What is workflow management?

Workflow management describes the systems and tactics companies use to increase productivity, alleviate frustration, and streamline the flow of tasks.

Processes drive your business. For every objective, there is a sequence of steps that must be followed to help turn concepts and ideas into impactful results. When these processes combine, bringing together interdependent tasks and people to reach an otherwise inaccessible goal, this is called a workflow. The best workflows incorporate workflow automation, making it possible to eliminate the bottlenecks and errors often associated with tedious, manual processes and tasks.

To further facilitate effective business workflows, many organizations turn to workflow management.

Workflow management involves identifying, categorizing, structuring, tracking, documenting, and optimizing business tasks and processes to ensure that they proceed smoothly and accurately towards the desired results. Often, workflow management is broken down into two categories:

  • Process integration
    Process integration defines business processes spanning applications and vendors.
  • Event automation
    Overlapping with workflow automation, event automation makes it possible to automate individual tasks within a workflow.

At its heart, workflow management exists to answer four basic questions about any given task within the workflow:

  • What needs to be done?
  • Who needs to do it?
  • When does it need to be completed?
  • How should it be accomplished?

Correctly applied, workflow management brings together clear visibility, process automation, and support tools to guide people and processes. Additionally, teams that operate within reliable workflows see greater productivity and efficiency, and are more goal-oriented than those who do not. This comes from having easy access to workflow data, allowing for increased visibility into the steps and processes involved and which roles are responsible for which actions.

Just as workflows bring together people and processes, projects are the situations in which multiple workflows operate in tandem to achieve a specific result. Project management describes the tools and strategies associated with guiding and optimizing these projects. For example, where workflow management may help illustrate and optimize the processes needed to onboard new employees, project management would instead detail and govern the tasks necessary for recruiting, hiring, and onboarding a specific new hire. 

On the other hand, given the growing sophistication of workflow management software, there may be a great deal of overlap between these two disciplines. In fact, the best workflow management systems available today are capable of performing essentially all the project management duties a company might depend on.

Given the size and complexity of most modern business processes, coordinating and tracking tasks and people associated with workflows demands effective tools. Workflow management systems are software solutions created to help businesses better streamline their workflows. These tools generally include built-in functionality making it possible to automate repetitive tasks and processes, schedule reminders and follow-ups, alert users about uncompleted tasks, track performance metrics, and work from a comprehensive view of every aspect of the workflow.

Essential features of workflow management systems

From beginning to end, there is a lot that goes into effectively managing a workflow. Top workflow management systems must be capable of optimizing every aspect of the workflow and supporting human users on all levels. As such, workflow management systems depend on a range of advanced features and capabilities, including: 

  • Analytics tracking
  • Automated notifications
  • Cloud based computing
  • Code-free workflow designer
  • Drag and drop tools
  • Integration with third-party applications
  • Low-code app development
  • Parallel branches
  • Report generation
  • Role based access control
  • Service-level agreement (SLA) status indicators

Workflow management software tools are designed to handle most of the heavy lifting associated with your workflows. That said, the effectiveness of any tool depends heavily on your ability to put it to proper use and get the most out of what it has to offer. As you work to implement a workflow management solution for your business, consider the following best practices:

Get buy-in from leadership

Workflows can extend beyond the boundaries of individual departments, involving people and processes throughout your organization. And because these solutions will likely impact your business company-wide, it is imperative that you get backing from company leadership. Discuss workflow management with managers and C-suite executives, and make sure that you have their support before you commit.

Identify and collaborate with stakeholders

In addition to company leadership, you will also need to involve individual stakeholders. Identify who will be responsible for various tasks within the workflow. Work closely with these individuals to ensure that everything is in place to effectively guide processes end-to-end.

Map and prioritize workflows

Mapping is a crucial aspect of workflow management, but not every workflow carries with it the same urgency or importance. Priority workflows (those related to finance, IT, HR, etc.) and customer-facing workflows should be your primary concern. These need to be agile, fully operational, and efficient. Once these are in place, you can then prioritize supporting workflows.

Automate extensively

Automation is the key to effective workflow management and should be applied wherever possible. Comb through your workflow to locate any simple, repetitive tasks or approvals; these may be well suited to automation, and can help free up employees to perform other, more-strategic actions.

Eliminate redundancies

Mapping out workflows provides a birds-eye view of exactly what tasks are involved. This can help you identify redundant actions that take up employee time but provide no additional benefit. Work closely with your stakeholders to review workflows, locate areas of duplicate effort, and remove them.

Track KPIs

Many workflows may need to be reassessed and revised after deployment. Establish relevant metrics and monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) to ensure that everything is proceeding optimally and that individual processes are functioning as anticipated. This will help you identify potential problems areas which you can then work to improve.

Govern the process

Although advanced automation technologies can create workflows that drive themselves, it is always better to have a human overseeing the process. Govern your workflows, make course corrections where necessary, and use the insights you develop to further optimize your business.

Optimizing processes by eliminating bottlenecks and duplicate tasks is one of the primary benefits of workflow management. But while speed is a natural byproduct of this approach, establishing a workflow management system from the ground up is not generally something that can be accomplished overnight. Setting up the relevant tools, training users, integrating associated systems, and finally deploying the solution may take days, weeks, or even months. Alternatively, workflow management that functions as part of a larger management platform and operates using low-code tools may not require much set up or training at all. This allows for faster deployment — often within a single day.

Processes drive your business, and how you manage your workflows can define how effectively those processes function. ServiceNow, the leader in IT management systems, is taking workflow management further than ever before.

Built on the award-winning Now Platform®, ServiceNow workflow management combines low-code capabilities and out-of-the-box functionality with advanced AI and supporting tools, all remote-accessible from a single, centralized location. Quickly and accurately build custom workflows. Integrate with existing data and tools. Define and track essential metrics and KPIs. Establish variables and workflow branches. And through it all, apply revolutionary automation to keep everything moving in the right direction.

See for yourself how ServiceNow redefines workflow management. Request a demo today!

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