To Work Flow or not to Work Flow

February 17, 2009

Many companies implementing PLM consider workflow to be the panacea to many process related challenges. In the past when PLM was a relative new phenomena we tried to model  company process in a series of workflows. The abstraction that was needed was a far cry from the real processes and engineers were by-passing the implemented workflow functions. Also we found, specific processes for specific categories of products were needed and further that specific ‘organic’ processes were common regardless of these different product categories.

We ‘flowed’ deliverables through these workflows rather then the triggers that define the items that are expected from the process. The abstracted trigger objects are in fact different types of ‘Requests’ for example; work request, change request etc.. Requests regarding a task may have supporting items… you may call these requirements or specifications, in fact to which the deliverables need to comply with. Now.., how do you structure the right flow of events to trigger the execution: A schedule…, not a workflow. Yes; you would use the workflow to route the schedule trigger items but the schedule in itself is a Work Breakdown Structure.

The schedule assures that the right disciplines at the right time receive the Request (and authorization) to commence with the work (task). You may call it the engineering variant of the kind of functions that are common in manufacturing i.e. the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) and in this engineering case the Engineering Execution System (EES). It is my experience that the maturity of EES’s that companies operate is low. Usually it is a combination of enterprise and desktop applications. Consistent usage across projects/programs, process integration and technological interoperability are major challenges.

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