Minimizing the Risk of Error Propagation in Your Automated Workflows

Online forms
When problems aren’t identified right away, they can escalate quickly.

Error propagation is actually an advanced branch of mathematics involving means, variance, and second order differential equations. But it’s a concept that can be understood easily in principle. In fact, there’s a good chance you have dealt with the consequences of error propagation in your work or home life.

Have you ever had the experience of a rumor starting, then mutating to the point that it’s almost unrecognizable by the time “everyone” has heard it? That’s partly because of error propagation.

Have you ever misheard the name of a new acquaintance and accidentally called them by the wrong name until someone corrected you? That’s also error propagation.

In business, error propagation can result in anything from minor annoyances to major problems, so it’s important that checks and balances be put in place where possible to prevent the propagation of inaccurate information before it can do damage. Forms and workflow processes are excellent places in which to add fail-safes that prevent error propagation.

Error Propagation in Online Forms

Suppose you’re in HR and have designed new employee onboarding forms so that the new employee enters their employee ID once and it’s automatically stored for use in other forms that use that same information. This is fantastic if you’re the new employee because it saves time and effort. But suppose you make a mistake – say mistaking the letter “O” for a zero or vice versa. That mistake that you have typed in one time is suddenly in all the other form fields the data is shared with. Online forms must have clear instructions, error notifications, and other checkpoints that help ensure accurate input.

Error Propagation in Online Workflows

Suppose you operate a commercial painting business and have an online workflow that’s used for, among other things, calculating the amount of paint needed for a job. As long as everyone knows that you input dimensions in feet rather than yards, there’s usually no problem. But suppose someone enters the square footage of a client room in square yards rather than square feet. If the error isn’t caught, you could inadvertently order one-ninth the amount of paint needed for the job. Just like online forms, online workflows must have clear instructions and error notifications to prevent errors from getting into and propagating throughout the system.

Excellent Form and Workflow Design Is Foundational

When online forms and workflows are carefully designed and thoroughly tested, chances for errors can be minimized. Here are some tips to remember:

  • Make field labels clear and to the point
  • Offer “hover help” for further clarification about field input when a user hovers their mouse over the form label
  • Specify units of measure clearly
  • Where possible, indicate ranges of acceptable quantities that, when exceeded by someone inputting information, pop up an error message prompting them to recheck their input
  • When a form field must have data in a specific format, flag formatting errors immediately when the field is completed, rather than later, when the whole form is submitted
  • Test new forms and workflows under a wide range of conditions, including with erroneous input to see how errors propagate and determine ways to prevent them

Online forms and workflows can save astonishing amounts of time and effort, but they can also allow errors to propagate throughout, causing lasting problems. PerfectApps is form and workflow software that allows you to build in outstanding form design elements as well as checks and balances that help prevent erroneous input in the first place. Forms and workflows designed with PerfectApps and tested thoroughly under a range of reasonable and unreasonable inputs can help your organization enjoy the many benefits of automated forms and workflows without taking unnecessary risks with data accuracy.

If you’re interested in learning how PerfectApps helps ensure accuracy and prevent errors from entering workflows, we encourage you to browse through some of our training videos, including ones on how to add workflow rules and how to add intelligent, dynamic behavior to your forms. With PerfectApps, you can prevent many form and workflow errors from ever entering a work process.