals you want to achieve through the new technology or system.


There are three domains of metrics that are particularly important to track in a new business process: activity metrics, efficiency metrics, and value metrics.


Activity metrics are the earliest indicators of insights on the adoption and usage of new automation tools. They provide hard evidence to typically qualitative problems like employee understanding and buy-in of new technology.

business process management

Efficiency metrics measure the actual alignment of the automated process with the everyday workings of your organization. They should show improvements in specific process goals outlined from the start, and any pain points alleviated. If they don't, you may need to make more system, software, or role tweaks.


Value metrics encompass any finance or budget-related changes that occurred as a direct result of the automation. These include variables such as expenses saved from better inventory management, costs cut due to the elimination of an unnecessary workflow chokepoint, or business capital expanded due to analyzed resource allocation.


Tracking these three key performance indicators (KPIs) provides evergreen, value-based assessments of your process improvements. This helps you gain insights into the actual nature of your process improvements and the value derived from them.


Many businesses may assume that certain manual tasks can only be performed by human employees. However, data entry and follow-up emails, for example, do not need to be on that list.


Consider workflow automation as a way to free up employees from these tasks and allow them to focus on more important responsibilities. When you identify tasks that can be accomplished more efficiently through automation, you can allocate staff members to high-priority assignments.


Not only does automating tedious tasks benefit your budget, but it also boosts employee morale and productivity. Happy employees are not only good for your workforce but also for your company's profitability.


Automation is a game-changer for businesses, allowing them to achieve speed, precision, and efficiency that was once thought impossible. It's no wonder that organizations are embracing it with open arms as it enables employees to accomplish more with fewer resources.

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