Ten Things You Should Know about Workflows

In the assembly line days, work flowed along the line with each worker repeating the same limited operation throughout the day. Though this kind of work flow increased productivity dramatically, it had a huge price in the form of worker boredom and weariness. Information technology has made it possible for more varied kinds of work to flow from person to person automatically.

1. A workflow is like a flowchart, graphically showing the sequence and names of processes that constitute a work flow. The named processes can represent resource consumptions, physical transformations, information flows and human activities. The graphic representation shows what is involved in achieving specific results, such as making or selling a product.

2. All of the processes can be performed by a single person, as when a house painter assembles all the requisites and paints the house. More typically, however, different processes are carried out by different persons, usually in a certain sequence, to produce the desired result.

3. The graphic representation is thus a model of the work as it is done, and can highlight redundancies, inefficiencies and even bottlenecks. We can then work on the model to explore alternatives that can eliminate these problems.

4. The difference between work flow and process is that the latter is more precisely defined, with specific input and output, and a processing algorithm. Work flows are more general with less well defined components.

5. Workflow representations can help us identify the information needs at each point, and to design information flows that improve work performance. For example, we can look at the processes involved in just-in-time ordering and identify ways to improve the flow of information about materials requirements and current stock levels to concerned decision makers.

6. Workflow signifies movement of documents in the context of document management systems (DMS). These systems typically provide the facility to define workflows and attach a document to a predefined workflow. The document will then be forwarded to all the persons who have a role with that document, such as review, commenting, updating and approval.

7. Computer based DMS can thus automate document routing, and even do some of the processing such as extracting information about the document, tagging it with the information and indexing. Modern DMS also integrate work flows by providing interfaces between different applications.

8. Workflow representations can help initiatives such as Business Process Reengineering and Six Sigma that can produce dramatic improvements in business results by improving work flows across the organization.

9. Work flow improvement campaigns need to involve the workers. Those who are performing the work can provide the best insights into existing problems and possibilities of improvements. Involving them also creates a better sense of commitment to implement the suggested changes.

10. It is also extremely important to document designs in detail. In addition to the workflow chart, the rationale of the design should be explained in full detail. This can mean the different between successful implementation and disaster as undocumented problems crop up later.

Workflows are graphic representation of the processes involved in different kinds of work flows. Such representations provide reviewers with a clear insight into the issues that can cause problems. With these insights, and the active involvement of workers performing the processes, it will be possible to redesign the work flow to produce significant performance improvements.