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Out of Office

It’s the time of year when most of us are either thinking of getting away for a few weeks, or silently envying those who are. Each holiday season a good number of our co-workers decamp, whether to the beach, the slopes, or sometimes–unavoidably–to the in-laws. And when they do, they leave the rest of us to handle whatever work arises.

The trick is knowing what has to be done. Automated out-of-office emails are nice, but they leave the onus on the requester to track down somebody else to handle their issue. The real magic is to be able to auto-reassign requests as they come in. Fortunately, most BPM platforms can do exactly that, by enabling the blanket reassignment of a given user’s tasks to another user.

But this type of delegation, no matter how useful it may be during the holiday season, isn’t the full answer to the problem of dynamic task assignment in business processes. If I’m away on vacation, then sure: just delegate everything I’m doing to Sue (I’ll bring her a tin of macadamia nuts from Kauai to make it up to her). But what if I’m actually here and I’m assigned a task that would be better handled by a colleague?

No matter how well designed your process, you need the flexibility to pick and choose tasks that ought to be assigned to somebody else. Ideally, you can accomplish this by merely forwarding your emailed task notification to the right person. Yes, in theory that could lead to a “hot potato” situation, in which the task is handed around until somebody is stuck with it, but in practice most people will pick up the phone and verify that the potential recipient is willing to accept the task before sending it off.

The process designer specifies which tasks, if any, should not be transferable. If you’re designing such a process, keep in mind that such restrictions should be rare. It’s also important to consider what effect delegation might have on the rules you set up for your process. For example, if you’re checking whether the process initiator took some action, you’ll need to also keep in mind that the task in question may have been completed not by the process initiator, but rather by a delegate. Talk to your vendor about how your particular solution helps make those distinctions.

As smart as modern BPM solutions are, they can never anticipate every situation in which a task assigned to one person should actually end up on the desk of another. Design with delegation in mind, and your users won’t have to call you away from that Kauai beachfront to reassign tasks administratively that they could have as easily delegated on their own.

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