12 Steps to Automate Workflows (Manual Processes)
How to Automate Processes in Your Growing Business
Your business is full of workflows. Every action your employees take to get a job done consists of several interconnected processes. And chances are that many of these manual tasks are unnecessarily time-consuming and expensive. Worse, they can even put your business at unnecessary risk.
If you're a growing business looking to scale efficiently, you should be automating your workflows. This guide will show you how in 12 easy steps.
What Is Workflow Automation?
Workflow automation reduces the problems caused by manual tasks using software to connect systems. Automating workflows in your organization can drastically help a business reduce the time and money needed to operate, freeing up employees to focus on mission-critical objectives while reducing costly mistakes.
##10 Easy Steps to Automate Workflows in Your Business If you're tired of tripping over your systems as your business grows, you need to automate your workflows. Follow these 12 easy steps to scale the systems of your growing business.
Step 1: Map Out Business Workflows
Most digital initiatives fail because there’s not a clear roadmap in mind. Your very first step when automating workflows is to map out your business processes.
Without clearly defined goals, you may end up automating non-essential tasks. Worse, you may end up creating more work for yourself by creating automated processes that require multiple manual processes at various touchpoints.
Clearly map out your business processes to find bottlenecks and redundancies. Finding out where automation can provide the best benefit will give you the highest ROI.
This doesn’t need to be a complicated step either.
Use sticky notes or a whiteboard and map out each process in your business. This keeps it visual and makes it easily accessible for everyone.
Your goal is to find bottlenecks.
When processes become too complicated, involve too many steps, or require too many people to verify, they eat away resources. Look for these.
Mapping them out helps you see where the problems are in your organization clearly. This will give you an idea of which workflows you should target first.
Pay special attention to inefficient workflows. If certain processes have vague instructions, are overly complex, or suffer from communication gaps, you’ll need to take a deeper look. You cannot take shortcuts with automating workflows. That will only create automated inefficient processes.
Bill Gates points this out, “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
In those instances, you’d be better off redesigning the workflow for efficiency first.
Step 2: Establish Clear Process Management Goals
Once you have a visual representation of your business, it’s easy to see where the slowdowns are. However, you don’t just want to start automating right away. Without clear indicators of progress, you’ll be uncertain as to whether or not all this process improvement is actually worth it in the end. You need goals.
To create automation goals, ask yourself, “How will automation specifically help my business?"
You'll want to avoid general goals. Avoid statements like these:
- More leads
- More profit
- Make people happier at work
- Because everyone else is doing it
These are basic goals.
They're so vague and will fail to guide your business to measurable improvements. They're also business-centric goals. Instead, you should focus on providing a better customer experience.
At the heart of any successful automation, the best goal is a customer-centric ambition. Your goal should be to improve their experience with your company, making your brand the one they not only trust but enjoy going to for quick solutions to their problems.
Automation can help redefine your business in numerous ways.
It can break down tedious tasks so that your back office can move into customer-facing positions. It can give your developers more time to work on innovation. And it can help streamline the distribution of goods.
But, the main benefit is that the customer has a far better experience with your business.
Before you begin automating, you need a clear set of customer-focused goals that your organization wants to accomplish. That will help you understand the importance of your automation efforts, keeping you focused during the transition. And it'll give you an easy way to gauge success.
Step 3: Think About Automating Workflows Strategically
Automation isn’t as simple as creating a checklist of processes that need to be optimized and then checking them off one by one.
Approaching business process management like this is a lot like trying to fix tangled wires by grabbing one and pulling. You’ll make some progress. But those wins will be short-lived.
Soon, you’ll realize that you made the knot much, much worse. And fixing it will take more time and resources.
Instead, you need to prioritize automating workflows by evaluating efficiency, ease, ROI, and business impact. Done properly, you'll automate tasks in a way
Step 4: Evaluate Workflow Automation’s Impact on Your Team
It’s easy to get carried away with automating once you start to see the results. The notion of slashing labor costs down and saving money by automating workflows will get anyone excited.
But if you fail to take your team's needs into account, you’ll run into a huge problem: a lack of adoption.
When automating workflows, solving your team’s problems should be as important as reducing costs.
If new systems are too complicated or the learning curve is too high, there’s a chance your team may revert to previous practices or choose their own platforms to work on. As a result, your company could lose money and risk security breaches caused by shadow IT.
Step 5: Choosing the Right Processes to Automate
Despite how efficient your business may be, you most likely have processes that are slow, cumbersome, and unnecessarily difficult. Thinking automation will fix inefficient workflows only ends in disappointment. Automation will simply turn them into inefficient automated processes.
Successful workflow automation means rethinking how your organization does business. You may need to repair or completely rebuild old workflows before you try automating them.
Don’t be afraid to break down the large process into smaller components either. This can make them more agile while reducing siloed data in your organization.
Step 6: Create Your Workflow Automation Strategy
Now that you’ve clearly mapped out your workflows and outlined your goals, you need a strategy in place. Automation tends to fail because people lack a clear strategy.
Without one, you end up playing whack-a-mole with process automation. You'll work on one process, then another, then have to revisit previous ones and rework them. This wastes money, frustrates people, and stalls business growth.
Rank your tasks by importance. Next, determine which is the most valuable. Only then can you start automating workflows.
Step 7: Communicate Expectations with Staff
No one wants to lose their jobs. So, when you bring in automation and start talking about task reduction and back-office collapse, people are going to get worried.
If you want to have a company work culture that embraces automation, then you need to clearly communicate its role in your business.
People also need to know that their positions are secure. They need to understand and have confidence that automation won’t cost them their jobs.
Emphasize to your team that automation will make their lives easier by speeding up work and getting rid of boring, manual tasks. Get managers and executives on board is crucial if you want to create a workplace culture that values automation.
Also, let your employees know that automated workflows make their lives less stressful. And it'll give them the time they need to innovate, deliver on expectations, and relax.
Once they realize it’s a win-win for everyone, they’ll be more likely to embrace it.
Step 8: Choose The Best Automation Platform for Your Needs
With so many vendors out there, there is such a thing as choosing the wrong one for your business. Every product has its target market. Some products offer more general solutions, others, are more custom fits.
Picking the wrong automation software could leave you paying money for a solution that doesn’t quite fit your business, your mission, or your customers.
Instead, you need to compare automation platforms and their offerings to see if they best fit your business. You don’t want to spend the time and money trying to streamline your workflows only to feel restricted as a business with an off-the-shelf platform.
Remember: Automation should EMPOWER (not restrict) your growing business.
Step 9: Use Low-Code to Automate Workflows
The fastest way to automate your business is with a low-code platform. Traditional application development is a nightmare.
You’ll burn through your budget while waiting months for a single application weighed down in technical debt to go live.
Low-code is one of the best shortcuts to automate your workflow.
With low-code, you can build the software you need to automate FASTER. If you have developers on staff, they can use the platform to rapidly create solutions using minimal code.
And if you don’t, you can quickly train yourself and your staff on how to build these solutions. Because they use minimal code, most people can learn the platform within two weeks. And that’s coming from 0 programming knowledge.
Low-code is the future of custom application development. With the IT skill shortages out there and the slimming tech budgets, organizations need a quick and affordable solution that scales with businesses.
That’s exactly what low-code does.
As a cloud-based solution, you choose a provider and typically pay an affordable subscription rate for services.
Step 10: Test and Document Automations Before Going Live
It’s easy to let automation take the steering wheel. After all, that’s what it’s supposed to do. However, if you have a “set-it-and-forget-it” mindset, you’ll risk wasting your money.
You should test your automated workflows before you fully implement them. This will allow you to ensure they work. You also want to document the results.
If you optimize your procurement process, for instance, you’ll want to monitor the time and cost to process invoices to ensure that your software is saving you money. Record data before you begin so you can have a clear and accurate comparison at the end.
Step 11: Deploy Your Workflow Automations
Whether you chose to automate processes in-house using one of the many software solutions out there or you choose a third-party consultant to help, you need to get your workflows live.
Step 12: Monitor and Improve
Data collection is essential to know whether or not your automated workflows are paying off. Monitor and collect data on your news processes. (Preferably, both before and after).
Here are some data of what you can track:
- Time spent completing tasks.
- Number of employees required.
- Number of steps it took to achieve it.
- Error rate
- Cost to carry a task to completion
- Any added benefits that automation has created
- Whether or not that data changes over time
After automation and optimization, compare results. Note improvements and tweak your systems to further optimize.
If you fail to see the desired results, then you need to see where the problems are in the system before moving forward. Is there a problem with your request? The software? Employee adoption? Find the pain points and work to fix them.
Remember, there are no “perfect solutions.”
Even a seemingly perfect workflow can be improved as your business grows. Automation is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. There is no finish line. Be prepared to use data to see how your business can continue to grow.
Bonus Step: Don’t Wait to Automate Your Business
Don’t ignore the warning signs that you need to automate your business. Your company can collapse its back-office, streamline workflows, and reduce costs.
But setting up automated business processes isn’t always easy. There are a lot of roadblocks and mistakes that can ruin your efforts along the way.
The best way to sidestep these obstacles and set your business on a path to rapid success with workflow automation is to hire a professional consultant. By teaming up with an automation specialist, you get to lean on their expertise.
Not only do they build the applications your organization needs to automate workflows, but they’ll create a business-defining roadmap that gets you there in the most efficient way possible.
See how we've helped our clients improve their businesses and get insane ROIs by checking out our case studies below.