BPM/Workflow – Why “I want the user to define the form and workflow” doesn’t always work

We had a call last week with a client evaluating form and workflow as part of an overall BPM effort.  In evaluating solutions, often we will see technical resources push for a solution “that allows the users to build their own forms and workflow without any IT involvement”.  This post will discuss the issues of user constructed workflows as well as share best practices.

Empower the user – Why Not?

For years, clients have liked our rules-based approach to defining form and workflow as part of our Active Wizard projects.  For multiple clients, we have even done multi-day administrator training on best practices on how to design form and workflow activities.  This approach has worked well for many client implementations.  However, some of our observations against extending this to end users have included:

  • User Driven and IT – When you look at many of the user driven IT tools, whether that be basic Access Databases, Lotus Notes, SharePoint, Salesforce or other tools that promoted user solutions, have they worked long term?  Many times the end solutions can be jumbled as some users put more time into defining things but often lack the governance or centralized coordination.
  • IT Support – IT would like users to build forms and workflows so they don’t have to provide a service more than supporting the base platform. With robust Enterprise BPM tools, support isn’t tied to the platform but how it is used.  IT can be quickly frustrated as they are brought in to debug form and workflow that they didn’t build rather than just supporting the base product.
  • Users don’t want to build form and workflows – Most users have regular responsibilities that, given a typical client, expand past their normal 8 hours per day. Learning a tool and building/debugging all of the options for a robust tool gets them frustrated.  They would rather delegate this activity and monitor progress.

Typically users don’t have the time, inclination or focus to truly engineer business processes without some kind of guidance and support.

Enter the Business Analyst

We have seen users augmented with business analysts (typically from IT) successfully deploy user-driven form and workflow solutions.  The business analyst brings:

  • An understanding of the BPM tool
  • Governance and support responsibility for all form and workflow
  • Experience implementing form and workflow solutions
  • Best practices based on those experiences

We have seen business analysts coach users to avoid typical workflow mistakes.  Some obvious examples include:

  • Overuse of Group Inboxes – The logic typically goes “if we send it to the group, it will be approved/processed faster”. In reality, this logic only works in transactional groups that are processing workflow tasks all day.  In use cases where users are not processing workflow tasks all day, group-based tasks are almost always slower as there is no accountability for group members who would rather work on directly assigned items.
  • Overuse of data collection – Typical users will ask for too many data points and fields rather than focus on allowing the user to complete the form quickly and efficiently.
  • Design overly complex processes – whether to have multiple templates or one giant template can be a struggle for business users.   Knowledge of when and where to use multiple templates one single templates comes with experience.
  • Designing with only one form or workflow process in mind – Users are typically focused on the problem at hand.  Understandably, they will seek to build a form and workflow process that fits solves the given problem.  However, an experienced business analyst may be able to find natural extension points, and design the form and workflow to accommodate future business processes or requests that aren’t immediately apparent.

Business Analyst and User Combination

When done efficiently, forms and workflow can be set up with both involvement of the business analyst and the user.  Users will:

  • Describe the process, document and data requirements to the business analyst
  • Participate in the design and building of the form and workflow solution
  • Test the form and workflow solution.

The Business Analysts will:

  • Document the business process
  • Construct quick prototypes for user review
  • Build and support the eventual solution

Summary

While IT would love users to build and support their BPM solutions by constructing their own form and workflow requirements, a best practice includes bringing in a business analyst is needed to assist the users and guide and support the use of the tool.

Let us know your thoughts below.