Building an automation engine for social work
Social workers usually have too many cases and not enough time; but they also have rigid documentation requirements, which means they spend hours of their own time after work getting caught up on paperwork and manually tracking their clients' progress. This can lead to burn-out (as an industry, social workers have a very high turnover rate) and mistakes. In social work, a client's life is literally on the line, and one paperwork mistake made by a tired, overworked social worker can have serious negative consequences.
At Casebook, a startup that makes integrated case management software for social workers, my team identified a significant opportunity to improve the workflow of social workers by building an automation engine in Casebook that reduces complexity and repetitive work, and increases procedural consistency.
Over the summer of 2020, the lead product manager and I conducted several interviews with users and joined new customer onboarding calls to learn about our users' repeatable processes.
All the folks we spoke with could clearly describe at least 3-5 high-level processes that are well-defined within their practice and common to most of their cases.
- most of these processes are tracked on paper, if at all
- almost all of these processes may need to be ended early or abandoned
- Some steps in these processes are required, some are optional
- there are always exceptions! sometimes a supervisor needs to be able to skip required parts of a process or add in new ones
- some processes (and some steps within those processes) have hard deadlines that need to be tracked
The vast number of steps, possible changes, contingencies and the need to document it all leads to inconsistencies, errors, and social worker burnout. Our customers needed a way to keep track of all of this in a systematic way.
Making complex things simple
The feature we built in response to this need allowed admin users to model real-world repeatable processes in Casebook with task lists and create event-based triggers to automatically initiate them.
For example, an administrator at an agency that helps unhoused minors who have experienced human trafficking could create a safety assessment checklist that starts automatically for every new client, or an "independent living transition" workflow for kids who age out of the system, which would start automatically based on the client's age.
This enables social workers to centralize their work. Each case or client record has a list of all the actions that need to be taken next, and the social worker can see the list of all their tasks across cases on their home dashboard. What was previously a stack of paper files, several different spreadsheets, and sometimes post-it notes on a social worker's desk is now a clear set of digitized, prioritized tasks.
Reducing repetitive work
To reduce repetitive documentation work, I designed tasks in Casebook to be action-oriented. Tasks that require filling out forms or uploading files automatically mark themselves complete when those actions are taken. This means social workers do not need to spend extra time documenting that they completed a paper form or received a document from a client; the task marks itself complete when the social worker enters that data into Casebook.
Increasing consistency and accuracy
As the social worker no longer needs to remember which steps to take on each case, they are prompted to complete the same steps for the same situation each time it arises. This leads to a higher standard of care for clients.
Centrally administered settings for automation flows also means that changes in an organization's processes can be implemented right away, without relying on social workers to remember new steps or changes to existing steps.
Adding automated workflows to Casebook also increased transparency for supervisors. Instead of waiting for a check-in meeting or asking the social worker to set aside time to write up a progress report, supervisors can see the current state of all of their workers' cases in real time.
Growing the feature
Automated workflows were initially added to case management in Casebook, but have since been extended to Casebook's call center/intake application for automating follow-ups from first contacts and referrals.
We also turned Tasks into a stand-alone feature, allowing social workers to create one-off tasks on their cases and client records outside of pre-determined workflows. This enables our users to track all of their to-do list items in one place.
The Workflows feature was shipped in October 2020, and added significant business value to Casebook. More than two dozen deals that were pending in the fall of 2020 were successfully closed because of the release of workflows, and since then about 10,000 workflows are run every year by Casebook users.
Workflows have been a significant subscription upgrade vector for Casebook. Customers can configure a certain number of automated workflows at each pricing tier; almost 24% of upgrading customers cite the ability to automate more of their processes as a contributing factor in their subscription upgrade.
Design System Management
Bringing co-founders' vision to life by iterating on an MVP