Slinger's Thoughts

October 15, 2010

SharePoint Workflows are meant to increase productivity, not replace human interaction. Keep that in Mind.

Filed under: SharePoint, Workflow — slingeronline @ 8:39 am

SharePoint has provided some incredibly useful tools with SharePoint, one of the most notable being Workflows.  The great thing about workflows with SharePoint is that it has automated processes that usually tend to sap productivity. The bad thing about workflows is the perception that they can be used in place of human interaction and intervention.  There is no computer, program, tool, or utility that is capable of replacing human oversight.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that SharePoint Workflows are the greatest thing to come out of Redmond ever.  They have the potential to eliminate various levels of human shortcomings, like procrastination and memory lapses.  They may not be right for every situation however.  Before deciding on implementing a SharePoint workflow in your site, you should design the workflow from a human aspect first.  Brainstorm with the team that potentially needs the workflow, and have them use Visio or some other tool to describe their workflow process as though SharePoint was not a part of it.  Once you have this, you will clearly see the steps in the process where SharePoint can take over, and the steps in the process that demand a personal touch. Just because there are 30 or more activities that can be performed with workflows created in SharePoint Designer, there is no need to include every action in every workflow.  Chances are, there are only a few key activities that you are going to use frequently in your organization.  This is okay, and there is no need to attempt to use everything that SharePoint gives you. Little things, like a simple approval workflow, can make a big difference to the people that use them.

The flowchart below is similar to what an Engineering company gave me for a review process.


First, this workflow doesn’t include whether what the Vendor submitted was approved or not.  That was an additional workflow. This was was just the basic review process.  And each step was a hard copy of the documents, being physically taken from office to office. Already you can see some issues from this workflow.  If one of the Reviewing Engineers decided to sit on the drawings, (which step was he on? The review part or the file it away part?) then the whole review process would come to a grinding halt. There is also the duplication of documentation. What if the Project Manager is looking at Revision 2, which is the last version that he has received, and the Engineers are looking at Revision 3, with drastic changes? Which steps can be replaced by a workflow here? Which pain points still need a human touch? Why are there multiple hard copies of a drawing that was submitted to a vendor?

SharePoint can solve many of these problems, with the simple use of a few document libraries, and some basic Out of the Box, and SharePoint Designer workflows. Here’s the difficult question though. Where do we need to maintain the Human element? Which step in this workflow process should not be replaced by workflow automation?  This means face to face with another human being, and getting up from your desk, and out of SharePoint.

SharePoint workflows are great and do wonders to increase productivity, but they do not, and should not, replace people.  Keep that in mind as you decide where to implement your SharePoint workflows.


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