Workflow vs Checklist

Lionel Grealou PLM 3 minutes

business process is typically an activity or a set of inter-dependent activities, tasks or actions that, once complete, will accomplish a specific organizational objective. It can be described and illustrated by a use case or a set of use cases, workflow or swim-lane scenario (by role or “user”, by project, etc.) – these are synonyms of the same and are interchangeable words: a workflow or a process. The process must involve clearly defined inputs and output(s). These inputs are made up of all of the factors which contribute (either directly or indirectly) to the added value of a service or product.

Workflows assume the results of one completed step determine what the next step should be, compared to checklists which provide a method of attaching various predefined tasks which can be worked in any order. A workflow is a mean to automate processes.

Among other things, Product Life-cycle Management (PLM) solutions provide tools and techniques to manage digital product engineering and manufacturing data. One key aspect of PLM is to streamline business processes, from an effective and efficiency perspective, and enable workflow or process management from the point of view of many technical and business domains – e.g. BoM data release, change approval, digital sign-off, virtual series deliverable validation, New Product Introduction (NPI) gateway checklist, etc. PLM’s workflow engines that control processes help ensure complete digital feedback to both end users and business systems throughout each stage of the product life-cycle.

PLM applications provide: 

  • predefined set of OOTB workflows and functions that are supposed to include industry-ready ‘best practices‘, and are meant to be simple and modular so that they can be adopted and adapted to specific requirements.
  • language for workflow codification and modification, using a platform for workflow configuration and customization, so that processes can be tailored appropriately to specific business rules.
  • A set of checklist that NPI processes can refer to for data validation, quality checks, collaboration, design reviews etc.

Business processes should be made simple where possible to avoid complex data validation rules that might be a hindrance for data migration or data creation / update, impacting performance. It is useful to leverage knowledge that has been embedded into the OOTB application(s) by the PLM author, and to select a credible implementation partner which is able to support and guide with:

  • Assessing the need for configuration vs customization of these processes and lead technical decisions.
  • Understanding the OOTB capabilities to minimize complexity in implementing bespoke workflows, and driving relevant design workshops with business users to instill a clear understanding of the ‘art-of-the-possible‘.
  • Interfacing with the PLM author to avoid reinventing the wheel and raise relevant enhancement requests or drive technical assurance.
  • Creating clear detailed requirements to describe processes that are fit for purpose and have been evaluated against OOTB functionality.

After decades of developments, all PLM platform offers advanced workflow configuration and customization capabilities to implement process adaptation and automation, most of which can be done through administrative GUI so that there is minimum need for complex programming. 

Both workflows and checklists provide means to turn processes into actionable itemswithin the PLM framework. There is no need for over-automation for every process steps; the decision to automate a process or create a specific workflow should be driven by usability and potential ROI. Workflows can be perceived by Engineers as bureaucracy or ‘admin‘ if they are not fit-for-purpose. One of the challenges is to educate business usersand decision makers about the balance between formal and informal, core and non-core activities, value-added vs essential non value-added activities, etc. to avoid creating in the first place complex workflows for the sake of it.

Nowadays, PLM platforms give access to various functional processes and implementation options. So, it is the death of the workflow? Not quite. Workflows will remain important as they bring some structure and order to the creative process of Product Development – which can be chaotic at times, especially at the advanced phase. Checklists provide some level of flexibility and can help redistribute accountability back to the end users, while enforcing standard operational practices and governance – as one would expect from an effective NPI process. 

What are your thoughts?

This post was originally published on LinkedIn on 17 November 2015.

About the Author

Lionel Grealou


Lionel Grealou, a.k.a. Lio, helps original equipment manufacturers transform, develop, and implement their digital transformation strategies—driving organizational change, data continuity and process improvement, managing the lifecycle of things across enterprise platforms, from PDM to PLM, ERP, MES, PIM, CRM, or BIM. Beyond consulting roles, Lio held leadership positions across industries, with both established OEMs and start-ups, covering the extended innovation lifecycle scope, from research and development, to engineering, discrete and process manufacturing, procurement, finance, supply chain, operations, program management, quality, compliance, marketing, etc.

You may also like: