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Your Guide To Workflow Automation & The 10 Best Software Tools

Project managers have a lot on their plate. Juggling tasks, timelines, and resources can be a daunting task. Luckily, there are workflow automation tools out there that can help make managing projects easier by automating some of the most annoying, time-consuming, unnecessary, and repetitive business processes. 

If this description makes you think of a few of the things you do in your day-to-day work, it’s time to consider what opportunities you have to automate your workflow, streamline your tasks, and regain peace in your life. 

In this guide, I'll take a look at what workflow automation is, how it can help you manage projects, and some of the best tools to help you get started. So whether you're just starting out as a project manager, or you're looking for ways to optimize your current process, read on for insights into workflow automation!

I’ll cover:

What Is Workflow Automation?

Workflow automation is the process of identifying what elements of your workflows can be automated or made to run without human intervention. Said differently, workflow automation, (sometimes known as process automation) is the process of automating certain tasks in order to make life easier. By automating these processes, you can save time and money, and improve accuracy and efficiency within your business. 

Workflow automation can be used to automate a variety of tasks, including data entry, document management, task assignment and tracking, and email communication. In many cases, workflow automation can be used to replace manual processes altogether. 

For example, if you typically send out a weekly report by email, you could set up a workflow that automatically generates the report and sends it out on your behalf. 

Alternatively, if you often have to review and approve documents before they are sent out, you could create a workflow that notifies you whenever a document is ready for review, and automatically sends it to you once you have approved it.

Workflow automation can also be used to improve communication within a business. For example, you could create a workflow that notifies team members when a task is assigned to them, or when a new document has been added to the system. This can help to ensure that tasks are completed on time and that everyone is kept up to date on the latest developments.

Why Use Workflow Automations?

When done correctly, workflow automation can provide a number of benefits for businesses of all sizes.

In any business, there are always repetitive manual tasks that need to be carried out in order to keep things running smoothly. While these tasks are necessary, they can be very time-consuming and costly if they're done manually. Workflow automation can help alleviate these cost and time drains, reduce costs, and improve overall efficiency. 

In addition, automating workflow tasks can help to improve accuracy and quality by reducing the chances for human error. You can also automate tasks to help improve compliance with company policies and procedures. 

Expert Tip: By automating these tasks, businesses can free up employees' time so that they can focus on more strategic tasks. Imagine what you could dream up for your project or business with a few additional hours in the day! Time is a scarce, non-renewable resource. Workflow automation can give you more time to work on the things that really matter. 

How Does Workflow Automation “Work”?

Workflow automation can be achieved through a variety of means, including software applications, robotics, and artificial intelligence. These tools can be used to create a workflow diagram that outlines the steps in a process, and then the software can be used to automate those steps. 

In many cases, workflow automation can be used to replace manual tasks entirely, such as data entry or claims processing. In other cases, it can be used to supplement existing manual processes, such as by automatically routing emails or tasks to the appropriate employees. 

What Do You Mean By Automation? 

In the simplest terms, automation is the ability to automate tasks or to make something happen automatically based on a condition or trigger. This can be done through a variety of means, including using software to automate tasks or setting up devices to automatically perform tasks. 

By automating tasks, businesses can improve efficiency and productivity. Automation can also help businesses reduce costs by eliminating the need for manual labor. In some cases, businesses may even be able to replace manual labor with cheaper machines or robots.

A clear example of automation can be observed in marketing automation. If you have an email inbox, you’ve likely experienced marketing automation. Have you ever given a company your email in order to receive a coupon on your first purchase? That’s automation-enabled! 

Here’s how that works:

  1. You find a company you are interested in, say, via social media. The company offers a coupon for signing up to follow them.
  2. You give your email to the company that promises you a coupon via a web form.
  3. Your submission is added to the company’s social media list in their CRM of people who have signed up for a coupon via social media.
  4. Because you gave the company your email address, you begin receiving marketing campaigns designed by the company.

Now, you’ve received the coupon. Even if you don’t buy anything, you’re pretty much guaranteed to receive another email from that company in the future. Why? Because marketing automation! Just because you provided your email address, you’re about to get an automated series of emails that relate to each other and promote different products at different times. Some might even reference the fact that you did or did not open or click a link in one of their previous emails! 

Savvy marketers only have to set up these marketing automation workflows one or a few times, depending on how customized they want the advertisements to be. From there, the automation takes over and looks for new people added to the lists and enrolls them in the marketing workflows to get all sorts of fancy marketing emails which will hopefully result in conversion to purchases. 

Many companies use automation in their marketing workflows to increase the number of impressions buyers receive from their company. The more familiar potential buyers are with a product, the more likely they are to return to the site and consider purchasing a product. Once the fifteenth email comes into your inbox and you realize you really do need that pair of sweatpants with zippered pockets, the marketing automation has worked! 

Here’s another example. Say you subscribe to a new blog. Marketers may use a welcome email campaign to attract you to their site which will leverage marketing workflow automation to get your attention. First, you’ll get a welcome email when you join the list, then, a few days later you might get another email, then a few days later another, and more as time goes on! 

example email marketing automation screenshot
In this example marketing workflow automation, the user receives a welcome email immediately, followed by subsequent emails on a timer (Source).

Imagine if you could send your stakeholders updates automatically like you get marketing emails? Could it be that easy? It could, with workflow automation. 

Workflow Automation Examples

For businesses, workflow automation can mean anything from automating email responses to setting up appointment reminders. In some cases, it can even be used to automate entire departments or business functions. 

There are a number of ways in which workflow automation can be used successfully in business. One common use case is for customer service. By automating responses to common customer questions, businesses can free up customer service reps to handle more complex inquiries. 

Another common use case is for sales and marketing. For example, workflow automation can be used to send out automated follow-up emails after a potential customer expresses interest in a product or service. Workflow automation can also be used for human resources tasks, such as onboarding new employees or tracking vacation days.

Here are some examples of how workflow automation has been used successfully in business: 

  • Customer service: Automating responses to common customer questions.
  • Sales and marketing: Automated follow-up emails, lead tracking, etc.
  • Human resources: Onboarding new employees, tracking vacation days, etc.
  • Any business process: There are countless ways to use workflow automation in business. Find what works best for you!

Workflow Automation In Project Management

Workflow automation in project management can be used to automate tasks such as creating task lists, assigning tasks to team members, tracking progress, and sending reminders. In addition, workflow automation can also be used to create reports and track project costs.

Workflow automation can remove the need to do manual, time consuming tasks as a project manager. If you do the same thing more than a few times, consider if there’s an opportunity for automation. 

Here are some examples of workflows to automate in project management: 

  1. When a task is beyond its due date and is not marked finished, send a notification to the task owner and send follow-ups every 2-days until finished.
  2. On Thursdays, send a copy of the project dashboard to a distribution list.
  3. When a bug is logged, post a note in the team Slack channel to create awareness of the bug for the team in real-time.
  4. When a document is ready to review, send a notification to the identified SME and send follow-up notifications every 2-days until the document is approved or returned with edits.
  5. When a milestone date changes, prompt the project manager or person changing the date to insert a note about the reason for the change. Send a notification to the project sponsor with a notification of the milestone date change and the note about why.
workflow automation notification graphic

Expert Tip: Another great use case for workflow automation is event management. Automating tasks such as sending invitations, tracking RSVPs, and managing guest lists can save event planners a significant amount of time and hassle. In addition, workflow automation can also be used to create and manage event schedules, send reminders, and track event costs. By automating these tasks, event planners can focus on more important aspects of their job, such as creating a memorable experience for guests.

How To Get Started

When it comes to workflow automation, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. First, it's important to identify the specific tasks or processes that can be automated. Next, you need to determine what tools or software you will need to complete the automation. Finally, you need to create or adapt the necessary workflow processes.

Once you have set up your workflow automation, it will run in the background and take care of the tasks that have been assigned to it, so you are free to focus on more strategic tasks and assignments.

Looking to automate your workflow? Here's How:

  1. Identify the specific tasks or processes that can be automated. Consider creating a workflow diagram to document the process. If you’re starting from scratch, consider how to optimize your workflow design for automation and include any applicable business rules. Keep an eye out for any task you do repetitively, where you are a bottleneck, or that is mostly you just clicking buttons on a specific schedule or after a specific trigger condition without having to do much specific intervention. These tasks are prime candidates for automation!
  2. Determine what tools or software you will need to complete the automation.
  3. Create or adapt the necessary workflow processes.
  4. Set up the workflow automation and let it run in the background.
  5. Focus on other aspects of your business or project.

Workflow Automation Software: Tools & Apps

Software is a must when considering workflow automation. Consider what tasks you want to automate, and start searching for tool features! 

Pro Tip: Most SaaS or cloud-based workflow automation tools allow a free trial, or maybe even a free account with a limited number of users (pricing will kick in with expanded users)! Try it out! Most of these tools include automation templates, allow for low-code configuration, and allow drag-and-drop automation creation which is great to try as you begin. 

What Is Workflow Automation Software?

There are a variety of workflow automation tools or apps available, each designed to suit different business needs. Common features of workflow automation tools include task scheduling, email and document management, and integration with other business applications. When choosing a workflow automation tool, it is important to consider the specific needs of your business and choose a tool that will be able to support your current and future needs.

10 Best Workflow Automation Software & Tools

There are many different workflow automation and management software tools available on the market today. Each has their strengths and opportunities and might be best fit for your needs, depending on complexity and scope. For details check out the best workflow automation software, ranked by a DPM expert! 

  1. Wrike

    Workflow enhancement driven by a powerful automation engine

  2. Height

    No-code workflow automations to help with repetitive & time-consuming tasks

  3. monday.com

    Workflow automation built into a popular project management platform

  4. JIRA

    Workflow solutions for agile teams

  5. Adobe Workfront

    Workflow automation built for enterprise-scale organizations

  6. Integrify

    Automated workflow that helps you scale easily

  7. Boomi Flow

    Low-code workflow automation

  8. Assembly

    Save time with 100s of customizable templates, automate any task, and get real-time insights

  9. ClickUp

    Workflow automation with hundreds of pre-built templates

  10. Smartsheet

    A dynamic workspace with advanced workflow automation features

Bonus: There are many workflow automation and workflow management tools out there to connect different apps to each other! Connectors, bots, and integration tools like Zapier can connect disparate workflows together seamlessly. Tools like Integrify, Kissflow, and Nintex provide drag and drop functionality for automating your most repetitive tasks. Any tool with an API is ripe for integration and automation. The sky's the limit!

You might even be able to share workflows with your team! Consider the scalability of the solution along with what permissions you want folks to have in the systems you are connecting and automating when sharing.

Some other workflow software you might find helpful:

Get Started & Let’s Learn Together!

Workflow automation is the process of figuring out which tasks in your workflows can be done without human help. This means that you can automate these processes and save time, money, and improve accuracy and efficiency. 

You need workflow automation to improve your life balance. By freeing up some of your time, you can focus on tasks that are more important to you or spend more time with family and friends. Automating your work will also ensure that tasks are completed accurately and efficiently every time. 

Have you tried automating any of your workflows? If so, what was the outcome? Let me know in the comments below!

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By Liz Lockhart

Liz Lockhart is the Sr. Director of PMO & Training at Smarsh, leading the intersection of People and Project strategies and execution. She holds a Master of Business Administration from the University of Portland and is pursuing a Doctorate in Organizational Change and Leadership at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education. Liz holds numerous Project Management-related certifications including: PMP, PMI-ACP, CSP-SM, and a SPHR from HRCI to round out the people-focused side of her work. Liz has 15-years of experience leading people and teams across education, consulting and technology firms. The best place to reach Liz is on LinkedIn.

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