Rory Brown, writing in the context of knowledge services as growth vehicles for the business media, makes an interesting observation regarding workflow solutions, especially how to construct them. In my personal experience, I have seen firms trying two techniques when faced with the problem. First, hire an insider. This technique is risky and puts huge onus on hiring correctly and that the person hired is an expert in all workflows associated with a function (question – why then does this expert want to leave his current job?). Second, interview actors of the workflow, overlay that with public intelligence and create a User Persona. This method has a two degree separation inbuilt between the function and the catalog, which may lead to loss in translation.
There is nothing to beat what Brown mentions – that is, send in people who unobtrusively observe the actors performing the workflow and documents their actions. It is important that this be done over a period of time to eliminate sampling errors. Actually, this technique is rather old fashioned. I was exposed to this buddy method of indoctrination to a function when I started off as a trader in the FX desk, way back in the nineties (Michael Lewis writes hilarious accounts of his buddy-ing up days at Wall Street in Liar’s Poker, which dates back to the eighties). Artifacts – mostly flowcharts – created as a part of this exercise should be the most important ingredient in designing the workflow product, its visual signature, usability and layout. Assuming that almost all marketing for the product has been done upfront, Product Managers should not cringe from making the workflow construction investment thereafter even if there is a temptation to jump straight into architecture and construction.
As a matter of principle, never enter the architecture/construction phase unless you know the significant part of the requirements completely. And for a workflow solution, there is no better (and surer) way than what I mention. Visually stated – this is the cost trade-off involved