Tech Talk 1 by Ken Baker
Workflow in Teaming
Creating Formal Structures for Your Collaboration Processes
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Access Control in Novell Teaming lets you create and assign Access Control Lists (ACLs) to each state, specifying who can and cannot perform actions during each state in a workflow. It lets you establish who can create, see, modify, delete or respond to entries within a specific state. It also lets you determine who can transition an entry/form into or out of a state.
In a purchase request workflow scenario, these access controls would allow you to give all your users the ability to submit a purchase request, while limiting the ability to approve or deny those requests to specific managers or executives. And, when a purchase request gets approved, it might move to a processing state where only certain individuals in Accounting can view it or access it. These access controls enable you to set appropriate levels of security and access for each task within your workflows.
While Novell Teaming provides all of the workflow capabilities just described out-of-the-box, you can considerably enhance and optimize your workflow processes by taking advantage of the Advanced Workflow add-on module. Advanced Workflow enables you to introduce significantly greater levels of automation into your workflows.
While standard workflow in Novell Teaming automates certain in-state actions—such as sending notifications when certain conditions exist within a state, or moving entries from one folder to another upon entry to or exit from a state—transitions between states are manual. In other words, to move a trouble ticket from a “New” state to an “Assigned” state in the standard workflow, someone has to manually assign or accept the trouble ticket. It might be as simple as clicking an Accept button on a trouble ticket form, but it still requires a physical or manual action to transition the trouble ticket from one state to another. Advanced Workflow allows you to automate those transitions or provide more complex approval processes.
For example, when a user opens a new trouble ticket, Advanced Workflow can automatically assign that ticket to a help desk technician based on specific criteria that you predefine. If a trouble ticket remains unresolved for a certain amount of time, it can be automatically transitioned to an escalation state. This ability to automate transitions gives you the power to leverage complex conditions that reduce human interactions and increase efficiencies, as well as allow you to establish workflow policies that automatically govern the paths your workflows follow.
The following are the main automated transitions that you can take advantage of with Advanced Workflow in Novell Teaming: (See Figure 3):
- Transition after an elapsed time: Transitions a workflow to another state after a set amount of time, such as escalating a trouble ticket if it hasn’t been resolved within an acceptable timeframe.
- Transition on variable: Transitions a workflow to another state based on particular criteria, such as a counter reaching a certain number. In a help desk workflow, this could be a counter that tracks how many times a trouble ticket transitions from closed to reopened, and then perhaps alerts a supervisor or escalates the ticket when it reaches a certain threshhold.
- Transition on comment:Transitions a workflow to another state when a user inputs a comment, which can be useful if such comments indicate that a request requires further review before it can move forward in the process.
- Transition on entry data values: Transitions a workflow to another state based on entry of certain defined values, such as an executive approval requirement for purchase requests over $20,000.
- Transition on modify: Transitions a workflow to another state based on any modification in the current state, such as if a manager modifies a purchase request that has been previously approved, giving it a higher or lower value. That modification can cause the workflow to transition.
- Transition on response: Transitions a workflow to another state based on the answer to a workflow question. This option can be used when workflow entries present individuals along the workflow path different options that they can choose from. For example, on a purchase request someone might be able to indicate that an item to be purchased will be either an asset or a capital expenditure. The option they choose can automatically determine the state to which the request transitions.
Another automated transition within Advanced Workflow is the Wait for Parallel Thread(s) to End transition, meaning a workflow will only transition once parallel workflows are completed. This transition allows your workflow processes to simultaneously travel down multiple paths. Processes in standard Novell Teaming workflows are serial in nature; as a process move from state to state, actions are required from one person to the next. Advanced Workflow in Novell Teaming allows for parallel workflow processes.
For example, you can have a request go to three or more individuals for simultaneous approval. Your policy might specify that before it can transition to the “Approved” state, all individuals have to approve it or a simple majority needs to approve it. Or, maybe the policy indicates that if the request received minority approval, it transitions to a state that requires the requestor or requestors to make revisions to the request.
The ability of Advanced Workflow to automate transitions and allow multiple processes to work in parallel are what really give you the flexibility and power you need to significantly optimize and streamline your business processes.
To help you monitor and manage your workflows, Novell Teaming gives you the ability to create custom workflow dashboards for both standard workflow and Advanced Workflow processes.
This custom dashboard feature is based on the accessory panels you can activate in Novell Teaming workspaces. The panels include about a dozen preconfigured accessories, including calendars, blog summaries, wikis, guest books, buddy lists and others. One of the available accessories is called a summary view. Depending on the access control rights you set, you can allow workflow participants or managers to use this summary view accessory to get a dashboard view of the current state of all pertinent workflows.
These workflow dashboards give business managers at-a-glance views of all the workflows they are responsible for. Dashboards can let help desk managers get a summary view of how many trouble tickets are in the queue, how long tickets have been waiting to be assigned, or how many have been resolved.
Workflow Best Practices
The most challenging aspect of implementing a workflow is not setting it up and configuring states, transitions and policies. Rather, it’s the business analysis you need to do ahead of time to understand how your processes really work, what they accomplish, who is involved in those processes at each state, and the polices or rules that need to be established to govern those processes.
With this is mind, whether you leverage standard or Advanced Workflow in Novell Teaming, there is a best-practice order to follow when creating workflows:
- Understand the process – Interview everyone involved
- Design your workflow on paper first – Write down all your states, transitions, requirements for transition, and any variables or questions that may be needed
- Create all your states
- Create all your transitions
- Design your entries
Even though you might be responsible for designing a workflow, chances are you probably aren’t as familiar with the process as you’d like to be. In fact, there might not be a single person in your entire organization that knows the whole process. So, you’ll need to interview everyone along the process chain to understand what’s involved in their portion of the process, where the process goes next, and under what circumstances the process should move to one state or another. You need to understand what makes the process succeed and what can make it fail.
After you’ve conducted your interviews and feel you understand how the process really works, it’s time to put it on paper. You need to list or diagram the different states and describe the transitions between the states, including when and why transitions take place. This exercise of putting the process down on paper delivers a number of benefits. First, it makes it easier for you to visualize the overall process so you can discover and solve potential problems before you expend effort automating your workflows. This visualization can also open your eyes to new ways of streamlining and improving your processes. (See Figure 4)
Additionally, documenting your processes makes it very easy to complete the next two best practice steps: creating your states and then creating your transitions. Whether you’re using standard or Advanced Workflow, you should always create your states first. The main reason for this is that you really can’t create your transitions unless you have states for them to go to. Finally, once you have all your states and transitions completed, you fill in the rest of the workflow with notifications, actions, policies and other such elements.
Even if you’re quite thorough in your interview, design and implementation efforts, chances are you won’t get everything exactly right the first time. That’s okay. You won’t have to start again from scratch. Novell Teaming makes it very easy to modify and adjust your workflows to bring them in line with optimal execution. And, that’s what workflow in Novell Teaming is really all about: bringing your team processes and collaboration activities in line—formalizing and automating them to save time and effort, while enabling team members to stay focused and keep business moving forward.