I trust that you’ve been following me in this 101 series on workflow, so welcome to part 3! Let’s see how we got here:
Part 1: Intro and Core Concepts
Part 2: Templates and Using Workflows
Part 3: SharePoint Designer and Creating Workflows (this post)
Part 4: Best Practices and Extending Workflows
I know we haven’t done much exciting stuff yet, but that’s where we start today. Today we’re going to focus on getting SharePoint Designer going, reviewing the interface for workflow and creating some workflows. Get ready, this will be a long one! There’s a lot of info to get through, and I give you different steps between 2010 and 2013.
If it hasn’t been clear so far, then let me say again that this series is intended to be conceptual in nature. You will learn the concepts and get started with building workflow. There are lots of other resources and books that give you exact steps to create business solutions for workflow. I know you may not have time to read a book, so you can pick up the basics here and use other resources as a reference.
If you want to edit or create any workflow, you will need SharePoint Designer. What is it? Glad you asked. It’s a free tool from Microsoft that you must download and install on your computer or server.
First we need to download it. There have been some patches to it, so when you install, you will need the install the service pack to ensure you have the latest and greatest files. You will need Designer 2010 if you have SharePoint 2010, and you will need Designer 2013 if you have SharePoint 2013/2016/Online.
As it stands today, Microsoft has stopped making SharePoint Designer. The 2013 version is expected to be used for all versions post 2010. You can read more about the basics of SharePoint Designer from Microsoft Office Support.
To install, download both files (a base file and a service pack file). Run the base install first, reboot if it prompts you to, then run the service pack installer and reboot when/if prompted.
You will need to choose either 32-bit or 64-bit installs. This has to be the same as your version of Office (Word, Excel, etc.). You can find out more here.
Now that SharePoint Designer is installed, let’s open it up. The interface and steps for workflow are different between SharePoint 2010 and 2013(2016/Online), so I will list them separately.
On a side note, you can have both versions of SharePoint Designer installed on the same computer.
You need to open the site where you want to create/update workflow. Click File –> Open, and paste the URL for the site in the box without a library or path:
In general when working with workflow, from here you will click on the Workflows heading on the left side panel. When building workflow, it can be as simple as a one-line workflow that sends an email, or it can be 20-stage complex business process – it’s up to you.
Let’s look at the common workflow building blocks:
This will take some time to get the hang of, and time playing with it. Workflow has a ton of context, and that is key to understand to make an efficient and useful workflow. For example, within a workflow you can access different aspects like:
From here, things will diverge between SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013.
You will see something like this:
This will show any existing workflows that you already have and their type (list, reusable, globally reusable, etc.).
To get the workflow editor, you will either create a new workflow or open an existing workflow to edit. For the moment, just keep reading then you can go create your own.
Here’s an example of a very simple workflow at the main workflow settings page:
If I click Edit workflow, we go into the workflow editor which is where you do all your creating/building/editing of what your workflow does:
The ribbon up top has most of the stuff you need, with the editor in the main page area. This will contain your workflow steps, which contain conditions and actions that are executed in sequence top down.
From here, you just start taking your process and building conditions and actions that will make it happen.
You can get a list of all available workflow actions for 2010 here with examples.
To create a list workflow, performing the following steps:
So you’ve tested the provided Approval workflow, and it does most of what you want, but you’d like to tweak it a little. We can make a copy of it and customize it.
This will just make this template available to be used. You would complete the Add a workflow steps again, but choose your new workflow by name from the list.
Before I go further, I want to call out that there were some big changes between 2010 and 2013 with workflow. Some actions were removed, some new ones were added, along with other new capabilities. You can read more on these changes in the Designer section here.
I would encourage you to check out the changes with Visio too. It was there in 2010, but was a pain in the rear to use. Now it works great, and can make building your workflow easier if you like Visio (read more here).
Now, when you open the Workflows section in Designer 2013 you will see something like this:
This will show any existing workflows that you already have, their type (list, reusable, globally reusable, etc.) and their platform (2010 or 2013).
The ribbon up top has most of the stuff you need, with the editor in the main page area. This will contain your workflow stages (and steps), which contain conditions and actions that are executed in sequence top down.
NOTE: Notice you have Stages AND Steps. You can nest Steps inside a Stage for organizational purposes.
TIP: To copy and paste an action, just right-click and click Cut/Copy Action, then Paste. I can’t TELL you how much of a time-saver this is.
You can get a list of all available workflow actions for 2013 here with examples. You can see the list of 2010 actions removed from 2013 here.
To create a 2013 list workflow, performing the following steps:
In SharePoint 2013, as I’ve mentioned you have the ability to run a 2013 workflow or use the old 2010 engine. In 2013, customizing an existing workflow template (like the Approval) are the same exact steps as in 2010.
Shew that was a keyboard full! If you made it this far, congratulations. I told you there was a lot to cover!
I really hope that gives you the information to be able to get started with workflow. With this foundational knowledge, you can research the actions, see what they can do, and get busy writing.
In our final installment, I’ll give you some best practices with workflow and how you can augment workflows to do even more. Stay tuned!
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