Archive for Business Processes

Request Management Solution (Beta) – One solution, many applications, much easier

About a year ago I wrote an article about “work request management” that drills into 4 scenarios and compares and contrasts them – Customer Examples of Work Request Management apps for SharePoint.  Lots of type of requests should be managed.  Examples are: Trouble tickets (IT), Requests for proposal (BD), Capital Purchase Requests (Finance), HR Staffing (HR), Contract Reviews (Legal), Material Storage (Manufacturing), Demo Requests (Sales) and Marketing Campaign Requests (Marketing) …

These types of Requests are important to respond to.  They generate work or use capital or other resources and should be managed.  Requests and the associated work need visibility, tracking, reporting, a structured and automated way of getting them approved and tracking the work.  They are a core way that work gets initiated and done across your workplace.  The problem is that often, the types of requests that should be managed end up instead being driven through ad hoc activity, mainly email.  This adds costs and risks to the organization.  Multiple the cost/risk of one scenario times the number of scenarios and it is a big cost with a lot of risk.

CorasWorks is very well suited for request management applications.  Over the last year, we’ve seen more and more CorasWorks-based applications created to address all sorts of types of request management needs.  The ROI on these apps is very good – however…

The practical challenge for organizations is that there are so many different scenarios. They are architecturally quite similar but differ in the details.  And, the details matter to the end customer.  While the end result is quite good using CorasWorks, it takes a bit of time and some knowledge to configure CorasWorks for each specific application and to modify it when things change.  Compared to other options, we have a good general solution.  But, we thought that with a bit of focus we could make it even easier, more approachable, more scalable, and, more cost-effective for you to meet the business needs.

So, we decided to create a “vanilla” Request Management solution.  This solution, now in Beta, leverages the new v11.3 feature set to make it much easier to crank out purpose-specific request management apps.  It is the “vanilla” version.  You use the solution and the new onboard features to create your flavor of it to meet the specific business needs. Thus, the value proposition is not that you get just one application, but, you get a one solution that allows you address a whole lot of applications.

The Demo – 6 minutes

Below is a video that shows the new Request Management solution.  It walks you through the “vanilla” solution and then shows you some of the new features to make configuration a snap such as the Application Designer, Process Designer, Business Rule Sets, and Stage-based Request Details (shown below).

Request Management Video image

 

The Solution Beta

The solution is now in Beta.  We are working with customers that want to try it out and have specific application scenarios in mind that they want to address.  If you are interested, send an email to info@corasworks.net or contact your account representative.

wiilliam

Design More Effective Collaborative Processes by including “external” people and activities

Most of us are familiar with workflow approval processes using SharePoint.  These are targeted towards efficiently routing items for approval usually in a serial fashion with known actors.  However, a great deal of information work is done through collaborative processes.  And usually, this work has a large impact on organizational results.  The key here is to be organizationally effective.  In this article, I’ll define collaborative processes and look at a general design approach that includes not just the core process but the “external” people and activities that drive a higher degree of organizational effectiveness.

What I Mean by Collaborative Processes

Collaborative processes are ways of working where the work progresses through stages that involve a number of people and activities.  Basically, individuals are often not the decision makers.  Rather, work progresses via collaborative group decision making.  Often these processes are oriented towards making the right (or at least a better) decision through collaboration and incorporating relevant activities.  Examples of such processes are:

  • Demand Management: New Project Initiation – onramp to project management
  • Business Development-Capture and Proposal Management – working the process of responding to RFP’s/tendors
  • Policy Management – getting policies out and incorporating feedback
  • R&D Innovation – managing R&D proposals through the funnel
  • Idea Management – the process of capturing, reviewing and deciding on new ideas

The Core Process

When you go about designing such processes, in a SharePoint context, most people initially focus on the core process.  This is typically a single SharePoint site.  Usually, the process is defined as a set of stages for items to pass through (see this article for a more detailed discussion of stage-based applications).  In each stage, items are acted upon, people weigh in, and, an item must pass through a gate to move to the next stage.  The main participants are the core process members.  CorasWorks adds various features to this core process to enable and enhance collaboration amongst these participants.

In most situations, this core process meets the expected requirements. Just getting this done is worth declaring victory for your team. However, we have found that organizations are usually able to make the process more effective by going beyond this core process and incorporating external people and activities in their overall design of their system.

Broader Perspective of Collaborative Process

Below is a schematic illustrating a broader perspective of your collaborative process.  The items in green are the expected elements.  You have the core process and the engagement of the “standard” process members.  The three other elements (in blue) extend the process to engage additional people and activities to flesh out the system.  I’ll discuss each of these three extended elements below.

image

External People

Imagine you are part of a product team.  You all have your ideas.  You put a process in place to enable your product group to work on them in a more collaborative way.  This works.  However, you could broaden your scope of who is engaged in three ways to improve the effectiveness.  First, you could open up the idea funnel to enable people outside of the group to submit ideas.  Second, you can make those ideas visible to the broad community and allow them to collaborate and enhance the ideas – outside of your control.  Third, you can vet your ideas with the external community.  In effect, you take your internal idea and push it out to the broad community or to external targeted groups – allowing them to also engage with other in vetting your idea.

Simply, you are taking your black box process, that has historically been fully controlled by the few and opening it up to external communities.  The objective is to drive effectiveness by a broader set of eyes and experiences on the idea.

Supporting Activities and Teams

You are working to get things through your process.  Within each stage there are various activities.  Most are done by the process members.  But often, the activities involve people that are outside of the core process membership.  Imagine that you are working on business development proposals and you need to resource people.  You may want to drop in a programmatic activity that engages HR and other “sources” of people to check the box on the required people resources.

Some of these activities can be ad hoc.  Others that are common to your process deserve a more permanent and structured way of working.  In a SharePoint context, it is important to note that others work where and how they work.  So, HR might want your activity to nicely become a part of their place and way of working rather then HR folks having to go to your place and work your way.  Thus, you agree on how to work, and then, drop in the element to tie your process activity to their work space.  Over time these “activities” of your process start to become standard ways of working amongst a broader group of people.

Downstream Activities and Teams

So, your process is all set and you start processing.  Imagine that you are working to drive new projects for products and services.  At the end of your process, the approved projects appear in your Portfolio.  You are done – right?  Yet, the project is not.  So, what you now need is a nice, effective handoff from your process to the next downstream activity, maybe the PMO to handle a group of like projects, or, to a project manager.

The key to the handoff is to do it in a programmatic manner and set it up so that the receiver of the handoff has access to the information and decisions that were made upstream.  Likewise, as they do their work on the project, you’d want a certain access to or flow of information back to you to keep track of the results of your decision and help you improve the effectiveness of your process.

As you define this you are again starting to define a broader “workstream” of related activities.  As a design note, these types of workstream are loosely coupled.  This means that each process/activity can live on its own but connects to the other upstream and downstream activities.

Take a Broader Perspective, Start Small and Allow it To Evolve

Collaborative processes are very important to organization success.  You need them to be effective because you are making decisions with a broad impact.  By all means, start by focusing in on the core process and getting the stages and basic activities right.  However, step back and consider the three additional elements outlined above early in your thinking. This broader perspective will enable you to design more effective processes.  As always, I’d say think broadly, start small, and evolve.  The best processes evolve forward with input, lessons learned, and, results. CorasWorks provides you with the flexibility to start simply and enhance and extend your system to add the new elements – take advantage of it.

william

Using Stage-Gate Processes for More Effective Collaborative Work

Stage-Gate processes have been around for many years. They grew up to serve the needs of Product Development.  Over the last few years, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of customers opting to use this type of design for their applications across many other functions (vs. role-based application design and classic workflow).  The main driver of this new adoption is that organizations are finding this type of design to be more effective for purposeful, collaborative work.  It lends itself to bringing a group of people together to collectively drive the results of the process.  In this article, I’ll look at the overall design of a Stage-Gate process, provide examples of different uses, and talk about how it drives effectiveness for collaborative work processes.

Stage-Gate Process Design

It starts with people aligning on the high-level Stages an item will go through.  Each Stage is then represented visually to make it easy for the group to see where things stand.  Within each Stage there are a set of activities, which must be completed for an item to pass through the Gate and progress to the next Stage.  This is really the power of this design in that the activity is separated from the top-level Stage flow.  The activities can change, but it doesn’t affect the Stages or the Gate.

Below is a screenshot of a standard CorasWorks-based Stage-Gate application.  It is used to manage an IDIQ (Indefinite Delivery – Indefinite Quantity) contract, which is a business development vehicle most often used by Federal Contractors.  The Contractor gets a contract.  The government then issues Task Orders, each of which is bid on by a number of contractors.  Each Task Order goes through a set of Stages along its life-cycle.  Decisions are made and work happens to drive the Task Orders forward.

 

IDIQ Program - New Task Order - ITES - annotated

 

Above we are showing the New Task Order stage.  The Task Orders come in here and are reviewed and prepped.  When ready, they are pushed to the Bid Assessment stage where the team decides whether to bid on the Task Order.  The key elements of the design are:

A. Stages – lay out your stages as you want them

B. Stage Management Display – where you see the items in that Stage and can access information, report, slice, dice, and take action

C. Actions/Activities – custom set of actions to be used in the Stage to get the work done that needs to be done

 

An important part of the design is considering what is actually moving through the Stages.  It is common to think of each item above as a record of information (list/database).  However, with CorasWorks you can associate related information and sites that act like folders.  For instance, in the example above when a new Task Order is entered, a related Task Order collaboration site is automatically provisioned.  This site is where the detail information is and the detail collaboration happens.  In other scenarios, it might be a project site.  Or, an item might just have related information from within SharePoint or external data sources which is surfaced as a virtual workspace.  The upshot is that you have a simple top-level process to track the flow through the stages, but you have access to a very deep set of supporting information and activity for each item.

 

Examples of Stage-Gate Processes

Now let’s look at examples of different types of stage-gate processes and how they might differ.

 

R&D Innovation Process for Consumer Products

This is a classic application.  One customer is using this design to manage the full-life cycle for molecules it creates to be used for fragrances and flavors in consumer products.  The molecules are created in a lab and go into the process.  They go through a multi-phase process with many detailed activities (more than 50 activities are individually tracked).  The process takes about 3 years and they have about 700 molecules at a time.

 

e-Policy Management for HR

One customer uses this design for their corporate policies.  They have converted more than 600 corporate policies from documents into living, digital articles.  Each policy is submitted, reviewed, and published through a series of Stages involving Finance, Legal, Admin personnel, and more.  Users are empowered to ask questions, rate the articles and make comments that can be used for revisions.

 

Demand Management: New Project Initiation for Everyone

This is a common use of stage-gate.  The objective is to have a visible, collaborative review process BEFORE projects are initiated.  It is part of the evolving approach for Demand Management.  We have a standard solution for this where projects are proposed and then put through the stages leading to an approved process.  When approved, this information is used to kick off the actual project management site (a downstream activity).

 

Application Development for IT

A stage-gate process is great for application development.  You have your basic stages of the application development process that can span the full life cycle from proposal to completion or that might just cover the development process itself (because you are using the New Project Initiation process above as an upstream activity-right!).  When the project is approved you can have a project management/collaboration site that is used to manage the development work and the related information.  This site is effectively what is going through the stages.

 

Proposal Development for Business Development

Many BD organizations, particularly our Federal Contractor customers, use a standardized Stage-Gate process (originated by a company named Shipley) to manage business development.   This is very high level.  In addition, each Proposal they are working on has its own Stage-Gate process using a standardized system for color reviews.  Thus, in this scenario, you have a system with two-levels of Stage-Gates.  The top level is the overall BD process with each “opportunity” being managed.  Then, each opportunity that has made it to the Proposal Development stage has a collaborative site for the actual proposal work.

 

Effectiveness for Collaborative Work

The power of the Stage-Gate design is that it gets a group of people on the same page of where things stand and what needs to happen to achieve desired results.  It is simple to understand and easy to use.  The key is that the people involved will be aligned on the top stages.  From there, the systems empowers all of the people involved to work together collaboratively to achieve the result.

CorasWorks has built in a number of features over the years that enable effective solutions for stage-gating.  They enable the core solution and the ability to flexibly support the many different types of activities and changes to activities to support the process.  In addition, with CorasWorks on SharePoint you have the ability to engage “external” people in the process for upstream, downstream and supporting activities.  Ultimately, the effectiveness of a stage-gate process comes by having the visibility, input and the work coming from different people, but, aligned on the core objective of your process.

Cim Process for Application Change Requests

The first Cim Social Business Process app I wrote about was Product Ideas.  That article was also a primer for the new line of process apps based upon Cim.  It is a bridge between classic idea and innovation management scenarios and our more standard business process apps.  Let’s take a half-step forward and look at a different social business process – Application Change Requests. 

Application Change Requests Overview

This is a common process for an IT Department to manage their changes to software applications.  It is also a core process in a Product Management department for companies such as CorasWorks that publish software or use software in their solutions and systems.  Many organizations lack a formalized process supported by a system. They may just use emails, meetings and/or excel spreadsheets.  Often, how prioritization decisions are made is at best a secret and at worst unknown.  In addition, most lack a social element that can be used to rate/prioritize (either end-users or people involved in decision making) and/or enhance CRs with comments and information.  Further, they often lack the feedback loops to keep contributors and their “customers” informed.

Process Map

Keeping to our standard of consistency of our Process apps, below is the process map for Application Change Requests (green dots are social, blue are process management).  Note that it is very similar to the one used with Product Ideas.  The names and purpose at each step are a bit different, including, the stage-gates of the CR process.

  Process Map - Application Change Request 

The Process in Practice – CorasWorks Product Management CRs

This is a process I know well.  We use this app internally.  It is used by our Product Management organization to track all change requests to products.  The CRs may be bugs, new features, ideas, designs, documentation, etc.  We have a Change Control Board that reviews the CR’s.   

Below we show a screenshot of a recent Change Request for Cim.  Note a few changes in what information we capture and display that are different from the Product Ideas screenshots. 

- We show a CR number so that it can be referenced to external customers and internally. 

- We log the customer that came up with the CR. 

- We show the Status and a visual view of the workflow and where it stands. 

- When it gets into a product release we reference that.

- We also show the request type.

CR-ACR

 

When CR’s come in they are screened in the first week. Then our Change Control Board reviews them.  They may move them forward right away, try and get more information, prioritize them, and/or look at the level of effort and impact.  When approved for development they are assigned into a product release and tracked in our project system. 

 

Why it Works for Us

Here are the core reasons why this Social Business Process works for us.

- It is easy for people to contribute.  This is really important or else email chaos and politics rule.

- The feedback information is at the fingertips of our customer facing people.

- Our process of prioritization is highly visible.

- Because of the first three, our employees participate at a higher level.

- At the end of the day, we know what we did and did not do (real key) and why we did it.

- The front end process ties into our back end development system which is also in SharePoint.

- It serves our core purposes without overburdening the process with details.

 

william

Process Improvement Workstream with Cim v1.1

In previous articles on CorasWorks Idea Management (Cim) I’ve talked about the full solution and the business approaches to using Cim to drive your innovation process.  In this article, I’ll look at how you would use Cim for a specific business scenario.  It is a 3-phase, end-to-end workstream for process improvements that moves ideas from capture through review and approval and into the implementation phase. 

The Scenario

Imagine that an organizational has three main process areas that they are driving forward: Information Worker Productivity, Sales Processes, and Manufacturing. This Process Improvement Workstream implements a 3-phase process that cuts across the SharePoint landscape and drives an end-to-end process supporting all three.   

Below is a graphic of the 3-phase workstream.  It starts with the Process Improvement Community (a Standing Idea Community) in the Idea Portal.  This is where you capture ideas and collaborate.  You then have a Review and Approval Management Site.  This is where you work through the ideas to approval and add to a portfolio.  Then, you have three different implementation teams.  The approved ideas are pushed into these sites for implementation. 

image

From an implementation standpoint in this scenario, you would be using the off-the-shelf modules of Cim for the Community and Management phases along with native SharePoint team sites for the implementation phase.  We also leverage Windows Workflow Foundation to kick off notifications based upon rules at each phase of the process.  In the following sections, I’ll walk you through the deployment for each phase.

Process Improvement Community: Capture and Collaborate

In the Idea Portal you would deploy a Cim Community module that is tailored for Process Improvement ideas.  The tailoring might include a custom tagsonomy and custom fields for contributors.  The general community of users go here, contribute ideas and tag them.  Then, the community rates, comments, attaches documents. Ideas get rated based upon their Star Power.

Below is a screenshot of an idea that has been contributed.

Cimv1.1-processcom

 

Process Management Site: Screen, Review, Approve, Manage Downstream

This site plays a pivotal role in the process – interacting upstream and downstream and doing their work in the middle.  You start with the deployment of the Cim Portfolio Management site.  From here, this smaller team works with ideas from the upstream community.  In the middle they play their role: screening the ideas, selecting them for review, finishing off the ideas to propose them as projects, and voting and approving them.  Then, they are set to push the approved projects to downstream teams for implementation which they then track as part of their portfolio.  

In the screenshot below, a manager has selected an approved idea and is pushing it into downstream team sites.  Note that they are only filling in a few fields in the form.  As part of any CorasWorks workstream, the Action uses information from the existing approved idea along with the few fields they fill out to complete the necessary downstream information.  You’ll see the complete result in the team site below.  They do this work from their Management site, without having to go anywhere else.

cimv1.1-process-push

 

Downsteam Implementation: Work Team Sites

Now, it is time to implement.  In this scenario, we have three implementation teams for process ideas.  We have set up these work sites using standard native SharePoint team sites.  This is where the teams work on incoming approved process improvements.  The approved ideas appear in their team sites as tasks.  They manage their own work team.  Each team is able to organize their content and internal work as they please.

Below is a screenshot of how the incoming items look to users.  They have everything they need to implement the process idea.  In addition, they have track-back URL’s to the approved project in the Management site and further upstream to the original idea in the Process Improvement community.  While working, Windows Workflow Foundation is used to automate notifications based upon the information that has flowed downstream.

implementation task

 

Summary

This Process Improvement Workstream provides you with an end-to-end solution.  You implement it using Cim off-the-shelf, with a bit of WWF for notifications, and some team sites.  It is a great way to start, but, it is just the beginning.  You can beef up the process with more robust downstream modules such as the Project and Program sites from CorasWorks PPM.  You can extend the Management site to incorporate additional supporting processes (eddies if you will in the workstream metaphor) such as supporting sites for specialized Review Teams to flesh out the ideas before approval.  You can also have different communities to segment the ideation phase say by division or purpose.  And, of course you can follow the same workstream approach to implement other workstreams for different business scenarios.

An important aspect when designing workstreams such as this is that they do indeed cut across a SharePoint landscape.  You have different modules in different phases in different departments usually implemented as different Site Collections and even Web Applications.  CorasWorks connects across all of these boundaries to enable you to have a fully integrated, end-to-end process where people can work from wherever they work.  In addition, as described above CorasWorks solutions natively integrate with any other sites in SharePoint and with Windows Workflow Foundation to drive notifications and updates.

This particular workstream is pre-packaged for Cim users and can be provided as part of your Cim Jump Start.  Look for more business scenario snapshots like this in the future…

william

Application Evolution White Paper – A story of continuous improvement on SharePoint

Today, we released a new White Paper called “Enabling Application Evolution”.  It tells the story of how an “application” evolves from a simple vendor work order approval point solution into a more complex, distributed, inter-connected system for vendor management.  It is the story of how organizations can continually improve in this new world of modular, distributed, work environments on SharePoint.

 

We published the white paper to compliment today’s “integration release” of the new CorasWorks Workplace Suite v10.1 and Data Integration Toolset v1.4.  Affectionately known as  r14.14 (10.1 times 1.4), these products are now integrated in such a way as to very effectively empower organizations to naturally evolve their applications and their work environments forward without having to redo things over and over.

 

The white paper tells the story of how Greensleeves Solutions, our fictitious company, goes through five very natural stages of the evolution of this app.  Along the way people argue, haggle, like and don’t like, and, get innovative and productive.  The software plays its role to incrementally meet the changing needs to enable the organization to get to the next stage of productivity.  You can download the white paper from our site (see upper right corner of the landing page).

 

Below is a graphic showing the five stages of evolution covered in the white paper from a single app in Marketing up through a Vendor Self-Service portal.  All of the elements are reusable, inter-connected and centrally manageable – and being CorasWorks – done with point and click modular software vs. custom code development.

 

image  

 

The interesting part is that you’ll probably find it to be a realistic scenario.  It starts to raise a number of questions about application software in the future.  Do the classic options of Buy or Custom Develop really make sense in this new world? Do people really know how they will want to work at the beginning of requirements gathering?  Exactly where is THE application?  What if you build the apps, but, the users actually work from their own departmental dashboards, personal consoles etc. and don’t go to the app per se – they just do task-oriented work across apps and business processes?  Is the application now just the data and configuration?  Have we moved to a services oriented architecture on the front-end?

 

Over the years, our software has evolved to support this evolving new world of applications.  The v14.14 release today is a big step.  We hope that this white paper will give you some insight into how the process of evolution could occur in your organization and the benefits of continuous improvement.

 

Enjoy!

 

william