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Virtual Assembly Line

A workflow system addresses the difficulties that accompany web development. It acts as a virtual assembly line in which the three key factors of web development interact: people, projects, and a business environment. On this virtual assembly line, people work on the tasks that compose a project. A project needs to be moved from one task to another with minimal delay between tasks. The new and modified assets for a project are held in a workarea where all the contributors can see, test, review, and approve their changes in the context of a functioning web site. The business environment needs review, approval, and other established process steps to be followed. It seeks to maximize project throughput while using resources efficiently.

Consider the example shown in Figure 1. Three people in three different departments collaborate on a typical small job. A producer in the marketing department determines that a part of the web site needs to be changed. The producer initiates a job and hands off the job, requesting design assistance from the graphic arts department. A designer is assigned to the job and proceeds to fulfill the request. When the designer is complete, she hands it off to a reviewer in the quality-assurance department. After the reviewer signs off on the work, the job returns to the producer.

Figure 1 A simple three-step job has three hand-offs.

Figure 2 shows these steps along a timeline. At the point where the producer hands the job off to the designer, the designer may be busy on another job. Eventually, the designer becomes available and commences her part of the job. She hands off the work.

Figure 2 The time for a job consists of busy-wait time, idle time, and work-time.

There are three kinds of time: work-time, busy-wait time, and idle time. Think time is useful time spent on the job, as described earlier. The rest is wait-time, of which there are two kinds. Busy-wait time means that the recipient of the job is busy completing other jobs. Idle time means that the recipient is able to take another job, but work on the job has not started. Busy-wait time is unavoidable because other useful work occupies the recipient of the next task. Idle time is waste, never to be reclaimed. In a physical assembly line, physical proximity of work stations eliminates idle time. In a virtual assembly line, notification eliminates unnecessary idle time. Figure 3 illustrates this point.

Figure 3 Notification eliminates idle time.

The virtual assembly line overcomes the difficulties introduced by multiple contributors who need to work closely in a short period of time. Producing the richness of experience that everyone has come to expect from the web requires orchestrating the contributions of many collaborators. The effort needs to be tightly coordinated. A virtual assembly line built using a workflow solution orchestrates the activities of the transient group to complete assigned tasks quickly and efficiently.

To summarize, a workflow solution enables the timely development of web assets. Many different people, with widely varying skills, contribute to the web development effort. Although there are multiple overlapping projects, each project needs to be handled on a virtual assembly line. Each project creates and modifies assets that can change the context of other assets. Because of frequent change and tight deadlines, maintaining a rapid pace of development is essential. An infrastructure to notify participants upon completion of intermediate tasks boosts productivity by minimizing costly idle time. Finally, by codifying processes and procedures, a workflow improves the consistency and efficiency of the organization's actions.

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