A workflow consists of a sequence of concatenated (connected) steps. Emphasis is on the flow paradigm, where each step follows the precedent without delay or gap and ends just before the subsequent step may begin. This concept is related to non overlapping tasks of single resources.It is a depiction of a sequence of operations, declared as work of a person, a group of persons,an organization of staff, or one or more simple or complex mechanisms. Workflow may be seen as any abstraction of real work. For control purposes, workflow may be a view on real work under a chosen aspect,thus serving as a virtual representation of actual work. The flow being described may refer to a document or product that is being transferred from one step to another.Workflow concepts are closely related to other concepts used to describe organizational structure, such as silos, functions, teams, projects, policies and hierarchies. Workflows may be viewed as one primitive building block of organizations. The relationships among these concepts are described later in this entry.The term workflow is used in computer programming to capture and develop human-to-machine interaction.The concept of workflow is closely related to several fields in operations research and other areas that study the nature of work, either quantitatively or qualitatively, such as artificial intelligence (in particular, the sub-discipline of AI planning) and ethnography. The term workflow is more commonly used in particular industries, such as printing and professional domains, where it may have particular specialized meanings.
- Processes: A process is a more specific notion than workflow and can apply to physical or biological processes, for instance. In the context of concepts surrounding work, a process may be distinguished from a workflow by the fact that it has well-defined inputs, outputs and purposes, while the notion of workflow may apply more generally to any systematic pattern of activity (such as all processes occurring in a machine shop).
- Planning and scheduling: A plan is a description of the logically necessary, partially ordered set of activities required to accomplish a specific goal given certain starting conditions. A plan, when augmented with a schedule and resource allocation calculations, completely defines a particular instance of systematic processing in pursuit of a goal. A workflow may be viewed as an (often optimal or near-optimal) realization of the mechanisms required to execute the same plan repeatedly.
- Flow control is a control concept applied to workflows, to distinguish from static control of buffers of material or orders, to mean instead a more dynamic control of flow speed and flow volumes in motion and in process. Such orientation to dynamic aspects is the basic foundation to prepare for more advanced job shop controls, such as just-in-time or just-in-sequence.
- In-transit visibility is a monitoring concept that applies to transported material as well as to work in process or work in progress, i.e., workflows.
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