Recently delivered training to a group of processconsultants. One item is "workflowmanagement" (no, I do not mean the technology). What we mean in the training when we talk about workflowmanagement is all the work and supporting business rules that coordinate the work being done, e.g. that make the work flow.
Interestingly enough, the students had a hard time seeing the point.
When we talk about a process, people typically limit their view to the direct work being done. If a process consists of activity A, B and C, then, when asked what work is done in the process, they will say "well, A, B and C". Sometimes we play a little game with them, to clarify: we assign tasks A, B and C, and tell them to go ahead and do the process. Work evolves and quickly we can point to new tasks that people suddenly are doing: coordination, making the work flow. Making sure the output of A is delivered to B, so the person doing B can continue. People than understand that transport is an additional activity. But unfortunately, they still don't see that the transport also has a hidden business rule for coordination "if you receive output of A, then start processing B".
The (unfortunately now technical) concepts of "orchestration" and "choreograpy" are two patterns that are used a lot when people are doing work and coordinating the work. Often we see choreography, where people have thought upfront on the process, and agreed on various actions and rules to let the work flow ("so if you are ready with X, you give it to me, and I will...."). Orchestration you see somewhat less: "Micromanaging supervisors", but in, for instance warehouse picking, there is usually a central coordinating unit that hands out work-orders, and triggers other work-orders when the earlier work-orders have been reported ready.
As part of an MBA training we played a process simulation game, to practice applying lean techniques to improve the process. When the group analysed the results of a round of playing, suddenly someone discovered her own "choreograph" activity and the bottleneck it created: the person "batched" outgoing work and delivered when the stack was getting too big (bottleneck 1) and also delivered the items as Last In, First Out order, which later in the process created longer and variating cycle times (bottleneck 2). A nice example of suboptimal workflowmanagement....
My point: in every process, there is a hidden set of activities and business rules, that make the work flow (in terms of activating/triggering people to wait/start/continue). When optimizing processes, this "hidden" process is a vital element in process optimization. We might blindly stare at improving executing A, B or C, but looking at the coordination and supporting rules will also often give a lot of optimization possibilities.
Assignment: next time you encounter a process (say, eating out) watch the process coordination going. You will see a lot of stuff happening and (sometimes) fail....