Approvals in workflows are often required as a checks-and-balances approach to fulfill a type of user request. Builders in large agencies have the flexibility to create anything from simple, one-approver workflows to highly complicated, multi-stage approvals common in military process flows.
Why do we need approvals?
Larger agencies need workflow approval for four main reasons:
Types of Approvals
What types of approvals are best for processes is entirely dependent on the goal of those processes, the regulations thereof, the foundation data available for the individuals involved in those processes, and what the requesters are requesting. Each type of approval has advantages and disadvantages. It is likely your system will contain more than one approval type to support business as usual.
Lack of an approval could be considered one of the most efficient, cost-effective, and fastest ways to get work done. Many process improvement efforts try to get to this point, but sometimes it is simply unattainable, most likely for the reasons listed previously in the compliance and control sections.
Where approvals are not strictly required; consider removing them completely. Requests and processes not controlled via regulations could be managed with a process involving regular audits and reporting rather than individuals approving each transaction.
With pre-approval rules, there is a broad opportunity for efficiency. A fairly common tactic is to base approval on a requester’s role. If you’re a project manager, for example, you could be automatically approved to order a specific laptop, request a task assignment, or schedule changes.
A similar pre-approval rule could be based on hierarchical levels. Managers might be pre-approved to request access to systems and information. Directors, however, might get higher budgetary spending thresholds and be able to request cubical moves in the facilities management system.
An important component of systems with pre-approval is strong foundational data. You need to accurately be able to tell who people are and what role they have to be able to assign the correct pre-approvals. This becomes even more challenging as the size of a team increases.
Named approvals are when one specific person has to approve a specific request. Turnover, vacation, and changing roles are just some of the challenges that must be managed when using named approvals.
Group Approval: First Response
In the group approval model, approvals are assigned to a group of people to attend to rather than an individual. In most cases, these are an “any response” scenario where any reply from any individual in that group fulfills the approval requirement and the request moves on as indicated. This is a straightforward, streamlined, and robust way to go about approvals.As with any group activity, it can bring up system complexities such as record locking as well as process complexities such as what happens when two approvers disagree.
Group Approval: Consensus
A group approval sub-type is group consensus. Group approvals can also be set up as an “all must approve” scenario. These can cause the same sort of delay as named approvals, due to turnover, vacation, etc. These are best reserved for cases where approval by all parties is absolutely necessary.
Group Approval: Voting
Voting is another type of group approval. Voting is where multiple people are sent an approval but the majority approving or disapproving drives the outcome.
Line item approvals are both efficient and complex. These allow a portion of the request to continue while another portion is denied, must be resubmitted, or must be modified. Line item approvals provide a good user experience because even if part of the request does not meet the requirements for approval, the entire request isn’t denied. The parts of the request that met approval are allowed to continue and begin fulfillment.
That said, these systems can be some of the most complex to build and design for the user experience. Users will need to have clarity into what was approved, what was denied, and why (for each item denied)”. There also should also be a way for the user to simply and easily copy the denied portion of the request into a new request to begin a modified resubmission. While none of these things are simple to design, they can provide a big payoff in customer experience.
A potential issue with “Line item” approvals is that some requests need to be “whole and complete” to be valuable. Example: no sense ordering a computer if your requests for a network connection was denied.
The most common type of approval is hierarchy based or relative to the request. For example, it is common for a requester’s manager to have to approve a new mobile device request. That isn’t a named approval, but someone who is getting that approval based on the role they have in relation to me (my manager)”.
It can be important to note that these approvals suffer from delays in the case of bad foundational data and time off (such as sick time and vacations)”. It is important to design these types of approvals (and any approvals that go to just one person)” into systems that can manage reassignment, delegation, escalation, and expiration.
In rare cases, it can be necessary to involve multiple levels in the approval of the same item. Perhaps, to approve bringing in new, non-standard software in the environment, there may need to be an approval from an individual manager, from a security team, and from the CIO. Each person or group would get their approval in turn, and only if the level before approved.
The lifecycle, process & experience
Users aren’t specifically requesting approval in most cases but requesting items or initiating processes that require approval. Making sure that requesters and users understand that an approval will be required prior to delivery is part of setting expectations.
One concern many companies have around the use of approvals is approval fraud. Opportunities for fraud typically occur due to a lack of segregation of duties. Being the receiver and distributor of funds is one example. This is very risky for 501(c)”(3)” organizations in that they can lose their exempt status if funds aren’t handled properly.
In reality, no matter the apparent opportunities for fraud, a correctly and diligently audited approval system will leave little opportunity for uncaught fraudulent actions. Even the simplest approval systems that allow the users to select their own approvers can be checked with a couple of simple weekly or monthly reports. The important step is to set up and attend appropriately to the necessary auditing.