Multi-Step Workflow Process

I always wince when I see broad and sweeping claims that a tool can perform workflows. This is especially problematic in platforms that are not designed with an integrated state machine. Lacking this, we are all left to manage the state of any workflow process on our own. Many of you are nodding.

Here’s a design I put together recently that provides a way for vendors to receive email notifications of opportunities to bid on projects and a complete workflow process that captures their bids.

The red lines indicate the flow of the Quote Request Process which is a lights-out factory process - it just happens automatically as new records emerge in the Quote Request table.

The green lines indicate the flow of the Request Response Process which is kicked off by a vendor responding to an email that contains a link to an Airtable form that inputs some key data directly into an Airtable table. That form would be opened with prepopulated information from the Quote Request which then makes it very simple for the vendors to complete. The prepopulated data also provides a way to link incoming responses to the actual client requests.

The PDF generated from the vendor’s response is emailed to the quote requester or uploaded into the quote request record (or both). After a period of time, the quote request record has a collection of PDF documents - one from each responding vendor. This provides a one-to-many collection of the request and all respondent’s bids in a format that’s ready for one of them to be accepted through yet another e-sign process.

The state of any given quote at any time is a function of linking the quote request record to all bid records. Furthermore, Airtable is wonderful at managing multiple bid documents as an attachment collection right inside the original request for those quotes setting the table (pub intended) for yet another bid awarding process.

The most important aspect of any process is sustaining the known state without ambiguity - there can only be one authoritative place where the state is managed but that can be achieved in a multi-step process with linked records and document collections.

This particular approach was implemented in Google Apps Script but it could be probably work with Zapier or Integromat. I tend to use the API and script to do these kinds of things because I want custom email messages that pass data on to Airtable forms and PDF documents that accompany the process.

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