What is a workflow?

We all engage in workflows every day, even if they’re not intentionally created. Do you have a process for how you do your laundry? Get ready for the day? The route you drive to work and even the way you spend the first 15 minutes of your work day are all parts of your workflow.

Workflows exist in our work life as well as in our personal lives, and they’re often developed over time without us even knowing it. We develop them based on some set of criteria that we understand we need to navigate to get something done. These can be compliance based, based on the availability and use of technology, or may even be created based on office politics. At home, you might fold your towels the way you do just because that’s the way your mom always did it.

“Workflow” has become a buzz word recently, and that’s because becoming a more productive team, department, or organization often starts with identifying the way things are currently done and assessing if “the way we’ve always done it” really is the best way.

One thing I regularly hear from our prospective or new clients is, “We don’t have any workflows.” This is a common misconception, and it frankly makes sense that people think this. When we don’t define what we do, it can be easy to believe it does not exist. Not only that, when pressure comes from an increased workload, the C-suite, or perhaps a global pandemic, when we haven’t defined what we do, how we do it, and why we do it that way, it can limit a team’s ability to adapt to new requirements.

So, what is a workflow? In the simplest sense, a workflow is a series of steps taken while accomplishing something. Some tasks have one simple, overarching workflow that takes the task from ideation to completion the same way every time. Some tasks might utilize several workflows to address the different pieces of the process.

To keep this from seeming far too intangible, I’ve laid out below a few example workflows we’ve installed for our clients over the years. These examples are based on our legal operations management software, ALOE.

1. NDA Automation Workflow

This example shows a full process that is replicated every time. Simple documents like NDAs don’t require negotiation or attorney input, but can suck up a legal team’s time that they could be spending on revenue-generating work.

Watch how it works:

2. Renewal Workflow

Just like you as an employee can determine which workflows a specific task might need to go through, workflow software can activate specific workflows based on criteria set by your team.

In the below example, when a contract is requested, the submitter can select what type of renewal was agreed upon. Based on the contents of this field, ALOE determines which set of actions need to be taken.

3. Finance Approval Workflow

Another example of an if/then workflow process many organizations use initiates a finance approval process when a vendor contract exceeds an established amount. In the below example, if the organization intends to spend more than $5,000, then an approval email is automatically sent to the Finance team when the matter is created.

4. Auto-Generate Tasks Workflow

Over the course of my career, I’ve installed new technology across many departments in multiple organizations, and each time, the main question from the staff is, “How is this going to make my job harder?” Unfortunately, technology can have a reputation for creating duplication of work or an extra step in a process the staff doesn’t see as broken. Your technology shouldn’t create a heavy burden of administration for your team, and workflows can ensure you’re tracking everything the way you intend while alleviating administrative burden.

In the below example, when the Trademark Prosecution matter is created, a series of related sub-tasks are automatically generated that copy the information from the original matter so that you can input your information once and have a designated place to track every related matter you may need.

5. DocuSign Workflow

With ALOE, the DocuSign integration and workflow comes included in the price of the system. On the types of work you choose, the below workflow creates and sends the DocuSign envelope once you determine the document is ready for signature. ALOE then recognizes when the document has been signed and automatically stores the completed document in your system and marks the matter as completed.

The above examples are just a few ways that workflows may be present in your organization and offer a template for how you can utilize workflow software to help you reduce administrative burden and increase the productivity of your team. It is my hope that visibility into how others manage their workflows helps illuminate what your workflows are, where they’re working, and provides context on how you can begin to tackle problem areas you identify.

Brycellyn LaBorde

Brycellyn LaBorde

Operations Manager, Bigfork Technologies