Whether you’re experiencing siloed inefficiencies and a lack of employee engagement or looking to give your business processes a facelift, almost every team has something to gain by examining and optimizing their workflow management. One study by market research firm IDC found that most organizations could see an increase of 25 to–30% in productivity after transforming inefficient workflows.
Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular workflow management solutions and how each might help you build out your company’s organizational agility and structure.
What is workflow management and why is it important?
Every company has some sort of organizational structure, whether it’s well defined or not, and every team within that structure is responsible for implementing certain day-to-day processes. Workflow management helps standardize that whole flowchart in a way that clarifies roles, optimizes productivity (often with automated elements) and minimizes margins of error.
There are a number of approaches to workflow management—guided by a number of organizational theories—but the solution that’s right for your company will depend on your industry, your budget and the specific issues you’re looking to solve. While some of the following solutions listed here act as workflow management replacements, others allow you to augment your existing workflows according to your company’s needs. As such, it’s a good idea to already have a general flowchart in mind before choosing a digital workflow management tool.
Imagine: A stack of bulletin boards with note cards and paper clips, but in digital form
Price: Free (Basic), $9.99/user per month (Business), $20.83/user per month (Enterprise)
Used by: Google, Kickstarter, National Geographic
Best for: Small organizations with small budgets, workflow software newbies, quick fixes
Avoid if: You need something more technically complex or industry-specific
Trello is perfect for companies that are fairly small, or at least have relatively few pain points to alleviate when it comes to workflow management. Its streamlined design is also optimized for individual or personal use.
Trello consists of boards populated by list columns that organize individual cards. Cards—which you’d use for individual tasks, under the umbrella of a project’s “list”—can be customized with attachments, links, assignees and discussion threads. It’s simple, visually readable, intuitive and industry-agnostic, which means it will work for just about anyone as long as you don’t need a whole lot of bells and whistles.
Imagine: Microsoft Excel with superpowers
Price: $14/user per month (Individual), $25/user per month (Business), varies (Enterprise)
Used by: PayPal, Whirlpool, Habitat for Humanity
Best for: Industries that already use spreadsheets regularly, larger organizations
Avoid if: Your team needs something more modular or creatively oriented
Founded in 2005, Smartsheet has remained pretty straightforward since its inception. It has little clutter and only a few modular features for establishing workflows and keeping projects moving.
Unlike Trello, however, this one is built for enterprise companies. It offers features for tracking business metrics, as well as software integrations with Google and Salesforce, among other apps.
Imagine: A visually attractive, scalable solution that requires some onboarding
Price: Free (Basic), $9.99/user per month (Premium), $19.99/user per month (Business), varies (Enterprise)
Used by: NASA, Google, Deloitte
Best for: Organizations that want to fully commit to one main platform, cross-functional and creative project management, companies whose employees are fairly tech-intuitive
Avoid if: Your problem areas are minimal and you invest time in learning how to use the tool
One of the most robust workflow management options on the list, Asana is modular on basically every level. Its project-board workspace includes standard templates for industries from information technology and engineering to human resources and design.
Asana’s strongest feature is a double-edged sword, though. With so much customization available for users, it can be a bit challenging for the average tech-familiar worker to get a handle on it without investing some time learning how to use it. Consider setting up team trainings and establishing best practices for implementation before rolling it out to employees.
Imagine: Your most type-A friend’s color-coded binder
Price: $39/month (Basic), $49/month (Standard), $79/month (Pro), varies (Enterprise), tier prices vary by number of users
Used by: Lonely Planet, WeWork, Samsung
Best for: Teams that need minimal onboarding and time spent on the platform, teams that thrive with a tactile and visual-first interface, companies with a bigger budget
Avoid if: You need particular project management or industry-specific tools, you’re on a tight budget, or your teams comprise a wide variety of user frequencies
If your teams are frustrated by the confines of spreadsheet life and tend to gravitate toward more drag-and-drop, design-friendly software, Monday might be the solution for you. Formerly known as Dapulse, the platform makes workflow management as modular and attractive as it gets.
The challenge with Monday is keeping things streamlined. Like Asana, it’s highly customizable, but this one can look clean and avoid complexity, as long as team members don’t get carried away with commenting and itemizing. Monday also features a more segmented pricing matrix, which may be a perk for larger companies that can afford it or companies planning to scale up soon.
Imagine: The cards of Trello, the spreadsheet of Smartsheet, the aesthetics of Monday and the commenting capabilities of Google Docs
Price: Free, $10/user per month (Plus), $20/user per month (Pro), varies (Enterprise)
Used by: BuzzFeed, JetBlue, Shopify
Best for: Organizations needing both simplicity and scalability, Smartsheet users looking for a more design-friendly option
Avoid if: Your teams need custom formatting or visualization beyond the spreadsheet format
Airtable bills itself as “spreadsheet meets database.” It’s a basic combination of a few of the other tools on this list, plus major database-management capabilities.
It’s not a workflow tool so much as a workflow facilitator—it works best for teams that need to manage large amounts of information and display it, and not really for cross-functional project management. Without that, you’ll need an additional tool to keep projects moving along. There are also community resources and video tutorials available if you have time to invest in learning the ropes.