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The 7 Best Workflow Management Tools

A good workflow tool creates clear paths for team members to complete regularly occurring tasks and projects. It allows teams to stay coordinated, eliminate bottlenecks in information or approvals, and avoid cross-communication and confusion. 

The Hugo Team
The Hugo Team
The team transforming meeting productivity
The 7 Best Workflow Management Tools

In this article, we summarize not only our list of: 

At the end, we even suggest a powerful way for managing your search, while keeping informed those who need to know or collaborate.

First, what makes a good workflow tool?   

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What is a good workflow tool? 

A good workflow tool creates clear paths for team members to complete regularly occurring tasks and projects. It allows teams to stay coordinated, eliminate bottlenecks in information or approvals, and avoid cross-communication and confusion. 

The specific features for a good workflow tool, for any given team or company, will vary depending on specific needs. Because each team’s needs are different, a comprehensive list of must-have features isn’t helpful, or even possible. 

The more productive analysis considers workflow software from a high-level, functional perspective. 

A good workflow tool should: 

  1. Allow the creation of clearly defined workflows. 
  2. Allow the prioritization of workflows
  3. Allow for easy monitoring of workflows
  4. Allow for continued refinement and optimization of workflows

Some often critical features of workflow software may include: 

  • Cloud-based architecture 
  • An code-free workflow design space
  • WYSIWYG form designer
  • Integration with other apps, especially common cloud apps
  • KPI reports
  • SLA tracking and status data
  • Customizable notifications 

Just as the best specific workflow tool solutions vary from company to company, so too do the various types of workflow management. 

There are four major types of workflow management.

 

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What are the four major types of workflow management?

Process or sequential workflow management

A process workflow management, also known as sequential workflow management, is the simplest kind of workflow management. It’s a basic system designed for single tasks or extremely simple projects. It proceeds in a straight line. It’s often designed with a simple flow chart. The progress of the workflow proceeds from one task to the next, always in the same way, right through to completion. It will be repeated in the designed manner many times.  

Project workflow management

Project workflow management resembles process or sequential workflow management in its linear structure. But it’s more complex since it must account for all the steps, some of them dependent, interdependent, or unique, of a complex project. Such a workflow is usually designed on a one-off basis, for a specific complex project. It always involves more than one person, by the nature of the complex projects it’s designed to manage.

State machine workflow management

A state machine workflow is much more complex than process or project workflow management. It’s essentially a mathematical abstraction or algorithm that defines the state of a project, and thereby directs next steps to achieve the desired state. It accepts defined inputs and calculates and monitors the state of the project. A simple academic example would be the state of “Comfortable” for a waiting room. Engineers could define a range of temperature, humidity, and light. Then sensors could read those values, and could direct humans or machines to adjust the inputs – by turning on the air conditioner and turning up the lights.  

Case workflow management

Case workflow management is for tasks that do not have clear paths or states in common. The most common example of case workflow management is support tickets, but the concept can be widely applied to similar needs such as onboarding new customers or employees, fielding leads or incoming referrals, and collections. The team tasked with solving these invidividual, divergent challenges must gather data to begin solving the problem, and continue to gather data to successfully finish solving it. They depend on an intelligent human (or, less successfully for now) an intelligent bot to interact with data and stakeholders in order to successfully solve the problem. 

Having seen the four major types of workflow management, it’s time to drill down to the three fundamental functions of any workflow. 

These three basic components are true for both every theory of workflow, and every real-world instance of workflow. 

What are the 3 basic components of workflow?

Inputs 

Inputs are the information and resources necessary to define a specific task or step and to complete it.

Transformation

Transformation, typically the bulk of the entire workflow, is a defined set of rules for receiving and processing the inputs to reach a desired outcome. 

Output

At the end of the transformation occurs the output. It often includes new realities on the ground – a customer complaint resolved to the customer’s satisfaction, for example. It always includes new data, which is output for records or for further processing. 

How the best workflow management tools bring advantages far beyond efficiency

It’s a given that choosing the best workflow management tools for your team or company can make a massive difference between efficiency and inefficiency, and therefore profit and loss. 

But the necessity of workflow management goes far beyond squeezing a little extra profit by reducing inefficiencies or speeding up production. 

The best workflow management tools directly improve crucial,  competitive, human factors of a team, department, or enterprise. 

Poor workflow management tools drive away talent

In this era of talent shortages – and even basic labor shortages, not just highly talented individuals – employees look for more than better pay and better benefits. 

They look for a better environment in which to work. That means teams or companies where they can be focused, creative, and productive. 

Arguably one of the most important aspects of a work environment is the software people work with. If workflow management tools are tedious, don’t work well, cause bottlenecks, misunderstandings, and conflicts –  or are simply unsuitable for the work – then daily frustration levels skyrocket, and remain high. Consistent, high frustration levels in turn lead to more turnover, less employee engagement, and less creative and innovative thinking. 

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The best workflow management tools retain and improve talent

On the other hand, good workflow management tools provide easy, intuitive experiences. That means employees are more engaged, happy, organized, and focused on their work instead of wrestling with procedures, communication, or what happened in the last meeting. This leads to less turnover, more productive and creative thinking, higher productivity, and stronger teams in general. 

When employees are engaged and focused on work, they’re happier with their current conditions and less likely to jump ship for better conditions. A focused work environment in which workflow is clear and intuitive, and projects are steadily accomplished, can even count for more than salary, especially for the most talented and creative team members. 

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7 Best Workflow Management Tools

1. Hugo

Hugo's meeting notes platform integrates workflow management directly into meetings – where business happens. 

Hugo, a minimal, powerful platform for workflow management, can take inputs directly from meeting notes, route them in a transformation layer to those responsible for the tasks or processes (whether those be individuals or teams), and then receive the outputs back into the next meeting in the form of agenda, and more. 

Hugo brings together calendars, documents, tasks, accountability, and more. Hugo empowers a unique way to work, allowing teams to not only run better meetings but to manage workflows better, and keep them fully integrated with the outputs and inputs of meetings. 

Hugu fully enables the four requirements, listed, above, of a workflow management tool: It allows the creation, prioritization, monitoring, and continued optimization of workflows. 

Hugo is best suited to the vast majority of use cases for which minimalist and flexible workflow management is what’s needed. For highly specific or complex use cases, it may not be the best choice. 

Perhaps most important of all for anyone looking for the best solution, it’s a cost-free option – completely fre for small teams. 

2. Proofhub

Proofhub has excellent support for visual project workflows, including photography, illustration, design, and more. It's also less complex than you might expect. For example, it doesn't offer accounting tools natively, although you can integrate with certain accounting apps. Although it doesn’t try to cram in every feature imaginable, it allows users to construct several task lists, add tasks, and subdivide with subtasks. 

Discussion takes place via comments, and you can attach files from your computer, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and more. ProofHub’s has a time tracking feature that allows you more accurately predict how long tasks and projects with take, and to document the time spent on each task. 

3. Bit.ai

Bit.ai is strongest for workflows that are document-heavy. Contracts, proposals, drafts, plans, designs, and more are organized and processed easily by Bit.ai, designed specifically for this purpose. It allows you to start smart workspaces around multiple options – projects, departments, teams, clients, and personal projects. In these smart workspaces, your documents are organized and can be shared on a granular basis of permissions.

It even allows real-time collaboration on documents in a more sophisticated, next-generation way than simple Google Doc collaboration. 

Integrations include more than 100 apps, for example OneDrive, Google Drive, Typeform, Tableau, Airtable, and many more. 

4. Nintex

Nintex is a highly sophisticated, enterprise level workflow management platform. It automates business processes, features a drag-and-drop design tool, and can facilitate visualization of complex workflows and processes across departments, storage systems, communication channels, and more

It brings sophisticated teams the ability to collaborate on content, and to develop state machines for a more powerful and extensive automation solution.

Nintex may best serve power users who are skilled in SharePoint but not in web development or programming. This allows them to create forms from scratch for themselves and their teams, thus removing excessive reliance on IT department or the need for outside developers.

5. Hive

Hive combines workflow management with an AI engine, and the results have famously vaulted it into use by teams at Google, Starbucks, Comcast and Toyota. It allows automated workflow management, templatized creation of workflows, customized workflows, in-app messaging, and collaboration all in one platform. In addition, Hive has third-party integrations with Microsoft Teams, Google Workspace, JIRA, Salesforce, and more. Even more integrations are accomplished via Zapier. 

A quality that sets Hive apart is its predictive analytics to help guide team members in moving through a workflow, as well as improving existing workflows. 

6. Shift

Shift is a desktop application that brings together a team’s email accounts, apps, extensions, and data sources in order to rationalize workflows within a single browser interface for each team member. It’s designed to increase focus by putting all these data sources in one place, organized and searchable. 

Beyond that central, searchable space, you can also design workspaces so that team members can share files and data, receive custom email and other notifications, and collaborate on production.  

Shift offers integrations with Adobe products, Slack, Facebook Messenger, and more. 

7. ProcessMaker

ProcessMaker is an lightweight, open-source workflow management app that automates form-based creation of  approval workflows. Its user-friendly, drag-and-drop form creation can drastically reduce the load on devops and power users, putting the ability to create forms and workflows into the hands of virtually everyone on the team. This enterprise-capable software can be installed on-premises or on the cloud. 

Built-in and customizable dashboards allow intuitive visualization of KPIs, granular or role-based permissions, output data document builders, email-based case management, and more. 

Conclusion: Fundamental questions to answer before you choose a workflow management tool

Now that we’ve reviewed what makes a good workflow management app solution, the foundations of workflow management, and 7 of the best workflow management tools available, you’ll be better able to explore, evaluate and choose the best solution for your teams if you keep some high-level questions in mind. 

  • What business purposes does your workflow management tool need to serve? 

  • What departments, teams, and team members will use it?  

  • How will any workflow management solution fit into your current business processes? 

  • Will the needs it must fill be better served by simplicity or complex flexibility? 

  • What team members and resources are available to get it integrated and running smoothly? 

  • How will it affect your customers’ experience? 

Hugo is completely free for up to 10 users – perfect for selecting new software

As you research, conduct meetings, and answer the questions above, managing the process with a free tool such as Hugo can help you keep informed all the stakeholders and team members involved.  Hugo is completely free for up to 10 users. It integrates seamlessly into meetings as you evaluate options. And it’s an intuitive, simple, powerful tool that can serve teams large and small. 

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