Lifecycles versus workflows – separate and together build your PDM systems

Product data management software tends to use combinations of lifecycles and workflows to manage information. While often confused, lifecycles and workflows are different – though they often work together as data records are created, processed and eventually archived or deleted.

Lifecycle management
Life cycles control the lifecycle state of business objects and files in a system. Life cycle states can include created or draft at the start and completed or released at the end. Other life cycle states indicate items in review or going through the approval stages. Life cycles set gates that limit when an object moves on to the next life cycle state. For example, life cycle management determines when an object under review changes to a released state. Life cycle management also controls who can act on an object in a life cycle state, such as limiting the ability to promote an object to a higher lifecycle state.

Workflow management
Workflow management is used for processes inside of lifecycles and between lifecycles. Workflows can handle processes outside the lifecycle triggered by life cycle state changes. Workflows in a data management tool can be linked to external applications such as email servers. For example, workflows can generate the notifications used to inform users that there are objects in the database waiting review, inform them of the release of documents in their project or remind them to check in currently checked out documents. Workflows can also handle processes within a lifecycle state. A workflow handles the assignment of review tasks once an object is submitted for review, records the approvals and informs those on the “to review” list to do so. Workflows within a software application can also route tasks generated by the tool based on user preferences, such as delegate tasks from a manager to a subordinate based on out of office dates in a calendar.

Intersection of lifecycles and workflows
Another example of a workflow is change management. Workflows determine who can request a change and create a changed document. Once created by an approved individual, the new version of the document follows its lifecycle until released or cancelled. Workflows generate notices to users to review or approve the object or data item and move it to the next stage in the lifecycle.