What is an Approval Workflow?

Marina Martin

An approval workflow is a business process that requires the approval of another employee, such as a manager, before continuing or completing. Example approval workflows include having a member of the legal department sign off on a new advertisement before it goes to print or requiring manager approval for employee expenses that exceed a certain amount. Many companies use business workflow software to automate approval workflows.

An approval workflow is a business process that requires the approval of another employee, such as a manager, before continuing or completing.
An approval workflow is a business process that requires the approval of another employee, such as a manager, before continuing or completing.

Approval workflows can be as specific as necessary. Criteria for an approval workflow process may include transactions amounts, the potential worth of a sale, and the type of employee handling the task. Other issues that may trigger an approval include the length of time an employee has worked for the company or the nature of the task an employee is performing. Multiple criteria can be combined to trigger an approval as well.

A person who must grant approval may receive a test message within workflow software.
A person who must grant approval may receive a test message within workflow software.

Within workflow software, an approval workflow can trigger a number of alerts. The person who must grant approval may receive an e-mail, a text message, a pop up alert, or a message within the software itself. The task or document in need of approval may be frozen until approved or it may remain available for editing by others. The approver can approve the request, deny it, or pass it along to another employee. In some systems, one approval workflow may call for multiple approvals. For example, once a manager approves a contract, it may then require approval from a company attorney.

Multiple eventualities should be taken into consideration when building an approval workflow. For example, approvals should have deadlines, after which point the request for approval is passed on to another potential approver. Deadlines should take into account the priority of the task and other connected deadlines. For example, if a graphic must be at the printer by Friday in order to be ready for an upcoming trade show, the complete approval workflow related to that graphic must complete by Friday. The workflow software also should be aware of approvers' vacations and sick days so approval requests do not languish.

An approval workflow can add value to an existing creative or business workflow. It can create consistency by always requiring approval when certain conditions are met, instead of relying on human memory to remember when and from whom to seek approval. An approval workflow can also guarantee that new, inexperienced employees do not make certain costly mistakes. It can help ensure that unscrupulous employees cannot process bogus sales or bypass established procedures as well.

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