One of the great new features of SharePoint 2010 is the ability to open up the whole workflow design experience to business users. Many users are familiar with using Microsoft Visio these days and it has become almost a standard for defining business requirements graphically. Over the past couple of years we have noticed that more and more of our clients are using Microsoft Visio to mock up their process flows in the form of flow charts, or even putting together more complex swim lane diagrams.
Now, with the release of Office and SharePoint 2010, it is now to take output from Visio and use it to generate workflows within SharePoint.
Visio now comes with a new template under the Flowchart category called Microsoft SharePoint Workflow. This can be used to model business processes using conditions and actions that are SharePoint Specific.
1. To initiate a new process map, launch Visio, click on the File tab in the ribbon and then click on New.
2. You will be presented with the Choose a Template form. On here you need to click on the Flowchart category.
3. You will then be prompted to choose a template, choose Microsoft SharePoint Workflow
4. Choose the measurement unit that you prefer and click on Create.
5. You will then be presented with a new blank canvas on which to define your workflow process. In the picture (below) you can see the most common items that can be used to create a process map; these are included on the Quick Shapes navigation pane.
By clicking on any of the other three panes we can access a whole lot more actions and conditions.
Any workflow process must start with a Start action and each point where the workflow process may terminate requires an End action. In between these points, we are free to configure any number of conditions and actions in order to map out a real business process.
Common actions include starting a new out of the box SharePoint Approval workflow, sending an email or assigning a to-do item to a specific user (or group). Quite complex scenarios can be designed using these items.
So, the objective for the user is to define the process flow and make reference to every condition and action that may occur as the process is executed. The following image is a very simplistic representation of a workflow process modelled in this way.
The important thing for the user to do is label each of the actions and conditions correctly and ensure that any conditions have labelled Yes and No paths assigned to them.
Once the workflow is complete, it can be exported in a Visio Workflow Interchange format and sent to a more technical user who has access to the SharePoint Designer application. They can then import the exported map into SharePoint Designer where it is translated into a SharePoint workflow. They can then modify it and prime it for use,
ensuring that it functions correctly and is associated with the correct document libraries, lists or sites. The workflow can then be published to a test SharePoint environment for
6. Visio provides a tool to validate the map that you have drawn; this appears on the Process tab on the ribbon. It will detect errors such as not labelling the condition branches or missing out Terminate actions.
Clicking on Check Diagram performs the check and reports any errors in a lower results pane. Fix any errors and repeat the checking until there are no further issues to resolve.
7. Once you are ready, click on the Export button on the Process tab. You are presented with a standard Save As dialogue that will enable you to select a location to save the file. The file will be saved as a Visio Workflow Interchange file with a .VWI extension. This is the format supported by SharePoint Designer.
8. The job of the designer is now complete and the responsibility passes to the user who has access to SharePoint Designer. The next step is to launch Designer and connect to the Site where you want to deploy the Workflow. Typically this will be a test site in order
to validate the process. Once you have connected to the site, click on the Workflows link as shown below.
9. You can then access the Ribbon and Select Import from Visio.
10. Browse to the file that you saved earlier and open it. You can then give it a more meaningful name and decide whether or not this is going to be immediately associated with a SharePoint object, or be imported as a reusable workflow (more on this in a future post).
11. The workflow design will be imported and then rendered in the standard Designer pseudo-code style layout as shown below. You can then action each of the underlined items and assign specific values to them. An example from the screenshot below would be to assign users or groups to the these users fields.
12. Once you have configured the workflow you can publish it by clicking on Publish on the Workflow tab. Note that you can also perform validation checks here by clicking on Check for Errors.
13. The Workflow will now be available in SharePoint and accessible through the site or list that you have associated it with.
All in all, this is a great new feature and will make it a lot easier for power users and subject matter experts to get involved in SharePoint projects and will speed up the overall design to publish process. The important thing is that it puts the power of definition back into the hands of those who understand their business and who should therefore be able to model it more accurately. Granted, there is an element of IT involvement required, and this should always be the case in order to ensure that standards are maintained and processes are optimised for performance. As with anything, governance is critical and should always be a central part of any workflow project.
The only thing to bear in mind is that you do need Visio Premium and you will also need to download SharePoint Designer. As a rule, we would recommend that SharePoint Designer workflows are only used for specific departmental or project level solutions, and that enterprise workflows should be modelled with a more robust, measurable and scalable toolkit.