A couple of posts by Simon Terry, where he describes how algorithms can be part of Working Out Loud and designing workflows for the people, sparked my thinking about how algorithms can reshape the way we work.
Over the last 3 years or so (as that’s how long I’ve been in ‘IT’) I’ve formed a stronger and stronger belief that workflow is a service and not a solution. In this space Microsoft are making some decent headway with PowerApps and Azure Logic Apps. These services allow people to build what they need around them to suit them. There is a level of platform agnostics that elevates these kinds of products to a level of collaborative service that cannot be fulfilled by an in product solution. People can now shape the flow. Leaving the products like Yammer and SharePoint to focus on what they are good at.
I deliberately made the 3 years’ reference as before that I was a Civil Engineer. As an engineer tailoring the workflow to suit both the people and process being undertaken was part of everyday life (sometimes at the collective subconscious level). Granted certain processes had to be conducted in a specific order or things would fail or worse still people would get hurt but often the flow of work would flex, change and adapt based on the people. What was truly amazing, when you stepped back, was how this would (normally) happen without intervention.
What surprised me about IT was that the attitude and solutions for workflow are years behind something as old as the building game. It is still about lining up the dominos and knocking them down in order. Try introducing variables to the workflow and the systems quickly fail, unable to reroute beyond simple branching logic or adapt when iterations are needed. Difficulty is people are, and cause, the variables.
I think elevating workflow to a position outside of the products into a service is the first step. Thereafter the real magic and people focus can be applied. Second step (which we can start to do today) is let people design the flow to match their needs and work style. Yes, the flow will pass through some stage gates (as that is what organisations demand) but the path will be a little less constrained. The third step is to apply some Delve-esque magic. Algorithms are learning how we work, with who, at what times and with what. Using the algorithm, we should be able to generate a work flow that matches the individuals involved: playing to their strengths, sequencing it to pick the right time for the task to be done, using their preferred communication method etc. At that point we will be getting close to construction in terms of a people centric workflow.