The distinction is often made between Repetetive Work (also called Operations, Business as Usual etc) and Projects (which deliver a once-off result). Repetetive work is usually documented e.g. as a SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) which is minutely checked to ensure that it delivers exactly what is wanted.
Once the procedure has been finalised, the operator is trained to do exactly what is required. In some industries such as Pharmaceutical or Airlines this training must also be recorded so that it is traceable.
For physical work, the procedure takes place somewhere, e.g. splicing two telecommunications cables in a manhole or quality control of pharmaceutical products.
For knowledge work however the traditional way to do the work was to give it to an expert, who must be competent to do the work without detailed structure or supervision.
Where this does not make sense for quality, productivity or cost reasons, then workflow applications make it possible to specify the process step by step. The operator then gets a notification of the task and communicates completion by clicking the OK button. The next person then gets the next notification.
This is the physical equivalent of a production line except:
- The actual work is knowledge work such as processing a registration for hospital admission, not physical.
- The various operators can be literally anywhere in the world. This increases enormously the choice of operator.
Of course there are advantages and disadvantages of this approach. A clear advantage is literally a global choice of potential operators. Also because the know-how is captured in the workflow, lower skill levels are required.
Disadvantages include the fact that a distributed workforce will not have the same team spirit as a co-located group. There are also likely to be far more cultural differences among the team, which can result unexpectedly in inefficiencies.
There is a growing number of SaaS offerings which include Workflow functionality, some of which use the established BPMN (Business Process Modeling Notation) based on swim-lanes.
Here is a short list to get you going, some of which also have many other features.
Deasún is a Collaboration Consultant at Scatterwork, Switzerland who supports Virtual Working for Virtual Teams globally.
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