Sunday, March 7, 2021

Untangling Workflows - The Cupcake Test

 Hi fellow CMIOs, CNIOs, and other Clinical Informatics friends,

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently had the opportunity to share some workflow design tips with an online group of new physicians who are getting into Applied Clinical Informatics and workflow building. During my talk, I shared some helpful workflow tricks that I use to untangle even the most complex clinical workflows. Even though I've written about this one before, it's so useful I figured I should re-review and elaborate with this new audience. 

One of my favorite tricks is this very simple one with pretty impressive impact. It's basically just writing a technical procedure, but with a little more detail. I affectionately call it, "The Cupcake Test", because it uses good procedure writing to help answer the metaphorical question - Does this 'cupcake recipe' (or 'cupcake workflow') actually bake a cupcake?

Writing a good technical procedure can be a helpful substitute for the common Visio swimlane diagram that seems to be more of a popular industry standard. From my recent presentation : 

To understand how good procedure writing can be used as a substitute for Visio swimlanes, I need to first explain two important concepts that are necessary to understand before writing a procedure that passes the 'Cupcake test' : 
  • What is a TASK?
  • What is a PROCEDURE? (Synonyms : Workflow, recipe, process)
And so from my presentation, my slide showing the definitions of both : 
Using these two definitions, and the procedure template outlined above, we can now write a simple and clear technical procedure, and even color code it to help quickly identify and align concepts. Here's a sample of what it looks like : 

While this approach is not exactly an industry standard, there are some pros and cons to using it : 
And in my experience, a good procedure can usually be quickly and easily converted to a good swimlane diagram - But sometimes swimlane diagrams can't be as easily converted into good technical procedures that pass this 'Cupcake Test'. That is, they are not written with the template : 
TASK = [WHO] will/may [WHAT] {how} {where} {when} {why}
... in each line of the procedure

Not only does this approach include the benefits listed in the slide above, but it's easy to teach, and it also helps you easily generate cost estimates of workflows/procedures before you build them.

Next time you have a complex workflow you're trying to figure out - just start by writing good technical procedures, and the workflow will start to immediately reveal itself right in front of you. If you have any experience with using this approach, please leave it in the comments section below.

Remember - This blog is for educational and discussion purposes only - Your mileage may vary. If you have any feedback or questions, or experiences writing workflows or technical procedures, feel free to share them in the comments section below. 

No comments: