I just love the idea of a workflow management application, especially one that's integrated with filing, calendar, email, and all the other systems that keep my worklife in order.
It so happens that one of my esteemed clients is looking for a way to integrate fiscal sponsorship accounting, document management, digital signature, and workflow management into a seamless system - so I spend a lot of time thinking about the human and technological requirements that might be involved.
For my client's purposes, there are basically two kinds of workflow management - a generic kind that helps any group of people coordinate the actions that need to be taken on any project, and workflow management that is tailored to accounting tasks such as initiating requisitions, approving invoices, and cutting checks. These further sub-divided into those applications that come with document management modules and those that don't. And of course, one can drill down to distinguish between client-server products and web-based service providers.
The ones that I really like allow the user to log in and see a workflow management dashboard, such as the one that ExpenseWatch provides for accountants, with status reports and task lists laid out in a very clear and appealing manner. Furthermore, the really good tools make it easy to set up a queue for passing along the work in progress - so that everyone who needs to contribute to, revise, review, or approve a project can do so - in an order that can be edited to reflect a change in plans. I also like the idea of automatic escalation routines, which alert you if a project has been parked on one person's desk for too long.
The only question is...if you build it, will they use it?
I recently had an experience that shed a little light on this question. An esteemed colleague who has access to my electronic calendar printed out my task list in preparation for a planning meeting. I hadn't added (or checked off) much of anything in months.
I love setting up systems. I love playing with systems. But the empirical evidence shows that when it comes to maintaining a simple online task list (never mind one that's part of a sophisticated workflow management system), I'm not necessarily showing up for it on a day-to-day basis. And if the systems geeks don't do it, how can we expect normal people to be enthusiastic users? We have to think really carefully about building in incentives to participate, and measuring the positive effects that such an implementation actually has on the amount of time, energy, and money that it takes to get the job done. READ MORE