Sometimes, you get lucky. You just know that you’ve got a process that needs help. Constant complaints or financial losses clearly attributable to a specific process will tell you there are improvements to be made. Or, as in our case, a documentation project is winding down and during the project review it becomes clear a process didn’t work as well as it should have.

But it’s not always that easy. Not every broken workflow is going to jump up and down, wave its hand and ask to get a little attention over here. You have to look for signs that a process is broken.

When we automate a workflow process, we aim to eliminate duplication of effort, reformatting of data and manual handoffs. These are proven time wasters. Look first for a process that is struggling under the weight of these issues.

1. Do you have any paper-heavy processes in your business? Having paper forms that get passed through multiple sets of hands can be slow. Look to see what information is being captured and whether normalizing and digitizing collection of that data would speed the process along.

2. Are there data-gathering bottlenecks? Do you have a process that often gets stuck at the same step? Take a closer look to see if that task is not being assigned correctly, or is overly complicated and burdensome to complete.

3. Are notifications regularly missing? Emails get lost, paper gets buried, Post-It notes fall off of monitors and somehow end up between the desk and the wall. Missed handoffs are huge time wasters. That was one of the key areas of failure we found in our documentation process.

A process that meets any of these criteria may be a good candidate for updating and automating.

4. Is the process meeting its business goal? This means you need to have a clear idea of what the business goal actually is. In our documentation scenario, we wanted a document to be completed and delivered to the client within 10 days of the original request. With a clear goal, we could look at the metrics and see if our manual process was accomplishing that goal. (Answer: Nope!) If the process doesn’t generate easily accessible metrics, that’s another sign that it may be broken.