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Unveiling WorkflowLab: A new tool for developing project workflows

by Doug Winnie

Getting started on new projects can be challenging. When approaching new projects, we rely on our experience to guide us and help us make educated decisions about how to approach the various steps that are required.

I often speak with designers and developers who want additional resources to help them get started successfully and capture the various workflow steps for their team to collaborate on. In addition, as new products such as Adobe Flash Catalyst and Flash Collaboration Services are released, project teams need guidance on best practices for these tools in their workflow.

WorkflowLab is designed to help you document your workflows as a series of tasks with which you can associate annotations and applications or technologies. In addition, project workflow starting points are already built into the application to help you get started quickly. When you have created your workflow, you can save it and distribute it as a file or post it to your network, website, or blog.

In this overview, I explain how to use WorkflowLab and give you a sneak peek at additional features we hope to add in the future. If you would like to learn how we developed the application, I encourage you to read Developing WorkflowLab by James Polanco and Aaron Pedersen.

Getting WorkflowLab

WorkflowLab was released as an alpha preview on Adobe Labs at MAX 2009. To get it, visit the WorkflowLab site on Adobe Labs and click the badge installer to install it on your system. If you don't have the Adobe AIR runtime already on your system, the installer will automatically add that for you as well.

Starting WorkflowLab

When you first start WorkflowLab, the welcome screen appears (see Figure 1). From here, you can create a new empty workflow, load a workflow you already created, or get a head start with workflow starting points.

The WorkflowLab welcome screen.

Figure 1. The WorkflowLab welcome screen.

Using a starting point is a great way to get into WorkflowLab quickly. When you select a workflow starting point, the basics of the workflow or project tasks are built for you (see Figure 2).

Using starting points to begin documenting a workflow.

Figure 2. Using starting points to begin documenting a workflow.

Each workflow has a title and overall description that you can customize to provide project information and general notes.

When you use WorkflowLab starting points, you'll want to adjust them for your own project or workflow. To add new tasks, just click the Plus icon in the function bar at the top or press Command or Control with the plus key.

As you add tasks to your project or workflow, you can give each one a unique name and then add annotations to document the step for your team or a broader audience (see Figure 3). To edit your task annotations, click the Pencil icon on the Annotation bar on the right panel.

Figure 3. Editing your task annotations.

You can easily adjust the structure of your workflow by extending or contracting each task using the grab handles on the right and left side of the task and dragging it with your mouse. You can slide the entire task along the overall workflow timeline by clicking and dragging the task bar itself.

To adjust the order, click the empty part of a task bar on the right or left side of the bar and drag up. WorkflowLab displays an insertion point indicator to help you drop the task into the correct location.

Using these intuitive controls, you can quickly create your overall workflow steps and add annotations and notes.

Adding applications and technologies

With each task in your workflow, you can associate applications and technologies that help facilitate the task. Each task can have up to 10 applications or technologies associated with it.

To add applications or technologies to a task, select the task and click the Pencil icon on the Applications & Technologies bar on the right panel. A dialog box appears listing the available applications and technologies you can use. Check the applications and technologies you want to associate with your workflow task. When you close the window, you'll see the applications listed on the task bar and in the right panel (see Figure 4).

Associating applications or technologies to particular tasks.

Figure 4. Associating applications or technologies to particular tasks.

You can rearrange the application order by clicking and dragging the items in the right panel. To remove an item, click the X icon that appears when you hover your cursor over the bar. In addition, some applications or technologies have trial download links that take you directly to Adobe.com to try out the software.

Saving and sharing

When you are finished with your workflow, you'll have a complete set of project or workflow steps that are annotated and associated with Adobe tools and technologies. You can then save your workflow and share it with your team or over the web.

When you save the file, it will create a WFX file. This file is an XML-based representation of your workflow.

You can now send it to others or post it on your website or blog. When you post to a location accessible by a URL, you can send that URL link to another WorkflowLab user who can then open the file from that URL.

What's next for WorkflowLab?

As we continue to evolve WorkflowLab, we encourage all users to post comments, feature requests, and issues on the WorkflowLab forum on Adobe Labs.

Over the next year, we hope to add several new capabilities to WorkflowLab, including the ability to add custom applications and technologies, bundle sample files, and associate other items to tasks, including design and development disciplines and other links.

Be sure to check out WorkflowLab on Adobe Labs and stay tuned for future updates.

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Doug Winnie is a principal product manager at Adobe focusing in interactive design for HTML5 and the Flash Platform. Doug has worked in the web and interactive industry for over ten years focusing on front-end web design and development. During his time at Adobe, Doug has lead numerous teams to make web and interactive design workflows more efficient and powerful leading the Flash Catalyst, Fireworks, and Dreamweaver teams.