Our top 5 best practice workflow & automation tips

Manual processes can be, and usually are, time consuming, and prone to error. Ultimately, this leads to poor practices and loss of efficiency; an obvious negative result of this is the loss of money. Removing burdensome effort for greater efficiency is an eternal quest for, arguably, all organisations. When performing cumbersome processes, we doubt the thought “there has to be a better way!” has never popped into your frustrated head. How should companies approach these challenges?

Once you’ve got to grips with the idea of workflows and automation (and especially if you have the tools to do it such as Office 365!) it can be tempting to implement workflows all over the place. As a SharePoint specialist, we’d recommend certain best practices in your organisation. These best practices can avoid over-complicated workflows or workflows that don’t work for your organisation in the long term. Our guide on Office 365 & Automation goes into more depth and detail about where in your business you could benefit from automation. For now, here are our top 5 best practice tips for establishing efficient automation in your organisation:

#1: Governance and compliance are key

Governance and compliance are key to establish before workflows become the solution. You should be able to know where specific data resides in your organisation and who has access to it. SharePoint’s workflows do have permission features so approval can be logged before the workflow proceeds further. These ‘stop points’ are essential not just for best practice, but for possible auditing purposes too.

#2 Planning, planning, planning

Spending time planning and creating a workflow can save your organisation lots of money and consequence– especially for sensitive accounting information for example. We’d recommend that you visually lay out the workflow into a flowchart diagram before going ahead. Using sticky notes can help to physically ‘map out’ your workflow.

#3 Work backwards

This can help when planning a workflow. Think about your end solution – what is it you want to achieve? Keep it simple and work backwards. Who’s involved on the way to making the solution happen? Who grants approval? Work all the way back to the point before you start the process.

#4 Think about reporting

Workflows are great, but they’re even better if they come with some handy statistics. If you can include some reporting in your workflow (maybe the workflow IS to do the reporting!) it’s worth looking into. This can be prevalent especially for finance workflows; where reporting is essential for auditing purposes. Perhaps a reporting element isn’t something you’ve looked into – this is something we can always help with!

#5 Set realistic deadlines and timelines

When planning a workflow, there might be ‘stop points’ where you want someone to respond to enable the workflow to continue (e.g. for employee reviews – a manager may need to sign off acknowledgement of the meeting before it gets sent to HR) We’d always recommend that when creating the workflow, set realistic timescales for deadlines between you and your team. The workflow won’t be efficient if people are expected to respond immediately.

Our handy guide goes into workflows and Office 365 in more detail. Best practice regarding governance and compliance should always be a priority. However, always apply common sense! Although we implement workflows all the time, we’d be the first to tell you when a workflow shouldn’t be introduced into your organisation. Here are some final points:

  • Before creating a workflow, ask yourself:
  • Does it make sense?
  • Are the stop points useful?
  • Who does the workflow benefit in the organisation?
  • Why are you creating it?
  • Will the workflow be reviewed?
  • When?

These are things we go over with our clients to ensure they’re making their lives easier as well as being efficient and compliant. For more information, read our handy guide here.