Phew! You’ve made it more than halfway through this book, and you probably know more about project management, process management, and BPM more than you ever thought you would in your life.
So, now that you understand the differences between processes, workflows, BPM, process management, process automation, and so on… what do you DO with all of that? Where do you go from here?
There are two parts to this:
- THE WHY - understanding the value of business workflow automation. After all, if you don’t understand the value, importance, and benefit of automation, then applying BPM will only get you so far…
- THE HOW - defining the goal outputs you want to achieve with automation, and how to set it all up and bring it to life
How and Why Teams Benefit from Business Workflow Automation
Okay, so you get the point about what workflow automation is, but does it really help teams?
Here are some real-world examples by department or functional area:
- Capture all leads so none slip through the cracks
- Simplify the list-building process
- Save time from making phone calls, sending emails, and other touchpoints
- Receive reports related to number of leads, contacts, and deals in the pipeline
- Lead qualifying and nurturing
- Streamline the content production process—and approvals along the way
- Collaborate on workflows with teammates in multiple locations
- Run multiple campaigns simultaneously
- Receive “help desk” or support tickets and assign to appropriate team members
- Assign tickets and escalations to available team members
- Deploy product features and web updates
- Schedule and perform regular backups
- Reduce technical debt
- Reduce time spent on recruiting candidates
- Setup and automate payroll processes
- Reduce paperwork and input errors
- Streamline employee onboarding/offboarding processes
- Organize document control policies and procedures
- Process payments for recurring invoices and bills
- Streamline purchase order issuing processes
- Reduce paperwork and input errors
- Streamline bookkeeping processes
Which Processes Should You Automate?
So, how do you know what processes to automate? Is every process a good candidate for automation?
Here are some common process automation use cases:
- Shipping and Distribution Logistics – This is a big one, especially for eCommerce businesses. Some great opportunities for automating processes include product shipment labeling, tracking, and other fulfillment logistics.
- Sales and Marketing – Automating processes can include sending automated emails or text messages, proposals, reports, and other lead or customer touchpoints.
- IT – Some common examples include performing backups; sending maintenance and status reports, notifications, and alerts; issuing user support tickets, and more.
- Finance - The finance industry is one that has greatly benefited from process automation, particularly with establishing and maintaining compliance. Finance leaders and professionals automate processes such as accounts payable and contract management.
- Customer Service - This is another big area for process automation. Many companies have set up digital assistants to handle basic customer service operations. They are also designed to collect and process customer data, share product-related information, and recommend potential solutions to customers who contact customer service with issues or complaints.
- Human Resources - Human resources departments use process automation for tasks such as onboarding new hires, processing payroll, communicating employee benefits options, training, and other related tasks.
- Manufacturing - Manufacturing was one of the first core functional areas to benefit from automation. In fact, studies have shown that manufacturing can reduce shorter cycle times per unit produced, require less space, and even reduce energy consumption and costs. By automating assembly processes with computers rather than large, clunky machinery
How to Set Up Business Workflow Automation
Business workflow automation is an automated set or series of tasks, actions or events that occur within a workflow. When thinking of business workflow automation, think of all the tasks or activities that you do every day or every week. Then, think of all the manual, repetitive, and menial tasks or activities that you do every day or week.
Now, automate them.
If you were a 90s kid, think of a Slinky going down a flight of stairs.
You set the Slinky right at the top of the stairs, give it a little nudge, and then it walks down the stairs on its own until it reaches the bottom.
Automation is kind of like that.
Now, how do you do business workflow automation? How do you set it up? Where do you start?
Here is a quick step-by-step process on how to get started with business workflow automation:
Step 1: Define goals.
Goal-setting should be the first step before taking the time to map out processes, optimize existing processes, and investing in workflow management software. Your process and workflow goals should be aligned with the business’ higher-level goals.
What do you want to get from automation? Reduced costs? Increased efficiency? Better productivity? Happier customers? All of the above?
Here are a few examples of some common business workflow automation goals:
- Increase ROI
- Increase time-to-market
- Increase team productivity and velocity
- Reduce overhead costs
Although the benefits of business workflow automation are many, you will set your team up for success if you can clearly define goals.
Step 2: Identify repetitive tasks and activities within your current workflows.
Think about all the things that your team needs to accomplish within a specific workflow. Again, refer to the examples in the previous section if you need to, to help you think of your own processes and workflows.
Step 3: Audit your existing workflows to see if they are right for automation.
Although business workflow automation might seem like it has wizardly powers (and it kind of does…), the truth is that not every workflow can be solved by automation. The processes and workflows that make the best candidates for business workflow automation have the following characteristics:
- They are repetitive.
- They are “mature”, meaning that your workflows aren’t brand new and have been utilized for some time, but could be better.
- They involve tasks or activities that are overly complex.
Once you’ve identified a good workflow to automate, the next step is to speak with your team. Are they overloaded with work or are struggling to complete certain tasks or activities on time? Are they open to the idea of automation? Team adoption and buy-in will be crucial to seeing the benefits and ROI from automation.
Step 4: Map out and design your workflow.
Now we get to the good part: mapping out and designing your workflow. Take some time to draw out a process, and how that process would flow with automation. This might include building or setting up automated forms, or integrating a suite of digital tools. Be as clear as possible when assigning and communicating specific roles for specific workflows and processes so the entire team is on the same page as to who is working on what, and who is responsible for what.
Step 5: Build your workflow into a workflow management system.
Although this seems like the most complicated, it is actually the easiest step. Once you’ve worked through the steps above, this step involves choosing the best tools, systems, and tactics that pull all the pieces together. Then, build your workflows accordingly into your workflow management system, assign permissions and rules for each team member or stakeholder, and turn it on!
Step 6: Document.
In our experience, this step is often skipped or overlooked altogether. Don’t make this mistake! You’ve put all that effort into building your processes and workflows, so by documenting them you are also creating resources and guides for new hires and resources.
Step 7: Train your team.
Once you get all the workflow system setup out of the way, now it’s time to train your team. Don’t forget to communicate the value and benefits of using business workflow automation software to your team. Focus on how it will help your team, saving them time and effort from doing repetitive and menial tasks, and taking them off their plates. If your team understands the value, they are more likely to use it. Encourage them to provide feedback!
Step 8: Measure KPIs and ROI.
Sure, setting up business workflow automation is a HUGE step in the right direction, however, your automation goals aren’t fully realized until you are able to measure performance and ROI, and any improvements it has made on previous processes.
Remember defining your goals for business workflow automation? You can measure the performance of your workflows by monitoring the following metrics:
- Number of tasks created versus number of tasks completed
- Velocity rate before and after workflow was developed
- Cost savings versus costs spent on workflow tool
- Estimated financial value vs. costs spent
Step 9: Iterate, optimize, and improve.
So, you finally designed, built, and documented all your new processes and workflows. Phew! Your work is done, right? Wrong. As client and business needs shift, it’s important to audit and optimize your existing processes and workflows to ensure they are still working and meeting your teams’ and clients’ needs.
This step should be an ongoing, iterative process. Meet with or schedule a call with your team once per month to review existing processes and workflows, and figure out what is working best and what isn’t, and look for ways to improve them.
4 Easy BPM Guidelines to Follow
After setting up your processes, workflows, and business workflow automation, now it’s time add a layer of BPM so you can continue to iterate on and improve your processes to ensure they are A) still functional and B) providing you with the results that meet the needs of your team, customers, and business.
When thinking about how to implement BPM, processes should have the following characteristics:
- They are simple and repeatable.
- They should be reliable and dependable.
- They should provide predictable results.
- They are easy to report progress.
Here are some guidelines for building and implementing BPM:
- Use action words to describe and clearly outline processes. (Write article. Review article. Publish article.)
- Describe the action that triggers these events (a decision, an approval, a specific date/time, and so on.)
- Identify any parallel processes or activities and where they occur in the overall process. (While an article is under review, the design team creates graphics.)
- Identify the desirable end result or outputs.
This chapter focused on the “why” and “how” of setting up and applying BPM. Here are some key takeaways and highlights from this chapter that are important to remember throughout your BPM-building journey:
- Identify the processes you need to build and automate.
- Be sure that you take the time to identify the goals and what you and your team want to get from automation.
- Understand how those goals align with your organization’s goals.
- Follow the nine steps for setting up business workflow automation.
- Keep in mind the 4 BPM guidelines: use action words, triggers, parallel processes and activities, and desirable end results or outputs.