How to create a productive approval process workflow

Approval process is a vital aspect in any organization, no matter the scale. Employees often depend on the approval from their higher-ups in order to begin pretty much anything, from fundinginvoices, marketing initiatives, to launching projects. At this day and age, implementing approval process has become a standard. Without it, a project, task can be delayed and even worse, it can slow down the whole business. So can we create a productive approval process workflow? Let’s find out!

1. What is approval process workflow

improve approval workflow 2
(Source: Internet)

As mentioned, approval process is a methodology for organizations to give approval on anything. It can be document approval, budgets, invoices, purchase requests, and more… In many cases, it is also used to make final decision when implementing new process or project. In the essence, approval process is a workflow that includes sequence leading work from the start to completion (the final approval). Thus, it can be mutually agreed on a specific sequence so that people can use it to process the same type of task. 

Traditionally, organizations has to rely on manual approval process workflow, meaning they have use papers to send requests, process requests, and approve requests. They may also need to record the requests manually, which tends to cost lost of time. Manual approval workflow worked well in the past, especially when computer was not a thing yet. However, it is no longer effective nowadays when business, technology have developed so fast. And more importantly, people has become more busy than ever with tons of works and processes needed to be done. Manual approval process workflow now tends to be rather tedious, extremely time-consuming, and there is high risk of lost documents and delay. 

This explains why more and more organizations have started to implement approval workflow automation systems. Not only they can actually save more time & cost, but also ensure a transparent and straight-forward approval workflow. That being said, it is still very important for organizations to design their own approval process before they can actually implement it.

2. Elements in an approval process workflow

approval process workflow
(Source: Internet)

While different organizations will have different approval process designs, there are several core elements that often included in any approval process workflow:

  • Submission: Most approval process begin with a submission from a person. It can be a request, a document, or a completed task, etc… Traditionally submission tends to come in form of paper. But as mentioned, this manual approval process workflow has many flaw and thus, companies has seeked other way to send submission. It can be email, online form, or other customized methods offered by approval workflow software or process management software.
  • Submission Sender (Or Respondent in PerformFlow add-on): This person is the one who sends the approval request. Depending on different approval process workflow, the sender can simply send a permission request (e.g. leave request), or a person in charge of a task and he/she is sending his/her work result for approval.
  • Approvers(s): Every single approval workflow requires at least one approver in charge of reviewing & giving approval. Depending on different approval workflow, the number of approvers may be varied. Especially when there are lots of approvers, creating a diagram is necessary to visualize the approval workflow.
  • Permission Levels: Not all approvers have the same role. In an approval workflow with multiple approvers, each approver tends to have specific roles, thus determining their permission levels. Certain approver may only be able to give comment on the submissions. Others may edit the submission, while final approver tends to have the ultimate decision of approving or rejecting the submission.
  • Due Dates: Just like every project, any approval workflow also requires specific due dates to make sure the process is running on time. 
  • Notifications: Sending notification is necessary for two reasons. Firstly, it can let all involved parties know about the progression. And secondly, it quickly lets approvers know when a new submission arrived. Traditionally, people will have to send papers or directly contact the approvers to notify them about the submission. This method costs too much time and occasionally, some submissions or details can be lost throughout the process. Therefore, it is necessary to implement an automatic notification in an approval process workflow nowadays.

3. How an approval process workflow is created

Approval process workflow outline

A basic approval workflow oftens starts with a sender sending submission to an approver and waiting for response. There is maybe a due date for this workflow depending on its purpose. For example: Leave request (PTO request) can follow a basic workflow and it does not need a due date:

  • Step 1: Submit a Request

    Employee (submission sender) sends a leave request (submission) to his manager (approver).

  • Step 2: Give Aprroval

    The manager (approver) reviews the request (submission) and make decision.

  • Step 3: The Request is done

    The manager made decision either approve or reject, then the employee gets a final notification. 

That said, not all approval workflow can be simple as that. There are different types of approval process, including project approval, task approval, etc… Nonetheless, they all share a similar outline that can be modified to fit different purposes:

  • Step 1: Task assignment

    Submission sender receives assignment to create content (e.g. write article) for submission.

  • Step 2: Sender works on the task

    After receiving the tasks, sender will review their task & requirements, then work on it.

  • Step 3: Sender submits initial draft

    The sender submits initial draft to the (first) approver for review. 

  • Step 4: Approver reviews the draft

    The approver reviews the initial draft from step 3:

    If the draft does not need fixing, proceed to the next step.

    If the draft needs fixing, sender returns to step 2 and makes required changes. 

  • Step 5: Sender submits final draft

    The sender sends a final draft submission for approval.

  • Step 6: Approver makes final decision

    The approver reviews the final submission and makes final decision, either approve or reject the submission.

  • Step 7: Approval process workflow completes

    After making the final decision, all involved parties receive the final approval status. The workflow is completed.

Questions when designing approval process workflow

When designing the outline for approval process workflow, there are several questions should be addressed to ensure a smooth workflow:

  1. How should the submission be sent? – This is necessary to determine in what form the submission should be sent (PDF, Docs, Sheets, etc…). Also it should address when and how the submission should be sent. And who should receive the submission.
  2. How many steps are there? What are they required? – This question is necessary since it can determine how well the workflow will perform. The approval workflow needs to have clear number of steps and pathways. Each stage and step should also has specific requirements to determine how to move on to the next stage.
  3. How are the approvers? What’s their roles? – This determines who will be in charge of approval in each step. Also it clearly determines the role of each approver (e.g. how they should provide feedback, are they allowed to give approval, etc…)
  4. How to determine a submission should be approved or rejected? – Giving approval is not something entire black and white. Therefore, it is necessary to list out specific criterias and parameters to give reason why a submission should be approved or rejected.
  5. What happened when a submission is approved or rejected? – In many cases, an approval request is not simply an one-time submission. It can be connected to other workflow, or the approval request itself has complex pathways. Be it approved or rejected, there should be a clear course of next actions when final decision is made.

And that’s it for now! In the meanwhile, check out our blog for more useful tips and user experiences with PerformFlow!

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