How To Use Workflows In SharePoint
Many organizations have found a place for SharePoint in their networks. Yet while most users are familiar with the sharing and collaboration capabilities in SharePoint, few take advantage of features that can simplify and enforce business rules. These capabilities are normally implemented through the use of workflows and, while they can be complex, most workflow solutions are quite simple. Even when customized workflow features are needed, the skills of developers might not be necessary because of the simplified tools and wizards available in SharePoint Designer. This white paper will discuss how SharePoint workflows work and how you can implement them to improve existing business processes.
Recent studies have confirmed that while many organizations have found a place for SharePoint in their networks, they are not utilizing it fully. Most people are familiar with the sharing and collaboration capabilities in SharePoint, but few take advantage of features that can simplify and enforce business rules. These capabilities are normally implemented through the use of workflows and, while they can be complex, most workflow solutions are quite simple. Even when customized workflow features are needed, the skills of developers might not be necessary because of the simplified tools and wizards available in SharePoint Designer.
Think of some of the processes that might be necessary because of document change or archiving rules within an organization. These events might start business processes where file changes need to be approved, important documents must be moved, or users need to be notified of status changes. Even when existing processes work well, automating and enforcing them through SharePoint workflows can be faster and more efficient.
In this white paper, we will discuss how SharePoint workflows work and how you can implement them to improve existing business processes. We will look at the existing predefined workflows that come with SharePoint and you will see how to create your own using the SharePoint Designer. The examples discussed are relatively simple, so no programming or developer experience is necessary. You must have Site Administrator or Site Owner privileges on a test server. Some experience working with SharePoint libraries and using SharePoint Designer is required. Although we will be using Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 for our examples, those using MOSS 2010 will also be able to use this information with a few modifications.
How Workflows Work
Before creating workflows, let's take some time to understand their structure and how they can be configured. Workflows can be used to apply business rules to individual files, lists, document libraries, or content types. The same workflow with business rules that apply to all files in a document library can also be manually applied to a single file when necessary.
Workflows are normally initiated by changes in a list. These changes are called events and usually involve the creation or modification of files in a document library. When automatic initiation by events is not desired, the user can be allowed to start it manually. Manually starting the workflow opens the workflow initiation form that allows the user to confirm that he wants to start or cancel the process. The form can be reconfigured to allow the user to provide additional information needed by the workflow process.
After a workflow is started in response to an event, it will perform the actions for which it was configured. These actions can be as simple as a single operation, or they can include multiple complex steps. The Workflow Designer has a number of predefined actions that allow you to choose from a number of operations such as sending e-mails, modifying files, or creating new items. In addition to the predefined actions available in SharePoint Designer, new ones can be created and added. For business processes that are interactive and require user input, workflows can be configured to accept and respond to their input.
To make sure that workflow actions are only executed under the right circumstances, conditions can be configured to check for predefined settings or properties first. One or more conditions can be applied to one or more actions in the workflow. When a workflow is being applied to a document, the conditions normally have to do with some property of the file itself such as its size, type, modification date, or the person who last modified it.
Once you understand the inner workings of a workflow, creating one becomes easier. Using events, actions and conditions, business rules, and policies can be implemented and executed manually or automatically. We will now look at two examples of how this can be done. First, we will use a predefined workflow to automatically start a document approval process to validate a file before making it available. Then we will create a manually initiated workflow in SharePoint Designer to move documents to a different location, based on when they were last modified.
Create a Predefined Workflow
Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 comes with 5 predefined workflows. They are generally used to get file approval or feedback, collect signatures, or manage document retention. We will be using the Approval workflow for the following steps. Use these steps to start configuring a workflow for a test document library named HR. Read the description in each section before configuring it: