By Anthony Baratta
Good morning / afternoon. Welcome to the fourth installment of our monthly Plus16 webinar series. Thank you for taking the time to join us. We know that you are busy – so our goal is to be focused and to pack meaningful data into an efficient 30-minute window.
Watch the Video replay
So let’s get started. My name is Anthony Baratta and I am the CTO for 2Plus2 Partners. Today we’re talking about how to make Microsoft SharePoint workflows work for your organization…
What is a Workflow?
Let’s start with the basics: A workflow is a map of a process, with instructions about what happens at each step. The workflow can be a bulleted list of instructions or a graphical map, with branching trees, loop backs and multiple end points.
When manual business processes become more complex or involves multiple intersections or decision points, automation can help ease the complexity and offer additional business process effectiveness. A SharePoint workflow is an automated flowchart of a business process that takes much of the labor, guesswork, and randomness out of a manual business processes. For example, presented here is a document approval-process. Running this process manually would mean having to conduct multiple document check-ins, manually keeping track of document status, forwarding documents and sending reminders to ensure that the process is followed accurately and smoothly. Each of those tasks will have to be performed multiple times by several team members, which can mean a lot of extra work and constant interruptions will disrupt the manual tracking and process flow.
SharePoint has five (5) preset workflows
Approval (route a document or item for approval or rejection)
An Approval workflow routes a document or other item to designated people for their approval or rejection. You can also use an Approval workflow to control content approval in a list or library.
Collect Feedback (route a document or item for feedback)
Collect Feedback workflow routes a document or other item to designated people for their feedback.
The Collect Feedback workflow consolidates all of the feedback from participants for the workflow owner and provides a record of the review process.
Collect Signatures (route a document, workbook, or form for digital signatures)
The Collect Signatures workflow routes a Microsoft Office document to designated people for their digital signatures. Note that the Collect Signatures workflow functions only with Word documents, Excel workbooks, and InfoPath forms.
Three-State (track an issue, project, or task through three states or phases)
The Three-state workflow is designed to track the status of a list item or document through three states (phases). The Three-state workflow tracks event planning tasks through the following three states: Active, Ready for Review, and Complete. Each step of the workflow in these three phases can be customized to suit your specific business process and are intended to be help manage business processes that require organizations to track a high volume of issues or items — for example, tracking customer support issues, managing sales leads or automating project tasks.
Publishing Approval (automate content routing for review and approval)
A publishing approval workflow is similar to other SharePoint workflows in that it automates the routing of content to subject matter experts and stakeholders for review and approval. What makes the publishing approval workflow unique is that it’s designed specifically for publishing sites where the publishing of new and updated web pages is tightly controlled. In these kinds of sites, no new content can be published until it has been approved by every approver in the workflow.
Efficient and consistent, and less work for you SharePoint workflows save you and your colleagues both time and trouble, and at the same time streamlines and standardizes your business processes.
IMPORTANT: By default, the Approval, Collect Feedback ,and Collect Signature workflows are not activated and are not listed in the Select a workflow template list box of the association form. To make them available for use, a site administrator must activate them at the site collection level.
Who can add / start a workflow?
To add or start a workflow, you must have the correct permission for the list, library, or site collection where the workflow runs:
To add a workflow You must have the Manage Lists permission to add a workflow. (The Owners group has the Manage Lists permission by default; the Members group and the Visitors group do not.)
To start a workflow You must have the Edit Items permission to start an available workflow. (The Members group and the Owners group both have the Edit Items permission by default; the Visitors group does not.)
Alternatively, Owners can choose to configure specific workflows so that they can be started only by members of the Owners group, or a custom SharePoint group.
How do I add a workflow?
Make sure that you know which options you want and what information you’ll need to have available when you use the initiation form to add your version of the workflow. Depending on complexity, you may want to map out the workflow on paper or in Visio to make sure you have all the user touch points and automated notifications understood.
Decided if one of the out of the box workflows will work for you or do you need a more customized workflow? Fill out the initiation form to add your workflow version to a list, library, or site collection.
Start your new workflow, either manually or automatically, on a document or other item in a list or library. (If you start it manually, you’ll have the opportunity to change some of the workflow’s association form settings on a briefer initiation form.) When the workflow starts, it creates tasks, sends notification messages, and begins to track actions and events.
While the workflow is running, you can view the Workflow Status page to see which tasks are complete and what other actions have occurred. If necessary, you can adjust current and future tasks from here, and even cancel or terminate this workflow run.
When the run is complete, its whole history can be reviewed on the Workflow Status page. Also from the status page, statistical reports on the general performance of this workflow can be created.
If the workflow isn’t working quite like you want it to, you can open the original association form that you used to add it, and make your changes there.
We’ll work within a Document Library, which is where most of the SharePoint workflows you will create and manage will live. You can create workflows around lists and InfoPath forms. The design and management of these types are very similar.
First a few Administration Notes:
By default, the Approval Workflows are not enabled, you will need to enable them in order to build workflows.
- Document Library -> Library Settings -> Workflow Settings -> Activate
In order to allow workflow to start on Major Versioning Publishing you need to switch versioning from Major only to Major – Minor Versioning.
- Document Library -> Library Settings -> Versioning Settings -> Create major & minor (draft) versions
(You’ll want to set keep drafts for the following number of major versions to some number, recommend 10.)
You need content approval activated in order to use Major Publishing Approval workflows.
- Document Library -> Library Settings -> Versioning Settings -> Require content approval for submitted items?
(You’ll want to set the Draft Item Security to at least “Only users who can edit items”)
Lastly, make sure that Require Check Out is enabled.
- Document Library -> Library Settings -> Versioning Settings -> Require Check Out
Add a work flow - Let’s start with making a basic Approval Workflow
- Document Library -> Library Settings -> Workflow Settings -> Add Workflow
Can I make my own custom workflows?
Depending on your business needs, you may decide to use different sets of tools to implement your organization’s workflows in Microsoft SharePoint:
Microsoft SharePoint (No extra tool)
As we discussed earlier, it’s possible to create workflow instances using out-of-the-box SharePoint workflow templates for a content portal (documents, forms, list items and etc.), without the need to use other tools or 3rd party products. The benefit of ready-to-use templates is that most businesses can create basic workflows with ease and without special SharePoint expertise.
Microsoft SharePoint Designer
Certain types of actions can be created and managed in SharePoint, such as Send Email, Update List, Set Permission, Collect Information from users, Delete Item, etc. In addition, conditional statements (if ... the ... else) can also be used in conjunction with actions to create more professional and specific workflows. SharePoint Designer offers a free workflow designer for power-users.
Illustrating business processes as part of business process modeling is a best practice and Microsoft Visio’s stencil for SharePoint simplifies the process. By importing the Visio file to SharePoint Designer, the workflow logic is created automatically. Although the workflow might need to be tweaked slightly in SharePoint Designer, this is a nice tool to keep business process documents in sync with actual workflows.
Microsoft Visual Studio
Some requirements may be custom and particular to your organization and the tools listed above may not meet those specific needs. Microsoft Visual Studio is a great custom application tool for designing and creating custom workflow actions and activities and append them to your solution.
Visual Studio no longer provides a code-based authoring strategy. Instead, both SharePoint Designer and Visual Studio provide a fully declarative, no-code authoring environment. (This term means that instead of being authored in code and then compiled into managed assemblies, the workflow is described (literally) in XAML and then executed interpretively at run time.)
For On-Premise Visual Studio Development you need the latest version of Office Tools for VS installed and you need a local copy of SharePoint installed. The recommended setup is a Virtual Machine with Windows Server, Visual Studio, MS SQL Server and SharePoint installed. For SharePoint Online you hook into the SharePoint RESTful API for all workflow development (CSOM – Client Side Object Model).
- When to choose between Designer and Studio?
- Your Expertise – Power User or Coding Guru?
- Do you need custom actions?
- Do you need debugging?
- Do you need reusable workflows across your site?
3rd Party Solutions
There are non-Microsoft commercial solutions for enhancing your workflow processes. Companies like Bamboo Software and Nintex offer industrial strength workflow add-ons that allow you to build new workflows via a web browser and avoid building complex workflows with Visual Studio. A web-based designer allows you a higher degree of design efficiency and reduces your need on low-level custom coding.
While out-of-the-box SharePoint workflow templates can meet most business process automation needs, other Microsoft tools of varying complexity can support the need to automate more complex business processes, integrate with 3rd party applications and fully align current business processes with SharePoint portals.
IMPORTANT: Supported with 2016, but not refreshed. End of Life is expected 2026 with EOF 2016. But expect that to be sooner with the cyclic update cycle started with 2016.
MS Flow + SharePoint
MS Flow defined: Automate almost any time-consuming task or process, stitch different systems into a triggered workflow / status tracking. MS Flow is currently in Beta and SharePoint Templates exist for on-Premise and SharePoint Online. A SharePoint 2016 update will allow Flow to be integrated directly into Lists and Document Libraries.
Set up a simple one-step flow that notifies the whole team whenever a work item is updated, or a complex multistep flow that captures, tracks, and follows up with new sales leads—all automatically.
Whether it's a complex multistep process or a simple one-step task, flows work in the background to boost your team's effectiveness, productivity, and performance.
Get notifications: Get an alert when a file or folder is updated.
Synchronize files: Connect your folders to keep your data current.
Organize data: Collect and organize business data automatically.
Automate approvals: Streamline approvals with instant alerts and more.
Learn more about Microsoft Flow
3rd party workflow tools
Whether simple or complex, workflows can be built and deployed rapidly with easy-to-use, embedded design tools and seamless SharePoint integration. Take workflow to the next level by transforming your existing SharePoint environment into a flexible process management solution capable of streamlining nearly every aspect of your day-to-day operations. Our bestselling application provides all the benefits that will help enhance workflow creation in your SharePoint environment.
Easily set up alerts with custom notifications based on conditional triggers, such as sending an alert before and after a task is due, if the status of an item is "Delayed", or the priority of an item is equal to "High" and the status is equal to "Not Started".
Easily create, manage, and reuse custom workflows in SharePoint without the need for coding. Bamboo Workflow Conductor™ provides a simple interface that lets power users automate business processes.
Workflow and Forms for On-Premises and Hybrid Deployments
Seamlessly integrate Nintex Workflow and Nintex Forms with SharePoint 2016. Easily design and deploy hybrid workflows that can interact between on-premises and cloud applications. Enjoy a more intuitive user experience across all facets, including installation, administration, help and design with support for all major browsers.
Hybrid and Cloud Optimized
Improved toolbox for easy access to Nintex connectors, to connect seamlessly to cloud services
Enhanced visibility of actions, through better categorization, new UI and smaller icons
Modern and Flexible
Full browser support across Edge, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari
Current and up-to-date help and support information, through ‘online help’ functionality
Easy Installation and Administration
Install Nintex Workflow and Nintex Forms at the same time through a single unified installer
Single entry point from within Central Administration, for easily managing all Nintex products and services
Easy SharePoint Workflow. Quickly build workflows in SharePoint using K2's drag-and-drop design tools. Wizards help you configure common SharePoint workflow scenarios, and designs can be easily shared, facilitating real-time collaboration with colleagues.
Workflow apps for SharePoint, with forms and data
K2 blackpearl is a software platform for business process applications with forms, workflow, data and reports. K2 blackpearl includes native SharePoint integration with SharePoint 2010, 2013 and SharePoint Online.
Workflow apps for SharePoint, in the cloud
K2 Appit is a cloud-based service for workflow apps that run in SharePoint, and in the cloud. No servers. No hassle.
Thank you. Any questions?
We hope you will join us next month
Tuesday, October 3rd at 10 am PT, 1 pm ET.