Friday, August 10, 2012

SharePoint Workflow Basics(3) - 4 ways to create workflows

This is part 3 of the series "SharePoint Workflow Basics". This part will briefly describe the various ways to build SharePoint Workflows.
It will cover "Out of the box", SharePoint Designer and Visual Studio workflows, but also third party products of partners such as Nintex and K2.

1. Out of the box workflows

They were built for you, and you can use them by just adding them to your list. Those are:
  • Disposition Approval
  • Three-State
  • Collect Signatures
  • Approval
  • Collect Feedback
Since they are limited in functionality and hard to customize I like to use them for demos or small projects. "Approval" and "Collect Feedback" are my favourites.

Customize the Approval Out of the box workflow

2. SharePoint Designer Workflows

I have mixed feelings when it comes to SharePoint Designer. It was very weak in SharePoint 2007 and improved in 2010 and again slightly improved in 2013, but still it is not a accurate tool to create workflows.
The reason is, that the UI is not user friendly, it takes much longer to learn than other workflow tools. I don't like the textual view and neither the Visio view. The Visio view has improved in 2013, but Visio is great for designing processes, but not for workflow. I want to focus on the workflows logic not on the shape size and colors. ;-)

SharePoint Designer User Interface
Beside that be aware that it is hard to deploy a SharePoint Designer workflow. Again for small projects or demos it might be of interest. But it is not the tool for easy workflow creation that Microsoft wants it to be.

3. Visual Studio Workflows

Using Visual Studio "the sky is the limit", but you need a developer, knowledge and time. Although I consider myself as a good developer, I hardly recommend people the Visual Studio way. A success factor for a workflow project is, that the workflows should be fast and easy to modify. Workflows should support your business, business changes fast, so your workflows have to change fast too. If that is not possible because of a long release cycle in your development department, your workflows might slow down your business.

Visual Studio workflows

4. 3rd party workflow tools

The gap between the low functionality and weak user interface of SharePoint Designer and the complexity and deployment cycle of Visual Studio opened a gap for Microsoft partners such as Nintex and K2.
Both "Nintex Workflows" and "K2 Blackpoint" bring a user friendly workflow designer with many new activities.
If you are serious about workflow development it is a must to have a look at them. They will make your life much easier and the chances of success will increase dramatically.

Nintex Workflow Designer


So you bought everything from Microsoft: The Office, Visio and the SharePoint  Enterprise Edition an then you read that it is not enough for building workflows?
Well, not exactly.
You get a great process design tool with Visio, and you can easily publish it with Visio Services on the web.
You get a great form design tool with InfoPath. And you don't need InfoPath on the clients with forms services. :-)
And you get a workflow server - that's SharePoint. (or the Azure Workflows in 2013)
But what's missing is the accurate designer. And that's where Microsoft partners fill the gap. So have a look at Nintex Workflow and K2 before investing too much time and money.

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