Overview of workflows included with SharePoint

Applies to: SharePoint Online, Office for business, Office 365 Small Business, SharePoint Server 2016, SharePoint Foundation 2013, SharePoint Server 2010, SharePoint Designer 2013, SharePoint Server 2007.

SharePoint workflows are established mini-applications that streamline and automate multiple business processes. Workflows cover collecting signatures, feedback, or approvals for a plan or document, and tracking the current status of a routine procedure. SharePoint workflows are customised to maximise your productivity and efficiency, and deliver consistency to routine tasks that you perform regularly.

What is a SharePoint workflow?

You’re probably familiar with what a flowchart is. It’s a graphical process map, with step-by-step instructions.

Workflow process

A SharePoint workflow is similar to an automated flowchart that eliminates the labour-intensive nature, estimation and ambiguity out of your baseline work processes.

For example, look at the document approval-process in the illustration. Running this process manually can require plenty of checking up and keeping track, forwarding documents and sending reminders — and each of those tasks has to be performed by you or by one or more of your colleagues. That means much more additional work and (maybe even worse) a constant stream of interruptions.

But when you use the SharePoint Document Approval workflow to run the process, each of that checking and tracking and reminding and forwarding is processed by the workflow, automatically. If anyone is overdue in finishing a task, or if some other mishap unfolds, much of the integral workflows show a notification to keep you informed about it. Nobody in the group has to proactively monitor the process because with a SharePoint workflow, the process is always proactively monitoring itself.

And running a SharePoint workflow is easy. You simply select your desired workflow type, define the best options for maximum results in your situation, then allow the workflow to take centre stage. And of course, you can cancel or terminate a workflow anytime you have to.

What processes can I automate by using a SharePoint workflow?

All of the workflow types provided behave like a template. You create a version of the workflow for a single list or library, or for a whole site collection using an initiation form to confirm your desired options and customisations for this version. These options and selections contain who the workflow assigns tasks to, task deadlines, how the workflow can be commenced and by whom, instructions to be given in the task notifications, and so forth.

Important: By default, the Approval, Collect Feedback ,and Collect Signature workflows are not activated and are not listed in the Select a workflow template list box of the association form. To make them available for use, a site administrator must activate them at the site collection level.

There are five built-in workflow types.

Approval (route a document or item for approval or rejection)

Check Mark An Approval workflow skips a document or other item to specific people for their approval or rejection. You can also use an Approval workflow to control content approval in a list or library. To learn more, and for step-by-step instructions, see All about Approval workflows.

Collect Feedback (route a document or item for feedback)

Collect Feedback Workflow A Collect Feedback workflow routes a document or other item to authorised people for their feedback. The Collect Feedback workflow compiles each of the feedback from participants for the workflow owner and offers a record of the review process. To learn more, and for step-by-step instructions, see All about Collect Feedback workflows.

Collect Signatures (route a document, workbook, or form for digital signatures)

Collect Signatures Workflow The Collect Signatures workflow routes a Microsoft Office document to assigned people for their digital signatures. Note that the Collect Signatures workflow functions only with Word documents, Excel workbooks, and InfoPath forms. To learn more, and for step-by-step instructions, see All about Collect Signatures workflows.

Three-State (track an issue, project, or task through three states or phases)

Three-State Workflow The Three-state workflow is programmed to track the status of a list item through three states (phases). It can be used to control business processes that necessitate organisations to track a vast volume of issues or items — e.g. customer support issues, sales leads, or project tasks.

With every transition between states, the workflow delegates a task to a person and pushes an e-mail alert to someone regarding the task. Once this task is done, the workflow updates the item’s status and advances to the next state. The Three-state workflow is structured to function with the Issue Tracking list template, but it can be employed with any list that includes a Choice column with three or greater values.

To learn more, and for step-by-step instructions, see Use a Three-state workflow.

Publishing Approval (automate content routing for review and approval)

Disposiiton Approval Workflow A publishing approval workflow is alike other SharePoint workflows in that it automates the routing of content to subject matter experts and stakeholders for review and approval. The innovative aspect of this is that it’s tailor-made for publishing sites where the publishing of new and updated web pages is stringently handled. Within these types of of sites, no new content can be published until it has been approved by every approver in the workflow. To learn more, and for step-by-step instructions, see Work with a publishing approval workflow.

Who can add and start a SharePoint workflow?

To create or start a workflow, you must have the correct permission for the list, library, or site collection where the workflow runs:

  • To add a workflow –   Automatically, you must have the Manage Lists permission to add a workflow. (The Owners group has the Manage Lists permission by default; the Members group and the Visitors group do not.)
  • To start a workflow – Also automatically, you must have the Edit Items permission to start a workflow that’s currently been inserted. (The Members group and the Owners group both have the Edit Items permission by default; the Visitors group does not.)
    Alternatively, Owners can decide to command specific workflows so that they can be started only by members of the Owners group.

How do I add and run a SharePoint workflow?

The following diagram gives a top-level view of the basic stages for planning, adding, running, and modifying a SharePoint workflow. Individual sections on each of the steps follow.

Workflow Process
  • Plan – Make sure that you know which options you want and what information you’ll need to have available when you use the initiation form to add your version of the workflow.
  • Add – Fill out the initiation form to add your workflow version to a list, library, or site collection.
  • Start – Start your new workflow, either manually or automatically, on a document or other item in a list or library. (If you start it manually, you’ll have the opportunity to change some of the workflow’s association form settings on a briefer initiation form.) When the workflow starts, it creates tasks, sends notification messages, and begins to track actions and events.
  • Monitor – While the workflow is running, you can view the Workflow Status page to see which tasks are complete and what other actions have occurred. If necessary, you can adjust current and future tasks from here, and even cancel or terminate this workflow run.
  • Review – When the run is complete, its whole history can be reviewed on the Workflow Status page. Also from the status page, statistical reports on the general performance of this workflow can be created.
  • Change – If the workflow isn’t working quite like you want it to, you can open the original association form that you used to add it, and make your changes there.

Can I create custom SharePoint workflows of my own?

If you require further flexibility with a pre-programmed workflow, you can customise it deeper with a tool like SharePoint Designer 2013. You can also design your own original workflow from start to finish.

Using the Workflow Designer, you format rules that relate conditions and actions with items in SharePoint lists and libraries. Updates to items in lists or libraries initiate actions in the workflow.

For example, you could design a workflow that displays an additional approval workflow, if the cost of an item passes a specific amount.

You can also define a workflow for a range of related documents. For example, if your workflow is associated to a document library, or if it is filtered to the Document content type, a group of contextual Document Set actions appear. A Document Set enables a collection of documents to be treated as a single unit, so a workflow action for a Document Set will operate on each of the items in that Document Set.

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