This is a history of workflow not as it actually is but as I understand it.
The early years:
A hominid grabs a stick. With said stick he or she makes decisions on how to best maximize the usefulness of the stick. After picking us several sticks they start to realize that not all sticks are created equal and eventually the start to carry the really good sticks with them so they can re-use the later. Continually over time the stick is improved by sharpening tying rocks to it. The adoption of the stick and other tools and there continuous improvement causes much success within the hominid community.
After a while certain hominids became good at doing different things with sticks and rocks. Some became good a making things of sticks into boats, others became good at turning rocks into swords; still others became good making food. In short the hominids got jobs. These jobs meant that in order for the hominids to achieve maximum success different people had to become skilled at different things but they still had to communicate with each other to ensure that the processes needed to keep their families and communities alive were followed.
The middle years/ages
At some point around 2000 B.C. in
India people came up with the idea of a guild. A guild being a group of dudes who decide that they really know a lot about something and can deliver whatever incarnation of food, sticks and rocks that they work. The also can deliver their products at a high quality. Humankind adopts standards. Not only do they adopt standards for quality but they standardize the methods in which they make their products.
The Modern Age
Some guy in France creates a new kind of standard, a specification. While other standards govern quality and process this guy decides he wants to create guns to such of a standard that all his guns look exactly the same. Not only do the guns look the same but bits from Gun A can replace the same bits from Gun B.
I know what you are thinking, sure this article is incredible well constructed and probably deserves a Pulitzer Prize but are we really talking about workflow?Well yes and no. I believe that at its core workflow is really about the things that I have talked about. Getting the most of the tools you have, providing standards for production, eliminating waste, continuous improvement and re-usability. While workflow software might be a somewhat new thing, workflow itself has been around almost as long as we have.