History of “Workflow”

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In MPU 133 (about Alfred 2), I speculated about this word “workflow” and how we now hear it everywhere. The first time I heard the word was in relation to professional photographers but it turns out I was way off. Listener Mark, a confessed word geek, dug deeper and shows it in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1950:

work flow n. in an office or industrial organization, the sequence of processes through which a piece of work passes from initiation to completion.

He also found uses of “work flow” going back to 1950 with a book by I. A. Herrman, Office Methods, Systems, & Procedures vii. 131 “Work flow diagrams are effective in solving various kinds of problems.”

There was also an instance in 1976, National Observer (U.S.) 19 June 2/4 “Byrd is a master of legislative detail with a reputation as a fair-minded manager who accelerates the work flow.”

Mark dug even deeper with Google’s Ngram Viewer (above) demonstrating that the word took off around 1992 and the combined form “workflow” (vs. “work flow”) has got some legs.

I know the word seems overused but it just seems so appropriate for the process of getting our work from coneption to delivery that I can’t stop using it.

Thanks Mark