Unless you’re a theoretical physicist, time is linear. And unless you’re a time lord, it progress in one direction only. Unfortunately, processes do not – they have loop backs and branches.
Fortunately there is a simple way to indicate time sensitive activities in a UPN process diagram – no TARDIS required.
Showing time triggers
A time trigger is a form of input, so that’s how we represent it. Look at this snippet from a recruitment process (Fig 1)
A time trigger is an external input so must have a terminator. It needs a least two elements – interval descriptor and value – but because this is line text it can say whatever you want (Fig 2)
Using an input for a time trigger works because is it immediately intuitive to the users because it uses what they already know. Look at the UPN standard – WHEN, is what inputs are all about (Fig 3)
Emphasising a time trigger
OK, I know what you’re thinking – wouldn’t it be a great idea to have an image to emphasise the presence of a time trigger (Fig 4)?
We looked this issue in an earlier article on gateways in which I advised against the use of images unless you can be certain that the metaphor can be universally applied and understood. The four key questions that apply to gateways apply here too:
1. What benefit will you get for the effort it takes? (Cost / benefit case?)
2. How will you sustain the effort required to apply your method consistently across your editor community. On all content, all editors, forever?
3. Can you train all your users to recognise what your metaphor means – all users, forever?
4. Do we need to do this to meet a regulatory requirement?
Training the user is not an issue because the meaning of a clock / stopwatch image could not be more obvious, but consistent application of the image to all occurrences of the time trigger by all editors forever could be.
It’s your call but, in my opinion, the text on the input provides everything a user needs to know, and the image doesn’t add enough to justify the effort.
It’s another example of one of my core mapping principles, less is more.
Analysing time triggers
If time triggers are really important to you, then adding a data table to capture their properties in a structured format is something that TIBCO Nimbus and Elements will allow you to do. It’s best to place the data table on the activity box rather than the flow line, because then the reports you generate will pick up the activity text.
You can’t link the text on the flow line to the values in the data table, so you will need to create them separately and take care to make sure they are the same, and stay the same if you edit the flow line. Once the records have been created, you can generate reports.
You have two choices.
The simplest solution is the activity report (Fig 5). Once you have attached a time-trigger input to an activity, no more set-up action is required. You can run an activity report immediately and the time trigger will be included. Although it’s very low effort, there are some downsides:
- this is an activity report, so every activity is included, resulting a glut of unwanted rows in the report.
- there will always be at least one other input, and they share a cell on the report, making the time triggers difficult to identify among the text.
Still, if you have little need to analyse the time triggers, and only the occasional need to run a report, this is the better solution.
Data Table Report
You only get out what you put in. Setting up a data table takes some effort. So do:
- adding the records to the activities
- making sure that the records and the time trigger line text are harmonised when you set up the records …
- … and are kept in harmony if the line text is edited.
The upside is the data in the Data table report (Fig 6) is easier to manipulate because it’s structured, and the report isn’t cluttered with rows that are not time triggers.
If you have need to frequently and more deeply analyse the time triggers and are prepared to put in the effort to create and maintain the records, this is the better solution.
Includes all inputs
Includes all outputs
Works directly from the flow lines
Data Table Report
Easier to sort and filter than the Activity Report
Report only contains time triggers so is less cluttered
Allows deeper analysis
Doesn’t contain inputs
*Both reports can be exported to Excel for more advanced report analysis.
There is no right or wrong answer to which report to use but, just as we saw with the question of adding imagery, you really need to be certain that you need to analyse the time triggers before you go to the effort of adding the data table records.
My advice, as always is, less is more. Start simple and use the activity report. If that proves to be unhelpful you can change your mind and retrofit the datable records.