5 Steps to Analyzing and Optimizing Workflow Automation for Improved Performance

Published October 12, 2023

Workflow automation presents immense potential to boost productivity and cut costs. However, careful analysis and optimization are vital to realize its full benefits.

This article provides a practical 5-step approach to assess your current workflows, identify automation opportunities, implement the right solutions, and continuously refine for peak performance.

Step 1: Map Processes to Locate Inefficiencies

The first pivotal step in analyzing and optimizing workflows for automation is extensively mapping your organization’s end-to-end processes across departments to pinpoint friction points and inefficiencies.

Rigorously examine each workflow at a granular level to identify:

  • Steps involving substantial manual hand-offs between teams that automation could seamlessly handle
  • Duplication of effort across processes leads to wasted time
  • Activities primarily consisting of employees performing repetitive clerical tasks that automation could execute quickly, consistently, and accurately.

Specifically, highlight processes with high reliance on human effort to complete manual tasks that are prone to errors and rework. These present the biggest opportunities for performance gains through automation.

For example, a major hospital mapped the workflows of its nursing staff and discovered nurses were spending over an hour each day manually gathering data from different systems, compiling it into reports, and updating medical records across their various departments’ databases. Automating this highly repetitive, tedious report generation and records updating process provided nurses more time to focus on delivering quality patient care.

Step 2: Quantify Automation Opportunities

After extensively mapping target workflows, the next step is to quantify the potential opportunities for automation through metrics like:

  • Percentage of activities within each process that involve manual work that could potentially be automated
  • Total time currently being spent across the workflow performing repetitive tasks that automation could take over
  • Frequency of errors and rework resulting from reliance on manual processes prone to human error

Delivering exceptional customer experiences is pivotal for business success today. However, many manual workflows hamper an organization’s ability to respond quickly and consistently to customer needs. Analyzing process metrics builds a compelling business case for customer experience automation by revealing where automated workflows could drive productivity gains, improved accuracy, and cost savings.

For example, automated workflows for processing customer requests can provide fast, seamless resolutions, freeing up agents to handle more complex customer issues. Quantifying automation opportunities through process analytics provides the rationale for investments in customer experience automation initiatives that can profoundly impact the quality of service and satisfaction.

For example, an insurance firm analyzed its processes and found that 45% of its staff’s time was being wasted on manually processing policy applications and claims. Automating these repetitive back-office workflows provided a 35% improvement in productivity and staff capacity. The quantified opportunity assessment created a clear ROI model for proposed automation investments.

Step 3: Assess Technical Feasibility

Once priority workflows for automation have been identified through opportunity analysis, the next step is to thoroughly assess the technical feasibility of automating those processes, based on factors like:

  • The formats and locations of data required to drive the workflows – assessing whether they are already digitized or residing in legacy formats and systems. This indicates the effort needed for modernization and integration with automation tools.
  • How amenable the workflows are for integration with modern digital automation software solutions, platforms, and enterprise service buses spanning disparate systems? Technical complexity needs to be evaluated.
  • The availability of clearly defined, digitized process workflows and business rules required to map processes into automation tools. The absence of these indicates workflows are not yet ready for automation.

This analysis reveals any gaps or blockers that need to be proactively addressed before you can successfully implement process automation. For example, a retailer wanted to automate their accounts payable process. However, feasibility analysis revealed their entire upstream billing and invoicing system relied on paper documents. Digitizing the invoices was an essential prerequisite before automating the downstream AP workflows.

Step 4: Implement Solutions Gradually

Once you’ve selected priority workflow automation opportunities through process analysis and validated technical feasibility, it’s time to implement the right automation solutions. It’s strategically advisable to start small and implement automation in phases to minimize process disruption:

  • Pilot automation on a few easily automated, self-contained workflows first as proofs of concept before scaling across the organization
  • Gradually roll out automation to more complex, interdependent processes once the solutions have been refined through initial pilots
  • Continuously gather user feedback from the pilots to further refine automation tools and frameworks before expanding to other processes

This incremental approach enables the adaptation of solutions based on lessons from early implementations before compounding the impact of any issues through organization-wide deployment. Don’t attempt to automate an entire end-to-end workflow across departments all at once.

Key Tips for Seamless Implementation

  • Set clear, realistic goals and timelines for automation initiatives
  • Communicate proactively and transparently with stakeholders across the rollout
  • Closely involve business and operations teams in designing the solutions
  • Provide extensive training for users on interacting with automated workflows
  • Develop contingency plans for reverting to manual processes in case of automation failures

Following structured steps of process mapping, opportunity quantification, feasibility analysis, and gradual rollout sets up your workflow automation implementations for smooth success.

Step 5: Continuously Optimize Performance

Finally, regularly analyze KPIs to optimize automated workflows:

  • Productivity
  • Cost savings
  • Cycle time reduction
  • Output quality

Continuous improvement through iteration is key to maximizing performance.

A software firm automated testing workflows. Regular optimization reduced testing time by 62% in 18 months.

Overcoming Key Challenges in Workflow Automation

While promising, workflow automation faces obstacles:

Process Redesign: Rigid processes must be reimagined for automation.

Legacy Systems: Integrating workflows spanning disjointed legacy systems is difficult.

Change Management: Stakeholder buy-in and training are essential for adoption.

Skills Gap: Many lack the skills to implement and optimize automation. Reskilling is vital.

Security: Automated workflows must be rigorously secure, especially with confidential data. A proactive approach addressing these challenges will smooth automation.

Real-World Examples of Performance Gains

Global firm MetLife automated over 140 processes, reducing service costs by $100 million annually. Airline Emirates automated flight operations planning, resulting in 20% higher productivity.

For retailer IKEA, workflow automation cut operating costs by 20-25%.

These examples showcase workflow automation’s potent impact when implemented holistically across processes.

Key Takeaways for Successful Automation

  • Map workflows extensively to find inefficiencies.
  • Quantify opportunities through data-driven analysis.
  • Validate technical feasibility.
  • Implement solutions incrementally.
  • Continuously optimize for peak performance.

Following this structured approach will lead to impactful, sustainable automation.


1. How can the risks of workflow automation be mitigated?

Conduct rigorous impact analysis before automating. Implement incrementally and gather user feedback frequently. Closely monitor KPIs and optimize continually. Develop contingency plans for automated process failures.

2. What skills are required to optimize automated workflows?

Workflow analytics, data modeling, automation software, technical integration, change management, stakeholder engagement, KPI monitoring, and continuous improvement. Upskill teams on these capabilities.

3. How can employees be supported through workflow automation?

Communicate transparently, provide extensive training, closely involve employees in solution design, maintain open feedback channels, and ensure automation augments rather than replaces employees.

Final Thoughts

A structured approach to workflow automation—spanning assessment, implementation, and continuous optimization—is key to driving substantial performance improvements.

Regularly refine automated processes based on KPI analysis and user feedback. With meticulous planning, strong change management, and a focus on augmenting people with technology, organizations can realize automation’s full potential.

CDN Newswire