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A workflow consists of an orchestrated and repeatable
pattern A pattern is a regularity in the world, in human-made design, or in abstract ideas. As such, the elements of a pattern repeat in a predictable manner. A geometric pattern is a kind of pattern formed of geometric Geometry (from the grc, ...

pattern
of activity, enabled by the
system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its environment, is described by its boundaries, structure and purp ...

system
atic organization of
resource Resource refers to all the materials available in our environment which help us to satisfy our needs and wants. Resources can broadly be classified upon their availability — they are classified into renewable A renewable resource, also know ...

resource
s into
process A process is a series or set of activities that interact to produce a result; it may occur once-only or be recurrent or periodic. Things called a process include: Business and management *Business process A business process, business method ...

process
es that transform materials, provide services, or process information. It can be depicted as a sequence of operations, the work of a person or group, the work of an organization of staff, or one or more simple or complex mechanisms. From a more abstract or higher-level perspective, workflow may be considered a view or representation of real work. The flow being described may refer to a
document A document is a writing, written, drawing, drawn, presented, or memorialized representation of thought, often the manifestation of nonfiction, non-fictional, as well as fictional, content. The word originates from the Latin ''Documentum'', whic ...

document
, service, or product that is being transferred from one step to another. Workflows may be viewed as one fundamental building block to be combined with other parts of an organization's structure such as information technology,
team A team is a group of individuals (human or non-human) working together to achieve their goal A goal is an idea of the future or desired result that a person or a group of people envision, Planning, plan and commit to achieve. People endea ...

team
s,
project A project (or program) is any undertaking, carried out individually or collaboratively and possibly involving research or design, that is carefully plan A plan is typically any diagram or list of steps with details of timing and resources, us ...

project
s and
hierarchies A hierarchy (from the Greek: , from , 'president of sacred rites') is an arrangement of items (objects, names, values, categories, etc.) in which the items are represented as being "above", "below", or "at the same level as" one another. Hierarch ...
.


Historical development

The development of the concept of workflow occurred above a series of loosely defined, overlapping eras.


Beginnings in manufacturing

The modern history of workflows can be traced to Frederick Taylor and
Henry Gantt Henry Laurence Gantt (; May 20, 1861 – November 23, 1919) was an American mechanical engineer Mechanical may refer to: Machine * Mechanical system, a system that manages the power of forces and movements to accomplish a task * Machine (mech ...

Henry Gantt
, although the term "workflow" was not in use as such during their lifetimes. One of the earliest instances of the term "work flow" was in a railway engineering journal from 1921. Taylor and Gantt launched the study of the deliberate, rational organization of work, primarily in the context of manufacturing. This gave rise to
time and motion studies A time and motion study (or time-motion study) is a business efficiency (economics), efficiency technique combining the Time Study work of Frederick Winslow Taylor with the Motion Study work of Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Frank and Lillian Moller Gilbret ...
. Related concepts include
job shop Job shops are typically small manufacturing systems that handle job production, that is, custom/bespoke or semi-custom/bespoke manufacturing processes such as small to medium-size customer orders or batch jobs. Job shops typically move on to differ ...
s and
queuing systems Queueing theory is the mathematical study of waiting lines, or wikt:queue, queues. A queueing model is constructed so that queue lengths and waiting time can be predicted. Queueing theory is generally considered a branch of operations research b ...
(
Markov chain A Markov chain or Markov process is a stochastic model In probability theory Probability theory is the branch of mathematics concerned with probability. Although there are several different probability interpretations, probability theory tr ...

Markov chain
s). The 1948 book ''
Cheaper by the Dozen ''Cheaper by the Dozen'' is a semi-autobiographical novel written by Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, published in 1948. The novel recounts the authors' childhood lives growing up in a household of 12 children. The bestsell ...
'' introduced the emerging concepts to the context of family life.


Maturation and growth

The invention of the
typewriter A typewriter is a mechanical Mechanical may refer to: Machine * Mechanical system A machine is any physical system with ordered structural and functional properties. It may represent human-made or naturally occurring device molecular ...

typewriter
and the
copier A photocopier (also known as a copier or copy machine, and formerly a Genericised trade mark, Xerox Machine) is a machine that makes copies of documents and other visual images onto paper or plastic film quickly and cheaply. Most modern photocopi ...

copier
helped spread the study of the rational organization of labor from the manufacturing shop floor to the office. Filing systems and other sophisticated systems for managing physical
information Information is processed, organised and structured data Data (; ) are individual facts A fact is something that is truth, true. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability—that is whether it can be demonstrated to c ...

information
flows evolved. Several events likely contributed to the development of formalized information workflows. First, the field of optimization theory matured and developed
mathematical optimization Mathematical optimization (alternatively spelled ''optimisation'') or mathematical programming is the selection of a best element, with regard to some criterion, from some set of available alternatives. Optimization problems of sorts arise i ...
techniques. For example, Soviet mathematician and economist
Leonid Kantorovich Leonid Vitaliyevich Kantorovich ( rus, Леони́д Вита́льевич Канторо́вич, , p=lʲɪɐˈnʲit vʲɪˈtalʲjɪvʲɪtɕ kəntɐˈrovʲɪtɕ, a=Ru-Leonid_Vitaliyevich_Kantorovich.ogg; 19 January 19127 April 1986) was a Soviet ...
developed the seeds of
linear programming Linear programming (LP, also called linear optimization) is a method to achieve the best outcome (such as maximum profit or lowest cost) in a mathematical model A mathematical model is a description of a system A system is a group of ...
in 1939 through efforts to solve a plywood manufacturer's production optimization issues. Second,
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a global war A world war is "a war War is an intense armed conflict between states State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literatur ...
and the
Apollo program The Apollo program, also known as Project Apollo, was the third United States human spaceflight program carried out by the NASA, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which succeeded in Moon landing, landing the first humans ...

Apollo program
drove process improvement forward with their demands for the rational organization of work.


Quality era

In the post-war era, the work of
W. Edwards Deming
W. Edwards Deming
and Joseph M. Juran led to a focus on quality, first in Japanese companies, and more globally from the 1980s: there were various movements ranging from
total quality management #REDIRECT Total quality management Total quality management (TQM) consists of organization-wide efforts to "install and make permanent climate where employees continuously improve their ability to provide on demand products and services that cus ...
to
Six Sigma Six Sigma (6σ) is a set of techniques and tools for process improvement. It was introduced by American engineer Bill Smith (Motorola engineer), Bill Smith while working at Motorola in 1986. A six sigma process is one in which 99.99966% of all op ...
, and then more qualitative notions of
business process re-engineering Business process re-engineering (BPR) is a business management strategy, originally pioneered in the early 1990s, focusing on the analysis and design of workflow A workflow consists of an orchestrated and repeatable pattern of activity, enabled ...
. This led to more efforts to improve workflows, in
knowledge economy The knowledge economy (or the knowledge-based economy) is an economic system in which the production of goods and services is based principally on knowledge-intensive activities that contribute to a rapid pace of advancement in Technology, te ...
sectors as well as in manufacturing. Variable demands on workflows were recognised when the theory of critical paths and moving bottlenecks was considered.


Workflow management system

A
workflow management system A workflow management system (WfMS or WFMS) provides an infrastructure for the set-up, performance and monitoring of a defined sequence of tasks, arranged as a workflow application A workflow application is a software application which automates, to ...
(WfMS) is a software system for setting up, performing, and monitoring of a defined sequence of processes and tasks, with the broad goals of increasing productivity, reducing costs, becoming more agile, and improving information exchange within an organization. These systems may be process-centric or data-centric, and they may represent the workflow as graphical maps. The workflow management system may also include an extensible interface so that external software applications can be integrated and provide support for wide area workflows that provide faster response times and improved productivity.


Related concepts

The concept of workflow is closely related to several fields in operations research and other areas that study the nature of work, either quantitatively or qualitatively, such as
artificial intelligence Artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence Intelligence has been defined in many ways: the capacity for abstraction Abstraction in its main sense is a conceptual process where general rules and concept Concepts are defined as abstra ...

artificial intelligence
(in particular, the sub-discipline of AI planning) and
ethnography Ethnography (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is ap ...

ethnography
. The term "workflow" is more commonly used in particular industries, such as in printing or professional domains such as clinical laboratories, where it may have particular specialized meanings. # Processes: A process is a more general notion than workflow and can apply to, for example, physical or biological processes, whereas a workflow is typically a process or collection of processes described in the context of work, such as all processes occurring in a machine shop. # Planning and
scheduling File:Departure for the south - Nashville.jpg, A train schedule informs travelers of the trains going to various locations, and indicates the times of departure. A schedule or a timetable, as a basic time-management tool, consists of a list of ...
: A plan is a description of the logically necessary, partially ordered set of activities required to accomplish a specific goal given certain starting conditions. A plan, when augmented with a schedule and
resource allocation In economics Economics () is a social science that studies the Production (economics), production, distribution (economics), distribution, and Consumption (economics), consumption of goods and services. Economics focuses on the behaviou ...

resource allocation
calculations, completely defines a particular ''instance'' of systematic processing in pursuit of a goal. A workflow may be viewed as an often optimal or near-optimal realization of the mechanisms required to execute the same plan repeatedly. # Flow control: This is a control concept applied to workflows, to distinguish from static control of buffers of material or orders, to mean a more dynamic control of flow speed and flow volumes in motion and in process. Such orientation to dynamic aspects is the basic foundation to prepare for more advanced job shop controls, such as
just-in-time#REDIRECT Just in Time {{Redirect category shell, 1= {{R from other capitalisation {{R from ambiguous page ...
or just-in-sequence. # In-transit visibility: This monitoring concept applies to transported material as well as to work in process or work in progress, i.e., workflows.


Examples

The following examples illustrate the variety of workflows seen in various contexts: # In machine shops, particularly
job shop Job shops are typically small manufacturing systems that handle job production, that is, custom/bespoke or semi-custom/bespoke manufacturing processes such as small to medium-size customer orders or batch jobs. Job shops typically move on to differ ...
s and flow shops, the flow of a part through the various processing stations is a workflow. # Insurance claims processing is an example of an information-intensive, document-driven workflow. # Wikipedia editing can be modeled as a stochastic workflow. # The
Getting Things Done ''Getting Things Done'' (GTD) is a personal productivity system developed by David Allen and published in a book of the same name. Described as a time management system, the author states in the book that if a task is on your mind, it will fill ...
system is a model of personal workflow management for information workers. # In software development, support and other industries, the concept of ''
follow-the-sun Follow the Sun (FTS), a sub-field of globally distributed software engineering (GDSE), is a type of global knowledge workflow designed in order to reduce the time to market In commerce, time to market (TTM) is the length of time it takes from ...
'' describes a process of passing unfinished work across time zones. # In traditional offset and digital printing, the concept of workflow represents the process, people, and usually software technology (RIPs raster image processors or DFE digital front end) controllers that play a part in pre/post processing of print-related files, e.g., PDF pre-flight checking to make certain that fonts are embedded or that the imaging output to plate or digital press will be able to render the document intent properly for the image-output capabilities of the press that will print the final image. # In scientific experiments, the overall process (tasks and data flow) can be described as a
directed acyclic graph In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers (arithmetic and number theory), formulas and related structures (algebra), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (geometry), and quantities and ...

directed acyclic graph
(DAG). This DAG is referred to as a workflow, e.g., Brain Imaging workflows. # In healthcare data analysis, a workflow can be identified or used to represent a sequence of steps which compose a complex data analysis. # In
service-oriented architecture In software engineering Software engineering is the systematic application of engineering approaches to the software development, development of software. A software engineer is a person who applies the principles of software engineering to desi ...
s an application can be represented through an executable workflow, where different, possibly geographically distributed, service components interact to provide the corresponding functionality under the control of a workflow management system. # In
shared services Shared services is the provision of a service by one part of an organization or group, where that service had previously been found, in more than one part of the organization or group. Thus the funding and resourcing of the service is shared and the ...
an application can be in the practice of developing robotic process automation (called RPA or RPAAI for self-guided RPA 2.0 based on artificial intelligence) which results in the deployment of attended or unattended software agents to an organization's environment. These software agents, or robots, are deployed to perform pre-defined structured and repetitive sets of business tasks or processes. Artificial intelligence software robots are deployed to handle
unstructured data Unstructured data (or unstructured information) is information that either does not have a pre-defined data model A data model (or datamodel) is an abstract model that organizes elements of data and standardizes how they relate to one another and ...
sets and are deployed after performing and deploying robotic process automation.


Features and phenomenology

# Modeling: Workflow problems can be modeled and analyzed using
graph Graph may refer to: Mathematics *Graph (discrete mathematics), a structure made of vertices and edges **Graph theory, the study of such graphs and their properties *Graph (topology), a topological space resembling a graph in the sense of discret ...
-based formalisms like
Petri net A Petri net, also known as a place/transition (PT) net, is one of several mathematical modeling languages for the description of distributed systems. It is a class of discrete event dynamic system. A Petri net is a directed bipartite graph tha ...
s. # Measurement: Many of the concepts used to measure scheduling systems in operations research are useful for measuring general workflows. These include throughput, processing time, and other regular metrics. # Specialized connotations: The term "workflow" has specialized connotations in information technology,
document management A document management system (DMS) is a system used to receive, track, manage and store documents and reduce paper. Most are capable of keeping a record of the various versions created and modified by different users (history tracking). In the cas ...
, and
imaging Imaging is the representation or reproduction of an object's form; especially a visual representation (i.e., the formation of an image). Imaging technology is the application of materials and methods to create, preserve, or duplicate images. I ...
. Since 1993, one trade consortium specifically focused on workflow management and the interoperability of workflow management systems, the Workflow Management Coalition. # Scientific workflow systems: These found wide acceptance in the fields of
bioinformatics Bioinformatics () is an interdisciplinary field that develops methods and software tools for understanding biology, biological data, in particular when the data sets are large and complex. As an interdisciplinary field of science, bioinformat ...

bioinformatics
and
cheminformatics Cheminformatics (also known as chemoinformatics) refers to use of physical chemistry Physical chemistry is the study of macroscopic scale, macroscopic and particulate phenomena in chemistry, chemical systems in terms of the principles, practices ...
in the early 2000s, when they met the need for multiple interconnected tools that handle multiple data formats and large data quantities. Also, the paradigm of scientific workflows resembles the well-established practice of
Perl Perl is a family of two high-level High-level and low-level, as technical terms, are used to classify, describe and point to specific Objective (goal), goals of a systematic operation; and are applied in a wide range of contexts, such as, for ...
programming in life science research organizations, making this adoption a natural step towards more structured infrastructure setup. # Human-machine interaction: Several conceptualizations of mixed-initiative workflows have been studied, particularly in the military, where automated agents play roles just as humans do. For innovative, adaptive, and collaborative human work, the techniques of human interaction management are required. # Workflow analysis: Workflow systems allow users to develop executable processes with no familiarity with formal programming concepts. Automated workflow analysis techniques can help users analyze the properties of user workflows to conduct verification of certain properties before executing them, e.g., analyzing flow control or data flow. Examples of tools based on formal analysis frameworks have been developed and used for the analysis of scientific workflows and can be extended to the analysis of other types of workflows.


Workflow improvement theories

Several workflow improvement theories have been proposed and implemented in the modern workplace. These include: #
Six Sigma Six Sigma (6σ) is a set of techniques and tools for process improvement. It was introduced by American engineer Bill Smith (Motorola engineer), Bill Smith while working at Motorola in 1986. A six sigma process is one in which 99.99966% of all op ...
#
Total Quality Management #REDIRECT Total quality management Total quality management (TQM) consists of organization-wide efforts to "install and make permanent climate where employees continuously improve their ability to provide on demand products and services that cus ...
#
Business Process Reengineering Business process re-engineering (BPR) is a business management strategy, originally pioneered in the early 1990s, focusing on the analysis and design of workflow A workflow consists of an orchestrated and repeatable pattern of activity, enabled ...
#
Lean Lean, leaning or LEAN may refer to: Business practices * Lean thinking, a business methodology adopted in various fields ** Lean construction, an adaption of lean manufacturing principles to the design and construction process ** Lean government, ...
systems # Theory of Constraints Evaluation of resources, both physical and human, is essential to evaluate hand-off points and potential to create smoother transitions between tasks.


Components

A workflow can usually be described using formal or informal flow diagramming techniques, showing directed flows between processing steps. Single processing steps or components of a workflow can basically be defined by three parameters: #input description: the information, material and energy required to complete the step #transformation rules:
algorithm In and , an algorithm () is a finite sequence of , computer-implementable instructions, typically to solve a class of problems or to perform a computation. Algorithms are always and are used as specifications for performing s, , , and other ...

algorithm
s which may be carried out by people or machines, or both #output description: the information, material, and energy produced by the step and provided as input to downstream steps Components can only be plugged together if the output of one previous (set of) component(s) is equal to the mandatory input requirements of the following component(s). Thus, the essential description of a component actually comprises only input and output that are described fully in terms of
data type In computer science Computer science deals with the theoretical foundations of information, algorithms and the architectures of its computation as well as practical techniques for their application. Computer science is the study of , ...
s and their meaning (
semantics Semantics (from grc, σημαντικός ''sēmantikós'', "significant") is the study of reference Reference is a relationship between objects in which one object designates, or acts as a means by which to connect to or link to, another ...
). The algorithms' or rules' descriptions need only be included when there are several alternative ways to transform one type of input into one type of output – possibly with different accuracy, speed, etc. When the components are non-local services that are invoked remotely via a computer network, such as
Web service The term Web service (WS) is either: * a service offered by an electronic device to another electronic device, communicating with each other via the World Wide Web The World Wide Web (WWW), commonly known as the Web, is an information ...
s, additional descriptors (such as QoS and
availability In reliability engineering Reliability engineering is a sub-discipline of systems engineering that emphasizes the ability of equipment to function without failure. Reliability describes the ability of a system or component to function under st ...
) also must be considered.


Applications

Many software systems exist to support workflows in particular domains. Such systems manage tasks such as automatic routing, partially automated processing, and integration between different functional software applications and hardware systems that contribute to the value-addition process underlying the workflow. There are also software suppliers using the technology process driven messaging service based upon three elements: * Standard Objects * Workflow Objects * Workflow


See also

* Bioinformatics workflow management systems *
Business process automation Business process automation (BPA), also known as business automation or digital transformation, is the technology-enabled automation of complex business processes. It can streamline a business for simplicity, achieve digital transformation, increas ...
*
Business process management Business process management (BPM) is the discipline in which people use various methods to discover, model In general, a model is an informative representation of an object, person or system. The term originally denoted the plans of a building ...
*
Business process modeling Business process modeling (BPM) in business process management Business process management (BPM) is the discipline in which people use various methods to discover, model In general, a model is an informative representation of an object, perso ...
*
Computer-supported collaboration Computer-supported collaboration research focuses on technology that affects groups, organizations, communities and societies, e.g., voice mail A voicemail system (also known as voice message or voice bank) is a computer-based system that allows u ...
* DRAKON visual language for business process modeling *
Enterprise content management#REDIRECT Enterprise content management Enterprise content management (ECM) extends the concept of content management by adding a timeline for each content (media), content item and, possibly, enforcing processes for its creation, approval and distr ...
*
Process architecture Process architecture is the structural design of general process systems. It applies to fields such as computers (software, hardware, networks, etc.), business process A business process, business method or business function is a collection of rel ...
* Process-driven application *
Workflow engine A workflow engine is a software application Application software (app for short) is computing software designed to carry out a specific task other than one relating to the operation of the computer itself, typically to be used by end-users. Exam ...
*
Workforce modeling{{peacock, date=January 2014 Workforce modeling is the process by which the need for skilled workers at a particular point in time (demand) is matched directly with the availability and preference of skilled workers (supply). The resulting mathema ...
*
Business process reengineering Business process re-engineering (BPR) is a business management strategy, originally pioneered in the early 1990s, focusing on the analysis and design of workflow A workflow consists of an orchestrated and repeatable pattern of activity, enabled ...


References


Further reading

* Ryan K. L. Ko, Stephen S. G. Lee, Eng Wah Lee (2009) Business Process Management (BPM) Standards: A Survey. In: Business Process Management Journal, Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Volume 15 Issue 5.
PDF
* Khalid Belhajjame, Christine Collet, Genoveva Vargas-Solar
A Flexible Workflow Model for Process-Oriented Applications
WISE (1) 2001, IEEE CS, 2001. *Layna Fischer (ed.): 2007 BPM and Workflow Handbook, Future Strategies Inc., *Layna Fischer: ''Workflow Handbook 2005'', Future Strategies, *Layna Fischer: ''Excellence in Practice, Volume V: Innovation and Excellence in Workflow and Business Process Management'', *Thomas L. Friedman: ''The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century'', Farrar, Straus and Giroux, *Keith Harrison-Broninski. ''Human Interactions: The Heart and Soul of Business Process Management''. *Holly Yu: ''Content and Work Flow Management for Library Websites: Case Studies'', Information Science Publishing, *
Wil van der Aalst Willibrordus Martinus Pancratius van der Aalst (born 29 January 1966) is a Dutch computer scientist and full professor at RWTH Aachen University, leading the Process and Data Science (PADS) group. His research and teaching interests include inform ...
, Kees van Hee: ''Workflow Management: Models, Methods, and Systems'', B&T, *Setrag Khoshafian, Marek Buckiewicz: ''Introduction to Groupware, Workflow and Workgroup Computing'', John Wiley & Sons, *Rashid N. Kahn: ''Understanding Workflow Automation: A Guide to Enhancing Customer Loyalty'', Prentice Hall, *Dan C. Marinescu: ''Internet-Based Workflow Management: Towards a Semantic Web'', John Wiley & Sons, *Frank Leymann, Dieter Roller: ''Production Workflow: Concepts and Techniques'', Prentice Hall, * Michael Jackson, Graham Twaddle: ''Business Process Implementation: Building Workflow Systems'', Addison-Wesley, *Alec Sharp, Patrick McDermott: ''Workflow Modeling'', Artech House Publishers, *Toni Hupp: ''Designing Work Groups, Jobs, and Work Flow'', Pfeiffer & Company, *Gary Poyssick, Steve Hannaford: ''Workflow Reengineering'', Adobe, *Dave Chaffey: ''Groupware, Workflow and Intranets: Reengineering the Enterprise with Collaborative Software'', Digital Press, *Wolfgang Gruber: ''Modeling and Transformation of Workflows With Temporal Constraints'', IOS Press, *Andrzej Cichocki, Marek Rusinkiewicz, Darrell Woelk: ''Workflow and Process Automation Concepts and Technology'', Kluwer Academic Publishers, *Alan R. Simon, William Marion: ''Workgroup Computing: Workflow, Groupware, and Messaging'', McGraw-Hill, *Penny Ann Dolin: ''Exploring Digital Workflow'', Delmar Thomson Learning, *Gary Poyssick: ''Managing Digital Workflow'', Prentice Hall, *Frank J. Romano: ''PDF Printing & Workflow'', Prentice Hall, *James G. Kobielus: ''Workflow Strategies'', Hungry Minds, *Alan Rickayzen, Jocelyn Dart, Carsten Brennecke: ''Practical Workflow for SAP'', Galileo, *Alan Pelz-Sharpe, Angela Ashenden: ''E-process: Workflow for the E-business'', Ovum, *Stanislaw Wrycza: ''Systems Development Methods for Databases, Enterprise Modeling, and Workflow Management'', Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, *''Database Support for Workflow Management'', Kluwer Academic Publishers, *Matthew Searle: ''Developing With Oracle Workflow'' * V. Curcin and M. Ghane
Scientific workflow systems - can one size fit all?
paper in CIBEC'08 comparing scientific workflow systems.


External links


Workflow PatternsWorkflow Management Coalition
{{Authority control Groupware Business process