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Agile & Product Management

How workflow automation supercharges the software development process

“Software is eating the world.” That’s the first line in a well-known post published in 2011 by venture capitalist Marc Andreessen (one half of the firm Andreesseen Horowitz, otherwise known as a16z).

A decade later, it might be fair to expand on Andreesseen’s theory and add that a particular part of the software universe—workflow automation—is what’s eating the world now.

While workflow automation isn’t necessarily new, its importance and ubiquity is growing—and it’s taking root in almost every part of organizations–especially in the software industry. That’s because, at its core, workflow automation takes over manual, repetitive tasks and reduces redundancies and errors, allowing talented teams to devote more of their working hours to solving critical challenges and discovering new innovations.

For development teams, this could mean the difference between spending hours of critical time manually updating sprint boards instead of shipping their next feature release.

So what does this look like in the present day? Here, we’ll provide an updated definition and talk a bit more about how automation can be particularly helpful for skilled experts like software developers and engineers.

What is workflow automation?

Workflow Automation is a technique whereby technology is used to streamline processes by reducing or eliminating time-consuming and repetitive, often heavily manual, tasks. It integrates and combines with a wide range of processes, like Business Process Management and Robotic Process Automation, but most importantly for the context of this article, Agile software development.

Applied correctly, workflow automation software and tools improve team productivity by freeing up talent to focus on higher-value challenges and solutions, while also ensuring that cross-functional teams maintain communication and are able to efficiently manage complex project work. When used correctly, it can also greatly reduce the opportunity for error by limiting the number of human touchpoints that could go wrong.

Diagram of how workflow automation is configured in ZenHub

The rise of workflow automation software and tools

While the rise of collaboration tools (Slack, Microsoft Teams) do wonders for team communication and workflow management,  automation is valuable because of its capacity to be tailored specifically to a team’s needs and processes. Here are a few examples:

Workflow automation & integrations These tools make it easier than ever to integrate various applications in an organization’s tech stack. Some of these tools, like Unito, even have workflow automation features that can be customized to your team’s processes, reducing the amount of manual updating required when working cross-app.

HR — It’s absolutely imperative that an organization’s various HR systems can be easily updated to reflect the latest information about a candidate, or else HR practitioners are left to deal with a crushing deluge of administrative overhead.

Marketing — In digital marketing, customization is often the name of the game, and the only way those kinds of tailor-made experiences can work is through a hefty amount of sophisticated tracking and automation in the back end to integrate marketing data.

It’s safe to say that developers are no strangers to applying technology to systems and processes (but if you, like us, are always looking for new ideas, here’s a free resource on focus-driven development that might help). Generally speaking though, workflow automation largely originated in the software development and engineering field, which makes a whole lot of sense. Nowadays, developers may be asking themselves whether they even need more systems in their tech stack, and our answer to that is a euphoric, “No”. ZenHub was built on the philosophy of allowing technical folks to work where they are at.

We don’t want to advocate that teams simply add more systems and tools to the pile, we believe in making your tools work harder for you. You should only introduce workflow automation software that’s specifically customized to your team’s distinct goals and easily feeds into the processes you find yourself doing everyday.

Automation where developers spend their time: In GitHub

According to a recent study conducted by research consulting firm Bain & Company, “For all the automation tools, companies often reap a triple play of benefits: a better customer experience, lower costs, and better control of the operating environment.”

We know that developers have the pick of the litter when it comes to software and process management tools, but we wanted to get right to the heart of where many developers spend their time (hello, GitHub). Rather than create an entirely separate product, we built something that helps users drive even more value out of the systems and processes they’re already working within. OK, hopping off our soapbox now.

animation of how workflow automation links workspaces together in ZenHub

Bringing Agile project management into GitHub organically reduces friction for technical teams, adding automation to tedious tasks is the cherry on top.

The future of workflow automation is looking bright

It bears mentioning that Biscotti, research VP at Gartner, also said that the workflow automation trend is “not likely to end soon.” The only edit we’d make to that statement is that workflow automation isn’t a trend, it’s an everyday necessity that we’re only just starting to truly understand how to extrapolate value from.

In the ZenHub Extension and Web App, we leverage automation in a number of ways. Many of our features were ideated by our internal team by using the product and thinking, “hey, do we actually need to be doing this every week?”. By continuously questioning and challenging the way we work, we’ve identified opportunities to automate our workflows and make everyones’ lives a lot easier (and simpler!). We encourage all teams to ask similar questions, and to rethink the way they work.

From automated Issue and PR linking, to Workflow Automation and automated Sprint Planning, automation should be at the forefront of the way Agile software teams manage their work.

All to say: Workflow automation has the potential and the power to open up new revenue streams and reveal never-before-seen opportunities to improve the delivery of products and services.

For software developers, that means shorter cycles between shipping code and seeing the impact of their work on the overall business and its customers. And that’s exactly the kind of satisfaction we’re invested in helping you get out of your work.

Peace of mind (and process) is just a click away: Sign up for your free ZenHub trial here.

Suggests tracking and filtering tasks, prioritizing Issues, and combining multiple Repositories into a single workspace.

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