Expert Interview with Paula Selvidge on Form Workflow

form workflow Filling out forms can sometimes be cumbersome and stressful. So if you need forms to be completed either to gain external leads or facilitate internal workflows, it's imperative that you make the process as easy and painless as possible.

That's what PerfectForms enables businesses to do: create electronic forms quickly that are perfectly suited to their needs. Doing this can help businesses run more smoothly and efficiently, which leads to a better bottom line.

Paula Selvidge, president and CEO of PerfectForms, took some time to tell us about the benefits of customizable electronic forms and workflows, as well as how these elements can help individuals and companies alike keep a handle on their finances.

How can misunderstanding forms and poor form workflow trip us up, financially?

If you want people to use your form and not hate that they are using it? Make it simple, clear, and easy. The goal of a form is to guide people through the data entry process to save time and make a task repeatable. If the form is confusing, it could end up costing more time, effort, and money than it was meant to save. Some of the common money drains with poorly designed forms come from data entry errors, excessive training, and repeated reworking of the form through lengthy development efforts. Our goal is to empower users to build forms, workflow applications and reports with an easy-to-use online form builder, thus reducing dependence on IT resources. By removing the development step, form design can become more iterative and responsive to the user feedback and recommendations allowing for constant improvement.

Simple, clear, and easy applies for workflows too. I think of workflows as the marching orders for a form. A workflow designer has to know what starts a workflow, what all the steps in the middle are, and what makes a form complete. A workflow that is too rigid could cause redundancies and increase the time it takes to get to a completed state. However, if the workflow is too open, the process may miss out on some opportunities to remove bottlenecks and gain efficiencies.

How do we know it's time to create a form for a financial task?

Forms and workflows are great for financial tasks because many times the work is repeatable and needs to be tracked, compliance is imperative, and financial tasks often require reviews and approvals from third parties to complete the process. If you are losing track of where approvals are in a workflow, missing required information on requests, not getting timely responses or lacking full visibility to your workflow process, it is time to automate your forms and workflow processes.

Is there such a thing as being too organized? Can we drown in paper, so to speak?

Absolutely! The first process I built was for editing and reviewing content changes required for changing tax regulations. I worked with the users to come up with all the possible iterations of developing new content and the review steps. The end result was a workflow that was so rigid and structured it didn't work, and people hated using it. There is a tendency when organizing and structuring processes to try and control everything; but you can't, and you will go crazy trying to successfully do it. Structure for the majority, account for the variations, get feedback and keep making change - that is the key to optimal organization.

Using paper for key financial process is unproductive, error-prone, and difficult to track and monitor. Not to mention the production and consumption of paper is bad for the environment.

What are some ways we can use forms to stay on top of our financial well-being?

Using automated forms to track and monitor financial tasks ensures that nothing falls between the cracks on critical financial tasks! You can set automated reminders and escalations so you don't have to worry that you will miss a deadline or required critical information. You can ensure all the critical information is collected at every step of the task, so you don't have to go back and try to locate details or follow up with others to provide information. This ensures a compliant, more productive, and less stressful experience when financial deadlines are looming.

What do you wish everybody knew about building a form and document workflow?

One of the big challenges with transitioning a form from paper-based to electronic is remembering that this is the chance you have to gain efficiencies, so embrace the change! It is really easy to look at the existing approach and replicate everything with an electronic solution. The bigger payout is taking a step back to define how you want the process to work in a perfect world.

Ask yourself some questions:

- What is working with the current approach?

- What is not working with the current approach (pain points, common errors, bottlenecks)?

- What is the goal of this form and process?

- What would we do differently if we were starting from scratch?

Because building forms and workflows is simple, the process can be iterative with changes based on user feedback and evaluation when needed.

If we're not mathematically inclined, where should we start with building our own tracking systems for personal finance?

Start simple and manageable. It is easy to get carried away with automation and tracking when you are thinking about what you want to do. If you start simple, you will see success then can build on that approach until you have streamlined your finance tracking. It is really about letting small successes build into big wins!

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