SAP Business Workflow

2 Posts authored by: Alan Rickayzen
When it comes to symbolizing  the customer engagement between SAP and Customers for SAP (esp. Business Workflow), there’s no-one quite like Susan Keohan.  No one!


She is the Workflow Goddess.
[Susan Keohan]
Not even my t-shirts from the first ASUG events that I attended with Sue, have survived the aging processes as vividly as my memories of Sue – such is the impact she makes.  Ditto for the impact she has made on the software itself. We are talking about 15 years of continuous influence here, longer than the retention period of my emails!
Sue’s first presentation, “Plain Sailing”, was about a day in the life of a workflow administrator, in the days when the workflow sea was more like a boiling tempest compared to the mill-pond that it is now. I was inspired by Sue’s calm and confident way of describing how she tacked up one mountainous wave and down another as she made her workflow work wonders for her employer (Massachusetts Institute of Technology – no stranger to software or leading edge ideas). She had us falling off our seats in laughter, and gaping in amazement as she described one achievement after another. For example, how she used the workflow reporting to persuade the Nobel-prize-winning Principals and Deans that not every single purchase requisition needed to go through an n-step approval process – a radical departure from conventional workflow wisdom in those days.


Needless to say, Sue is a keen sailor in her spare time, so I’m sure she’s tamed the lake where her yacht is moored to be as quiet as a tadpole when SHE’s on board.


From joint shopping expeditions, I know she has two sons (they’ve grown out of their cowboy costumes by now) and a husband with his own career path, too. So family life was always important to Sue, and somehow she managed to juggle both family and career in such a way that neither got in the way of her influence on SAP’s software.  In fact, perhaps it’s because of her “mother hen” talents that we all had such a good time at the ASUG events and nobody
(from newbie to alumni) was neglected. 
Tip: If you’re new and lost at the 2013 event (it is pretty overwhelming) just say hi to Sue …. She’ll make you at home and steer you in the right direction.


[Sue during a typical ASUG moment]
Talking of influence – Let me slip in some praise for the VNSG (the SAP Dutch user group), assisted by Avelon  and Ralf Goetzinger from SAP,  for initiating Customer Satisfaction improvements in the workflow tool, and for reaching out to Sue to get the innovation jointly supported across user groups. This international collaboration was a bold and successful move – typical of Sue to see an opportunity the instant it arises, and have the patience of a captain to see it through.


<anectdote>… Attending a think-tank meeting near Boston, we were interrupted by a fire-alarm. Minutes later the fire brigade arrived sirens and all.  I think it was the reassuring posture of Sue, that sent the firemen back to the station so quickly that the meeting could continue without skipping a beat..</anectdote>


Sue was an SAP Mentor even before SCN or SDN were born.  Necessity being the mother of invention, this was built on a list-server (email technology) hosted by MIT.  In its peak (before the Web was mature enough to provide an alternative through SCN) there were many hundreds of messages a
week, and her message-based Fire-And-Inspire is a tradition she continues to this day. Confession: I secretly blamed Sue for the days when twitter used to go down under tweet load. Was it @SKEOHAN and the tweets she inspired that caused this?


But tweets and list-servers are transient, so it is with real satisfaction that I can pronounce it a huge win for the SAP customers that she joined the authors of the 2nd edition of the workflow book.  Her tremendous insight and experience as a seasoned administrator and workflow solution expert has been captured in a permanent form. And (my guess) influenced by Sue, the author-revenue is 100% donated to a worthy humanitarian cause (Doctors without Borders).
Historical note: Nevertheless it is Ginger Gatling who takes the full credit for this generous idea… just saying that Sue influenced.

[2nd Edition Workflow Book]


Enough said….if you want a passage through an IT storm… Sue is your captain of choice.


And if you like a good heroic tale, join her in her sessions at ASUG 2013.




Link to first blog in this series.


+++ Update This was broadcast as a Webcast for ASUG workflow community and an FAQ about the BPMN modeler was created from the responses.


It’s 8 years ago to the day that I wrote a blog for the SAP Business Workflow community announcing that SAP had delivered the popular e-mail notifications mechanism which is now used in almost all workflow projects. This is another gift horse (freebie), which I believe will prove even more useful.


How do you model your workflows? That’s an easy one, the Workflow Builder in the SAP GUI for Windows.
But is it?


Most modeling is done well before that on the white-board, in desktop software (as in tied to a particular pc where the installed client resides), on paper and of course over the telephone in detailed discussions with process experts. That is how it used to be done 8 years ago, and I am sure it is the same today. I’d even bet that the white-board is still the most popular medium. It is only after days, weeks, months of discussion (read “collaboration) does the process actually get put into the Workflow Builder.

Nowadays, this whiteboard modeling is usually done with swimlanes and BPMN-like techniques. That's why I suggest surprising yourself in terms of efficiency and transparency and giving the collaborative process modeler in SAP StreamWork a trial run. Start with a simple process, and follow these simple steps or jump to the end of this blog to understand the advantages it will give you.

But at the very minimum it will future-proof your work, especially if your company or customer is looking at Solution Manager 7.1 Business Blueprinting;  using ARIS SAP Business Architect; thinking of using SAP NetWeaver BPM for cross application scenarios; Working with both SAP Business Workflow and SAP NetWeaver BPM at your site; Weighing up the future direction options re Process Integration (PI) and Process Orchestration;.... (the list goes on.)  Using BPMN will give you a common graphical notation that supports the roadmap for all of these solutions.

What I called the "gravity" modeler in the title is the project name of the collaborative process modeler in SAP StreamWork. It's the tool used, whenever you create a process flow from the beta tab of the StreamWork tool catalogue.


Fig 1. SAP StreamWork offers a colorful collaboration environment with chat, documents....


Step 1. Do not install :-)
There is no installation.
It’s a Web based tool so you’ll have access from anywhere. Similarly anyone you later want to share your virtual whiteboard with will not need to install either. All you do is register with SAP StreamWork if you haven’t done so already. The basic version (no charges) is all you need to start with.


Step 2. Set up a workspace
In StreamWork speak this is called an “activity”. Create an activity and give it a title. This is where you will draw the process and collect anything else related to the process design. There are different tools to create

  • Interview notes
  • Decisions that need to be made along the way - such as how to go live.
  • RACI (Responsiblity and Accountability) and ARCI (Roles/Tasks) Matrixes which are useful later for the workflow roles and task definitions.
    Pros/cons tables....
  • The process flow item (at least one) that you’ll use to sketch the process. This is the gift horse.

Step 3. Add a start event to the process

Just pick the event (represented as a circle) from the  toolbar and drop it where you want on the canvas.


Fig 2. Adding an event using the graphical editor

Hey presto! - you have just overcome the methodology war. You have proved to yourself that an executable workflow can be described in different ways, and there is no single way of doing things that you have to stick to.
You are free.


But here’s the background: The Business Workflow Builder is based on EPCs (event-process-chains) and the StreamWork modeler is based on BPMN (Business Process Model and Notation). They only share one letter in common so there’s plenty of opportunity for the obstinate to claim that the two are incompatible. Nonsense. All workflow experts know that much of the business logic takes place outside the modelled workflow or inside the ABAP methods, so the flow diagram in the Workflow Builder simply maps the work flow to the ABAP-driven workflow. It’s not the methodology that drives the process but the combination of process model and process logic in the application and methods so there is no need to be dogmatic because the execution is the final line.
So, just as every SAP Business Workflow expert knows the start events are the most important part of the process (I know - I coded the event simulation all those years ago), so BPMN does support this - even though there is no “E” in BPMN.
And while you’re at it, you may want to add a couple more start events, just like you’ll do later in the Workflow Builder. There’s nothing to stop you.



Step 4. Think of the main roles
Who are your principle participants in the process? You can add more later, but it’s a good idea to add the principle roles at the start. Requester? Approver? Processor? Salesperson?....


To add these roles create a “pool” to represent your system (or executable workflow). I’d recommend using a vertical pool because the business builder uses a vertical format. Drag your event into this pool and use the context menu of the pool to add swimlanes, one for each role.
Yes, the whole process is like a game of very disciplined water polo without opponents. Once you’ve lobbed the ball into the pool (the start event) you keep that ball moving by passing it from lane to lane (role to role) until it reaches the goal at opposite end.
BTW: Budding artists, this is your chance for fame and fortune. Who can send me a nice sketch showing this ball-game?


Fig 3. The swimlanes show the roles.

Step 4. Add the steps of the process


This is the choreography of the process. The steps that are performed, in which order. You can even specify whether or no the step is a background task or a human task. That “cog wheel” symbol lets you switch later if you change your mind.



Step 5. Add the intermediate events
In Business Workflow these are “wait” steps. In the collaboration modeler you just add “catch” events. Similarly for triggering events from within your process (event type “throw” in the modeler). You can show the path of a trigger event to a wait event using a connector in your diagram. Even though this is not  actually modeled in the workflow builder later it is useful to convey to your stakeholders how the process works. The SAP Business Workflow engine will deal with this eventing/messaging in its execution engine directly.


Fig 4. The process nears complection.


Step 6. Add documentation
If you’ve read our book or been involved in workflow projects you’ll know how important this is.
Two types of documentation can be added.
1. Annotations - explaining why something has to be done, or detail behind a step in the workflow. Classic example is how to configure the start event (change-document, batch trigger....)
2. Comments - these are transient “sticky notes” that you are colleagues add as reminders or suggestions. A classic examples are “#like” or “can’t we remove this step and deal with it as exception-handling”.
You can assign the annotations to steps so that even when steps are inserted or moved the notes remain attached to the step or event.



Step 7. Try some of the more fancier capabilities
You can add other elements to the diagram as you become braver (e.g. subprocesses called a “Call activity”). You can move things around. If you don’t like what you’ve done just press the undo or redo button until you are back where you started. The good thing about this is that if several of you are working in the editor at the same time and the same model you won’t undo their work.





Step 8. Encourage Direct Participation


This is very important. This determines how quickly you can make progress and how successful your process reflects what your stakeholders want to achieve. They will be timid initially, just like with a white-board, but if you encourage them by just getting them to add sticky notes or using the red-liner to highlight items under discussion during a telephone call then you’ll involve them directly and improve efficiency.
To invite new participants, just use the StreamWork invite button and an e-mail is generated with a link to the model. I do this while on the phone rather than starting a web conference.


Don’t forget to suggest to your participants that they use the undo button to remove their red-lines once the discussion is over. Comfort is the name of the game.
Once they get more confident they will start adding suggestions of their own. Items added by other users will be marked as such so it is easy to see who did what, even for the sticky notes.



Step 9. (optional) Validate for BPMN
BPMN is the de facto graphic process modeling description language. The shapes and connectors and how they connect to each other are defined by this standard so that those familiar with it see at a glance whether a branch is an “or” or an “and” branch. For this reason, for documentation purposes or to facilitate discussion with groups who favor this standard, you can use the BPMN validation checker to highlight discrepancies and sugges how to correct them.



10. Simulate the process
Use the red-liner and stickies to walk people through the process. They can easily see where you are in the process and give their feedback about whether this covers all eventualities. It is so much easier doing it directly in the web browser rather than setting up a separate Web conference. They can later go in in their own time and experiment with different paths.
You can even duplicate the diagram (use the export+import feature to achieve this) so that you can document using the StreamWork comments feedback to traversing the process in different ways to cover all possible scenarios.
You can even duplicate to a different StreamWork activity to give different groups of users different views of the process. For example you might want to delete certain steps from a copy of a security-related process before exposing it for discussion to a group of users who should not have transparency of the complete end-to-end process.



Step 11. Transfer to the Workflow Builder
This is a manual step, but simple as you can see in the diagram.
The steps are added one at a time. The roles are added by configuring the steps.
You should appreciate now, how much easier the modeling is when you use the tool in SAP StreamWork and transfer to the Workflow Builder once you’re happy it is more or less complete.



Fig 5. The process transferred to the Workflow Builder



Fig 6. Just as described in the book, the roles are added last.

Step 12.  What about par-for-each?
No SAP Business Workflow blog is worth its salt without mention of the par-for-each. I think this was the first workflow software that ever supported this. Well, the good news is that this very useful modeling element is now part of BPMN (called Multi-Instance -Parallel) but the bad news is that this is not yet supported in the collaborative modeling tool.... Shame. To get round this, or any other missing element, you can always find a similar elements and elaborate with an annotation. And if you do notice elements in the diagram that someone else has added that you don’t quite understand then simply consult the extensive online help. It explains the different elements, not just technically but semantically because we assume that most users will not be familiar with BPMN from the word go.


Why use this modeler instead of other tools?

Well try these for starters. But I'm sure the Business Workflow community will discover even more as they start to use the tool.

  • It is as simple as using a whiteboard. No installation necessary.
  • It matches the way your stakeholders are used to working, such as showing swimlanes instead of traditional flow diagrams.
  • It is persistent and available to everyone wherever they are. You can invite (and later eject) users to the process diagram to sound off opinions and validate the process.
  • You have spontaneous access with colleagues or even experts or partners outside your company. Just pick up a phone and talk and draw. You’ll both see the changes instantaneously without having to march off to the conference room or exchange a thread of e-mails and diagrams.
  • It supports the BPMN standard - this is becoming more and more important for the business community.  But no-one, not even you, has to learn BPMN first. You’ll probably find that as you use the tool more and more you learn it anyway without effort.
  • Because it supports BPMN, if you change your mind about the execution engine mid project you can import the process directly into a more modern workflow engine, such as SAP NetWeaver BPM.  For such a tool, you can import the BPMN generated from the collaborative process modeler directly.
  • StreamWork is the perfect place for capturing the artifacts associated with the process. You can upload screenshots of existing applications, spreadsheets of SLAs, RACI matrixes for role descriptions, discussion threads, decisions that need to be signed-off on... There is no limit as to what can be captured, and no underestimating how useful it is having all these unstructured artifacts stored in the same place as the workflow model that you are building.

    So please SAP Business Workflow Community... don’t look this gift horse in the mouth. Try it. And send me your feedback so that we can adapt the tool to match your requirements more exactly. That is the beauty of on-demand software.


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