Project Management Tools Vs.
Workflow Automation Tools

Why Companies Should Focus on Workflow Automation Solutions for Greater Efficiencies and Cost Savings

There are pretty clear differences between project management tools and workflow automation tools.

Project management tools help manage projects. No surprises there. A project is a singular event, such as an email campaign, or updating inventory.

These tools organize and outline individual tasks (projects), including who will work on them, the timelines and milestones, and related information needed to complete the task.

Workflow automation tools help automate (again, no surprises) a series of business processes that are all vital for performing day-to-day operations; for example, recording inventory, updating inventory data to account for incoming orders and shipments, and forecasting supply based on that inventory data and order history.

These tools put many time-consuming and oftentimes mundane tasks on autopilot, allowing processes to continue flowing smoothly while employees focus on more productive work.

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Should My Company Adopt Workflow Automation Tools?

Since you’re reading this article, we’re confident this is a question that you have. There is an arguable benefit to adopting a workflow automation solution, and we’re going to advocate for doing so because we believe in workflow automation tools for today’s business climate.

In fact, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, 40% of companies worldwide increased their use of automation software, and a recent Wall Street Journal article suggests that automating processes is necessary in order to survive in today’s economy.

That being said, it’s important to recognize whether your company is ready to adopt workflow automation software, especially if you would be replacing your existing project management solution.

You can start by asking three key questions:

  • Is our organization ready to streamline operations and change the way we do things to work smarter and more efficiently?
  • Are our organization’s employees willing to change the way they complete tasks from traditional/manual methods to more technological and collaborative?
  • Will our organization be able to maintain or elevate our production goals and service quality after adopting new technology?

Workflow automation helps companies maintain the guidelines around business processes that employees follow to accurately and confidently complete day-to-day tasks, but takes a lot of manual and tedious elements off of employees’ plates. It can be a big adjustment for some, but one that shows clear benefits right away.

You’re intrigued, right? But you probably are already using a project management tool and are wondering if it’s worth it to replace or add to that solution with a workflow automation tool.

Pros and Cons of Project Management Tools

Project management software is extremely popular and for good reason. It performs a host of valuable functions and offers a trove of features. Busy businesses need a tool to streamline what are often dozens of projects happening at the same time, with multiple teams involved at different stages.

Industries from manufacturing to marketing rely on project management tools to guide daily operations, but these industries also have workflows that would benefit from some automation.

First, let’s consider some of the benefits of project management tools:

  • They can be highly customized to fit the needs of different teams in different industries.
  • They are extremely flexible, allowing different team members to access them for their specific needs, often via apps for more mobile use.
  • They provide a single source of truth for teams to get enterprise-wide visibility into project status and other details.
  • They enable teams and customers to communicate and collaborate and stay updated on projects as they move through different stages.
  • They allow teams to monitor how projects are progressing and to report on performance.

Project management tools are also able to integrate with other tools, which is how companies can achieve automation features from their project management solution.

However, project management solutions often are expensive, don’t scale well with business growth as projects and customer demands become more complex – and it can be difficult to adopt a project management tool with a user interface that works well for everyone.

How Can Workflow Automation Fill in the Gaps?

Workflow automation tools are designed to help streamline operations across your enterprise so redundancies are reduced, accuracy is improved, and teams can collaborate and communicate more easily.

We’ve already run through several of the “pros” of workflow automation solutions, but here are a few additional benefits over and above a project management tool:

  • They provide a cost-effective solution that saves you time, money, and resources by automating the more repetitive tasks and workflows that can eat up employee time and reduce productivity in other business areas.
  • They are highly customizable to your industry, business, and unique needs.
  • They streamline workflows and reduce the risks or oversights that can come with manual tasks.
  • They enable the effective monitoring and management of business process performance.
  • They provide enterprise-wide visibility into all tasks and processes.
  • They elevate the customer experience with smoother processes and improved service.

Workflow Automation Tools: A Case Study

To put all of these points into context, here’s an example of how an engineering firm could utilize workflow automation to improve operations beyond what its project management tool is providing.

This engineering firm has 10 ongoing projects with 8 different clients. The team is small and each employee is involved in all 10 projects. The firm’s current project management tool allows the team to track each project from inception to completion, monitoring milestones and progress, and ensuring regular communication with the clients.

However, a large part of each project is gathering and entering project data, which employees are doing manually using spreadsheets that are then shared via email with the client. Each month for each client, employees gather new data via separate reporting tools, and update the spreadsheets with that new data. The spreadsheets are clunky to manage and difficult to make easily digestible for the client, and the entire process takes several days to execute properly for all clients.

The timing for each monthly data report is currently managed with calendar reminders within the project management tool.

This engineering firm decided to adopt a workflow automation tool to help streamline the data gathering, reporting, and communication process.

Using the workflow automation solution, data is automatically gathered at a set time each month, populated onto a well-organized and easily readable spreadsheet tailored to each client, and sent to the client on the right day.

Employees at the firm are responsible for ensuring the data is updated, and monitoring the communications with the clients, but the mundane and tedious acts of gathering, populating, and sending the spreadsheets are now being handled automatically, and the employees can spend their newly acquired free time on better understanding how that data impacts the overall project and the client, and making proactive business decisions in response.

What’s more, the reports aren’t delayed or compromised if one or more employees are out of the office for any reason, and there is far less risk of human error – overall ensuring a better customer experience.

Are There Downsides to a Workflow Automation Solution?

As with any tool, there can be negative outcomes if it is not onboarded or used correctly.

Workflow automation tools are not “set it and forget it” – yes, they automate processes, but your teams should be involved in ensuring the data and information the tool is using is updated and correct, and that any automated processes are being monitored and updated as projects move forward.

Sometimes, we can become too reliant on automation to do the work for us, but there is no substitute for the human touch. Reducing manual tasks is beneficial for productivity, cost savings, and driving operational efficiencies, but your team members know best how things should look and how they work.

And of course, if your team isn’t ready to move away from old habits and manual processes, it can be difficult to effectively onboard and utilize a workflow automation solution. Your employees need to be ready for the changes an automated solution means for their day-to-day operations – and while it seems like a no-brainer that automation is beneficial, it can be a difficult adjustment for some.

The Key Differences Between Project Management and
Workflow Automation Tools to Consider

To wrap up everything we’ve covered so far, here are the key differentiators between project management and workflow automation tools to help clarify how your business can benefit from using workflow automation instead of or in addition to your project management solution:

  1. Workflow automation focuses on streamlining a series of tasks, or business operations, while project management helps teams manage the planning, monitoring, and performance of each of those tasks.
  2. Workflow automation focuses on constant operation, while project management has a defined beginning, middle, and end.
  3. Workflow automation focuses on the completion of a task, while project management is designed to track the time a task takes to complete.
  4. Workflow automation relies on “triggering” events to create sequential task completion, while project management doesn’t always require certain tasks to occur before others.

Most importantly, because workflow automation is focused on task completion, and project management is focused on task quality, it does take employee intervention to ensure the quality of the tasks being completed by a workflow automation tool.

We can’t stress enough that a workflow automation solution is only as good as the manpower behind it. When implemented and utilized correctly, workflow automation can help businesses thrive.

Your business is likely already using a project management tool, and whether it’s working great for you or you think it’s time for a change, a workflow automation solution is a great option to improve upon your existing processes.

Contact us today to schedule a demo and learn more about our Professional Services Automation solution, which runs on the Salesforce cloud platform, and see how it can streamline your operations and put your customers at the center of everything you do.