Originally published on February 28, 2017

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23rd in a series of 50 Knowledge Management Components (Slide 31 in KM 102)

Workflow: embedding knowledge creation, capture, and reuse in business processes so that these steps happen routinely as part of normal work

Individuals do not get excited about their organization’s attempts to manage knowledge, and are skeptical about the possibility of doing so. But when they need to know something in order to do their jobs, they want to be able to access the information immediately. This can cause problems because people want to find reusable content, but they don’t want to spend any extra time contributing it. One way to address this imbalance is to embed knowledge capture into normal work processes.

The Workflow Management Coalition defines workflow as the “automation of a business process, in whole or part, during which documents, information or tasks are passed from one participant to another for action, according to a set of procedural rules.” Workflow automation applies to more than just knowledge management, but it can be used as part of a KM initiative to add knowledge flow to routine business processes.

For example, when new customer orders are entered in a company’s business management system, it should be possible to extract customer information from that system for use in a knowledge repository. Users should not have to reenter basic information such as customer name, industry, location, and order amount — these should be passed along from the business system to the KM tool.

A project management system can be used to prompt project managers to enter lessons learned reports, project summaries, and other reusable documents at appropriate times. A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system can be used to find details about customer references. The employee expense reporting system can be used to enforce the capture of required content by not authorizing reimbursement payments until that content has been submitted.

Clever use of workflow can enable knowledge to be presented at opportune times for applying it. For example, a sales representative enters a request for presales support into a system, and is provided with links to web sites and documents relevant to the requested topic. Later, once the sale has been closed, the rep enters a request for commission payment into another system, and is prompted to enter data into a form which captures lessons learned about the deal.

As much as possible, avoid the need for users to visit a separate KM system and instead, allow them to use other business systems to create, capture, and reuse knowledge. If you can make these processes as transparent as possible to your users, you will simplify their tasks and increase their satisfaction with the environment.

Insights

1. Knowledge Management Explained in Five Disciplines by Tim Wieringa

When we design workflow definitions, or process definitions, and flowcharts for a series of job activities, then we can influence how information is captured, stored, and distributed. This might not be commonly understood as part of Knowledge Management, but workflows of customer complaints processes or order processing flow contain a lot of important information and knowledge. With the right procedures and processes, this knowledge can be captured and shared more efficiently.

Examples:

  • The right design of a customer complaints process can ensure that the sales departments receives more information about the customers and the research & development department gathers important input on how to improve the products.
  • Project management methodologies can include processes to capture project reports which are automatically shared in a knowledge library.

2. Is workflow the wrong metaphor? by James Robertson

Organizations are complex. In practice, the ‘rules’ that determine who should review and approve a piece of content depend on many factors, including: type of content, subject, author, area of the business, potential legal exposure, publishing time frame, and more. While the goal may be to implement a few ‘standard’ workflow rules, these generally fail to address the complexity that exists within organizations.

3. Workflow: we have a problem by James Robertson

Workflow does, of course, work in certain circumstances. Where there are well-defined, consistent, and repeatable business processes, workflow rules can be used to automate them.

Examples

1. HP

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2. Deloitte

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Resources

  1. Workflow Applications
  2. Workflow: An Introduction by Rob Allen
  3. A Course on Workflow Management by Eindhoven University of Technology
  4. Workflow Management Coalition (WfMC) Resources
  5. Workflow Patterns
  6. APQC

Books

  1. Workflow Modeling: Tools for Process Improvement and Application Development by Alec Sharp and Patrick McDermott
  2. Workflow Patterns: The Definitive Guide by Nick Russell, Wil van der Aalst, and Arthur H. M. ter Hofstede
  3. Workflow Management: Models, Methods, and Systems by Wil van der Aalst and Kees van Hee

Written by

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/

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