I was responsible for a pipeline research back at my previous workplace and here are some of the general insights I had from my research. There are some good resources out there on web when it comes to pipeline and there is this really great blog called 'The Art of CG Supervision', by Isa Alsup. Especially check out this collection of articles on studio pipeline on his blog, Pipeline Articles.
In the preliminary research itself I realized that everybody tends to think they have a pipeline but in reality they mix up their workflow with their pipeline. It is very important to note that pipeline is structural process of the whole project while workflow is the step by step process an artist undertakes to complete a particular task and pipeline often divides workflow into more meaningful sections using dataflows.
The term 'pipeline' is a computing term and the term was invented by Douglas McIlroy, one of the designers of the first Unix shells. According to Wikipedia, 'a pipeline is a set of data processing elements connected in series, so that the output of one element is the input of the next one.' This concept transcends well into the whole spectrum of visual effects production where there is always one shot completed by more than one artist or department.
A visual effects pipeline usually comprise of three elements and they are chiefly, Production, Data and Approval. One could also look at these three elements from a managerial perspective and then it could be divided into Technical Management, Information Management and Creative Management. The pipeline can be consists of diverse components and according Alsup, it mainly comprise of people, technology, methods and leadership. It is crucial to note that a digital asset management system is not a pipeline but it is only a dataflow centric element of an effective pipeline.
A effective pipeline is derived by nature of work, resources and the company ideology. The nature of the pipeline can be data centric or artist centric or even technique centric but according to Mayur Patel, author of the book 'The Digital Visual Effects Studio', an artist centric pipeline would be more effective because it gives more importance to the work artists perform rather than the data they generate and this sort of pipeline also tries to provides the artists optimum conidtions to unleash their creativity.
I think it could be questionable that why one should complicate the concept of an artist workflow and asset management system into such a management jargon. Moreover adopting such a system would add more managerial costs to the organisation. But an effective studio pipeline is targeted at long term goals such as streamlining diverse projects, quality control and interactivity at different stages, estimating project overhead, facilitating employment of certain technology or methods and embracing company culture in the process.
I think if you consider the above factors then you can look at the pipeline as a production facilitating element which directly relates to the profit motives of the business and you use it with control and style.
Following are list of resources on pipeline