Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Testing Kissflow To Create an Approval Process

I was really impressed with Kissflow ( which integrates with Google Apps ), a tool for running processes.  I'm working with lots of departments at the moment that are doing, or trying to improve their processes using Google Spreadsheets but this may offer a more complete solution.

It works like this....

First you design a form as if it was one big form for the entire process, with different sections. 

Next, you create a diagram of your workflow that can contain, approval requests, requests for more information, and queries. You can also create parallel processes and I liked the way you can create sub-process blocks.

At each stage you add the people who need to complete it.

The next step is to then sort of define who needs to see which bits of information at which stage.

 And finally you publish and initiate your process.

I have created one to request to create a new programme. It basically goes,

  1. Create a request
  2. Get approval to go ahead
  3. Check funding
  4. Broader consultation
  5. Final Sign off
  6. Notify everyone that needs to know it has been approved
And then once you initiate a request, people can participate either from a nice dashboard or from their email intray. I need to look into this further, but using the demo version, first run through, I like it.

Are there any other great tools that people are using to run quite complex processes?

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Using Google Plus To Share Research Funding Opportunities

Matthew Collins sent me an email recently about using Google+ Communities to share research funding opportunities and news within his department.

What I find fascinating and useful to the rest of the university is that Matthew and the team in Archaeology are actively exploring other tools to do things ( like sharing tidbits of useful news ) out of email. That is to say, to say, "let's not use email anymore for this activity, let's use this new thing instead".  Quite often this can have some useful effects:

  1. People get less email
  2. People are happier to contribute to the new thing because they know that their creating content won't be a burden on other peoples' email in trays
  3. The new thing has features that email doesn't that are really handy ( like being able to share all the posts with the new member of the team ).
  4. A different model of consumption happens. Because we're finding lots of people turn off Google+ notifications which generate email AND they use the mobile Google+ app to browse the items, reading the content tends to happen over coffee or on the bus.
I think that this approach of actively trying out new behaviours, especially for things that don't really work well in email is something we all should be experimenting with. 

This is what Matthew wrote to his team, to help encourage to start doing this new thing....

A short into to posting if you have not used G+ before

If you find something you want to post to the new site.

Copy the url in to the Share what's new box

G+ will abstract the post and (where possible add an appropriate image)

Type in Archaeology Research Funding and the Group will come up (if you have signed up for it).

The group is broken down into different sub-topics 

You need to select the topic area, as it groups posts into themes.  In this case I selected News.

If you do not select a topic area, it will not post....

Then delete the horrid looking URL that you first pasted. 
G+ has migrated the url you used to the blue hot-linked text, so the URL is now superfluous. Add a comment if you wish.

Notifying a specific person
If you think the post is relevant to a particular person (or indeed a number of individuals), if you type a +then their name with no spaces

then a list of people in the Community will pop up.  

If you click on the name of the person you want to target from this menu, their name will be added to the post and they will get an notification that they have been 'mentioned'.  In this way, even if someone has been turned off notifications you can highlight a post relevant to them.

Ordinarily comments are turned on - i.e. people are allowed to comment on your post. 

If you want to turn this off click the little down arrow in the search window box at the bottom of the post

You will get a list of options to control the sharing of the post. 

Improving Ethics Approval in Research With Google Forms and Spreadsheets

I have just met with a colleague who is using Google Forms to improve the Ethics Approval process for research projects. They are taking a slightly different path to the one I might have plumped for, and are creating, on-the-fly Google Documents, filling in the appropriate sections and then sending them to people to add comments to etc.

We thought he may have worked himself into a corner because although there is a function to capture when people submit a form ( onFormSubmit() ), there isn't one to capture if you "allow the user to edit responses" - there's no onFormUpdate().

We created a workaround by having a time-based trigger that just checks to see if the updated_timestamp is greater than the last_checked_timestamp.

The best part, for me, of working with my colleague was when I referred at some point to my JavaScript skills being far from honed and he asked "So is this JavaScript then?" and laughed incredulously. He was happily coding away without even knowing what language he was coding in. Brilliant.

One thing I'm starting notice over the last few weeks and months is how many people are working on processes... and/or process improvement. I keep meeting people with visual flow charts of their ideal worlds.  I wonder how far we should encourage Google Apps hacking ( where you potentially can get almost exactly what you want ) or whether we should be looking at tools that explicitly handle processes, like RunMyProcess ( shown below ) which even have their own tools to design your workflows and a gazillion integration plugins.

But then there's also an overlap with CRM and service desk applications. In most cases there's just stuff that requires stuff to happen that involves people to do stuff - which is pretty much what a CRM might do isn't it?

So, I'm wondering, given that I keep coming across people interested in creating workflows, should I be looking into a workflow lite app or heavyweight state of the art workflow system? Or should we keep crafting ( or crufting ) our own version?