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Optimizing SAP Worklfow: Picking the right people, in the right order

by Kristin Bent

May 20, 2011

Without the correct allocation of tasks to the correct user, even the fastest, most efficient SAP workflow is at risk. Before configuring an SAP workflow, you have to identiy who, in your organization, needs to be involved, the specific tasks for which they'll be responsible, and the point within a busines process where they need to complete them.

These folks, within an SAP workflow, are called "agents," and SAP PRESS author Ginger Gatling offers comprehensive guidelines for identifying them in her book, Practical Workflow for SAP (second edition). Ginger writes:

"Before you can decide how agents should be found, you need to know and be able to explain to your company how an agent interacts with workflow. For an agent to perform a task, you need to send them a runtime copy of the task that includes the relevant data to be actioned. In workflow terms, you call this a work item. To an agent, a workflow is superficially similar to an email. It has a title, descriptive information, may contain other documents as attachments, and can be received in the agent's inbox. The big difference between a work item and an email, from an agent's perspective, is that an emal can only tell you there is some work to be done, whereas a work item brings the work to you. Depning how the work item is delivered, to the agent, the agent usually only has to click one button or hyperlink to start actioning data.

From a process or workflow designer's perspective, there is on other important difference between emails and work items to keep in mind. When an email is sent to multiple people, each person receives a separate copy of the email. After they have read the email, it is up to them to remove it from their inbox. When a work item is sent to multiple agends, you usuall only want the data to be actioned once, so all agents view the same work item. Once one agent has executed the work items and actioned the data, the work items is automatically removed from the agent's inboxes. To agents, this means that they know all the work sent to them by a workflow has been completed when they have no work items left in their inboxes. The converse is also true - a workflow is held up until the work item is exectued, but an email notification allows the process to continue without pausing.

Who are your agents?

Agents include the following persons:

1. The person who starts the workflow

The person who starts the workflow is a special agent, called the workflow initiator. Most workflows include communication between other agents and the initiator throughout the business process. The initiator may not be directly involved in executing work items - in fact, they may only create the trigger for the workflow indirectly - but they are often involved in escalation and usually need to be notified of process milestones or when the process finishes.

2. People who perform the tasks

People who perform the tasks must be able to view relevant texts and instructions as well as to execute work items. They must also have access to the underlying transactions or routines used during execution. The person performing the task should be the person with ownership and responsibility for the work. You want agents to act promptly and that's more likely to happen when they feel ownership for the work involved. Consider the workload on each agent. Are there enough agents to process all the work items created? Keep in mind that executing assigned w ork items is usually only a small part of a person's daily work.

3. People who escalate the process

People who escalate the process may be able to view outstanding work items but not be able to execute them. It is common for the escalator to be the work-flow initiator because they are often the person who interested in having the process completed quickly. This is particularly true of self-service functions such as vacation or purchasing requests.

4. People who troubleshoot problems with workflows, particularly those caused by bad or poorly maintained data

People who troubleshoot problems may be workflow administrators or may be specifically trained functional personnel. These are the people who handle document reprocessing when automatic processes have failed, and re-routing outstanding work items where agent determination has failed.

TIP: Try to cut out the "middlemen" of the process because, at best, they lengthen the workflow and, at worst, they can become bottlenecks. Of each potential agent, ask whether the agent really does anything, and whether what the agent does is critical to the subsequent tasks. Can the agent just be notified by email?"

As seen here, careful consideration and identification of agents is a must, before kicking off any SAP workflow. Want to hear more? You can check out the Workflow in SAP Seminar web site to get Workflow best practices, customization tips and tricks, and more.

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