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Article

Introduction to Process Definition

Summary

A business process defines how a unit of work (work object) moves until it is resolved. In Process Commander, a business process corresponds to a flow rule, which is associated with a work object. Your application may comprise one or more flows.

Process Commander associates a flow rule with a Microsoft Visio diagram, which graphically represents a process. The diagram contains a network of shapes (tasks) and connectors (arrows). They are associated with rules, parameters, or property values that precisely specify how the shapes and connectors act upon the work object. Collectively, the components define the process from the time a work object enters the flow until it is resolved. To modify the process you edit the flow diagram in Visio. You can use the flow rule to run the process and to test the results of your modifications.

Note: Begining in PRPC 6.2, you can define flows using Process Modeler, a browser-based tool, rather than Visio. See Introducing Process Modeler, an alternative to Visio for creating and editing flows.

Defining your process

Defining your process is the result of answering fundamental questions as they regard your business requirements. Here are a few basic ones:

  • What tasks are needed to be performed on a work object?
  • What is the sequence (work flow) in which the tasks occur?
  • What actions will be performed when a work object is assigned to a user, who will do it (a specific operator or any operator with access to the work), when must it be completed, and what choices will the operator have when the actions are completed and must be sent to the next task in the process?
  • Should an assignment be automatically routed to an operator other than the current one based on specific criteria such as skills, backlogs, facts in the work object, urgency, deadlines, and so on?
  • Should some tasks be automated at points during processing such as sending correspondence, updating a work object's status, or finalizing a work object for resolution?
  • Should some decisions be automated based upon computations and comparisons that cause processing to continue along one path or another?

This article provides an overview of how you define a process in Process Commander and the tools you use to meet your design objectives. The topics include:

  • Locating your flow rule and opening the flow diagram in Visio
  • Understanding flow shapes and the tasks they perform
  • Defining how a shape performs its task
  • Understanding commonly used shapes
  • Executing a flow to test your process design
  • Using Visio editing tools

Suggested Approach

To locate and open a flow rule, you can use either of the methods described here.

  • Double-click Flow in the Application Explorer to display all the flow rules in your application, which are listed in the Process category.

Click the appropriate flow rule from the list to open the rule form.

  • Use the Process slice in the Developer portal to open flow rules that you are likely to be working on as follows:
    1. Click the Process slice icon.
    1. When the Processes and Subprocesses section appears, select Explorer in the Process drop-down list. A section opens containing one or more buttons, each of which is labeled with the name of a flow rule in your current work pool (which contains all the work types to which you have access). In this example there is one flow named Purchase Order.
    1. Click the button to open the flow rule.

 

The flow rule displays the flow diagram on the Diagram tab.

Example of a process

The flow in the above example defines a purchase order request process. The employee enters purchase requests for office supplies or equipment. Operators collect Information about the the employee and the items. Certain criteria must be met to continue processing. If not met, the request may be rejected. In some cases, requests must be approved by a manager. When a request is approved or rejected, it is resolved and no further processing occurs.

This article uses the above flow to describe a typical Process Commander process definition and how it can be modified to meet your business requirements.

Before you begin

Before you begin editing a flow, click the Process tab on the rule form and make the following settings (if not already set):

  1. Check the Creates a new work object option so that when the flow starts, a new work object, which is uniquely identified, is created.
  2. Select New in the Harness field. This ensures that a new work harness is used when the new work object is created.
  3. Select pyDefault in the Model field so that standard property values are used to populate information about the new work object.

Opening the flow diagram in Visio

To open the diagram in Visio and begin editing, click the Flow Editor icon on the Developer toolbar. Here is how the diagram is displayed in Visio:

Building blocks: Flow shapes and connectors

The Shapes palette named Process Flow contains the shapes you use to build your flow. Each shape has a descriptive text name.

The shapes identify types of tasks. Drag a shape from the palette into the Visio workspace to add them to your flow.

The following table lists the shapes and describes the tasks they perform.

Shape Description

Assignment — Creates an assignment task associated with work object in a workbasket or worklist. The task must be completed by a person or the system before the flow can progress. It represents a pause or potential pause in the flow.

Optionally, after the assignment task is defined, you can associate a service level rule with it. A clock appears on the diagram, as shown here.

Assignment-Service — Passes control to an external system (for example, using a Connect BPEL rule). Flow execution pauses until Process Commander receives a service request of the appropriate type.

FlowStart — Identifies the start task of this flow. Every flow has one Start shape.

Comment — Adds explanatory text comments anywhere on the flow diagram. Comments do not affect execution of the flow.

Connector — Associates a task in the flow with another that may follow the first task. Connectors leaving assignment tasks may be flow actions. Connectors leaving other tasks such as decision or utility shapes may be when conditions.

Decision — Identifies an activity that can make an automated decision about the progress of the work object through this flow.

Flow — Identifies a subflow, which is a flow rule that is referenced in another flow. For example, add a Flow shape to the your flow rule to start another flow and end processing of the current flow. The second flow is called a subflow of the first flow.

FlowEnd — Marks the end of the flow. When processing reaches this shape, no further processing by this flow happens. A flow may contain none, one, or multiple FlowEnd shapes.

Fork — Supports automatic selection of one connector from two or more.

Integrator — Identifies an activity that can connect to an external system to send or receive data.

Notification — Notifies a work party by email or correspondence about the status or progress of this work object as the assignment is created.

Router — Sends an assignment to a user, workbasket, or agent other than the current user. Associate a Router task with an assignment task. This activity determines which worklist or workbasket is to contain the assignment.

Spin-off — Starts a new flow execution and does not wait for its completion.

Split-Join — Sends the work object to two other flows, both of which must complete before the current flow resumes.

Split-ForEach —Performs an operation or test on each element in a repeating group.

Pools and swim Lanes — Identifies and groups tasks performed by separate organizational units within one division.

Ticket — Marks a business exception that might arise at any point in the flow, such as a cancellation.

Utility — Specifies an activity to run at that point in the flow to perform automated processing without any user assignment.

Defining how a shape performs its task

When you drop or select a shape on the Visio workspace, the corresponding shape properties panel appears in the top left corner. You use this panel to name the shape and associate it with a set of characteristics that define how you want a shape to perform its task. These can include flow action or decision rules, and other information such as field values, properties, or parameters.

Here is an example of a connector properties panel for a flow action leaving an assignment:

The connector is defined by a flow action rule (Submit) and a parameter (Likelihood). The star icon () indicates that the field is required. Here is the associated flow action rule.

Other fields such as Application and Work Type may be entered by the system based upon rule settings or properties located elsewhere in the application.

From the properties panel, you can edit rules that display an edit icon next to it. Click on the icon to open the rule and modify it. You can also create new rules (ones that do not yet exist) from the panel. For example, you could delete Submit in the Flow Action field, enter the name of a new rule , and click the edit icon to open a new rule dialog.

Executing a flow to test it

During your flow design session, you can test the process by saving the diagram and clicking the Run toolbar button or use Ctrl +R as a shortcut.

Note: If you use either of these methods while in the flow rule, you are prompted to create a test page and use the pyDefault model. Click the Reset page & Run flow button.

If you are not working on the flow rule, you can select Run > Process > (your flow rule) from the Developer portal at any time.

If the results are not what you expected, modify the rule and run it as many times as necessary, testing each possible path. Use the gold Where-Am-I? arrow to see where an assignment is located in the flow.

Using draft mode and flow modeling

When designing and testing, you can turn on draft mode. In this mode, the flow rule is known as a flow model. Flow modeling lets you run flows during the development cycle without having to associate rules with shapes. For more information, see How to create and test a flow model.

Note: You cannot test a flow rule that has Availability set to No/Draft Mode.

Set the Available field to Yes, even if the Visio draft mode is in force.

Understanding the basic shapes and how they work

The shapes and their tasks that you will probably use most frequently include:

  • Assignments (and their flow action connectors) — Define the following:
    • Who performs the action on the work object and what actions must be performed
    • What actions can be performed by the user
    • When the assignment must be completed
    • Which path the work object takes when the assignment is complete
    • What updates can be made to the work object without advancing it in the flow
  • Router — Computes or derives a workbasket or Operator ID name and sends a new assignment to that workbasket or to a user worklist. A router is always associated with an assignment.
  • Decision — Automates decisions based on the inputs from the flow and work object.
  • Utility — Automates processing tasks (no user interaction or input).
  • Connector — Connects two tasks. The behavior of a connector depends upon the shape it is leaving . For example, connectors leaving an assignment typically represent flow actions that determines where the the work object is sent when the assignment is complete.

Assignment — This is the core shape in almost every flow. It represents a user's analysis, research, data input, and decisions that cause the assignment to be completed. In conjunction with their connectors, which represent flow actions, assignments represent the stepping stones on the process path. For this reason, pay special attention to how you configure assignments so that your design results meet your objectives. In addition, because the process will stop if an assignment is not completed, you must be careful to account for flow prerequisites and contingencies such as insufficient data, or incoming or outgoing processing conflicts that may impair performance.

Who performs the action on the work object and what actions must be performed?

An assignment assigns work to individuals or to an automated process based upon the rule you select in the Rule field in the Assignment properties panel. In almost all cases, you send the work to an individual operator's worklist or to a workbasket that is shared among an access group associated with multiple operators.

When an operator opens the work object in their work list or basket, a work object form is displayed. You use harness rules to define the appearance and processing of work object forms used in your application. Process Commander includes more than a dozen standard harness rules, which you can customize to extend and tailor them to your specific needs.

You specify which harness rule to use with an assignment in the Harness Purpose field in the Assignment Properties panel.

Here is an example of the Perform harness rule used with the Item Entry assignment. It has been customized using other rules such as sections and properties to suit the required tasks.

When must the assignment be completed?

An assignment can have an associated service level rule, which tracks the time that has elapsed from when it was assigned until it is completed.

Clicking the Open icon displays the rule, which specifies that the manager's goal is to complete the approval action within 2 hours of receiving the assignment. As time passes, the assignment's urgency is escalated. Another task (such as reassigning the assignment) may automatically be triggered as a result.

Which path will the work object take when the assignment is complete?

You associate flow action rules with assignments to specify the choices available to users as an interim or final disposition of an assignment. Each flow action indicates the likelihood it will occur when the assignment is completed. Flow actions are represented in the flow diagram as connectors leaving an assignment.

For example, an operator in the Item Entry assignment gathers information about the items ordered (names, quantities, and prices) and the requestor's information (department name and number). For example, if the the employee requests 20 laptops, the operator can choose to reject it based on a company policy to send requests of this size through another purchase process.

A flow actions is usually associated with a likelihood value or percentage between 1 and 100. Typically this is a before-the-fact opinion about the estimated percentage of times users are expected to choose that flow action during the process.

In this example, there are two flow actions. the user at the Item Entry assignment can either submit the request (likelihood of 90%) or reject it (likelihood of 10%).

Flow actions may require different input fields and may use different form displays. In this case, the reject flow action has its own work form. Flow actions contain HTML that displays to the user in the Take Action drop-down box of their assignment work form (Perform harness) as shown here:

The layout of the Reject work form is designed in the Reject flow action rule. The text from Short Description field appears in the Take Action field.

The order in which the flow actions appear depends upon the flow action likelihood percentage (. In the above example, Enter Order Items appears first because the likelihood of the Submit flow action is 90%.

How can a work object be updated without advancing it in the process?

You can also use flow actions to update a work object without advancing it to the next task in the process. These updates may include attaching a note to the work object, or attaching a file that enables the user to browse for and attach a file from an outside data source. You use the Local Action section in the Assignment Properties panel to select one or more standard local actions, or you can create one to meet your needs.

Local actions appear in the user interface as shown here:

Router — To send newly created assignments to a destination other than the default ( the worklist user who originated the work for example), you attach a router to an assignment shape. For example, you can send an assignment to an operator based upon availability, switch a worklist assignment to a workbasket, or send an assignment to a specific operator based on the operator ID.

A router's behavior is governed by an activity rule. Activities contain instructions that automate processing through a sequence of steps. During processing it usually references other rules to perform its tasks. In this example, the router uses an activity called ToManager.

 

The router sends the assignment to an operator based on his or her operator ID. In this case it is WorkManager@AlphaCorp.com.

Decision — Automating flow decisions can significantly enhance overall process performance. It eliminates the need for an operator to review relevant information about the work object and decide which path it should be sent to based upon a set of business conditions or criteria. A decision shape is associated with a decision rule such as a decision map, tree, or table, or you can create your own Boolean expression. The decision process you choose uses the appropriate logic to compute an outcome based upon property values associated with the work object.

In this example, the decision shape is associated with a decision tree rule named OrderTotalNeedsApproval.

The path taken from the Needs Approval shape is based upon the outcome of the decision and the values in the connectors leaving the Decision shape.

The rule uses a logical statement so that if the request total (an amount computed by the system based on data entered in the work form) is greater than $100, the outcome is True.

Therefore, a request with an order total value of $1000 will produce an outcome of True and follow the process path leading to the Manager Approval assignment.

Utility — Automating certain processing steps can also contribute greatly to process efficiency. A utility updates or performs tasks on a work object without human interaction before advancing it to the appropriate path. Standard utility processes include:

  • Attaching correspondence to the work object (a request in this case)
  • Sending correspondence
  • Saving it as an attachment to the request
  • Changing the status of a work object (not the status of an assignment)
  • Adding a record of this change to the history of the request.

In this example, the Update Status Completed utility uses an activity named UpdateStatus, which automatically sets the request status to Resolved and writes this on the request's history record. In addition, the system updates properties related to the work object so that processing can be finalized.

Most Utility shapes have one connector leaving it. When the Utility tasks are completed, the work can advance on only one path. In some cases, the work object can advance on two or more paths based on the outcome of the update.

In this example, the connector always advances the work object to the Set Confirmation Note utility, as indicated in the Connector Properties panel.

The utility simply appends a text note to the work object's record indicating why it is resolved (either completed or rejected). The request process is complete and no further processing occurs.

Using the Visio editing tools

The Flow editor provides other tools to make your design session easier. To open these tools, use the following tool buttons in the Visio toolbar:

Button Description

Turn on or turn off draft mode. While the flow rule is in draft mode it is known as a flow model. You can reference rules and flow actions that are not yet defined.

When a flow is saved in Draft Mode, Process Commander validates whether rules exist for each shape in the flow. A warning () image marks an incomplete shape and appears on the property panel next to the parameter in error. Hover over the shape to display the error message.

You can execute a flow rule in draft mode in systems where the production level is set to a value less than 5.

Display the normal Microsoft Visio toolbars, to access full Visio features for drawing, shape alignment, colors, and so on.

Click once to display the toolbars. Click again to hide the toolbars.

Save an editing session and remain in Visio.

When you save, Process Commander validates whether all shapes on the diagram can be reached through connectors that leave either the Start shape or ticket shapes. It marks any unreachable shapes with a gray background rather than a colored background. Incomplete shapes are marked in red to indicate an error. Click the shape to review the error message. An error indicator () also appears on the property panel next to the parameter in error.

Zoom in to enlarge the Visio diagram.

Zoom out to shrink the Visio diagram

Undo the most recent Visio operation (equivalent to pressing CTRL + Z).

Exit Visio editing and return to normal rule form editing. The system automatically uploads your results from your workstation to the new or updated flow rule and changes the toolbar. As you exit Visio, Process Commander checks the diagram and highlights any dangling connectors.

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Published June 18, 2008 — Updated February 19, 2016


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