SharePoint Document Management – Part 3 (workflows in action)

Workflows in SharePoint are the best way to automate tasks involving different groups of peoples as SharePoint offers built-in workflows for organizations.

By Cathy Dew

In the previous article of this series, Document Management with SharePoint – Part 2, we discussed SharePoint document libraries and associated content types, metadata, and permission management. We have seen that the SharePoint Document Library is more than just a repository of files and folders—it is one of the most powerful and robust applications for managing documents and folders.

We have seen that with content types, we can easily define document properties and easily manage the metadata properties of each document. Permissions associated with each document are very important in defining the security assigned to the application files.

In this article, we deal with workflows and how they support document management. “Workflow” is defined as the automated movement of documents or items through a sequence of actions or tasks that are related to a business process. SharePoint workflows are the best way to automate tasks involving different groups of peoples. SharePoint offers built-in workflows that organizations can use to manage tasks, such as document review and approval and signature collection.

Our SharePoint consultants have built many applications purely on the SharePoint document management and workflow automation.

Why is Workflow Automation Required?

Let’s consider a typical day in an office where a quotation is required to be approved and converted into an invoice. On average, there are many steps involved in this process. Let’s review the steps involved.

  1. The quotation is created per the company standards and is sent to the manager for review and approval.
  2. Based on the manager’s approval or rejection, the sales representative sends the quotation to the customer.
  3. The customer receives the quotation and approves it.
  4. On receiving approval confirmation, the sales representative generates an invoice for the customer.
  5. The customer sends payment for the invoice.
  6. On receiving the payment, the invoice is sent to the shipping department to generate the shipping order and box the products.
  7. The shipping department ships the products of the invoice to the customer.

These are the minimum steps involved in any procurement system. If we take a closer look at these steps, there is a possibility at each step that documents may get missed, and the entire process could take longer than required. Paperwork that does not get to the right person, or gets misplaced or overlooked, slows down your business. As you know, slow operations can affect customer satisfaction, business growth and will have a direct impact on your bottom line.

Workflows in SharePoint to the Rescue!

Workflows in SharePoint provide many out-of-the-box features that can automate tasks very nicely. We can implement the above process using just two of many features of SharePoint document management and workflow automation.

E-mail Notification: Notifications can be sent to the particular user whose approval for the next steps in the process are required. This way, the users are reminded to complete their pending tasks.

Approval/Rejection: With workflows, we can manage the document status through the users’ approval or rejection.

Workflow Example

A three-state workflow can be used to track documents in a SharePoint document library by using three different states.

Ironically, setting up a three-state workflow on a SharePoint document library is a two-step process. You must:

  1. Create a Choice column or use an existing Choice column on the document library.
  2. Add a three-state workflow to the document library.

1. Create a Choice Column on the Document Library

The three-state workflow requires you to have a Choice column on the document library that has at least three options. These three options will serve as the states a document can go through.

  1. To create a Choice column on a document library:
  2. Go to the document library to which you want to add the column.
  3. On the Settings menu, click Document Library Settings.
  4. On the Customize page, under the Columns section, click Create Column.
  5. On the Create Column page, type a Name for the column, for example Status, and select Choice (menu to choose from).
  6. Under Additional Column Settings, type in three options, each on a separate line: for example, New, Under Review, and Approved.
  7. Click OK.

Your document library should now have a column named Status where you can give a document a status of New, Under Review, or Approved.

2. Add a Three-State Workflow to the Document Library

Once you have a Choice column set up on your SharePoint document library, you can proceed to adding the three state workflow to the document library.

  1. Go to the document library to which you want to add the workflow.
  2. On the Settings menu, click Document Library Settings.
  3. On the Customize page, under Permissions and Management, click Workflow settings.
  4. On the Add a Workflow page, select Three-state from the list of workflow templates.
  5. Type a Name for the workflow: for example, Three-state approval workflow.
  6. Select Start this workflow when a new item is created, and click Next.
  7. On the Customize the Three-State Workflow page, select the Status column from the document library as the Choice field, select New as the Initial state, Under Review as the Middle state, and Approved as the Final state.
  8. Customize the rest of the workflow settings on this page if you want to (read the accompanying help text on the page to fill out the rest of the fields). Here we’ll just deselect all of the Send e-mail message check boxes, and click OK.

Now whenever you save a document in the document library, the three-state workflow kicks off and the Three-state approval workflow column displays the text “In Progress.”

Benefits of Document Management Workflows in SharePoint

Workflows ensure that the process flow will operate efficiently and as required in the minimum time. The benefits include the following:

  • A security system where only an approved person can view a document
  • Flexibility to meet the needs of any business
  • Easy access to materials employees need to do their jobs right the first time
  • A central hub where all important documents are stored

From collaboration to organization to security, SharePoint document management features offer far-reaching benefits that can be helpful to any business.For any further information regarding workflows in SharePoint, please connect with our SharePoint consultants online. Or, to discuss the opportunities available to your business, contact us at (510) 652-7700.

Cathy Dew
Cathy Dew – CEO + Information Architect
Cathy focuses the company on our mission – Real results. Every time. Information architect and strategist, Cathy is passionate about making software work well – the function, the feel, the result.
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