Workflow worked exactly like the train sets. Formal fits and starts. A series of static pieces tightly coupled. Coupled only where coupling was possible. But always tightly coupled. Change was a nightmare and considered unnecessary. Faster horses.
Workflow tends to have clear start and end points. Timetables. Efficiency experts. Clipboards. Clocking in and out. Journeys with limited variability, limited choices. All rigorously controlled “for the sake of everyone’s safety”. You know what I mean. [No matter that we've had glorious failures in all these industries dominated by process. It couldn't possibly be the fault of the rigid processes.]
Customers were important, but needed to know their place. The trains were in charge. In fact, if you looked carefully, you’d find that during the golden age of trains, the trains had more rights than the customers. Not that long ago, the laws and bye-laws of British Rail were patently clear:
the ticket I bought did not guarantee me a seat
the ticket I bought did not guarantee that the train would run on time
the ticket I bought did not even guarantee that a train would run
in fact, the ticket I bought wasn’t mine to keep, even that had to be given up on demand
Those were the days. Days when process was king, workflow worked. And people were kept in their place. It was possible to connect the different train sets up, if everyone used the same standards and protocols. This didn’t always happen, but proliferation was relatively low for the most part. Most of the workflow you see is like trains, relatively standardised, a challenge to integrate across systems, but not impossible. There were occasional failures at scale, akin to the design of electrical plugs and plug-points around the world. To think we consider ourselves to be civilised while living in adaptor hell.
Workflow, like trains, worked in well-defined, closed systems.
Enough about workflow. Collaboration flows, on the other hand, are like rivers and oceans. No rails to go on. No clear start and end points. Free to entry to all comers, regardless of the size of the vessel. Timetables existed, but they were looser. Boundaries existed, but much of the space was “public”. Of course there were regulations and laws, but they were more suited to a global environment, since the majority of the space was public.Vessels could and did come in all shapes and sizes and power and capacity. The barriers to entry were low. Regulations were more like the commons, designed to ensure that multitudes could participate without let or hindrance. The challenges were in dealing with blockages, with pollution, with selfish use, with the “tragedy of the commons”.
If you can imagine traditional workflow to be about trains and collaboration flows to be like rivers and oceans, I have succeeded. I will go to bed happy.
Rivers and oceans also work. They don’t need connecting up, they’re already connected up. People do make journeys on them, but the start and endpoints are infinite, granular.
Collaboration flows, like rivers, work in open, inclusive environments. A dammed river is called a lake, not a river. However you market it.