Tuesday, 11 December 2012 02:38

A Real-World Example of the State Transition Diagram

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Whenever a workflow of some kind is being converted to an electronic process, you're going to be looking at creating a status-driven process. That's because the object passing through the workflow needs to receive status changes to indicate that the previous step is completed, and to trigger the next step of the process. Recently I was involved in a project converting a thesis submission process from a paper-based process to an electronic process and it serves to illustrate the usefulness of the State Transition Diagram for this type of project.

In this example I used the Bizagi Process Modeler to create my State Transition Diagram. I prefer it over the other tools I use because it's free, the diagrams are more aesthetically pleasing than the other tools I've used, and it is quick and easy to use.

Bennett Dec11 Img01To give you some background about the project that the State Transition Diagram presented below is based on, the submission of Master's and Ph.D. theses in my institution is not overly complicated, but there are many different forms that must be completed by a variety of people, including students, administrative staff, and faculty. I needed an easier way of explaining all the steps of the process and what forms were being released at each step. Enter the State Transition Diagram.

Something else we had to make a decision on with this project was where to start the electronic process. The thesis submission process is lengthy, and we had to decide whether to include the part of the process - before it is officially deposited at the Graduate Studies office - when the thesis is still under development. To reduce the scope of the project, we decided to start the electronic process after the thesis has been developed and the student is ready to officially submit it to Graduate Studies.

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Bennett Dec11 Img02

This diagram demonstrates the status progression of the submitted thesis. Starting from the left, we see the first status is "Pre-Upload". This is before the thesis is uploaded by the student. The circle following that status is the "Thesis Uploaded" event. Any circles like this one that have a double border around it are known as events. This first event indicates that the student has uploaded their thesis via the new electronic process. From this event we see a dotted line leading up to a gray rectangle, known as an annotation. The items listed in this rectangle indicate the forms that the student must complete as they upload their thesis. Once this event occurs, the status of the thesis becomes "Thesis Package Received", which triggers the release of the Thesis Defence Authorization Forms. These are forms that go to the members of the defence committee who must decide whether the thesis is suitable to defend, hence the decision diamond that follows this status: "Defence Authorized?". If the decision is no, the status of the thesis becomes "Defence Denied". If yes, we next see the "Notice of Defence Approved" event. This is where a notice is posted in some locations around the university listing the members of the defence committee, and the date, time, and location of the defence. Once this event occurs, the status of the thesis becomes "Ready for Defence", and from this status we see another annotation leading upwards listing some more forms that are released with this status change. Following this status is the "Defence" event. This is where the student defends their thesis before the defence committee. At the defence the committee will determine whether revisions are required or not, and thus we see another decision diamond for "Revisions?". If the decision is no, the status proceeds to "Thesis Accepted". If yes, the status becomes "Requires Major/Minor Revisions", and in the annotation above this status we see the Thesis Revisions Approval Form is released. Following the "Requires Major/Minor Revisions" status is the "Revisions Uploaded" event. This is where the student has uploaded their modified thesis according to the revisions that were provided to the student at the defence. At this point the decision must be made as to whether to accept the revisions or not, and so we see the decision diamond "Accepted?". If no, the flow goes back to the "Requires Major/Minor Revisions" status. If yes, it proceeds to the "Thesis Accepted" status. Going down from this status is another annotation showing the final forms that the student must complete before the thesis is electronically packaged and sent to the Library for publication. That's why the next event we see is "Thesis is sent to the Library", followed by the final status "Transferred to Library". This is the end of the electronic thesis submission process.

Explaining this workflow to my stakeholders with the help of this State Transition Diagram that they could follow along with was much easier and was more meaningful than reading just a written explanation or explaining it verbally. It may not be a useful tool in all situations, but for workflows, I find it indispensable.

Don't forget to leave your comments below.

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Amanda Bennett

Amanda Bennett started out working as a software developer for a small IT company back in 1999. Over time, software development lead to web development, and web development lead to project management. Amanda attained her PMP in 2008 and remains enthusiastically engaged in project management, as well as business analysis. She is currently working towards a CBAP certification.


0 # Tara 2012-12-11 16:02
Nice to see an academic example for business analysis! Almost all the examples on this site are corporate and the academic institution can be such a different animal.
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+3 # Rainer 2012-12-11 18:42
I'm a little puzzled that you call this a state transition diagram. It looks like a business process diagram using the BPMN. I agree that is an excellent way to show the salient features of a process. And I like the way you have made extensive use of intermediate events - i often call them milestones.
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0 # Vikram Chakrabarty 2013-10-15 05:59
This was an interesting article especially for me as I have designed a software state machine that actually does what you are trying to describe. The state machine can be used commercially by corporates. I have implemented the software in one company already and they are using it presently. I would like to collaborate with you on this if it interests you so that we can understand the next steps for this software. Please contact me on my email if this interests you. Thanks...
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0 # freddie 2015-09-14 22:21
Good to know. Thanks for the info, you made it easy to understand. If you ever need to fill out a form, here is Form Authorization Agreement a really useful tool. Very easy to navigate and use.
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