Planning for workflow

Prior preparation prevents poor process performance

The workflow feature within HelpMaster is a powerful tool to increase operational efficiency. It is recommended that a methodical, structured and considered approach is taken to ensure that your business gets the most benefit from the workflow capabilities of HelpMaster.

Before creating workflow within HelpMaster, be sure to spend time creating and designing your workflow in the real world - that is, your business. Building workflow is all about mapping real-world processes into a software model. If it does not work in the real world, it is not going to work in HelpMaster. For each workflow scenario, spend time with your team using a whiteboard or similar to map out the individual tasks, the people involved, the job status changes, the communication (email) required and the decision points.

HelpMaster features a powerful workflow engine that can support many business models and processes. As your business processes clarify and mature, look for ways to standarize a repeatable business process, and then map it into HelpMaster.

The following is a guide only and may provide some useful ideas and concepts to designing your workflow.

Tools to assist with modeling workflow and processes

  • People - Get the team involved, especially those that play key roles in the process. Identity the different roles each person plays
  • Whiteboard - Make it visual. People respond much better to a process when they can see it take shape before their eyes. A whiteboard allows an interactive, iterative design approach.
  • Paper - Allow people to draw, sketch and document processes
  • Visio - Microsoft Visio and similar diagramming software can be very useful in describing processes and workflow
  • Mind-mapping software - Great for brainstorming and collecting ideas. A unique visual paradigm allows you to quickly categorize thoughts and ideas
  • Time. Although process design and workflow should be iterative and continually improving, try not to rush design phases. Sometimes complex workflow takes time to discuss and nut out.
  • Good coffee

The human touch

Remember that people are the key ingredient in any business process.

  • Allow for human interaction and behaviour. Expect (and welcome) robust discussion!
  • Avoid micro-management / minutia - When modelling workflow and process, it can be an easy trap to fall into becoming bogged down with unecessary detail. Keep it simple at first, then build complexity
  • Allow time! Any new system takes time to bed-in. Allow for, and expect this. Anything new can cause a measure of disruption, especially if it affects the way people work and interact with software, people and processes
  • Trust the team to use the tools and workflow. Let smart people do their job and get out of their way
  • Understand cultural change and the effects of how changing a process can affects the day-to-day work of the various people involved in the process
  • Identify champions, nay-sayers and others, and learn how each position can bring something to the process
  • Explain and Educate

Document everything

Document each step of your process and workflow creation - make it easy for people to use. Provide a top-level overview summary of the workflow, as well as a detailed description of what it entails.Describe the following:

  • Why the workflow exists
  • Describe the business case for the workflow / process
  • An example use-case
  • Significant touch-points / hand-over points
  • Notifications, escalations

Cut and paste from other workflow if it makes sense.

Start with a simple, well-known process

Model a real business case that is currently in use - start with a well known, common and simple business practice. Avoid edge cases, or uncommon scenarios.

Common, simple process may include:

  • Computer setup
  • Account setup
  • Equipment loans
  • Password reset

Work through the scenario with team members and staff from the business unit. Describe the process in simple language and come to an agreement of what you are trying to model. It is important that the terms and conditions of the process are clearly articulated and described - even the small details. Remember that when you “computerize” a process that has been working in the human world, even small details and decision points can have a big impact on the outcome and efficiency of the process.

The basics

  • Write down the name of the process
  • Write down a basic summary of the process
  • Write down a more detailled description of it.

Draw a basic flow-chart of how the process operates.

Identifying the following things will be helpful in creating workflow:

  • Identify the unique stages that the workflow will pass through.This might be status changes, team changes.
  • Identify status. What does the status mean/how is it defined? What causes this change?
  • Identify milestones. Similar to status. See the Milestones topic for how HelpMaster implements these workflow objects.
  • Identify ownership
  • Identify assignments
  • Identify roles

A well designed and thoughtfully constructed process in HelpMaster should have low friction and be a natural and intuitive thing to use. If it is not, this may be an indication that you have some refining to do. Discuss and build a proof of concept and work through the process with the team.


  • Create workflow only when necessary. Do not create processes for the sake of process. Only design something that actually exists in the real-world.
  • Evaluate commonality before differences - create templates for these and re-use them where appropriate
  • Start with the eagle view, that is, the big picture.
  • Draw the milestones / status for the general flow
  • Design for re-use
  • Design for flexibility
  • Design to satisfy audits if required

Workflow design

  • Open vs Restricted
  • Must workflow steps be performed in a linear fashion, or can any step, any time be invoked?
  • Subtasks / parallel taks
  • Workflow granularity

Decisions and workflow branching

A fundamental part of any process, or workflow is the point at which a decision is made. Think of a decision as a fork in the road - which way do you go?

HelpMaster workflow supports the following decision types:

  • User-based decisions: The user is presented with a question/decision to make. Their response will determine which workflow step will follow.
  • Script-based decsion: The results of an automated script (SQL or Powershell) will determine which workflow step will follow.
  • Approvals: Similar to a user-based decision conceptually, however an approval can be sent to someone outside of HelpMaster, and they vote using the HelpMaster web portal on the approval

Advanced processes

Once the basic workflow has taken shape and is working well, consider implementing the following:

  • Escalations (re-assignments, email alerts, re-prioritization etc.)
  • Notifications and alerts (email, desktop alerts, SMS etc.)
  • Security (restrictions on scripting, visibility into jobs/actions etc.)
  • Other automations that are based on fields, data, trigger points, milestones etc.

For Escalations, Notifications and Alerts, consider using the Priority Manager, or Triggered Events features within HelpMaster to implement these things.

Incorporate automation

  • Automate a process where appropriate. Use scripts, variable-based decision points, and other tools like the Email Manager, Priority Manager, or Triggered Events
  • Enforce a process with stop-points, control-set validation, or other blocking/gating mechanisms

Understand how the Email Manager can affect automation. (Re-assign, close, re-open, change status etc.)

Continuous improvement

Workflow should strike a balance between mapping a business process in a predicable way, while at the same time seeking to always improve the flow and efficiency of the processes. Once a workflow is in place, look for opportunities to improve it, or at least measure it.

  • Invite feedback from the people using the workflow. Include clients, staff and all stake-holders.
  • Regularly review the workflows - run reports - get the statistics
  • Version workflow, and document along the way.
  • Start simple, remove complexity and waste, and then build refinements and further complexity.

Implementing the workflow

Implementing workflow should be a staged process. Allow time for design, building, testing, refining and reviewing.

See Also

Workflow Overview

Workflow concepts

Workflow anti-patterns

Testing workflow