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Best Online Examples of Workflow Patterns? 82

Posted by Cliff
from the smoothly-flowing-interfaces dept.
g8orade writes "In his bestselling book, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman lists workflow management software in the top 5 Flatteners. During my work for a shipping startup, I have analyzed our software's many UI weaknesses, particularly related to workflow management, and am currently searching for the best online examples of various UI application patterns / widgets that address managing transaction flows. What are the best examples you know of that are commonly viewable on the web?"
"Our software UI is Oracle (9i) Forms compiled to run with Java, through the web. We're using RT for our internal ticket tracking and it has many of the features listed. Also, we're evaluating several commercial document management systems as bolt-ons or companions to our in-house application. Here are some patterns we'd like to improve:
  • Queue with count beside it. Example: 'Unshipped orders (5)'
  • Screen for UI building of a search and ability to save the search as a queue
  • List of queues showing all transaction counts and their various states
  • Transaction list / table screen (should have an many possible features as a standard spreadsheet: pick your columns, column order, sort order, clickable column headings, export to various formats, print view, etc.)
  • Detail view screen (one transaction, may include too many fields to display at once, requiring tabs, scrolling up and down, left to right, etc., should have a good printable view)
  • Contact database built-in or connection to one from another system
  • Auto messaging of various statuses to contacts and lists of contacts, above
  • Full web accessibility and security model to allow our suppliers and clients access to their own queues for 'pull queries', in addition to what we email them.
  • Ability to create a list of values for a field, then incorporate that into the query for a queue.
  • Journal of a transaction
  • Screen showing progression of a transaction
  • Screen showing Parent / child parts of a transaction"
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Best Online Examples of Workflow Patterns?

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  • by mmThe1 (213136) * on Sunday January 15, 2006 @12:37AM (#14474145) Homepage
    ... in the article (just posted) is incorrect.

    The correct link is http://www.patternlanguage.com/ [patternlanguage.com]

  • Why patterns? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by waffleman (697097) on Sunday January 15, 2006 @12:49AM (#14474202)
    Seriously, could someone explain to me why patterns are what is needed here? From my experience, user interface design takes a deep understanding of customer requirements. Applying patterns would seem (imo) like an entrapping short cut that ultimately would be a waste of time. Any thoughts?
    • Re:Why patterns? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Agreed. It sounds like they want their own unique and very customized software solution. There is no such thing as a generic pattern for every different business application. Banks operate differently from clothing stores, which operate differently from auto shops. If there was such a piece of software, that you could buy shrink-wrapped off the shelf, push a few buttons (say about 10 buttons max), then be able to give it to some high school graduate to use on a daily basis, and have your small business
      • by MrNixon (28945) <aguite@@@gmail...com> on Sunday January 15, 2006 @03:01AM (#14474614)
        Perhaps we should coin a new law for the Internet and call it Nixon's Law:

        Nixon's Law states that:

        Any discussion of resonable length on the Internet will eventually devolve into a discussion about Google.

        C'mon man. It's just a search engine. They've managed to index a whole lot of content and it *is* quite useful, but it's still a search engine - I'm not quite convinced that Google is the second coming, or even the cure for cancer.

        It's amazing how the flavour of the moment is always the solution to all our problems - but if history serves, Google will be an important and perhaps integral part of our future society and economy - but it will not be the universal solution that we seem to think it will be.
      • "It is the closest thing we humans have created so far to Artificial Intelligence." While I like Google too, I think you should educate yourself regarding AI research.
      • Saying that there is no single killer application that solves all problems is something of a moot point. However, many applications do form some common ground and if you observe some simple guidelines, then you can make your software easier to use. Many Windows applications use the 'File', 'Edit', 'View'... system on menus. That is a useful pattern, people know that 'File' deals with the loading and saving of files and by including that menu item in your item of software can speed up the user's learning cur
    • Re:Why patterns? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JoshRoss (88988)
      I personally find patterns one-step away from being useless. They are almost by design so generic as to be applicable to everything that they are appropriate for nothing.
      • Re:Why patterns? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by rossifer (581396) on Sunday January 15, 2006 @06:10AM (#14475008) Journal
        They are almost by design so generic [...] that they are appropriate for nothing

        I find them useful for communication. If my design is similar to a pattern (most patterns are only part of any solution) then I can use the name of the pattern to describe my design more quickly. Often, because a pattern will include several distinct elements, I am able to convey several nuances of a particular design with only one or two words.

        Explaining a design in terms of patterns is also a cool way of mentoring junior developers. You can back them out of the details of "this problem" and take a look at the more general situation, what the pattern suggests, and then go back to "this problem" and see how it fits in. Often you'll be able to elicit multiple "a-ha!'s" from the junior.

        Back to your point, I find that the best pattern authors understand that they must strike a useful balance between generality and specificity. You still have to design the solution, but the top-level "how the heck do I get started here" is what's described by the pattern. Fowler tends to be better than the GoF at this particular skill.

        Of course, getting the most utility out of patterns absolutely requires that you are an experienced designer (or are working with one). This means applying all of the classic design skills, including patterns, as appropriate to solve the problem (and that may mean no use of patterns for a particular problem).

        Regards,
        Ross
    • Patterns have proved to be practical solutions in software engineering problems. At various levels in user interface design, certain UI requirements dictate the use of certain designs. Although the specific needs of each customer are very different, there is some inherent similarity at least in the individual modules of a complex UI.

      There is a huge body of knowledge in HCI / UI Design gained from research as well as practical experience of innumerable designers, but this is only effective if novice (and oth
  • YAWL (Score:5, Informative)

    by asphinx (921110) on Sunday January 15, 2006 @12:51AM (#14474209)
    Have a look at the YAWL project of the Business Process Modelling Group at the Queensland University of Technology. YAWL stands for Yet Another Workflow Language and is based on petri nets. The BPM group claims it can model any workflow pattern. Link: http://www.yawl.fit.qut.edu.au/ [qut.edu.au].
    • Re:YAWL (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BarryNorton (778694)
      Have a look at the YAWL project of the Business Process Modelling Group at the Queensland University of Technology.
      Despite the title, he doesn't seem to really be talking about workflow patterns, but about common UI idioms that fit into a workflow-driven app (though some of these may be associated with data/resource patterns).
  • Huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TrappedByMyself (861094) on Sunday January 15, 2006 @01:00AM (#14474233)
    Are we talking about globalization or software design? WTF?

    I get the weird feeling that you're trying to solve your problems by throwing more processes, tools, and abstract concepts to the mix.
    Just learn about use cases, flow charts, and screen mock-ups and your world will be simple and happy.
    • Indeed. Workflows are nothing more than algorithms that can be expressed with typical algorithmic flow charts. The main difference between an algorithm and a workflow is that the workflow is applied over a distributed system, whereas an algorithm is applied over a O/S process. Other than that, it is exactly the same thing.
  • Open Source Solution (Score:4, Informative)

    by mudwump (946000) on Sunday January 15, 2006 @01:03AM (#14474249)
    I have looked fairly extensively for a nice open source version of a workflow type program. One that I am currently watching is http://pentaho.org/ [pentaho.org]. This is a very impressive package of not only workflow but business intellegence and reporting.
  • OfBiz (Score:4, Informative)

    by Felonius Thunk (168604) on Sunday January 15, 2006 @01:17AM (#14474293) Journal
    It has a worfklow engine [ofbiz.org] that may be too abstract as a starting place for you, but the OfBiz app itself may already be doing pretty much everything you want anyway. It's java, open source, and been around for years, though not easy to tweak or get stably up and running.
  • So.. this would be how you get a beowulf cluster of slashdotters to do your job.

    Impressive.
  • by Chabil Ha' (875116) on Sunday January 15, 2006 @01:18AM (#14474297)
    Here's a link you might follow to get you onto the right foot. [useit.com] It seems to me that all of your 'needs' only *need* some research. Jakob Nielsen's usibility guidlines are a good headstart. My own suggestion would be KISS.
  • Examples (Score:5, Funny)

    by Velox_SwiftFox (57902) on Sunday January 15, 2006 @01:33AM (#14474345)
    Well, I've always thought a little icon of an envelope was pretty good for representing mail.
  • Well the classic MVC combined with Observer does the job for most UI designs, especially in terms of web transactions that fall under the Oberver Observable mould. Java provides a rich set of Observer implementations: java.util.Observer and Java Beans' PropertyChangeListener. If you want to a really good implementation that removes a lot of the deficiencies in the above, use Impresario developed at ArchSynergy and Dr Sandeep Mitra. If you would need details on this let me know.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 15, 2006 @01:45AM (#14474395)
    I found an excellent resource [thedailywtf.com] for this. They cover a new example each work day. Some of the examples are truly brillant.
  • I started it and tried to read it but found it a slow read. His points were not very interesting and I really thought it was just badly written.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Everyone who intends to quote Friedman should be required to read this critique of his book first: http://nypress.com/18/16/news&columns/taibbi.cfm [nypress.com]. It is one of the funniest articles I have read in a long time and it explains what is particularly annoying about Friedman.
      • It is one of the funniest articles I have read in a long time and it explains what is particularly annoying about Friedman.>

        That's a review ? So Friedman might mix his metaphors, but he's not writing poetry. Nowhere in the review does the critic get to grips with the rights and worngs of the ideas being presented. For example, I have problems with the unending optimism of the book - According to Friedman, globalisation is goodness. Not some of the time, not most of the time, but ALL of the time (I'll
    • There is a video available of a talk he gave at MIT [mit.edu], might be interesting for people who haven't read the book.
    • I've read about half of it and found it a fairly fast read, when I bothered. I think that's because it's very layman-oriented (hence the lack of anything that looks like evidence, citation, etc., making the whole thing smell of pseudo-science/research rather than The Real McCoy) It's been a while since I picked it up but that's more my laziness than anything else.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Thomas Friedman lists workflow management software in the top 5 Flatteners

    Read the book, AssHat! Friedman is NOT a developer and not even software savvy, so when he titles something "workflow", you have to read what he says, and what he says is "web apps".

    Bad news is that every "Web 2.0" marketer is going to interpret Friedman's words in the most convenient way. Like the Far Side cartoon with two bears at the cave door fighting off humans: "Seems like there's more and more of these each year!"

  • by Allnighterking (74212) on Sunday January 15, 2006 @02:18AM (#14474499) Homepage
    Go to the person who is most likely the creator of the whole idea of UI testing and design. Jeff Raskin. All others came after him. His writings, ideas etc are still maintained by his family on his home page.

    http://jef.raskincenter.org/home/ [raskincenter.org]

    Including his work on the Humane Interface.
    • Wow, that is a great website.
      Simple, clean, intuitive, easy to find stuff, and it actually looks nice
      A far cry from the suckass website of that imposter Jakob Nielsen

      I know useability and UI design aren't exactly the same thing (a great UI might not be easily useable by the disabled), but seriously, a website need not use the same layout and color scheme as those crazy mofo websites about alien abduction and the apocalypse
      • Having had the honor of meeting the man, I can assure you that what you found the site to be is exactly what Jeff felt all computing should be. Though I don't agree with all of his methods, I fail to find a way to argue with his objectives.
  • by BorgCopyeditor (590345) on Sunday January 15, 2006 @02:28AM (#14474534)
    No mention of Friedman's steaming pile of content-free platitudes would be complete without a link to this very funny review [nypress.com] thereof:
    Predictably, Friedman spends the rest of his huge book piling one insane image on top of the other, so that by the end--and I'm not joking here--we are meant to understand that the flat world is a giant ice-cream sundae that is more beef than sizzle, in which everyone can fit his hose into his fire hydrant, and in which most but not all of us are covered with a mostly good special sauce.
  • by Tom Davies (64676) <tgdavies@gmail.com> on Sunday January 15, 2006 @07:50AM (#14475163) Homepage
    I've found this useful: http://is.tm.tue.nl/research/patterns/ [tm.tue.nl]
    • It's also useless for the task at hand. Some of the literal requirements listed at the bottom involve GUI Design rather than workflow patterns.

      Of course, it does look like a "homework" assignment that any CS graduate can solve - especially with the first point in particular, which involves a simple database query (it is possible to cache the result, which is also considered trivial.)

      It's not as lame as "Journal of a Transaction". That can be set up by the simplest of textbooks or manuals.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ... (1) how many bottles of Scotch the Brass are willing to
    give me outside the contract.

    One bottle ... they'll get much less than 40 hrs in 5 days.

    Two bottles ... I'll probably fell sorry for them and take
    them out to dinner.

    A bottle a day ... now we're talk'n about a 40+ hr per 5 day
    week workflow ... but not much more.

    5 bottles of Sake and dinner each day ... now we're talk'n about
    a regular 72 hr workflow in 5 days.

    The key to a Samurai's heart is through the stomach.

    Cheers!
  • We're using BizFlow [handysoft.com] at work. BizFlow from the client side requires IE and some sort of "agent" that runs when you go to the BizFlow "site".

    From there, we (the users) can initiate a number of processes. An engineering "Test Order", for example, will require management/supervisor approval, finally requiring that an engineer submit a "Test Report", which also goes through an approval process, and so forth. If someone is on vacation, it gets re-routed to the responsible person. If an engineer bounces the

  • You should check Thomas Malone and his Coordination Theory, he has an open source project on business processes

I cannot conceive that anybody will require multiplications at the rate of 40,000 or even 4,000 per hour ... -- F. H. Wales (1936)

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