Albert Einstein’s Other Theory

einstein

Albert Einstein said that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is the true definition of insanity.

Ok, so maybe Einstein wasn’t specifically talking about the industrial world.

But his “other theory,” does apply to business.

Consider This

AND you continue to do it hoping to see a significant rate of return on your investment — not only might it be a bit crazy, it’s just not profitable.

Think about which processes are being used every day in your company for work to flow from start to finish, in the hope of yielding huge profits.  As a key decision-maker in a company, you need to find the workflow process duplications and overall inefficiencies.

If Einstein were a businessman, he probably would have defined another theory of relativity:

Low Profit

Don’t let this equation be the sum of your business’ value!

Einstein’s theory states the underlying reasons for why workflow software is important for any organisation. Many of the core benefits have been previously discussed in the post 10 Benefits of Workflow. So if you’re not already using workflow software and are considering it, then it’s probably the right time to seriously start looking into it.

If you’re interested in more information about our workflow software please visit Web and Flo.

Kaizen

The driver behind workflow has been around for a long time.  It is only recently that the technologies on which most workflow systems are based have enabled vendors to create quality workflow management systems.  So what was the original driver for workflow.  One word Kaizen.

Kaizen is the Japanese term for improvement; continuing improvement involving everyone: managers and workers. In manufacturing, kaizen relates to finding and eliminating waste in machinery, labour, or production methods. Also see: Continuous Process Improvement (definition taken from schools.cbe.ab.ca/logistics/k.html)

Workflow Management Systems are not about taking an As-Is process and creating something better.  They are about taking a process and providing it with a framework so that is the process is easier to improve over time.

Kaizen originated at Toyota and I have read and heard several comments with how the concept of continuous improvement is what has lead them to become the worlds largest automaker.  Well I am no expert in Kaizen but I do believe that that organizations that seek to continuously improve stand a much better chance survival.

For more information on Toyota and Kaizen you can check out the flash heavy website at http://www.planetkaizen.com

Philosophy of Workflow

I wrote this several years ago for the kind of system that I wanted Kontinuum to be and has grown into today.  I am including it in the blog because it may be of some interest and it is a slow news day.

Web and Flo Kontinuum Philosophy

1) All data is best held in a database where ever possible.

a. Within a database data is structured

b. Within a database data is easily searched

c. Within a database data is easily manipulated

d. Data within the database should be in Boyce-Codd Normal Form.

2) All Functionality should be extensible by third parties

a. How users answer questions (Answer Box Types)

b. What functions can be performed by Gates/Activities

c. How answers grouped together can be represented to the user and stored in a table (Sub Form Types)

d. Input Masks

e. Template Files for Drawing outline HTML

f. Style Sheets

3)  Kontinuum must be able to be customized to fit any business process

a. Configurable and Embeddable Workflows (For any circuit/Petri Net you can design you can design a Kontinuum Workflow)

b. Configurable Forms

c. Configurable User Management and Organization Structure

4) Admin users need absolute control over who can view/edit/delete/add anything in the system based on any criteria

5) Users should not have to enter in the same information more then once

6) Every new version of Kontinuum will have increased functionality

7) Every new version of Kontinuum will run faster then the previous version

8) Every new version of Kontinuum will aim to reduce the new of clicks necessary for navigation, and creation of records

9) Every new version of Kontinuum will allow the end user greater ability to customize their own user experience

10) Every new version of Kontinuum will operate on more platforms/browsers then the previous version

11) Every new Version on Kontinuum will interact with a greater number of industry standard applications.

As a side note looking back we appear to have delivered on all of the goals we set out on, although I am sure that luck must have played a part somewhere along the line.  To this list I should have added:

12) Every new version will be backwards compatible

13) Every new version will provide greater ROI for our clients

14) Every new version will look better then the previous version

15) Every new version will have a higher version number then the previous version 😉

Neural Workflow

A brief discourse on a new workflow software paradigm.

I am often asked “why should I use workflow software?”  To which I often retort “why use software in the first place?”  We use computer systems to make life easier for ourselves, but at a more basic level we use them to replace ourselves.  Computers have moved away from being calculators into the realm of worker surrogates.  In short as systems become more and more complex and are required to replace more and more human tasks they need to behave more and more like humans.  To extrapolate further their brains need to work like our brains, hence neural workflow.

Traditional systems are process oriented.  They behave like circuits.  They have AND Gates, OR Gates decision points etc.  A workflow instance is started and a process is followed until that instance comes to some sort of resolution.  This is not how people work and ultimately not how highly optimised organisations should work.  When we have an idea to do something we usually start with a strategy to come to a resolution.  In following the strategy we are often required to complete several unexpected sub-strategies to come to the resolution. We also may need to re-evaluate our strategy entirely and adapt the strategy for the next time we need to employ it.

Take the example of a help desk request.  A request comes in and we think we have sent it to the right place for a resolution.  If we have not we need to re-evaluate the process come up with some new strategies then trial those strategies over time to find the ones that best solve the different requests we may get.  These new strategies may also need to be approved by others within an organisation and thus we may want to create a whole range of different types of activities resulting from this one initial support request.

Traditional workflow systems would have considerable trouble with these types of problems.

Enter Neural Workflow….

Unlike the source and sink model of traditional workflow systems a neural workflow system is set up in a neural network like our brains.  Events can trigger signals from all over our brain these events then give rise to strategies for resolutions, over time our brain modifies itself to adopt the strategies it has found to most successfully resolve situations.  Employing a neural workflow system could allow an organisation to function like one large brain with the benefits there of.

Neural Workflow requires several key points of functionality.  First the system needs to easily adapt over time.  Second the system needs to have the ability to score success and failure.  Third the system needs to be able to trigger any activity based on the results of any previous activity.  Finally the system needs to provide high visibility so tracking of all the different tasks and flows is easily understood.

Show me the Money….

A neural workflow system is superior to a traditional workflow system in that it provides a method of perpetual efficiency improvements or to put it another way it provides a cost saving continuum.

Windows Workflow Foundation

I recently went to go and see a presentation on Microsoft Workflow Foundation.  They are coming out with a workflow engine at some point and I was going along to see if they had any good ideas for Kontinuum.
As Workflow Foundation is just a set of DLLs and programming interfaces i.e. it is just an engine I did not feel that it would compete in the same space as Kontinuum. 
 

The guy presenting Workflow Foundation was about 5 minutes into his presentation (btw he couldn’t actually demo the beta do to some sort of error) but he told us that Workflow Foundation can only handle two types of workflow sequential and non-sequential.  This means it can only do A->B->C or you can do A, B or C at any time.  In all the workflow systems I have been involved with maybe only 20% fit into these two categories.  The vast majority have other things happen in them that control behaviour. 
 

1) Most have decisions i.e. if A is done due B or C depending on some result from A.
2) Most have some points that are combinations of sequential and non-sequential i.e. once A is done you can do B or C, but you can not do D until both b and c have been completed.
3) Some have loop back mechanisms i.e. continue to do instances of B until some condition is met
4) Some spawn 1 or more sub workflows
 

and those are just the bare bones basics….

 Editors Note:  Apparrently the above paragraph is not correct however I am leaving it in here as some of the comments that follow refer to this paragraph


I am not sure where Microsoft is going with workflow foundation.  I suppose it is just meant for extremely simple single user workflows that are designed by people just getting comfortable with web browsers, but if that is the case then why is there only a programming interface.  My main gripe however is the acronym WWF.  Which in my mind is either the World Wrestling Federation or the World Wildlife Fund.  The WWF acronym is overcrowded already.

Editors Note: It appears that since I posted this article Windows Workflow Foundation is now being abbreviated as just WF.  Although if you query google on “Windows Workflow Foundation” or “Workflow Foundation” you get pretty much the same number of hits.