Workflows allow users to collaboratively edit documents and manage project tasks by implementing document and item business processes on a SharePoint site. Workflows enable organizations to enforce consistent business processes, as well as improve their operational efficiency and productivity by managing the tasks and steps associated with business processes. In this way, the people who perform these tasks can focus on the work itself and not on managing the workflow.

What are the workflows?

A workflow can be described as a series of tasks that result in a result. In the SharePoint Products and Technologies context, the definition of a workflow can be narrowed down as follows: the automated moving of documents or items through a sequence of actions or tasks that belong to a business process. Workflows can be used to consistently manage common business processes within an organization. This is achieved by enabling the organization to provide business logic to documents or items in a SharePoint list or library. Essentially, the business logic consists of a set of statements that specify and control actions on documents or items.

Workflows can be used to coordinate with general business process coordination. For example, project approval or document review can streamline associated costs and time by managing and tracking related tasks. For example, on a SharePoint site, you can add a workflow to a document library to forward a document to a group of people for approval. When the author of a document starts this workflow for a document in the library, the workflow creates document approval tasks, assigns them to the workflow participants, and then sends email notifications with task instructions and a link to the document to be approved to the participants , While the workflow is running, the owner of the workflow (here the author of the document) or the participants in the workflow on the Workflow Status page can verify which participants have completed their workflow tasks. When the workflow participants have completed the workflow tasks, the workflow is ended and the workflow owner is automatically notified of the completion.

Workflows not only support existing human work processes, but also create new opportunities for collaboration and working with documents, lists, and libraries. Site users can launch and participate in workflows by using customizable forms that can be accessed through the document or item in a SharePoint list or library. In addition, the SharePoint Products workflow feature is tightly integrated with Microsoft Office 2013, so the following workflow tasks can be performed on both products:

  • View the list of workflows available for a document or item
  • Start a workflow for a document or item
  • View, edit, or reassign a workflow task
  • Complete a workflow task

The two SharePoint workflow platforms:

Because the SharePoint 2010 workflow platform was transferred to Office 365 and SharePoint Server 2013, all of your workflows created on this platform will continue to work. This platform is based on Windows Workflow Foundation 3.5 (WF3.5). The SharePoint 2013 workflow platform is based on Windows Workflow Foundation 4 (WF) and has been significantly redesigned. Perhaps the most striking feature of this new workflow platform is the use of Microsoft Azure as an execution host for workflows. Workflow Execution Engine is now out of Office 365 and SharePoint Server 2013 in Microsoft Azure.

The bottom line: When you create a workflow in SharePoint, you can choose from two types of platforms: SharePoint 2010 Workflow and SharePoint 2013 Workflow.

Integrated workflows

A SharePoint site contains several built-in workflows for common business scenarios:

  • Approval: This workflow forwards a document or item to a group of people for approval. By default, the approval workflow is associated with the document content type and is therefore automatically available in document libraries.
  • Collect Feedback:¬†This workflow forwards a document or feedback element to a group of people. Editors can provide feedback, which is then compiled and sent to the person who initiated the workflow. By default, the feedback collection workflow is associated with the document content type and therefore automatically available in document libraries.
  • Collect signatures: This workflow forwards a Microsoft Office document to a group of people to collect their digital signatures. This workflow must be started in an Office 2013 program. Attendees must complete their signature tasks by adding their digital signatures to the document in the appropriate Office program. By default, the collect signature workflow is associated with the document content type and is therefore automatically available in document libraries. However, the signature collection workflow only appears for one document in the document library if that document contains at least one Microsoft Office signature line.
  • Publishing Approval: This workflow is similar to the Approval workflow in that it automates the routing of content to experts and stakeholders for review and approval. The publishing approval workflow is unique in that it has been specifically designed to publish websites that strictly control the publication of new and updated Web sites.
  • Three States: This workflow can be used to manage business processes that companies need to solve a large number of problems or issues, such as You can track customer service issues, sales managers, or project tasks.

Each of these workflows can be customized in various ways to meet the needs of your business. For example, if you add a workflow to a list, library, or content type to make it available for use in documents or items, you can customize the task and history lists that store workflow information.

When a site user launches a workflow for a document or item, he may be able to further customize the workflow by specifying the list of attendees, a due date, and instructions for the tasks.

Support for custom workflows:

Although integrated workflows can be tailored to fit different needs, your organization may decide to design and develop workflows that are tailored to business processes in the organization. Workflows can be as simple or complex as business processes demand. Developers can create workflows that users of a website start, or they can create workflows that start automatically based on an event, such as when a list item is created or modified. If your organization has developed and deployed custom workflows, these workflows may be in addition to or instead of the built-in workflows described earlier.

There are two ways to create custom workflows:

  • Power users can design code-less workflows for use in a specific list or library by using Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2013 and Office Visio 2013. SharePoint Designer 2013 workflows are created from a list of available workflow activities. The person who created the workflow can deploy it directly to the list or library in which it is to be used. SharePoint Designer 2013 also works with Visio 2013 to provide a visual interface for developing workflows to create diagrams using shapes and connectors. You can import workflows from Visio 2013 to SharePoint Designer 2013, and vice versa.
  • Professional software developers can create workflows using Visual Studio 2012 or later. These workflows include custom code and workflow activities. After a professional developer creates custom workflows, a server administrator can deploy them on multiple sites.

Steps to use workflows:

Using a workflow in a document or list item consists of several steps. Each step can be performed by people with different tasks. For example, a site administrator may provide a workflow for use in a document library, a content creator may start a workflow or change a running workflow, and a third party (eg, a review or approval officer) may complete the workflow task.

Add a workflow to a list, library, or content type:

Before a workflow can be used, it must be added to a list, library, or content type to make it available to documents or items in a particular location. You must have the Manage Lists permission to add a workflow to a list, library, or content type. In most cases, this task is handled by site administrators or users who manage specific lists or libraries.

The availability of a workflow on a website depends on where it was added:

  • When you add a workflow directly to a list or library, it is available only to items in the list or library.
  • When you add a workflow to a list content type (that is, an instance of a site content type that has been added to a specific list or library), it is available only to items of that type in the list or library associated with that type.
  • When you add a workflow to a site content type, this workflow is available to all elements of that type in each list and library to which an instance of the type has been added.
  • If you want a workflow to be available across lists or libraries across a site, you can create a site workflow.

If you add a workflow to a list, library, or content type, you can customize it for the specific location by specifying several options:

  • The name of this instance of the workflow
  • The task list that stores workflow-related tasks
  • The history list, which records all events associated with the workflow
  • The way in which the workflow should be started
  • Other options that apply only to the specific workflow, such as how tasks are routed to attendees, the circumstances of completing the workflow, and what happens after the workflow is completed

When adding a workflow to a list, library, or content type, make it available to documents or items in a specific location; They do not start the actual workflow.

Start a workflow for a document or item:

After adding a workflow to a list, library, or content type, making it available for use, you can start it for a document or item (if it has been configured to start manually). To start, select the desired workflow from the list of available workflows for the document or element. If necessary, you must enter the information required for the workflow into a form. Depending on how the workflow was developed and configured, you may be able to customize it further when you start it for a document or item. Adjust options such as participant, due date and task instructions.

Change a running workflow:

If you started a workflow for an item, you might need to make changes to its behavior. For example, the user who started it can add more participants. A participant could assign their task to another participant or request a change to the document or element for which the workflow is being performed. You can change some of the built-in workflows while the workflow is running. If your organization has developed and deployed custom workflows, it’s possible that changes to ongoing workflows are also allowed.

Complete workflow tasks:

Each workflow event that requires user interaction is represented by a workflow task. When a workflow assigns a task to a workflow participant, the participant can either complete it or request changes to the workflow by editing the workflow task form. Workflow participants can complete workflow tasks on the SharePoint site or directly in an Office 2013 program. If a workflow participant completes a workflow task or requests a change to the workflow, it is moved to the next relevant level.

Monitor the status of workflows:

Workflow owners and participants can track the progress of a workflow by reading the status page associated with the workflow. The status page contains status information about pending workflow tasks. It also lists history information relevant to the workflow.

Reporting tools can provide an overall analysis of workflow history. Using this analysis, organizations can identify process bottlenecks or determine if a group meets the performance goals for a particular business process. Multiple predefined Microsoft Office Excel reports can be used with any workflow. In addition, workflow history information is available as a SharePoint list data source that can be used and analyzed in other programs or custom business process monitoring solutions.