Implementing Low-Code/No-Code Workflows: 10 Essential Guidelines for Managers
Seemingly overnight, low-code and no-code platforms have taken over as the go-to tools for developing business applications with minimal hard-coding.
These tools offer the potential to speed up the application development process, enabling businesses to innovate faster and adapt quickly. This is particularly interesting for workflow automation use cases in later growth-stage, scale-stage, or even scaling-down businesses – wherever there’s operational changes occurring, or the need to professionalize and automate workflows for scale.
However, realizing the potential of low-/no-code platforms does not mean that these are universally "out-of-the-box" solutions. For business process owners and operational managers, it’s important to bear in mind that these solutions will not implement themselves – no matter how “no-code” they are.
Successful implementation of low-/no-code workflows requires managers to have a good understanding of how business apps are traditionally scoped and launched, in order to avoid the most common pitfalls associated with these platforms.
The Non-Technical Manager’s Challenge – Becoming a Product Manager
Low-/No-code workflow platforms are revolutionary, but like any technology, they still need to be used in the right context, and with the right approach. Even though these platforms do not require hard-coded engineering, a software development lifecycle model should still be followed.
When it comes to low-/no-code solutions, however, business process leads and operational managers are the de facto “product owners.” The majority of these folks are neither trained nor experienced in product management and software development models. Hence, the challenge: non-technical managers will need to develop basic product management skills in order to thrive as low-/no-code managers.
That being said, low-/no-code workflows do still serve as a strong catalyst for business agility. Their core value proposition is that they allow businesses to adapt more quickly to market changes, customer demands, and internal process changes. With the ability to bypass traditional engineering and rapidly develop/modify automated workflows, non-technical teams can iterate faster and validate ideas quicker.
The process owner or operational manager is in the best position to drive these changes. They possess both the “on the ground” knowledge of how a business workflow should work, as well as the cross-functional impact of a workflow, and a basic understanding of the systems and databases that will be involved. But a balance needs to be struck.
By taking an internal product manager’s approach to implementation, these managers can ensure that requirements are scoped properly, that onboarding is smooth, and that the implemented workflow delivers the desired outcomes. Without sending non-technical managers back to school for product management, here are 10 easy-to-follow guidelines to incorporate into your process when implementing low-/no-code workflows.
10 Guidelines for Implementing Low-Code / No-Code Workflows Successfully
1. Strike the Right Balance Between Speed and Quality
While low-/no-code platforms offer unprecedented speed of workflow building, it's crucial to ensure that this doesn't come at the expense of quality.
Managers should avoid falling into the trap of over-relying on low-/no-code platforms, to the extent that they compromise on important functionality, security, or user experience elements. For managers, that means thorough gathering of requirements – both business and technical – prior to building, mapping out workflow steps, aligning stakeholders and collecting feedback, and planning and communicating roll-out strategically.
Oftentimes, process owners jump straight into building, grab technical support only when they need it, and present the automated workflow only once the first iteration is already built. Avoid taking this speed-first approach, put in the extra due diligence up front, and you’ll have a much greater chance of delivering the right solution the first time around.
2. Overcome the Complexity Paradox
With no-code/low-code builders – especially, integrated threads of them – there's a risk of inadvertently creating workflows that are so complex they become difficult to maintain. This is known as the complexity paradox.
Although the initial setup may be simple, as more steps, custom actions, and integrations are added and the codebase grows, the system can become a labyrinthine mess that is hard to navigate and update. Eventually, key actions and integrations may not work as intended. This is particularly dangerous in the case of customer-facing workflows and other business-critical workflows.
Therefore, it's imperative to design workflows with simplicity in mind from the outset, and establish a well-planned architecture that can handle expansion. That means involving technical teams when and where appropriate, and – for non-technical managers – not trying to “figure it all out” themselves. Resist the temptation to plow straight into building, without first identifying the simplest and most scalable way forward.
3. Foster Cross-Functional Collaboration
Low-/no-code workflow platforms are not just for process owners and business managers. They're designed to foster collaboration between different stakeholders, including front-line workers, engineers, executives, customers, suppliers – the list goes on.
By ensuring that all relevant stakeholders have input in the development process, managers can create workflows that are not only functional but also align perfectly with user needs and business objectives. For customers, that might mean a more delightful user experience, measured by NPS score. For executives, that could mean having their operational dashboard configured with the right metrics and the right filters.
Regardless of how many stakeholders are involved, the process owner or manager will need to bear in mind how each of these “personas” will interact with the automated workflow, and what experiences they will be expecting. Best practice is keep a regular cadence of stakeholder interviews on the calendar, to gather feedback and suss out persona-specific opportunities for improvement
4. Implement Sustainable Governance and Maintenance
Low-/no-code workflow solutions should not be "set it and forget it". They may require ongoing governance and maintenance – different still from in-house developed products using hard-code, but important nonetheless.
Similar to the way that a content management team maintains a blog using a CMS, an automated workflow should be reviewed at regular intervals to ensure that integrations are up-to-date, and that any content, forms, attachments, and other elements are current. The process owner or manager is responsible for assigning regular reviews and updates to relevant stakeholders, who – again – should be involved as frequently as possible.
5. Ensure Security and Compliance
In the race to innovate, security and compliance should never take a backseat. In particular, for regulated industries or industries with frequent regulatory change, a thorough understanding of security and compliance vis-a-vis your automated workflow solutions is critical.
Any application developed using low-/no-code platforms must adhere to industry-standard security practices, and comply with all relevant regulations. That’s both an operational requirement, as well as a necessity for maintaining trust with customers and employees.
From investing in compliant solutions, to secure coding practices, to conducting regular vulnerability assessments, businesses need to ensure they prioritize security at every step. Regardless of your industry, be sure to select workflow platforms with built-in compliance features and robust security controls.
6. Invest in Low-Code / No-Code Training and Upskilling
Non-technical managers should be advised that low-/no-code solutions are not always self-explanatory. Many include advance building features, custom integrations, and other technical functions that require some knowledge of code to use.
In most cases, process owners and managers can delegate specific, technical building tasks to experience engineers or low-code builders. However, it is also widely beneficial for non-technical professionals to invest in training for themselves and their teams to use low-/no-code tools proficiently. This includes not only technical training, but also education on how to best leverage these platforms for business innovation – from learning how to automate simple productivity workflows, to building end-to-end automation for critical business processes.
Furthermore, upskilling traditional developers to incorporate low-code platforms can lead to more flexible and more powerful solutions.
7. Manage Expectations about Low-Code / No-Code Workflows
It's important to manage expectations around what workflow platforms can and can't do. While these solutions do offer powerful automation for many business cases, they are not capable of doing everything you want out-of-the-box. In certain cases, the traditional coding approach may be preferred. Low-code / no-code platforms are a tool in the arsenal of development methodologies, but not a replacement for all types of software development.
Either way, building solutions is about more than just using (or not using) workflow platforms – it's about your solutions into the fabric of the organization's digital strategy and culture. People will probably need to use these tools everyday, and what they think about them matters. Make sure to communicate what you intend to achieve using low-/no-code workflows, and be specific about it.
8. Mind the Human Element
While low-/no-code workflow platforms can automate many aspects of the development process, it's crucial to recognize the importance of the human element in successful deployment. Training, collaboration, and governance are essential, but equally so is creativity. With more time available thanks to automated workflows, teams have more opportunity to innovate and create unique solutions that truly meet their users' needs.
Search for inspiration within your organization, immediate team, and customers. As in the previous section, remember that these workflows will be used by people every day, and in multiple capacities (i.e., managers, frontline employees, execs, suppliers, etc). These individuals are your greatest asset when it comes to inspiration and making user experience decisions. Ask for feedback consistently, and make improvements regularly.
9. Stick to Appropriate Use Cases for Low-Code / No-Code
Knowing when to use low-code / no-code workflows can save your organization time and resources.
Workflow solutions excel in environments where the speed of delivery, iterative development, and flexible integrations are important. Categorically speaking, the ideal use cases for low-code / no-code workflows are:
- Business Process Automation: streamline and automate repetitive tasks, cross-functional communication, system/database interactions, and external touchpoints, making a complex workflow, trackable, efficient, and less prone to errors.
- Rapid Prototyping: Use workflow platforms for quick process design and development for idea validation. Set up end-to-end applications quickly to test assumptions and gather feedback.
- Internal Tool Development: Create internal, workflow-based tools for specific organizational needs without overburdening your IT department. Effectively, recreate any business operation into an automated, trackable version.
- Customer/Supplier/Partner Experience: Replace manual interactions with external parties using automated workflows to improve response times, coordination load, and end-user experience.
10. Create (and Share) a Long-Term No-Code / Low-Code Strategy
It's crucial for managers to incorporate and communicate low-/no-code as a part of your long-term digital strategy. The key point to highlight here is that automated workflows aren't just a shortcut, but a valuable instrument for accelerating digital transformation, and a significant part of the business’s technical strategy.
With a clear roadmap that integrates automated workflows into the larger digital strategy, teams can get into view into how other teams are using this technology. This moves low-/no-code solutions out of the “nice-to-have” category for edge cases and personal productivity, and into the class of reliable, technical solutions for critical business use cases.
Low-/No-code workflows should also be incorporated as part of a modular, “future-proof” architecture. This not only includes the software design but also the people and processes involved in maintaining and expanding it. The organization needs to have the ability to modify and expand applications as business needs evolve and change. Be sure to include this capacity in the strategic planning, and share updates with your teams regularly.
Low-code and no-code workflow solutions present a huge opportunity for teams looking to innovate and implement changes fast. By enabling faster, more efficient solution development, they allow teams to stay agile, implement solutions iteratively, and adapt quickly to changing circumstances – not to mention the newfound operational excellence.
But non-technical managers need an approach to low-code/no-code that balances speed with quality, fosters cross-functional collaboration, and keeps a close eye on governance and maintenance. Following the above guidelines, managers can keep a firm pulse on the business and user requirements of the solution, before launching headlong into developing automated workflows that don’t deliver the desired result.
In conclusion, low-code/no-code workflow automation is an invaluable tool for digital transformation. But managers should not confuse capability with necessity. By following sound product management principles, you’ll ensure the best chance for success.
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