Co-Creating a New Product: The cplace Workflow Manager
The story of the Workflow Manager, a brand-new cplace capability, started with two major pain points that kept coming up in different projects:
- Over and over again, our dev teams had to rebuild solution components, such as reports, visualizations, and workflows — in Pro-Code and from scratch. Workflows in particular confronted them with repeated development and training effort and the same loops again and again.
- Although we found efficient solutions through Pro-Code development, this approach was not a perfect long-term match for workflows. As business processes and corporate workflows are subject to constant change, it is hardly possible to set them in stone for more than just a few months. If the regarding software does not adapt at the same speed, users will go back to Excel and create new shadow IT.
Our team wanted to address both pain points and find faster, more efficient and longer-lasting solutions for our customers. And voilà — Low-Code did serve their turn. This approach enabled them to create workflows that future end users can adapt to new requests directly in the cplace user interface, without deployments, at runtime.
By the end of 2017, the strategic decision was made to bring the workflow topic to the cplace frontend and integrate status transitions, conditions, and actions. The goal was a so-called state machine, a workflow manager. Another objective was a unified user experience for workflows in cplace through a first-class concept, an inherent capability of the cplace platform. That would result in less development effort and highly configurable workflows at runtime.
In a customer project at MTU Aero Engines AG, our team got the chance to get closer to this goal with a proof of concept. In the organization, however — just like in everybody else’s — the corporate processes and business workflows just kept changing.
“Many activities at MTU are standardized and process-driven and require the involvement of employees in a wide variety of roles, functions and levels, as well as the transfer of data between them. We also quickly realized that we needed a solution that could be used by employees without an IT developer background”, said Dr.-Ing. Oliver Schmitz, Chief Engineer Advanced Propulsion Concepts at MTU Aero Engines. “This identified the demand for a workflow manager that would be very generic and suitable for a wide range of scenarios on the one hand, and very user-friendly on the other.”
With “Go Fast or Go Home” being the leitmotif, velocity was a main aspect while product quality was non-negotiable. The triad of procurement, software development and implementation in a classic customer-supplier relationship simply would have taken too long in the face of business processes that are constantly changing.
But wait — what is a workflow?
A classic example for a business workflow is the task management within a cross-functional agile team, where the flow of tasks is supposed to follow a certain path. After a task is created, its state can be changed from “new” to “scheduled”, which forms a so-called transition. Obviously, the only change of state that is allowed in that case is the one from “new” to “scheduled”, but not directly from “new” to “done”.
Before the introduction of the Workflow Manager, the rules and conditions for state changes had to be developed by software engineers via Pro-Code in cplace, because otherwise, users could have chosen from all possible states at any time. With the new cplace Workflow Manager, possible states and the connections between them can be defined in the user interface of cplace, without a single line of code.
The cplace Workflow Manager, however, goes far beyond simple path definition: Following a “if this then that” logic, workflow automation comes into place. Actions can be triggered if certain conditions apply. Examples are automatic user notifications, such as “The issue is scheduled” or the triggering of follow-up processes. Such complications can be added via Low-Code.
A new pioneer product team was formed that was ready to face the challenges of developing such a complex and uncertain product. After only 15 days of product discovery, there was a first throwaway prototype. While the team learned a lot during the process, they also discovered various technical restrictions.
The team members were executing their Lessons Learned and capturing the scope of features still missing to a finished product. At the same time, another customer from the Shared Source Ecosystem approached the team searching for a way to implement workflows in cplace — Continental Reifen Deutschland GmbH.
The estimated effort to finalize the project were 200 person-days, which would tie up enormous development power. So, the team fathomed an alternative that would kill two birds with one stone: The co-creation approach would generate significantly more development capacities and would pave the way to build exactly the kind of product that customers wanted and needed. The people who would use the solution in the future would also be those who worked on building the product.
After having found a win/win solution, all parties entered into a joint development agreement and defined the premises and general framework of the cooperation. When all the technicalities, like first usage rights or further distribution were clarified, the mixed team was set to work on a one-of-a-kind project that has never been done before.
“From the very beginning, our team found the entire Shared Source approach very exciting and was thrilled to be a part of a topic that is so important to us”, said Florian Kamke, Global Team Lead Analysis Solutions at Continental Reifen and part of the Workflow Manager project team. “The result speaks for itself. I think this was a success story — we achieved more by bringing different partners together, that can create a better product. Therefore, it was a great experience for me and an excellent result.”
All parties defined the scope and prioritized features together. A minimum viable product went into the productive pilot stage at both partner companies. Both gave extensive feedback to collaboration Factory while the team members guaranteed to provide support beyond the go-live and the development period.
Two developers from cplace partner companies joined the distributed team on behalf of collaboration Factory. This made this initiative the first, one-of-a-kind Shared Source project that delivered all aspired results in record time. All team members from different parties were completely integrated into the development process — including the daily communication — and even shared their experiences in a cplace webinar. They are still in close contact and keep exchanging ideas and experiences on other topics.
“At MTU, we enjoyed working with Continental Reifen on this project so much and the entire co-creation process was a great experience”, adds Dr.-Ing. Oliver Schmitz.
In the meantime, Workflow Manager has left its MVP status and helps high-tech leaders take their business processes to the next level.
Written by Sabine Pfleger, Content and Marketing Specialist at collaboration Factory AG.