Comparing Workflow and BPM

Now that we’ve thoroughly defined both, workflow and BPM, let’s compare and contrast the two types of business processes.

The “Value” of Workflow

To use an analogy, let’s think of workflow as if it were a musical instrument.

For example, a saxophone, by itself, sounds great!  So does a guitar, a drum, and singer.   Each instrument has a specific purpose.  Anyone “familiar” with how to play these instruments can pick one up and make music (some people better than others, of course!).   Each instrument can make specific types of sounds.   Yet alone, they are strangely limited, despite each of their impressive qualities.

Workflows are “instruments” of productivity.  They typically have a specific purpose, and provide tremendous value to our organizations in their own way.  Anyone “familiar” with the process can use this workflow and be productive, just as with the musical instruments.  However, despite the impressive qualities of some workflows, alone, they can be strangely limited as well.

Knowing these limitations is a good thing, as it allows you to take advantage of SharePoint to increase productivity on those lower-level, repetitive tasks and streamline decision making in many instances.  There is significant value in speeding up repetitive tasks, not the least of which are decreased costs of doing business, and increases in productivity!

The following are some common examples of how workflows can be used effectively:

  • Multi-Stage Document Approval
  • Requesting Paid Time Off
  • Submitting an Expense Report
  • Change Management

Similarities of Workflow and BPM

Switching gears, for just a moment, there are many similarities between workflow and BPM as well.   Specifically, both workflow and BPM are used as somewhat of a “jig” at their respective cores.  Let’s look at this concept more closely.

Wikipedia defines “jig” in the following way:

In Woodworking, metalworking, and mechanical engineering, a jig is a type of tool used to control the location and/or motion of another tool.  A jig’s primary purpose is to provide repeatability, accuracy, and interchangeability in the manufacturing of products.

Some Jigs are used to increase productivity, to do repetitious activities and to do a job more precisely. Because a jig design is fundamentally based on logic, similar jigs used in different times and places may have been created independently.

In the above context, you can easily see how the traits of both, Workflow and BPM, contribute to the concepts of a “jig”.  Both are capable of controlling the location and/or motion of another tool (such as a status change, or file location).  Both also provide repeatability (through the use of workflow), accuracy (through defined paths, business decision logic, and inherent consistency), and interchangeability (re-use and distribution).

You can draw these same similarities in another context of the word, “Jig” – the dance!   While this one would be much fun to carry on about, I’ll let you draw your own correlations as to how Workflow and BPM “dance” together harmoniously to the “productivity waltz”.

How, then, do we know when to transition from a “robust” workflow to a “full-blown” business process management solution?   We will explore that in the next section!

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