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Category Archives: SharePoint Workflow

Use Custom Lists for More Effective Workflow Auditing

I’ve reorganized my life a bit and found some time to submit an article to www.endusersharepoint.com.  My latest article is up here: Use Custom Lists for More Effective Workflow Auditing (http://www.endusersharepoint.com/?p=1658).

This is the opening ‘graph:

SharePoint Designer workflow doesn’t give us a lot of visibility into what’s happening with our workflow solutions.  And, the visibility that we do get is hampered by a relatively poor interface and 60 day time window.  This 60 day window can be a major disappointment to new SharePoint Designer users because it’s not advertised by the tool itself.  It’s not at all uncommon for someone to fire up SharePoint Designer, create a workflow solution that leverages the “Log To History List” action…

The problem is that after 60 days, any messages that you create this way are deleted from the workflow history list!  After a bit of teeth gnashing and “what were they thinking?” arguments, the bottom line is this: it happens and it needs to happen.  The question is, how can we get around it?

The official answer is to rely upon SharePoint’s built-in auditing feature.  From an end user’s point of view, however, that’s very weak in WSS and not much better in MOSS.  Fortunately, we can still leverage the familiar SharePoint Designer tool to create a durable workflow history and audit trail which is an order of magnitude more useful to boot.  Here’s how.

I describe how to create a more friendly and useful audit solution for declarative workflow created in SPD. 

I was inspired to write this article from a recent project for a client that had developed nine technical SPD workflows in support of one logical business process.  Assuming for now that nine is a reasonable number, it was certainly a challenge to debug it or view the overall status of the process in one simple view.  Each of these separate technical workflows has its own independent workflow history list and that’s just not manageable.  I was able to combine all of them into a single audit list using the technique I describe on the site.

Check it out.

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Great Tutorial and Walk-through using InfoPath and Workflow to Solve a Scheduling Problem

These days, I’m perpetually playing catch-up with my blog reading and I just came across this post: http://sharepointsolutions.blogspot.com/2009/02/give-blood-to-your-workflow.html

It’s as solid and detailed a SharePoint Designer workflow tutorial (plus more!) that you’ll see anywhere on the interwebs.  I’d check it out, even if you’re a scarred SPD veteran. 

It’s a great SharePoint tutorial for both InfoPath and workflow.

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Control Workflow Behavior with Custom Lists (Again)

Earlier this month, I put together an article originally planned for Mark Miller’s www.endusersharepont.com.  However, I instead used like Dustin Hoffman used a cross at the end of the The Graduate to fend off my (awesome! friendly!) editor at TechTarget.

This is another SharePoint Designer workflow article in the same vein as my more recent effort here: http://www.endusersharepoint.com/?p=1226 ("Use Control Lists to Create Flexible Workflow Solutions").

It starts like this:

HAVE YOU EVER wished you could temporarily disable a SharePoint Designer workflow? You may want to do this in order to mass-approve a large number of documents without setting off dozens — or possibly hundreds — of unnecessary workflows.

One way to accomplish this is to access the workflow using Share-Point Designer and disable it. To do that, you’ll need to open up SharePoint Designer, access the workflow, change its properties and re-save it. The problem with that method is that it’s a little messy and likely to ring lots of alarm bells at most companies.

In general, fiddling about with SharePoint Designer workflows is not a good practice in a production environment, nor is it part of a well controlled process.

The article then walks you through a solution to this problem that uses a custom list to turn the WF on or off as needs dictate.  Read the whole thing here (http://wp.bitpipe.com/resource/org_1127860336_240/SharePoint_vol5_v6%201_16.pdf). 

This article was inspired by a question asked on the forums here: http://www.endusersharepoint.com/STP/. Although I spend far more time on the MSDN forums, I strongly recommend that you have a peek at the EUSP forum as well, particularly for end user oriented questions.  It’s yet another source of good information and advice.

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Use Control Lists to Create Flexible Workflow Solutions

Last week, Mark Miller posted my latest SharePoint Designer workflow article for end users on his site (http://www.endusersharepoint.com/?p=1226).

It starts like this:

We technical types use a lot of jargon and acronyms in our daily routine such as “OOP” (object oriented programming), “CT” (Content Types), “SPD” (SharePoint Designer), “RTFM” (please read the manual), etc.  This article concerns itself with a particular bugaboo called “hard coding:” What it is, why it’s bad and how to avoid it in SharePoint designer workflow solutions.

I describe how we can use custom lists to store workflow control and configuration data.  Using this approach, we can avoid hard coding values such as approvers’ email addresses, approval dollar limits, etc. 

Check it out.

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A Web Proxy Server Tried to Stop Me From Installing Windows Workflow Foundation, But I Defeated It

I’m working at a client site and needed to install windows workflow foundation so that I could so some SharePoint Designer work.  (I didn’t know until today that SPD installs fine but really needs at least .NET 2.0 and Windows Workflow Foundation to be really usable; I always assumed these were installed along with SPD, but I was wrong).

The client has a proxy server.  No problem, I have credentials to get outside to the public Internets.  I go to the usual place to download WWF (SPD helpfully provided me with a link).  That download is really a bootstrap of sorts.  It runs and figures out what else it needs to download.  That second download process failed.  It either does not try at all, or is somehow prevented from asking for proxy server credentials.  It was a pretty hard crash, giving me the message:

Microsoft .NET Framework 3.0 has encountered a problem during setup.  Setup did not complete successfully.

I tried to reboot and spent 10 seconds trying to figure out if I could get it to ask me for proxy server credentials.  I gave up and went here instead: .NET Framework 3.5 Service Pack 1 (Full Package).

I downloaded that package, installed and this time, no problems.

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SPD Workflow: Display Full Name Instead of Domain\username

In what appears to be his inaugural blog posting, chiqnlips has delved into the madness that is a calculated column and described a solution to a common SharePoint Designer workflow email activity problem: How to display a person’s real name in an email instead of "domain\username."

I haven’t tested it myself, but it looks promising.  Check it out.

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Porting SharePoint Designer Workflow from One List to Another

Mark Miller over at www.endusersharepoint.com posted my latest article on SharePoint Designer workflow here (http://www.endusersharepoint.com/?p=1037).

I describe the basic approach for moving a workflow you create in one list to another list.  The other list can be in the same site, same site collection or an entirely different farm (e.g. from development to production).

This is a complicated subject so I only covered a very basic scenario.  Next week, I’ll write up a more useful real world example. 

Check it out and share any comments there.

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Why Can’t I Easily Port SharePoint Designer Workflow Solutions From One List to Another?

Mark Miller has posted my latest End User oriented SharePoint Designer Workflow article up on his site here: http://www.endusersharepoint.com/?p=1008

I attempt to provide a straight-forward answer to the question, "Why can’t I easily port a SharePoint designer workflow from development to test?"  In the process, I also give some insight into what SPD is actually doing behind the scenes when we use it to create a workflow solution.

Next week, I describe an End User friendly way to port SPD workflow from one server to another, or at least as End User friendly a solution as is possible given the state of the tool set.

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SharePoint Designer Workflow Cannot Access “Remote” or “Foreign” Lists

Here’s another common SharePoint Designer workflow question:

"Can I access (read/write) SharePoint lists via workflows which do not reside on the same site as the list itself?"

The simple answer is: No.

As in so many ways, however, we have to qualify that (which is a good thing in this case).  The platform lets us create extensions to the produce in many ways, including a custom action (see my little codeplex project here for an example).  A custom action lets us do basically anything we want from SharePoint designer workflow.  I’m a big fan of this, in fact, since it gives us the best of both worlds — a declarative end-user friendly designer with the full depth of the .NET framework at our finger tips.

Sadly, if you’re using SPD, there’s a good chance you’re doing that because you can’t use visual studio (due to the fact that visual studio requires a deep developer background).  I don’t have any good answer to that problem except that you should prevail upon one of your technical co-workers to create the kind of custom action you need.  Alternatively, work with management to hire or contract that kind of resource.

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SharePoint Designer Workflow and Email Attachments — A Consummation Devoutly to be Wished

Sadly, it is not to be.  We cannot send an email with attachments from a SharePoint Designer workflow using out of the box features.  This wish comes up with increasing regularity on the MSDN forums.

However, the SharePoint platform, as with so many things, does offer us a path forward.  We can create custom actions which we then incorporate into our workflows.  Once installed, a custom action looks and feels like any other action (e.g. Collect Data, Log a Message, etc).

Creating a custom action is a big mountain to climb, however, for End Users.  This codeplex project provides this functionality: http://www.codeplex.com/SPDActivities.  Pulling that down and installing it is also beyond the skills of typical End Users.  However, it’s quite simple for a SharePoint admin to do it, so if you find yourself needing to develop a workflow with this capability, work with your SharePoint admin to get it done.

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