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Using workflows

From: SharePoint 2010 Getting Started

Video: Using workflows

Workflow is one of those odd words that you know what the word means, but never quite sure what it does in a software product. In SharePoint, workflow is the idea that we can define a reusable process. We can define a series of tasks and questions that can be automated to occur when say a document is created or a list item is changed. Workflow is built-into SharePoint from the ground up. It's available in SharePoint Foundation, and you can think of that as almost having the plumbing or the framework of workflow is everywhere in every SharePoint site.

Using workflows

Workflow is one of those odd words that you know what the word means, but never quite sure what it does in a software product. In SharePoint, workflow is the idea that we can define a reusable process. We can define a series of tasks and questions that can be automated to occur when say a document is created or a list item is changed. Workflow is built-into SharePoint from the ground up. It's available in SharePoint Foundation, and you can think of that as almost having the plumbing or the framework of workflow is everywhere in every SharePoint site.

But what you then need is to have described workflows that can occur. And in SharePoint Server they actually define a few of them that are available. If I go into a document library, and I could do this pretty much on any document library on any site, in fact, Lists as well, and go to the Settings of this, I'll actually find that everywhere has its own workflow settings. I haven't done anything with the workflow settings yet in this site. But you'll see what it's actually saying here is oh, I can select a workflow template.

Now what does this mean? Well, we have several predefined workflows in SharePoint. Some classic ones are the Approval workflow, Collect Feedback, and Collect signatures. Approval, for example, is the idea that we're going to be working on documents, and at some point after we make one change we need to make sure that it's reviewed. That's either Approved or Rejected whether that's for content reasons, we have to comply to a particular style guide. It might be for legal reasons that we can't use certain words and certain phrases.

Now SharePoint, out of the box, has several of these workflows predefined. If I wanted to say that, yes, I want to use the Approval workflow on this Library, you have to select this, give it a name, such as, we'll call it Content Approval, and what this workflow can do is create tasks and start storing history information. So it's going to say, oh, you want to use this workflow. Well, great I'm going to start creating tasks like, please approve this document, and I need a place to put that task.

So I select from here the existing tasks list on this site. If I didn't have a tasks list, I'd see this option to create a new task list. The next thing is it says, well, when these workflows are occurring, I'll need a place to log the history. I'll need to say this workflow has started. This workflow has finished. The document was approved or the document was rejected. So it says I don't have anywhere to put that information. I'm going to make you a new list to store Workflow History. Then after that we say well, when does this workflow begin? Is it manually started by an authenticated user, or does it get created automatically when a new item is made, or when an item is changed? That's going to be very dependent on what you want to have happen.

In this case, I'm looking for approval. That really means of some manual process. I might want to change this document 15 times before I say yes, I think I'm ready for approval. So I'll leave the default, which is manually started. On the next screen I'm going to see some default settings for kicking off this particular workflow. Well, in this case we need some approvals. If I'm asking for approval presumably there's some default people that this would get sent to, and I'm going to say that my default approver is Gini.

You can click the Check Names button to make sure that's retrieved, or you can also hit Ctrl+K, which will do the same thing. There are some other options I can do like putting in a request or a due date or how long this is allowed to take, do I want to CC anybody, and some other options. I'm not going to change any of this. You're more than welcome to experiment with it yourself. I'm just going to accept the defaults and click Save. All this means at this point is I have attached this workflow to this Library, and as you can imagine you have different workflows attached to different libraries and different settings on those workflows.

But it has not caused anything to happen. I'm just saying it's now available. All workflows are attached to a List or a Library, but they are initiated, meaning this workflow has to be run, for a particular document. So let's say, for example, I was working on a Business Plan Description. I might select that document and edit it. It's going to force me to check it out too, because I have that turned on as well. As you can see, it's fairly unimportant to you.

So let's say I've made some changes. I'll check those back in. I consider this to be a Major version. But I want to have something in process that says, yes, I ran this through approval. Well, by selecting this document I can see that I have a Workflows button over here on the Ribbon. I can also grab this from the dropdown version on the menu of Workflows. They'll do the same thing. I select Workflows. It will tell me, well, there's only one workflow available. It's called Content Approval.

Is that the one that you want? I'd say yes, I'm trying to kick this off with this particular document. It's giving me the opportunity to change any of the information from this workflow. Understand the people who are listed as approvers have to have a particular security privilege. So I can't just name anybody and decide to pull someone out who's my boss and name someone who reports to me. Whoever is listed in approvers has to have that permission. But I'm going to leave all of this and click Start and the question is what's happening? Well, it's almost like setting a clock ticking in the background.

This workflow is actually going to create a task for Gini. It's going to send her an e-mail message, and it's going to start keeping track of this. Doesn't look very exciting back here on the Library, though there is one change here that by creating a new workflow, we have a new column on our View called Content Approval. It's the name of the workflow, and it says currently this is In Progress. I even have a clickable link here that can take me to the history of this workflow, and depending on how your SysAdmin has configured it, you may indeed see the workflow visualization showing up here.

But right now we've started of the approval process. There's currently one task existing. You might think, well, what do you mean one task? Well, if I go to my Tasks list on this Team Site, I can see there's a the task has been generated, Please approve Business Plan Description, and it's assigned to Gini and has not been started. Now let's assume that while I'm waiting Gini is actually going to look at this document, check it out and decide whether she likes it or not. I'm going to refresh the page here, and suddenly we see that the Status is Completed.

It's 100% Complete. I can even take a look at the task to see some information about it. It's a workflow task and says here's some comments. Hi Simon - I reviewed your document. It looks good! Let's go with it. Sounds good! If I were to go back into my Library, I'd see that the Approval workflow is now marked as Approved. If I were to select that document and look at my workflow section again, I'll be taken to a screen that says, There's no currently running workflows on this, but there is a completed one.

If I select the option for completed workflows, and I could have many of them, we'll see first the Visio graphical information about it, but below that we will see the tasks that we are generated, and we will see the full History. In this case, that it was started, a Task was created, and assigned. It was reviewed, and once it was reviewed and approved, the Approval was completed. The idea of course is that you can have workflows run multiple times on the same document, different workflows on different documents, different workflows in different libraries.

Workflows can be caused to happen when a document is created, or even on a List item when a list item is created or changed. In SharePoint 2010 we can even have workflows that affect an entire site. Most workflows, however, are attached to a List or Library, and they're actually initiated or kicked off for an individual document or an individual list item. Now what we don't really go through then in this course, you can also define your own Workflows using either the program SharePoint Designer or Visio 2010. Using Visio you can actually build them visually with a flowchart model and then apply them to a List or Library.

Workflows are a very powerful feature in SharePoint and leveraged correctly can save you a great deal of time in your day-to-day operations.

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SharePoint 2010 Getting Started

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Simon Allardice
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