Workflow Approval Process: How to Create and Build

April 9, 2024
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At any given time within any given business, some processes require approvals. Whether a step of a process needs to be approved by a c-suite executive or signed off by a manager, a workflow approval process can significantly define and impact how your organisation runs. 

There are various ways to implement approval processes. We will take a look at everything you need to know about approval processes - from how they work to how you can design your own and the types of automation solutions that can help. 

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Coming Up

1. What is the Approval Process?

2. Benefits of an Approval Process

3. What Does an Approval Process Entail?

4. Finding the Right Software System for Approval Processes

5. How to Design, Create and Optimise and Approval Process

6. Examples of Processes to Automate for Approval

7. Benefits of Using Automation Software

8. Automating Approval Process

9. The Bottom Line

What is the Approval Process? 

An approval process is a business process that requires formal approvals to carry out. The approval process is the method by which tasks are carried out. Approvals may include signing documents, reviewing invoices and budget orders, signing off on purchase orders or even implementing a new process. 

As a type of workflow, an approval process works the best when it is standardised across an organisation and can follow the same steps every time it is run. Organisations can choose between manual and automated approval processes or a mixture of the two. 

A manual approval process requires that employees follow specific steps, and they may or may not have to record their approvals. An automated approval process workflow leverages software which guides the user through the process or automatically can complete the steps itself based on defined criteria. 

Many organisations have shifted to or are moving to automated approval process workflows by implementing software solutions (like SolveXia) so that their human resources can remove low-value manual tasks and instead focus on high-level tasks, gain greater insight into the organisation through real-time analytics, while also enabling the organisation to reduce bottlenecks and delays, and minimise business risk by increasing compliance. 

Benefits of an Approval Process 

Ultimately, an organisation’s success will be a factor of how well its processes run. Approval processes can affect employee onboarding, customer service, finances and more, so it’s essential to design efficient approval processes. 

By utilising an automation tool for an approval process, you can benefit by:

  • Saving Time: Employees and managers have a lot to deal with. When there are multiple approvals to be made, it can take a lot of time to get through the paperwork. Or, if a manager (key personnel) is out sick or on vacation, approvals can get stuck and delayed. With an automation solution, data runs through the system, and approvals can be made swiftly with controls in place to automatically ensure only the right staff is performing or approving the task. 
  • Saving Money: Efficient approval processes can affect your bottom line. Let’s take the example of invoice processing. If you need to review all vendors’ invoices, it can become a tedious, daunting and time-consuming task. This could lead to delayed payments and unnecessary late fees. When approval processes are automated, they can handle repetitive tasks quickly and ensure that approvals don’t get missed. 
  • Centralising Approvals: With a software solution to manage approval processes, you can trust that all of the data and information will be stored in one easily accessible location. This way, anyone with access permissions can review and check-in as to where a current approval stands. This is another way in which critical person dependencies are diminished, and work can get accomplished no matter the circumstances. 
  • Standardising Approvals: One of the most important methods by which to achieve efficiency is to standardise processes such that they run the same. With automation solutions, standardisation is innate. You can design a process, and with the click of the button, you can rest assured that it will go through the steps the same way every time as to evade mistakes. 

What Does an Approval Process Entail?

Across businesses and workflows, approval processes tend to be made up of the same ingredients. Here’s a look at how they generally flow: 

  • Submission: Here’s where the approval process begins. Someone submits information (a document, purchase order, invoice, etc.). In most cases, users know where to send information because there’s a portal that may record the submission and provide a receipt. 
  • Assign approvers: The submission moves into an approval process when someone is designated to be the approver. It’s up to critical stakeholders to define who has the authority to become an approver. In the case that the process runs through many steps with various approvers, each approver should understand their role and authority. 
  • Permission levels: Software systems are generally set up with the ability to define roles. So, once you have assigned approvers, you can determine their accessibility within a system by defining their user permissions (editor, administrator, viewer, etc.). 
  • Automatic alerts/notifications: As an option, you can select to have automation alerts and notifications turned on or off. These are meant to inform people on the status of the approval process, whether it be a submitter who should know that their task has been approved or denied or for a critical stakeholder to understand that the approval process is finished, for example. 
  • Timeline: You can build a schedule into an approval process so that it gets completed before the due date. 
  • Log: It’s beneficial to be able to go back and review every step within a process. Automated solutions are built with records and historical logs for greater transparency and user history. 

Finding the Right Software System for Approval Processes 

The market for approval process software is dense. When looking for the program that will be right for your business, you’ll want to ensure it supports the following capabilities: 

  • Discrete Steps: For an approval process to flow, you’ll need to define steps. Find a program in which you can write separate steps and repeat infinitely. 
  • Templates: Try to select a system that has pre-formatted templates and process flows already within a library. For example, data automation solutions have a populated library of steps in which you can drag and drop elements to create a process. 
  • Customisation: Depending on your needs, you may want to customise the approval process at one step or many steps. 
  • Edit Capabilities: After you design and test your approval process, you may come across gaps and holes that must be rectified. It’s best to choose a tool that allows you to edit even after you’ve pressed save. 
  • Mobile Features: In today’s world, everyone in the business is always on the go. That’s why it’s essential to have mobile features to review, submit or approve things when you’re on a phone or tablet. 
  • Signature Collection: Many businesses have to adhere to compliance and governance. The financial industry is just one example in which signature collection may be required to verify approvals. 
  • Feedback Collection: Processes may not always need just to be approved. There could be steps that require feedback and review by a higher-up within a company. Look for a software solution that can collect and store feedback and notes. 
  • Notification Templates: There are various types of notifications, including email, text, in-app or push notifications to your device. Look for a software solution that offers you the ability to customise your notification style. 

How to Design, Create and Optimise and Approval Process

When designing an approval process, there are a lot of paths it could take based on variables. So, you will face many considerations. To create and optimise an approval process, consider the following: 

  • Request Submission: The first step, as mentioned, is receiving information via a submission. You have to choose how people can submit their work. This could be through an online submission portal or email, for example. Once a document is provided, where does it go?
  • Required Documentation: To fulfil a submission, what documentation is needed? You must define the types of files and information necessary to complete approval. 
  • Defining Steps: It’s crucial to determine what steps will be necessary within the approval process. If you have too many, it could cause delays. If you have too few, you may miss significant oversight. It’s at this point in which you’ll also want to define what criteria is required to move on to the next step. 
  • Determining Approvers: With any type of business process, people have responsibilities and are put in charge. With an approval process, you’ll need to grant permission for approvers at each level. 
  • Evaluating Editors: If changes have to be made along the way, who has permission to edit information? Whether manually or within an automated system, editors play a crucial role in the approval process.  
  • Automated Approvals or Rejections: You can set up parameters by which documents or submissions are automatically approved or rejected to maximise time and efficiency. 

Examples of Processes to Automate for Approval

We’ve gone through the ins and outs of approval processes. Let’s take a look at some cases for methods that can benefit from automation: 

  • Onboarding: When you hire a new employee, there’s a lot of paperwork involved. You can use automation software to request paperwork submission and automate the onboarding process that requires tax documents, legal paperwork and payroll information
  • Creative work approvals: It’s common for companies to employ freelancers or project-based workers for creative projects. But, when a person works temporarily, they are not involved in the standardised practices of business nor are they always set up with adequate communication devices (i.e. an email address). To make sure that creative work doesn’t fall through the cracks, you can use an automation software solution to collect and distribute creative deliverables to the employees/managers who need to receive them. 
  • Expense reports: Instead of manually checking off expense reports and providing approval, an automation solution can do the work for you. Employees simply need to upload their expense reports and receipts, and the software can process them, reconcile the accounts and automate repayment.
  • Sale orders: Sales teams should spend time selling instead of processing paperwork. Automated solutions can fulfil orders so that your organisation doesn’t have to deal with chasing paperwork and approvals. 
  • Invoice approvals: You have to rely on your finance department to review and pay vendors’ invoices. This can open the door to delays. But, if an approval process is defined and automated, then invoices can be collected, approved, paid and recorded with no hassle. 

Benefits of Using Automation Software

An automation software solution does the heavy lifting for your team when it comes to approval processes. The benefits include: 

1. Saving time: Consider the time it takes for an employee to sift through data and match documents before being able to sign off on approving something like an expense report. By using an automation tool, robotic process automation can handle multiple requests, nearly instantaneously, thereby freeing up said employee’s time to focus on high-value work. 

2. Transparency/visibility: Approval processes rely on many moving pieces and people to run from start to finish. With automation software, any involved party can log into the software and check the status of the process. Or, if something is needed and there’s an error, they will be notified so that it can be remedied.

3. Operational efficiency: Say goodbye to bottlenecks and critical person dependencies. Automation solution runs processes for you and does so with such accuracy so that your organisation can achieve operational efficiency and won’t stop if your employees are sick or on holiday as the processes are all mapped out in the system allowing other team members to take over quickly.

4. Governance: Most approval processes are regulated both internally and can be held up to compliance standards and regulation. With a data automation software solution, you can run audit trails and provide reports in seconds. The system will log users’ activity and locks data from being changed after the fact so that your process maintains its integrity. 

5. Reduced costs: Costs can come in the form human resources and even risks associated with approval processes (when done incorrectly or involving error, which is likely to occur because the nature of the work is so meticulous). Automation solutions have an associated cost, but the ROI makes it worthwhile because the system handles data and processes securely and efficiently. 

  • It saves a lot of the expenses by reducing costly human errors
  • It enables staff to do high-value tasks increasing productivity and therefore increasing staff value
  • It allows for more processes like cost management and alerts so that problems can be found and solved quickly. 
  • The software can also be deployed and learned in a relatively short amount of time which in itself saves money. 

Automating Approval Process

When you automate approval processes, you gain advantages. These include: 

  • The ability to choose from a library of templates to define a process and then being able to customise the steps to fit your needs. 
  • Having editing capabilities to reconfigure or redesign processes if something within your organisation changes or new requirements arise. 
  • You can always have a saved history of what happened and the people involved, which allows for security governance.
  • Anyone who requires permissions and access to the software system will have the abilities they need to complete their tasks and seamlessly collaborate with others within the business. 

The Bottom Line 

Organisations rely on approval processes to function. The use of automation solutions can significantly enhance your day-to-day operations to support efficiency. Here’s a look at some of the best workflow approval software on the market!

Instead of waiting for people to fill out paperwork or review their tasks, automation solutions can help to speed up workflow approval processes and ensure that nothing slips through the cracks. 


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