Flow, Rules, Complexity and Simplicity in Workflow
When I make the claim "Most workflows are simple", in return I'm hit with bewildered looks and the assertion: "No, ours are quite complex". My little provocation is quite deliberate, since it serves as an opening gambit to discuss the relation between flow, rules and lookups. All workflows begin rather simple. I'll take a travel approval workflow as a sample (resemblance of workflows of existing companies would be pure coincidence).
The explanation is simple: "You request approval from management, finance and compliance. When all say OK, you are good to go". Translating them into a flow diagram is quite easy:
With a simple straight line, one might wonder what is the fuzz about workflow systems and all the big diagrams are all about. So when looking closer, each box "hides" quite some complexity. Depending on different factors some of the approval are automatic. "When we travel to a customer to sign a sizable deal and we are inside our budget allocation, we don't need to ask finance". So the workflow looks a little more complex actually:
The above diagram shows the flow in greater detail, with a series of decision points, both inside a functional unit (management, finance and compliance) as well as between them. The question still stays quite high level. "required Y/N", "1st line manager approves". Since the drawing tools make it easy - and it looks impressive - the temptation to draw further lures strongly. You could easily model the quest for the manager inside a workflow designer. The result might look a little like this: