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Coordinator/Action Workflow: Structured Conversations

We can associate a well-defined, repeated, structure not only with the contents of a message but also our conversations. For instance, if I send you a message requesting a book, then I expect a positive or negative response. If a response does not arrive after a while, I will probably send you a reminder message. The Coordinator [] shows how conversation structure can be captured in the mail system. It is based on a general theory of conversations called the ``speech-act'' theory. A successor to the Coordinator, ActionworkFlow has been presented as a workflow system -- a system that automatically routes objects among team members and performs user-defined actions on these objects. Let us look at ActionWorkflow to understand the ``speech-act'' theory and its potential benefits.

The application assumes that flow of information among users is a set of interrelated conversations, where each conversation consists of:

Winograd argues that this model allows one to view a network as a collection of links with shared nodes rather than a collection of nodes with links in between. ActionWorkFlow provides the following computer support for such conversations:

The ActionWorkFlow paper presents an example workflow application built using the system. The task is to coordinate the interview of some candidate. The personnel directory makes a proposal to the personnel manager to manage the review. The manager starts the main ``manage candidate review'' conversation/workflow by filling a form that states the name of the candidate, position, skill required, and the interviewers. The system automatically starts the workflow/conversation, ``schedule interview'' to schedule the interview. The completion of the scheduling of the interview triggers agreement by the manager to do the candidate. The agreement, in turn, starts, for each interviewer, a ``submit evaluation form'' workflow, where the consumer is the manager and the producer the interviewer and the forms are electronic.

An interviewer may be responsible for evaluating several candidates, and can ask the system to show the name, recommended action (schedule interview, check status of evaluation, recommit to evaluate), and the date by when the action is to be completed. Selecting a candidate displays a form for the candidate, which can be filled and then submitted to declare performance of the action. Reminders are sent to interviewers if they do not fill the form in time.

The receipt of all workflow forms triggers completion of the original ``manage candidate review workflow'', which in turn triggers a ``declare assessment'' workflow in which the manager is the customer and the director is the customer. The director is sent a mail message regarding this workflow.

The system also allows a manager to see the status of the workflows by listing for each workflow loop, which candidates have not been processed, have interviews scheduled, have completed evaluations, and so on.

The speech-act theory is only one model on which workflow may be based. As pointed out in

[], it is suitable for non-procedural, unstructured work but is too heavyweight for structured, repeated processes wherein agreements do not have to be negotiated for each conversation. We shall see later an example of a simpler workflow system, POLITeam [], which provides a simpler workflow model based on the idea of a routing slip, and also integrates message and artifact-based collaboration.

next up previous
Next: Computational Mail Up: Message-based Collaboration (Mail++) Previous: Information Lens: Typed

Prasun Dewan
Tue Jan 28 17:46:09 EST 1997