SharePoint Workflow Options: Business and Project Management

SharePoint Workflow Options: Business and Project Management

Are you looking for a suitable workflow option in SharePoint?

Organizations normally need a workflow process (like an approval process) to facilitate smoother collaboration.

In this article, let’s go over some of the workflow options available in SharePoint that you can use in business and project management.

Let’s get started.

What are the available workflow options in SharePoint?

The good news is that there are a variety of methods (from simple to complicated) you can use to set up a workflow in SharePoint.

It’s not as robust as fully-fledged task management tools or project management apps, but they’re enough for workflow processes.

Let’s start with the first one:

1. Email notification alerts

The truth is, it’s possible that all you need are alerts for your workflow. It’s easy to set up — perfect for new users and smaller organizations.

Although I discussed more regarding notification alerts here, I want to touch on the basics:

Basically, you will need to find the “Alert me” button on the command bar on a list or library:

Check the command bar of the library for the alert me option

Note: It’s also possible to set an alert on a specific document or list item by doing a right-click on it. You will find the same command on one of the options.

Then, simply configure the alert and what triggers it (like someone adds a new item or edits an existing one).

The window for configuration looks like this:

Check all the settings first and click the ok button below to save the changes

There’s also an option for frequency — which you might want to set to “immediately” if want a smoother and faster workflow.

Naturally, you can also set it up to send an alert to specific users so they would get alerted too.

Once you’re satisfied, simply click on the “OK” button and that will set the alert live.

2. Create a rule

Another workflow option is to create a rule to take action when there’s a change in the list. Think of this as an alternate method of setting up email notification alerts.

The similarity doesn’t end there:

Like setting up alerts, you will find the “Create a rule” button on the command bar on a list or library:

Find the create a rule option on the command bar

The system will then show you the conditions that trigger the rule:

Click on a specific condition to start the rule

You will then have to confirm the condition and who to notify (where you can choose either a name, email address or a user included in one of the columns).

Supply the missing parts of the rule

This method — compared with the email notification alert — is broader and concerned about changes in the list or library.

On the other hand, this is a little easier to set up and more direct. It also helps that you can automatically select the creator as the recipient of the email.

3. Content Approval Feature

Another built-in feature that works as a workflow option is the content approval feature — although you still have to enable the feature.

For this, you need to get to the list or library settings first to access the versioning settings:

Click on the versioning settings link from the list settings page

The content approval feature is the first setting you will see on that page. You can then configure who will see the draft items on the list or library.

Enable content approval for submitted items and only users who can approve items should see the draft items

After setting this up, you will now see an “Approve/reject” option for every new item or file uploaded as well as a space where you can enter a comment.

What this does is create a system where you or an admin has to approve new list items or files first before they become visible to users.

Although this is mainly the purpose, this helps improve the security and quality of the content being uploaded in the list or library.

4. SharePoint Designer

If you’ve been using SharePoint for a while now, then you must already know that you can also use SharePoint Designer to create a workflow.

SharePoint Designer is a tool you can use to create complicated workflows complete with multi-stage serial approvals.

It looks like this:

Creating a list workflow using SharePoint Designer

Note: To use the SharePoint Workflow platform, you need to activate the SharePoint Server Publishing Infrastructure in the site collecting features settings. Otherwise, you will see the same error in the screenshot above.

The only problem with using SharePoint Designer is that it has a learning curve — which means it will take time before you can learn how to really use it properly.

On the other hand, it’s a good option if you have already been using the tool for quite some time (although many designers opted to move to Microsoft Flow).

Note: It might be a better idea to use Microsoft Flow altogether. SharePoint 2010 workflows were already retired and SharePoint 2013 may soon follow.

5. Microsoft Visual Studio

To push it further to a more technical area, Microsoft Visual Studio is another option, and a slightly different approach, to creating workflows.

Basically, you will need to create a SharePoint Add-in right inside the Visual Studio:

Create a new project: SharePoint Add-in (Microsoft Visual Studio)

Workflows here are now based on Windows Workflow Foundation 4 and are executed through the Workflow Manager.

Using Microsoft Visual Studio will enable you to create an even more flexible workflow that can support even more than one business process.

There are also some templates available and you can deploy them to multiple sites at once. The downside, it requires greater development effort and knowledge to pull off.

6. Create a flow (Microsoft Flow)

Microsoft Flow is the new kid in town — and as its name implies, it’s a type of business process automation tool that will help you create business flows.

It’s like a more complex version of creating rules where tasks or events happen in a specified order determined by a set of conditions.

A flow that detects an image file and a set of conditions on what to do with it

It’s currently the best choice if you want to create a complex flow that’s not possible by simply setting up email alerts or rules.

The cool thing about this is that SharePoint already comes with a lot of templates you can use right off that bat:

Click the button below the pane to see more templates

As you can see, many of them involve business flows (though many are automation processes meant to make life somewhat easier).

If you’re interested in SharePoint Flow, I wrote the basics on it in this article along with the most used flow templates and how to create your own.

7. Third-party automation tools

Lastly, if nothing in the earlier items seems like a good fit, then it may be time to look outside the box (named Microsoft) and check out third-party tools.

One of them that comes to mind is the Nintex platform — which is somewhat user-friendly with its drag-and-drop interface.

Simplifying complicated workflows using the Nintex platform

Using this platform enables you to create basic business workflows to org-wide workflows in only a few clicks.

Since it’s a third-party tool, you will have to put in additional investment to use it (on top of your existing dues to Microsoft).

Personally, I think this is an option if none of the other workflow options here works well for you and you’re willing to put in some additional investment for it.

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    Choose the workflow option that suits your needs

    Having good workflow options is important to smoothen some of the business processes that you have in the organization.

    Along with the options I mentioned, the simplest ones are:

    • Email notification alerts
    • Creating a rule
    • Content approval feature

    Next to that, you will have to move into the “more technical” area:

    • Microsoft Flow
    • SharePoint Designer
    • Microsoft Visual Studio

    If none works out for you, then it might be worth considering some third-party options like Nintex — though you will have to shell out additional cash for this.

    Anyway, what do you think about these workflow options? For questions, drop them down in the comment section.

    For inquiries and other concerns, kindly use this contact form to get in touch and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

    About Ryan Clark

    As the Principal Solutions Architect at Mr. SharePoint, I help companies of all sizes better leverage Modern Workplace and Digital Process Automation investments. I am also a Microsoft Most Valued Professional (MVP) for Office Apps & Services.

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