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From Bootstrap to #socbiz App - An Introduction to Social Workflows

06.24.2013
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What is a Social Workflow?

A social workflow is a sequence of input and interaction steps that achieve a structured outcome through the use of social technologies and/or paradigms.

Why Should I Use Social Workflows?

Process and workflow are inevitable necessities in modern business, but to spout an unconventional truth:  they don't have to suck!  Remember, they were created to make work-life more efficient.  In fact, that's the premise behind companies implementing enterprise workflow platforms: to optimize daily operations.  A common caveat with this solution is a tendency to make decisions based on what the technology can do versus what the business actually needs, which can result in inefficient execution.  In a way, this is where the workflow stigma begins: when the loss in productivity operating within a workflow exceeds the value in efficiency and oversight it was meant to provide.

Social workflows are about providing flexible options to divert simple processes away from complicated solutions that take control out of the hands of the worker.

Two core components of workflows are routing and execution. Routing is about triaging requests and assigning resources, while execution is actually about doing the task at hand.  In many cases, routing is intertwined with execution as a result of technology requirements.  This is not always a bad thing, but I'd argue that it's highly inefficient over time to be considered a standard practice.  Routing inside workflows become outdated extremely fast in the modern enterprise.  As knowledge workers learn the intricacies of systems, they will naturally find ways to short-circuit the system for faster outcomes.

I know I'm not the only one who has tried to expedite a workflow by tracking down approvers down via email, IM, or sometimes even "laptop in-hand cafeteria stalking" … (don't judge) … just to get them to click a simple button.

Doesn't it make more sense to harness that extra energy and effort to get more work done, rather than working harder for a less than zero increase in output?  Using social technologies and some best practice guidance, you can effectively "crowdsource" the routing phase of most workflows to the workers themselves.  This allows for an infinitely more adaptive routing paradigm that leverages the total mindshare of the company (past and present), while simplifying workflow steps and expediting time to completion.

When to Use Social Workflows?

Its important to note that social workflows are not always a full replacement for traditional workflow solutions. In some cases, compliance and security dictate a workflow's definition, regardless of efficiency; however, these use-cases tend to be dwarfed by the vast number of opportunities that are not bound by such restrictions. The single most valuable aspect of adopting social workflows is that once implemented, all workers can mix and match these as a blueprint on how to self-service information on any process across the enterprise.

Here are some questions that might help you decide if social workflows will work for your situation:

  • Does the workflow (as designed) still reflect the workplace, ideal process, and outcomes I value?
  • Is the workflow complexity a product of forcing technology, or a real functional requirement?
  • How much of this workflow is really execution versus routing?
  • If I have a means for people to come together and execute reliably, is a workflow still needed?

How to Use Social Workflows?

Here is an example of a simple blueprint that anyone can follow, that is built atop a series of social workflows:

  1. Find Functional Process Collaboration Place - Official place for asking questions about the process.
    • Find Functional App to Execute Process -  Interactive guide to execute the process.
    • Find Functional Documentation about Process -  Instructions on how to execute the process.
  2. Find Functional Team Collaboration Place - Group of people responsible for the process.
  3. Find Functional Expert - Specific person responsible for a piece of the process.
  4. Find Process Expert - Someone who frequents the process and can share tips & tricks for successful completion.

In the early stages, people are directed to a specific place to execute a task.  Once there, documentation is available to walk them through, and if the process is complicated or requires a bit more structure for reliability, then a simple #socbiz app can be built to bring about the desired behavior.  If questions arise, people can find others who are relevant to the process by virtue of the functional teams, social graph or talent discovery provided by the platform.  Each step in this blueprint has a social workflow working under the scenes, where parties have agreed to synchronize their focus and behavior around the platform to benefit the system as a whole.

Do you have a story where you've uprooted a legacy process and replaced it with a socially charged alternative?  If so, share your story in the comments below.

Published at DZone with permission of Jive Community, author and DZone MVB.

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