Workflow: what is it and how will it help me?

A workflow defines a sequence of steps that a document has to go through before its life cycle is completed. These steps can vary from simple actions such as approval or rejection of document versions by someone, to group reviews and collaborative editing, to collection of signatures or even to integration with platforms such as CRM, ERP or BPM to fetch information or even to cloud platforms for storage such as AWS S3, MS Sharepoint or Google Drive.

DocQ provides you the ability to mimic your real life processes by using workflows that determine the end-to-end life cycle of documents. In this blog post you will learn how workflows in DocQ can help your business by organizing processes, reducing rework and conflicts and, ultimately, reflecting on a better performance for you and your customers.

So, is workflow a process?

A process consists of an input, intermediate steps, and an output.

An input can be a sales request or a document that needs signing. An output can be the response to a request, the delivery of something to someone, a signed document. An intermediate steps are actions/activities required to go from input to output, such as approving/rejecting a request, reviewing and signing of a document.

If we take the process from this perspective, then yes, a workflow is a process. Furthermore, a workflow can consist of multiple processes that have to be executed sequentially or in parallel.

Workflow goals

Workflows are widely used to bring order into processes, mainly those involving people collaborating on top of a document. For example, have you ever had to do something that was not entirely up your alley, that you somehow knew how to start, but did not have a clear path to the end?

One way to solve such situations is with the clear definitions of workflows. When an organization adopts workflows, at a macroscopic level, it is seeking for reducing problems related to the daily management of processes. That is, the main goal of workflows is to improve how activities within processes are done.

Besides that, workflows also:

  • Streamline, simplify and make processes more secure
  • Help organizing the steps within very specific processes in a efficient way, contributing to the general life cycle of a process and documents
  • Supply an organized interface to connect process with and between different platforms
  • Provide a clear overview of the responsibilities of each professional and team involved in the steps of a given process
  • Support accurate decision making

Many companies already have workflows implicitly or explicitly defined for daily processes. However, what they may not know is that those workflows can be significantly improved with the use of DocQ, because of its flexibility on integrations and high granularity on workflow definitions for handling document-related tasks and documents themselves.

How do we create workflows?

Creating workflows can be both easy and difficult processes. That depends on the complexity of the actions that are expected within the process. Many times the sequence of actions is systematic and automatic, without the support of a formal process disseminated across all the involved ones.

The first step towards creating a workflow is to map the process, learning how the connection between the series of steps should be built so that one has a clear view from input, across intermediate steps, all the way to the output.

Workflows typically vary from a simple series of steps in which people review and comment on the same document, to more complex processes involving collaborative editing, (electronic) signatures, and dissemination of the output to multiple destinations.

How to map a workflow?

Mapping the workflow is the same as mapping a process. Typically, there are some generic steps for that, but there are also some specific ones depending on particularities of an organization and the business area.

Such steps go from selecting the process you want to map, to talking to people that perform tasks within that process, to the final drawing showing the flow of information among the involved parties. The drawing of a process can be as simple as a sequential list of activities, a flowchart, or a complex model using some sort of notation as BPMN.

Are workflows related to technology?

Yes and no. Workflows exist as long as processes exist within organizations. Here is an example of a workflow without technology:

Now, knowing the interactions between people and teams (departments) happen in the example above, can you imagine how the information travels from input to output without any sort of technology? There is a high risk of information conflicts, misunderstandings or information loss. Ultimately, this would reflect on a bad experience to the customer who would leave your shop unsatisfied with your services.

How does a workflow work?

A workflow can involve various areas, meaning that the process can consist of steps of action taken by people from different teams and departments, or even different organizations that collaborate in a given process.

Nonetheless, there is one thing that is always present within a workflow: the information exchange. This exchange can happen in different ways:

  • Completed documents
  • Collected signatures
  • Payments done
  • Documents approved
  • … and so forth

When the information arrives at a given step, who is the responsible to take an action allowing for the continuity of the process? There is exactly where the workflow comes in to aid. With the correct software at hand, you can clearly define who or what team is responsible for the actions on every step of the process.

This way, when someone completes the step “A”, the process naturally continues, moving to the next step and taking with it the respective document of that process. At the same time, the software should notify people of step “B” that they can already start their work on the document that just landed on their plate.

The software should even allow moving backwards in a process. That is, a workflow doesn’t define only the way forward in a given process, but it should also treat unexpected cases in which a document has to undergo further modifications before completing its life cycle. For example, if the responsible person in step “B” decides that the document should go back to step “A”, the software should allow for such a move.

DocQ allows for the creation of conditional workflows, where you can define when a document can be rejected within a process, therefore moving backwards in its respective workflow. Even more, you can define whether a rejection should cause a document to move to a different workflow entirely.

What are the advantages of workflows?

Workflows should be systematically defined to help an organization with its daily activities. Besides that, there are many others advantages associated to workflows:

How many times have you had a document or a piece of information that you did not actually know what to do with or to whom that should be forwarded? This kind of problem is minimized by the implementation of workflows that bring end-to-end visibility into the process.

When your team members can easily identify their respective tasks and who is responsible for what in a process, it reduces the chances of misunderstanding and information conflicts, therefore, improving overall productivity.

In a workflow you define what and when each team member should specifically do. When such an organization is in place, it is easier to collaborate, favoring the smooth transition between tasks within a process. This improves overall routine activities within the organization in a push-based fashion; that is, once someone finishes its task over a given document, the document is pushed to the next step and the next person can start working on it.

By reducing the space for misunderstandings, information loss and conflicts, workflows consequently reduce the amount of rework typically involved in getting a process completed.

With the support of an efficient and complete auditing trail, you are also aware of every action taken within the life cycle of a process or a document. This can further help identifying those workflow steps that take the longest to complete, enabling strategic decisions that are necessary for improving the process. Such analysis is also useful on the identification of unnecessary steps within a given process.

DocQ maintains an exhaustive audit of every single action that is taken on a document since its upload to its last review/editing and completion. DocQ provides full reports on all documents or workflows at any time someone needs to understand what is going on within a given process.

As mentioned above, collaboration on a document is easier with a predefined workflow. Everyone that collaborates within a process can interact and verify his/her respective responsibilities. Daily routines, such as handling repeatable documents, become more organized and productive, improving overall synergy and performance.

The definition of workflows should be flexible. That is, the software used to control processes should allow changes to a workflow at any given time. Furthermore, the software should give the options of maintaining the documents assigned to a previous version of the workflow to continue their journey, or to migrate all the documents within that workflow to its new definition.

In addition, the documents lifespan within a workflow can also be shorter than predetermined. Depending on how a process evolves, the software should allow for changes of workflow; that is documents migrating from one workflow to another.

This flexibility allows you to rethink the process according to, for example, new demands and changes in the organization structure.

Besides helping with the organization and standardization of processes, workflows allow for the continuous identification of process bottlenecks and pinpointing the specific steps of a process that could be improved, ultimately assisting on strategic decisions.

The explicit definition of responsibilities and deadlines for each step of a workflow makes it easier to manage the overall status of processes and documents. In the end, having the full overview of an organized process facilitates the delivery of services/products to your end customer. The result surely is increased satisfaction and value added to your organization in the market.

If this was not enough, clearly defined and deployed workflows will enable you to achieve all the advantages at a lower operational cost. That is because, as mentioned before, you can leverage the organization of workflows to identify pain points in the processes, where information is lost, or there are communication fails and misunderstandings, demanding rework and waste of precious work hours and resources.

Having a standardized process means having a replicable process. The choice for the correct software to help you with the definition and implementation of workflows will certainly favor your business scalability due to the standardization of processes.

The reduction of (minor) administrative and operational tasks, manual controls and checkpoints, allow for team members to focus more on strategic activities, improving their performance and eliminating waste on existing processes. Such gains reflect directly on the competitiveness of your business.

How to implement workflows in your business

The advantages of having clearly defined workflows is undeniable. However, going from theory to practice can be challenging if you do not have the correct software to assist you.

DocQ has an easy-to-use and friendly interface and it is fully web-based. That is, you can access your documents and run them through workflows whenever you want from wherever you are. Assembling workflows is a matter of a few clicks. By means of a super-intuitive graphical interface, you can assemble your workflows by adding and removing steps, including external people, sending documents out for signatures, among many other things.

If you need DocQ to be able to talk to other platforms your organization already uses, such as CRM, ERP, or cloud-based solutions, we can help you. We have more than 20 years of experience on building integrations, and DocQ inherited that flexibility. DocQ is fully modular and API-based, meaning that we can plug it in to whatever other software or platform your business requires.

Nevertheless, if you still need help assembling workflows due to the complexity of your business processes, do not worry because we have an international, multilingual team, spread over many time zones across the globe, and we are ready to assist you in understanding, designing, building and implementing your workflows through DocQ.

Do you want to know more?

We hope this blog post helped you understand the benefits of having a proper software to assist you in implementing workflows within your organization for processes and documents management.

If you are interested to hear more about DocQ, or even want to see a demo of what our solution can do for you, please reach out to us and let’s connect!

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