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Ideas for a better Information Architecture with SharePoint (Part 2)


This blog post is part of a series of posts on new ideas to structure information in SharePoint. There are 5 parts in this series:


Part 1: Every document has its process …

– Part 2: … with its own pattern of workflow … (this post)

Part 3: … with its own author(s) and audience …

Part 4: … and its own collaboration and publication structure.


Every document type has its workflow pattern

The way in which information is created and published in SharePoint is very different depending on the document type. One can identify roughly 4 workflow patterns:


– Pattern 1: Information Push without workflow

– Pattern 2: Information Push with version control workflow

– Pattern 3: Business Process

– Pattern 4: Collaboration


Pattern 1: Information Push without Workflow



This is the most simple form of workflow (to be honest, I am not sure one can even call this a workflow): it is the flow in which 1 person publishes some content in SharePoint, making it available for all users or for a large part of the organization. Typical examples of this type of Information Push are: news items, procedures (if they are not subject of an approval workflow: see next pattern), etc.

In fact at the lowest maturity level of using SharePoint, all content is published in this way. But because it may not be acceptable that any user can publish content for a large audience without validation or approval, most organizations choose for a more controlled way of publishing sensitive information: see pattern 2.


Pattern 2: Information Push with Workflow



This pattern is similar to the previous one, with 1 big difference: before content becomes available for a larger group of users, it must be reviewed and approved by 1 or more other users than the author.

(In my opinion this is actually the origin of the concept of workflow as it was implemented in the first Quality and ISO 9000 Document Management Systems some 15 years ago.)

One of the characteristics of this pattern is that 1 workflow definition can be used on many documents: because the workflow has always 1 review step and 1 approval step, all one has to add to the document properties are the persons or roles that should review and approve that document or type of document.

This pattern is mostly used for established procedures that can only be modified in a controlled way.


Pattern 3: Business Process



The 3rd pattern represents the Business Process. This type of workflow always runs on a an Operational Document (see Part 1 of this series of blog posts) and deals with the core activities of the organization.

Examples are:

– Document: Request for Proposal; Process: Decide to answer the RFP or not

– Document: Offer; Process: have write offer written by technical people, commercial people and legal, and then have it approved by management

– Etc.

This pattern has 2 main characteristics:

– The number ‘authors’ in the process are equal to number of ‘readers’

– When the process has ended, the underlying document is of no use anymore (except that it may have to be archived to keep record); i.e. the document’s life cycle ends when the workflow ends

Another characteristic is that each Operational Document has its own flow. It is not possible to define 1 workflow that can be used on different Operational Documents.

Pattern 4: Collaboration



Again, I am not sure that this can be called a ‘workflow’. This pattern represents the collaboration of different users on the same document. In this type of collaboration it is not pre-defined who should change what nor when. Users contribute to the content when they can.

A characteristic of this pattern is that here also the number of authors is equal to the number of readers.

But who decides when the document is finished and that the ‘workflow’ should stop? See the last chapter.


Pattern X: Any combination of the above


In reality the end-to-end process is often a combination of different patterns of workflow. In many organizations f.i. a new procedure is discussed and written in a workgroup, then submitted to management for approval, and then published and made available to all users.


This may mean that while the document is being written, it is stored in a collaboration space, and that after approval it is move to the publishing environment. (See also Part 4 on collaboration and publication structures)




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