How the pros build workflows in SharePoint

If you follow the Kiefer blog, you might have noticed that we spend a lot of time writing about the benefits of automation and the value of streamlining business workflows.  Our team has experience with a wide range of tools to help organizations save time and effort and bring consistency and efficiency to tasks that are performed on a regular basis.  This blog covers a few of the tools you might consider when you are looking to build SharePoint workflows.

First Things First

Before you start building your workflows, you have to understand the basic logic of the business process you are automating.  Understanding your goal and the steps in the workflow is an important part of the process.  Regardless of the tools you use to build the workflow, you must have clearly defined the process.

  • Identify the goal. Clearly define the expected outcome.
  • Outline the series of steps that are involved to achieve the goal.
  • Highlight any one-off tasks and documents that are involved in each step.
  • Determine the order of required tasks and establish whether not the process is serial or steps can be performed in parallel (concurrently).
  • Assign tasks to the appropriate people or departments.
  • Set a duration for each task and step.
  • Create a flow chart that identifies tasks and illustrates the process.

Once you’ve clearly defined your goals, mapped your process, and identified the people and departments in the process, you can start building your workflow in SharePoint.  As I stated earlier, there are several tools that can be used to build your workflow.  The ideal tool is typically one that your technical folks are comfortable with and that is supportable.  We have often worked with clients that will build a simple workflow and then optimize or expand the workflow once it has been deployed and used for a while.

The Tools

Built-In Workflows: SharePoint has several built-in workflows that address common business scenarios.  These out-of-the-box workflows can be used for collecting signatures, feedback, or approvals.  You can also use the built-in workflows to track the status of a routine procedure.  You can customize SharePoint’s built-in workflows to meet your organization’s specific needs, but you will be limited in the amount of customization.  You may find that you may need to invest in a more robust tool in order to tailor the workflow to meet your business requirements.

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SharePoint Designer: If you are a Power User, you can design no-code workflows for a specific list or library by using Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2013.  SharePoint Designer workflows are created from a list of available workflow activities, and the person who creates the workflow can deploy the workflows directly to the list or library where they will be used.  SharePoint Designer works with Visio 2013 to provide a visual workflow development experience to build diagrams by using shapes and connectors.  You can also import workflow diagrams from Visio 2013 into SharePoint Designer 2013, and vice versa.  Designer is a common solution for developers that are building workflows in SharePoint.

Visual Studio: For the tech-savvy, you might consider using Visual Studio to build SharePoint workflows.  Visual Studio offers a great deal of flexibility and customization for your workflows and allows you to create workflows that support more than one business process.  In Visual Studio, you can create templates and deploy to multiple SharePoint sites. Visual Studio offers the flexibility to build complex workflows, however, it will require more developmental effort and developer knowledge.

Nintex Workflow Designer: Nintex Workflow Designer is a great option for organizations that can’t get the features they need from SharePoint Designer and lack the skills to build workflows in Visual Studio.

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Nintex Workflow Designer for SharePoint builds on the foundation of SharePoint Designer, with more features.  The Nintex platform has a user-friendly “drag-and-drop” interface and allows for rapid creation of workflows.  Users will have the ability to automate processes ranging from basic business functions to company-wide workflows with just a few clicks.  We have worked with clients to automate common business processes as well as building one-off workflows that are unique to that client.

Our team has deep expertise in Nintex and we were recognized in 2017 as a finalist in the 6thAnnual Nintex Partner Awards. As a Nintex partner, Kiefer has the skills to help you build workflows in Nintex and share best practices.

The Secret to Successful Digital Transformation

When you start automating processes and implementing digital workflows, you are making investments in digital business transformation.  Be sure to read our recent blog, The 5 Common Pitfalls of Digital Business Process Transformation, for additional insights.  Our very own Andy Coyle identifies why so many automation and process optimization initiatives fail.  Kiefer’s team of Analysts and Project Managers have expertise in organizational change management (OCM) and the fundamentals of process transformation.  We can support you in deploying new technology and help you in facilitating adoption of the improved process.


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