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Automate business processes using SharePoint Designer Workflows


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Edgewater ( presented "Automating business processes using SharePoint Designer Workflows" at multiple SharePoint Saturdays. This presentation covers the types of workflows available, best practices, and common issues.

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Automate business processes using SharePoint Designer Workflows

  1. 1. Automating business processes using SharePoint Designer Jeff MacKenzie Director of Technology Edgewater Technology
  2. 2. Contents ► What is a workflow? ► Types of SharePoint Workflows ► Workflow Demo ► Workflow Best Practices & Common Issues ► What’s new in SharePoint 2013 2
  3. 3. What is a Workflow?
  4. 4. What is a Workflow ► “The steps required to complete a process” ► A workflow can have the following attributes. 4 – May include Steps that must be completed by multiple people in an organization or even outside an organization – Interaction with multiple systems and applications (integration) – Notification or alerts to let people know when they need to perform a task related to a workflow (email, SMS) – Branching logic that chooses the next step based on the result of the current task – Can be long running (hours or even days) – May need to request data from users
  5. 5. Examples ► Internal 5 – HR - Vacation Request, New Hire, reviews – IT – help desk ticket, equipment procurement ► Internal & External – Loan Application – College application
  6. 6. Evolution of workflows ► Manual 6 – Process • Paper forms, folders, mail, fax – Issues • Slow, no visibility, error-prone, bad for trees ► Email – Process • PDF/Word forms, shared folders, email – Issues • Better – but still no visibility into status • No central location to see status and results • Relies on user to follow rules • Which is the correct/latest form? ► SharePoint – Process • Lists/InfoPath forms, SPD workflow, email for notification – Issues • Provides central location to view status and results • Provides personalized work queue for users • Rules documented and enforced • Email still used for notification
  7. 7. Types of SharePoint Workflows
  8. 8. Type of SharePoint Workflows ► SharePoint Designer – Supports only sequential workflows – Types • List Workflow • Reusable Workflow • Site Workflow ► Visual Studio – Custom code-based workflows (only SP 2010) – Deploy as a WSP file to a farm – Supports sequential and state machine workflows ( SP 2010) 8
  9. 9. Designer – List workflow ► Simplest workflow to create ► Workflow is tied directly to a list or document library ► Cannot be re-used for other lists ► Cannot be published globally. ► Cannot be saved as a template (WSP). ► Cannot be associated with a content type. ► Cannot be exported easily 9
  10. 10. Designer - Reusable workflow ► Not required to be linked to a specific list or content type – Similar to built in workflows ► Can be published Globally which allows the workflow to be used in all sub-sites in site collection – Must be created at top level site and user must be an site admin at top level ► Can be saved as a Template which will create a WSP file in the SiteAssets library ► WSP File Can be imported into Visual Studio - for more advanced options - one-way trip – cannot go back to designer ► Can be associated with a Content type or a list 10
  11. 11. Designer – Site workflow ► A workflow that runs at the site level – not linked to a list or content type ► Does not have a current item ► Execute from “All Site Content” page on the site 11
  12. 12. SharePoint Workflow Components ► Steps – group actions logically ► Condition – if then statements ► Actions – do things ► Impersonation Step – run step as user that created the workflow ► Parallel Block - Execute actions at the same time ► Local variables – hold data that is global to the workflow 12
  13. 13. Actions By Type ► Some actions are only available in certain workflow types or steps and not supported in foundation. The following link describes all the actions, what they do, and when they are available. ► For example, – “Add List Item Permissions” is only available in an impersonations step – Actions such as Start Approval Process, Declare Record, and Lookup Manager of a User are available only when your SharePoint site is running SharePoint Server 2010 (not available in foundation). ► workflow-actions-in-sharepoint-designer-2010-a-quick-reference- guide-HA010376961.aspx 13
  14. 14. Demo – Vacation Request
  15. 15. Business Issue ► Employee’s manager must approve vacation requests from employees and HR should be notified when a vacation request is approved ► Flow – Employee enters request – Approval task assigned to manager (can use AD manager lookup) – If manager approves • Notification sent to HR • Notification sent to Employee • Vacation added to department calendar – If rejected • Notification sent to Employee who can update and re-submit 15 10/28/2014
  16. 16. Highlights ► Create custom URL to “new vacation request” which includes return URL (https://edgewater-my. st/NewForm.aspx?Source=https%3A%2F%2Fedgewater-my. ► “Task Process” action handles approval process with tasks, emails, and reminders ► Functionality broken into separate steps to improve maintainability and readability of workflow 16
  17. 17. Workflow Best Practices & Common Issues
  18. 18. Software Development Lifecycle ► Build a workflow is essentially the same as writing code in a controlled environment ► Development Lifecycle – Gather requirements • High level business requirements – the business issues you are trying to address • Low level – functions required – Architecture & Design • Architecture - how the solution will be constructed at a high level • Design - low level description of how components will be built – Prototype • If requirements are fuzzy a prototype can help to iterate on a solution – Develop • Build the solution and unit test to ensure the component works in the development environment – QA Testing – • A QA or business analysts tests solution fully. Make sure to try all use cases and exercise all workflow paths to ensure workflow functions correctly. – Deploy to production – User acceptance testing – have business users test solution and validate functionality – Go Live – put into daily use – Maintenance Mode – perform entire lifecycle again for enhancements and bug fixes 18
  19. 19. Requirements and Design tips ► Start out simple – scope creep can derail the process ► Automate as much of the process as possible with an understanding that there may be manual steps which are replaced over time ► For example – Problem • The business requirements identity the need to access an HR system to lookup the manager of a user. • This requires a large design and development effort to integrate with the HR system – Solution • Ask the user to enter their manager as part of the process • Expand the solution later to include HR system integration 19
  20. 20. Testing ► Testing workflows is difficult – Multiple users involved at different levels of the business – Difficulty moving from test environment to production – Reliant on external global data such as AD settings ► Tips – Configure test users – make sure to assign an email address – Ensure you test all workflow paths – Use “log to history” action to track flow and allow debugging in a production environment – Use workflow variables to hold user names when possible to allow quickly changing from test users to real users – Use workflow variables to share email “snippets” across emails to ease maintenance of workflow 20
  21. 21. Security ► What user does my workflow run as? – Regular steps – runs as user who initiated the workflow – Impersonation step (SP 2010 only) – runs as user who published the workflow – App Step (2013) – has read/write access to all lists in site (Site Feature-> Enable Workflow Task Content Type) ► Issues – Workflow can break if impersonation steps are used and account that published the workflow is deactivated – use a system account to prevent this – Very carefully plan for permissions in your workflow. Make sure you know where exactly you are getting data from and what data you are going to modify and ensure that every potential workflow user has permissions to all these objects. ► - Plan for workflow security and user management - ► - Declarative Workflows and User Context - arative-workflows-and-user-context.aspx 21
  22. 22. Synchronous or Asynchronous (2010)? ► When a workflow starts – automatically or through a manual execution it runs synchronously up to the point where there is a delay - at that point it is suspended ► A suspended workflow is executed in the timer process on a schedule (default is every 5 minutes) ► Issues – To reduce the impact on the user of starting a workflow a delay action can be added early in the process to move the workflow to the timer process – A delay in the timer process can not be below the timer process scheduled delay ( default is 5 minutes) – so a delay of 1 minute can take >=5 minutes 22
  23. 23. Logic Issues ► When mixing “AND” and “OR” logic in a workflow the outcome may not be what is expected ► Designer workflow do not have parenthesis – a or b and c ► By default the statement a or b and c is evaluated as (a or b) and c ► If you want a or (b and c) – Rewrite as B and c or a – Or calculate b and c put into variable x – Then use a or x ► “Read” left to right or top to bottom in designer 23
  24. 24. Versioning ► Each time a workflow is published a new version is created ► Old versions are renamed with date ► Old versions can be deleted 24
  25. 25. Debugging ► To allow debugging a workflow in production the “Log to history list” action should be used at key places in the workflow. ► Messages passed to this action will be visible in the workflow details screen. 25
  26. 26. Debugging (Log Example) 26
  27. 27. Workflow History ► Workflow history is a “hidden” list that is created on the sites that have workflow ► The list holds the workflow history and is used to populate the “workflow information” screen ► To access the list add “Lists/Workflow%20History/AllItems.aspx” to the site URL. – For example, if the site is then the history URL is ► By default, a timer job removes data from this list after 60 days. ► If you want to keep the History List for an extended time, you can update the settings in Central Administration>Operations>Global Configuration>Timer Job Definitions.( library/ee662522(v=office.14).aspx) ► Not intended to be used as permanent audit log 27
  28. 28. What’s new in SharePoint 2013
  29. 29. New Features ► Adds a new workflow engine (based on Workflow Manager) – 2010 engine is still available – Requires additional setup steps to install – Must choose version when creating a new workflow 29
  30. 30. New Features ► 2013 Workflow Features – More powerful workflow constructs including • Looping • “Goto” a stage • Start a workflow – including 2010 workflows • Call web service • Dictionary type to hold collection of name/value pairs 30
  31. 31. Limitations ► No more Visual Studio Workflows with code – only declarative – Call web services for custom code/integration ► No more InfoPath forms – just Asp.Net forms ► Reusable workflow cannot be tied to a Content Type ► Relies more on calling SharePoint REST API to integrate with SharePoint ► Discontinued features (highlighted) – Actions: • Add List Item • Inherit List Item Parent Permissions • Remove List Item Permissions • Replace List Item Permissions • Collect Data from a User • Start Approval Process (start a task process) • Start Custom Task Process • Start Feedback Process – Conditions: • If current item field equals value • Check list item permission levels • Check list item permissions – Steps: • Impersonation Step – Data sources: • User Profile lookup – Other features: • Visio integration • Association Column • 'Require Manage List/Web Permission' feature for list/site workflow 31
  32. 32. Discontinued Features – full list ► Discontinued Features – Actions: • Stop Workflow • Capture a Version of the Document Set • Send Document Set to Repository • Set Content Approval Status for the Document Set • Start Document Set Approval Process • Declare Record • Set Content Approval Status • Undeclare Record • Add List Item • Inherit List Item Parent Permissions • Remove List Item Permissions • Replace List Item Permissions • Lookup Manager of a User • Assign a Form to a Group • Assign a To-Do Item • Collect Data from a User • Start Approval Process • Start Custom Task Process • Start Feedback Process • Copy List Item (SharePoint Designer 2013 supports only the document-copying action.) – Conditions: • If current item field equals value • Check list item permission levels • Check list item permissions – Steps: • Impersonation Step – Data sources: • User Profile lookup – Other features: • Visio integration • Association Column • Content Type Association for reusable workflow • 'Require Manage List/Web Permission' feature for list/site workflow • Globally reusable workflow type • Workflow visualization option 32
  33. 33. New Features of SharePoint Designer 2013 ► Copy and Past support for actions and steps for both 2010 and 2013 workflows – Both within a workflow and between workflows, and across sites ► Support for new 2013 workflows 33
  34. 34. Start Large Numbers of Workflows Simultaneously ► Avoid starting a large number (>10,000) workflows at the same time – can overload the timer service ► Timer server processes a number of steps in the workflow on each execution (configurable) ► Can overload the timer service and cause workflows to fail or be delayed for many processing cycles ► Avoid the issue – Identify if this might be an issue when designing the workflow. For example, If an automated process adds 1,000 files to a library at the same time that trigger a workflow • Possible fix – break into smaller batches and spread out over time – Do not automatically start workflows – build a component which does this on a timer ► If workflow performance becomes an issue then more WFE servers can be added to the farm to handle the additional load. 34 10/28/2014
  35. 35. Fine-grained permissions ► Try to limit breaking inheritance at item level on large lists (> 100 items in root) ► Impacts search crawling ► Best Practices – Group users into groups and assign permissions to these groups. Try to use AD groups as opposed to SharePoint groups – Try to group the item with the same permissions and put them into containers - folders, lists, sites and assign permissions on the containers. This way permission inheritance will be broken only on the container level. – Limit number of items on one hierarchical level to 2000 – Reduce the number of uniquely permissioned parent objects – Try to manage permissions on the web site level or at least at the highest possible level. – Avoid at all cost copying permissions from the parent – creates many “Limited access” permissions ► Resources: ► - Best practices for using fine-grained permissions - ► - Security planning for sites and content - library/cc262939.aspx 35 10/28/2014
  36. 36. Moving from Sandbox to Live
  37. 37. Designer - List Workflows ► OOTB method to move to new site collection/farm – Content DB backup/restore – Site collection backup/restore ► Purchase third-part tool – DocAve, Metalogix, Quest, HarePoint Workflow Migration for SharePoint, etc. 37 10/28/2014
  38. 38. Designer - List Workflows ► Manual copy (can be tricky) – Create a new workflow on the Production site with the same name. Be sure to add a fake condition and one fake activity. This will generate the standard workflow files – Copy the XOML and RULES files from your workflow in Dev (open the folder in SPD2010 and copy these specific files) – Paste those files into the workflow folder you created in step 1 – Open the workflow again in Prod, and click through all the steps to reassociate each data point (simply click on the item, and it will re-associate) – If you have any lookups like "Update List Item," then you'll need to manually edit the XOML file in SPD or Notepad so that you can find/replace the GUID of the associated list. Of course, that list must already exist on the Prod site, too. – When done, click Finish to publish the workflow with the copied settings, and it should now work. 38 10/28/2014
  39. 39. Designer – Reusable Workflows ► Designer - Reusable workflow – Can be exported as a WSP template and installed as a feature in a new site collection/farm – after export cannot be edited in Designer – Can be Imported into Studio for further editing – Once exported cannot be edited in Designer ► Potential Development Lifecycle – Create/test in dev using Designer – Export as wsp – Install wsp on production and publish using Designer – Future changes made to dev with re-export/install of WSP – Must Ensure associated workflow items exist in production • Content Types • Column Types • Lists 39 10/28/2014
  40. 40. InfoPath
  41. 41. InfoPath ► In March 2014 at the SharePoint Conference Microsoft 41 announced that it would “deprecate” InfoPath – Blog post at forms/ ► InfoPath will be supported through the End of Life date for the SharePoint 2013 on premise version (2023), but the on-line version would be phased out over a shorter duration, probably within the next two to three years. ► For details see Conference/2014/SPC348
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  44. 44. InfoPath ► Microsoft Replacements 44 – Excel Surveys • Office 365: Continuously shipping • On-premises: Included with Office 2013 – Forms on SharePoint Lists (FoSL) • Office 365: Between summer 2014 and October 2015 • On-premises: Next version of SharePoint (SharePoint vNext) – Structured Documents (Word) • Office 365: Current plans target the end of 2014 • On-premises: Current plans target the end of 2014 – App Forms (Access) • Office 365: Continuously shipping • On-premises: Included with Office 2013
  45. 45. InfoPath ► 3rd Part replacements 45 – Nintex Forms – KWizCom – InfoWise Ultimate Forms – K2 SmartForms – ClaySys AppForms – Emgage Turbo