Try Interactive Demo
Knack: No-Code Application Development Platform
In the ever-evolving tech landscape, no-code application development has emerged…
In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, businesses are constantly seeking innovative…
Template Marketplace
Knack: No-Code Application Development Platform
Track current inventory by managing shipments and orders.
Retain customers by offering a self-serve portal.

Understanding the Approval Process and Workflows

  • Written By: Cheyenne Kolosky
Understanding the Approval Process and Workflows

Implementing an effective workflow and approval process is crucial for optimizing your business operations. Approvals are at the heartbeat of operations in any business or organization, allowing managers to approve work for employees, executives to sign off on manager plans, and shareholders to sign off on executives’ strategies for success. 

Much like a human heart, your approval process needs to run smoothly without blockages or stops, or your business will grind to a halt. 

Implementing a workflow that incorporates the approval process will ensure that all get signed off on by the appropriate people in an efficient and controlled way. Workflows also give you more insight into how your business operates, allowing you to boost productivity, ensure you comply with regulations, and monitor your employee satisfaction. Ensuring your employees are engaged is crucial as “96% of executives who fail at BPM cite a lack of employee buy-in as a major cause.”

Key Takeaways

  1. Approval process workflows are a step-by-step process a business can follow to ensure the right people can review and then approve or reject a product, service, internal process, or business project in an organization,
  2. Manual approval process workflows are prone to bottlenecks and delays, which can harm efficiency, productivity, staff morale, and a business’s bottom line.
  3. An automated workflow for the approval process can offer improved insight into your operations, boost employee morale, improve efficiency, and boost productivity, which will improve your ROI. 

What is an Approval Process and Workflow?

An approval workflow is a process implemented into your operations that shows where a given task is on its track to completion. The workflow shows who is doing what at the different steps of the process, and will also show who has signed off or worked on each stage of the approval process. This allows your entire team to have better insight into project management and allows stakeholders to be included in the decision-making at different stages.

Approval workflows allow executives to monitor business operations, offering new insights when overviewing operations. 

Common Approval Workflow Scenarios

Here are a few examples of typical approval workflow scenarios in a business or organization:

Document Approvals: A manager gives an outline with instructions to an employee, the employee then creates the document per the manager’s instructions and sends it back. The manager then reviews the document and approves the employee’s work; turning the document over to the client. 

Purchase Requisitions: An employee needs more raw materials for production, so the employee sends a request for purchase requisition to their manager. The manager will then reach out to someone from accounts to approve the request. If approved, the manager or the employee will receive the green light to buy more raw materials. 

Approval Workflow Strategies 

Now that you are familiar with approval workflows, it’s time to map out your approval process. To do this, you need to set concrete rules and conditions to give your workflow a sturdy foundation. These rules and conditions will lay out how the system operates and when each step has been successfully completed.

Here are some rules and conditions to consider for your approval process: 

  • Layout the approval process in steps, starting with the first step and ending with the finished approved project ready to turn in
  • Deadlines must be applied to every step (you can set a general rule for this, for example, 3 hours maximum per step). This is crucial for productivity, oversight, and efficiency. 
  • After each step, you must send it to the appropriate person for approval
  • Stakeholders will receive notifications at every stage or when the project is completed. 

After setting rules and conditions to suit your company or project management workflow, you next need to identify stakeholders and define their responsibilities for each step and role in the process.

Here are a few steps to follow when defining roles within your approval workflow: 

  1. Designate roles for each job needed in the approval project. For example, if you are producing online content for marketing, you can designate three different roles: manager, editor, and writer. The manager researches and creates a general outline for the piece, the writer then writes the content, and the editor edits the piece before giving it back to the manager, who will then publish the piece after reviewing it. 
  2. Clearly designate steps for each stage/approval of the project. Using the example above, step 1) is the manager researching and creating the outline for the content. Step 2) is when the writer writes the piece based on the instructions. Step 3) is the editor reviewing the writer’s work, if the editor rejects the piece, it will go back to step 2), but if the editor approves the content, it goes to step 4) where the manager will either send it back to the editor or approve the content and publish it.
  3. Include all relevant stakeholders in the process. You can manage access for the different stakeholders in the system, which can allow different people to view or edit the project at different stages along the way. This allows executives and managers to overview how work is coming along and also allows you to share progress updates with your customers, who may be wondering how long they will need to wait for a product or service. For example, if a customer buys a custom artwork from an online seller, they may want to know when the artwork is finished, posted, delivered, paid for, etc. 
  4. Add accountability to each role. Accountability is crucial for a successful approval workflow. You can embed accountability in your workflow by making each stakeholder sign with their name for each step in the process. When employees have to sign their name to work, they are more likely to be diligent as their reputation becomes intertwined with the quality of the work produced. 

After implementing the process, you can edit the rules, conditions, stakeholders, and roles. This allows you to continually optimize your operations to boost productivity and cut costs. 

Challenges of Manual Approval Processes

For centuries, businesses have relied on manual approval processes. A manual process is when one person needs to go to their supervisor to get them to approve their work/ sign a document. This process works to a degree, but it has some major challenges that hinder efficiency in operations.

For instance, if the manager is busy in meetings for an afternoon, no employees can get them to sign off to work, slowing down operations. Similarly, if one stakeholder in a company needs to approve dozens of items per day, you can end up with a queue of workers hanging around waiting to get their work approved, which also hurts productivity. 

Also, a manual approval process gives you little oversight as an investor or executive, unless you want to spend all day approving things, or calling the manager who approves things for updates. 

Manual approval processes can also harm staff morale. When employees have work rejected by a manager, they can get upset or frustrated, which hinders productivity.

Similarly, some managers can reject employee work for personal reasons or due to conflicts, which destroys staff morale and motivation. Especially when there is no transparency in the decision-making process for the manager’s boss to realize what they are doing. This lack of transparency invites poor decision-making and a negative workplace environment, as you won’t be able to notice the failings in the approval process. 

Benefits of Automating Approval Workflows

Here are some ways you can leverage automation to streamline your approval workflows:

Leveraging Automation and Technology

Automating workflows, including the approval process, can have immense positive impacts on a business’s operations and bottom line. Automated approval workflows minimize delays, reduce overhead costs, and boost efficiency across the board by eliminating manual steps and paperwork. This improved efficiency directly translates into accelerated revenue cycles and higher returns on investment.

No-code automation platforms provide full visibility into the approval pipeline, allowing managers to identify and address bottlenecks proactively.

Furthermore, the data captured through automated workflows offers valuable insights for optimizing processes and making data-driven decisions.

Mitigating Manual Process Pain Points

Implementing automated workflows can overcome the challenges posed by manual approval processes. Automation ensures that tasks are routed to the appropriate parties in a timely manner, eliminating the risk of work piling up or being misplaced.

Additionally, automated systems enforce pre-defined rules and conditions, minimizing the potential for personal biases or conflicts to influence approval decisions. This consistency and reliability contribute to improved employee morale and a more positive workplace culture.

Crucially, automated workflows provide complete transparency, enabling executives and shareholders to monitor operations effectively and identify areas for improvement.

Workflow Integration and Interoperability

When selecting an approval workflow solution, it’s essential to prioritize integration capabilities and interoperability. Siloed systems and disparate processes can hinder efficiency and create unnecessary friction.

By integrating approval workflows with existing systems and applications, businesses can streamline operations, reduce redundancies, and ensure a seamless flow of information. This integration breaks down management silos, fostering cross-functional collaboration and enabling a holistic view of the organization’s operations.

Factors to Consider When Selecting an Approval Workflow System

Here are some crucial considerations for selecting an approval workflow system for your business: 

What Types of Tasks Will You Need to Accomplish?

You need to consider any business or industry-specific tasks that you need to accomplish. For example, if you are managing a complex IT project, you may want an approval workflow system that is specialized for use in the IT industry. Similarly, if you are working with online creators as a freelancer editor, you may want a content-specific tool that integrates with web publishing sites to streamline the process. 

What’s Your Budget?

As always, cost needs to be a major consideration when making a business decision. If your business has a simple workflow approval process, you can purchase a cheaper system with limited features. However, if your organization has complex operations, you are likely to get a better return on your investment with a more expensive system with customization features and complex integrations. 

You should also consider the cost of implementing and maintaining a system. For instance, if the system requires coding to integrate apps into your workflow, you will need to factor in the cost of hiring a coder. To avoid this cost, you can choose a no-code option. 

What Customization Features Do You Want or Need? 

Customization features are important for fine-tuning your workflow approval system. Customization features can include anything from integrating your workflow into a Slack channel to update team members, to customized design interfaces, to visuals offering insights into your operations. 

Utilizing customization features can offer insights into bottlenecks, delays, and other issues your organization faces, allowing you to identify and eliminate the cause. 

How Secure is the Approval Workflow System? 

Cybersecurity should always be a priority when integrating a new workflow system into your operations. A data breach can happen through a workflow system with poor security measures in place. In 2023, the average cost of a data breach was $9.48 million for businesses in the US

How Good is Customer Support? 

Once you start working using your workflow system, you will likely rely heavily on it to run your company’s day-to-day operations. As such, you need a system that can function as expected. When something does go wrong, you need a customer support team that offers excellent help in a timely manner. 

Systems with good customer support will also offer educational tools or guides, and helpful information like FAQs or troubleshooting pages, which can help you find a solution without having to wait for a reply from the support team. 

The Future of the Approval Process and Workflow Management

Knack recognizes the rapidly evolving landscape of workflow management and is committed to staying at the forefront of industry trends. We anticipate a continued shift towards comprehensive, no-code solutions that offer robust integration capabilities and seamless interoperability.

Additionally, we foresee a growing emphasis on data-driven decision-making, with businesses leveraging advanced analytics and machine learning to optimize their workflows continuously.

To stay ahead of the curve, businesses must embrace upcoming technological advancements and industry shifts proactively. This includes investing in scalable, flexible solutions that can adapt to changing market demands and emerging technologies.

Encouraging a culture of continuous learning and innovation within the organization is also crucial, as employees must be equipped to leverage new tools and methodologies effectively.

By maintaining a forward-thinking mindset and actively seeking opportunities to enhance their workflow management strategies, companies can position themselves for long-term success in an ever-evolving business landscape.

If you’re considering a no-code solution to build out opportunities to streamline your operations, try a few of these template apps:

  • Caseload Management Template: Build a custom platform to manage operations for both legal and healthcare organizations. Make the approval process an integral part of your regulatory process and/or operations.
  • Document Management Template: Consider using our document management template to create custom workflows where approvals are needed to view restricted files or regulated documents.
  • Project Management Template: A complete project management template can be used to create all types of workflows that eliminate manual approvals and improve business processes and efficiencies.

With Knack’s free trial option, start building for free today!