In our previous article, we introduced the basics of SharePoint workflows and how they can help you automate and standardize your business processes.
In this blog, we will show you how to optimize your SharePoint workflows and enhance your productivity and collaboration.
Whether you are new to SharePoint workflows or want to improve your existing ones, this blog will provide you with valuable insights and guidance. Let us get started!
What are SharePoint Workflows?
SharePoint workflows are automated sequences of actions that can be triggered by events or conditions in SharePoint sites or lists. Workflows can help you streamline and standardize your business processes, such as document approval, task management, or issue tracking. With SharePoint workflows, you can automate tasks that would otherwise require manual intervention or coordination, saving time and reducing errors.
Microsoft Tools for Productivity Enhancement
Microsoft offers a variety of tools that can help you enhance your productivity and collaboration with SharePoint workflows. Some of these tools are:
Power Automate is a cloud-based service that allows you to create and manage workflows across multiple applications and services, such as SharePoint, Outlook, Teams, Excel, and more. You can use Power Automate to build workflows from scratch or use templates for common scenarios, such as sending notifications, collecting feedback, or updating data. Power Automate also supports advanced features, such as AI (Artificial Intelligence), connectors, and custom code.
Power Apps is a low-code platform that enables you to build custom apps that connect to your SharePoint data and workflows. You can use Power Apps to create user-friendly interfaces, forms, and dashboards that enhance your workflow experience and functionality. Power Apps also integrate with other Microsoft tools, such as Power Automate, Power BI, and Azure.
Power BI is a business intelligence tool that allows you to analyze and visualize your SharePoint data and workflows. You can use Power BI to create interactive reports and dashboards that show key metrics, trends, and insights about your business processes. Power BI also connects to other data sources, such as Excel, SQL Server, and online services.
Understanding User Objectives and Requirements
One of the key steps to optimizing your SharePoint workflows is to understand the needs and expectations of your users. Different users may have various levels of technical proficiency, experience, and preferences when it comes to using SharePoint workflows. Therefore, it is important to categorize your user groups based on their technical skills and requirements.
1. Categorizing user groups based on technical proficiency
A simple way to categorize your user groups is to divide them into three levels:
- Users who are non-technical and like to improve their efficiency.
- These users want to use SharePoint workflows to automate and simplify their tasks, such as approving documents, assigning tasks, or sending notifications.
- They prefer workflows that are easy to use, intuitive, and reliable.
- They do not need to create or customize workflows, but they need to access and interact with them.
- Users who are non-technical but can understand how technology works and adapt to new tools and processes quickly.
- These users want to use SharePoint workflows to enhance their productivity and collaboration, such as collecting feedback, tracking issues, or managing projects.
- They are willing to learn and use new features and functionalities of SharePoint workflows, such as conditional logic, loops, or variables.
- They do not need to create workflows from scratch, but they may want to modify or customize existing workflows to suit their needs.
- Users who are super users from a technical point of view, and they need to create workflows from start to delivery.
- These users want to use SharePoint workflows to create and manage complex and dynamic business processes, such as integrating with other applications, services, or data sources, using advanced actions, or writing custom code.
- They have the skills and knowledge to design, build, test, and troubleshoot workflows. They need to have full control and flexibility over their workflows.
2. Importance of documenting user requirements
Once you have categorized your user groups, you need to document their requirements and expectations for using SharePoint workflows. This will help you understand the objectives and outcomes of your business processes and the roles and responsibilities of each user group.
Documenting user requirements will also help you to communicate and align with your stakeholders and users, and to avoid any misunderstandings or conflicts later.
Some of the questions you need to ask, and document are:
- What are the goals and benefits of using SharePoint workflows for each user group?
- What are the inputs and outputs of each workflow step?
- What are the triggers and conditions for each workflow action?
- What are the rules and validations for each workflow data?
- What are the notifications and escalations for each workflow status?
- What are the security and permissions for each workflow participant?
- What are the performance and reliability requirements for each workflow?
- What are the feedback and improvement mechanisms for each workflow?
Setting Up Workflows for a Project Management Team
Let us assume you are working on a project to develop a new software product for your client. You have a project manager, a business analyst, a developer, a tester, and a client representative in your team. You want to use SharePoint workflows to manage the following aspects of your project:
- Creating and approving the project requirements document
- Creating and updating the project scope document
- Creating and updating the project schedule
- Assigning and completing tasks
- Tracking and resolving issues
- Reporting and communicating the project status
1. Basic project structures: requirements, scope, schedule
Before you create your workflows, you need to understand the basic structures of your project, which are the requirements, the scope, and the schedule. These are the key documents that define and guide your project throughout its lifecycle.
- The requirements document specifies what the client wants and expects from the software product.
- It includes the functional and non-functional requirements, the business objectives, the user scenarios, and the acceptance criteria.
- The requirements document needs to be created and approved by the business analyst and the client representative before the project can start.
- The scope document defines what the project will deliver and what it will not deliver.
- It includes the project deliverables, the project boundaries, the project assumptions, and the project constraints.
- The scope document needs to be created and updated by the project manager and approved by the client representative at each major project milestone.
- The schedule document outlines the timeline and the resources for the project.
- It includes the project phases, tasks, dependencies, durations, task assignees, and task statuses.
- The schedule document needs to be created and updated by the project manager and communicated to the project team and the client representative regularly.
2. Identifying document types for workflow connection
Once you have the basic structures of your project, you must identify the document types you want on your SharePoint site. This will determine how you can connect your workflows to your documents. SharePoint offers several types of documents, such as lists, libraries, pages, or content types. You need to select the document type that best suits the nature, format, and functionality of your document.
For example, for the project requirements document, you may want to use a library document type, as it allows you to store and manage files, such as Word documents or PDF files. For the project scope document, you may want to use a page document type, as it allows you to create and edit web pages, such as wiki pages or web part pages. For the project schedule document, you may want to use a list document type, as it allows you to create and manage data, such as tasks, issues, or calendars.
3. Mapping the workflow process in a document
After you have identified the document types for your project, you need to map the workflow process for each document in a document, such as a Word document or an Excel workbook. This will help you to design and visualize your workflow steps, actions, conditions, and outcomes. You need to map the workflow process for each document from start to end, including the following elements:
Workflow name: The name of the workflow that describes its purpose and function
Workflow trigger: The event or condition that initiates the workflow, such as creating a new document, updating a document, or manually starting the workflow
Workflow participants: The roles and responsibilities of the people who are involved in the workflow, such as the document creator, the document approver, the document reviewer, or the document owner
Workflow actions: The tasks and activities that the workflow performs, such as sending an email, creating a task, updating a status, or copying a document
Workflow conditions: The rules and validations that the workflow checks, such as checking the document status, checking the document content, or checking the document metadata
Workflow outcomes: The results and consequences of the workflow, such as approving a document, rejecting a document, completing a document, or terminating a document
4. Ensuring alignment among group members
Before you implement your workflows in SharePoint, you need to ensure that your group members are in alignment with the overall approach of the flow from start to end. You need to communicate and collaborate with your group members to review and validate your workflow processes, and to resolve any issues or conflicts that may arise. You need to ensure that your group members understand and agree on the following aspects of your workflows:
- The goals and benefits of using workflows for your project management
- The inputs and outputs of each workflow step
- The roles and responsibilities of each workflow participant
- The rules and validations of each workflow condition
- The notifications and escalations of each workflow action
- The performance and reliability of each workflow outcome
5. Moving from documentation to implementation
After you have ensured the alignment among your group members, you are ready to move from documentation to implementation. You need to use the appropriate tool to create and manage your workflows in SharePoint, such as SharePoint Designer, Visual Studio, Power Automate, or Power Apps.
You need to follow the best practices and guidelines for creating and managing workflows in SharePoint, such as naming your workflows, testing your workflows, debugging your workflows, or monitoring your workflows. You also need to provide training and support to your group members on how to use and interact with your workflows in SharePoint.
Overcoming Implementation Roadblocks
Even after you have planned and designed your workflows, you may still face some challenges and difficulties when you implement them in SharePoint. In this section, we will discuss some of the common roadblocks that you may encounter and how to overcome them using the best practices and tools that we have discussed so far.
1. Common challenges in workflow implementation
Some of the common challenges that you may face when you implement your workflows are:
Workflow errors: You may encounter errors or bugs in your workflows, such as incorrect logic, missing data, broken connections, or unexpected outcomes. These errors may affect the functionality and performance of your workflows and may cause frustration and confusion for your users.
Workflow changes: You may need to change or update your workflows, such as adding new steps, modifying existing actions, or deleting unnecessary conditions. These changes may be required due to changing business requirements, user feedback, or workflow improvement. However, changing workflows may also introduce new errors or complications, and may affect the consistency and compatibility of your workflows.
Workflow adoption: You may face resistance or reluctance from your users to adopt and use your workflows, such as lack of awareness, lack of training, lack of trust, or lack of motivation. These factors may prevent your users from fully utilizing and benefiting from your workflows and may reduce the value and impact of your workflows.
2. Utilizing foundational document for troubleshooting
To overcome these challenges, you need to use the foundational document you created in the previous section. This document contains detailed and documented information about your workflow processes, such as the workflow name, trigger, participants, actions, conditions, and outcomes.
This document can help you to troubleshoot and resolve your workflow errors, as it provides you with the expected and actual behavior of your workflows, and the potential causes and solutions for your errors. This document can also help you to manage and track your workflow changes, as it provides you with the original and updated version of your workflows, and the rationale and impact of your changes.
This document can also help you to promote and support your workflow adoption, as it provides you with the goals and benefits of your workflows, and the training and guidance for your users.
3. Balancing technical expertise and Microsoft suite knowledge
Another way to overcome your implementation roadblocks is to balance your technical expertise and Microsoft suite knowledge. Depending on the type and complexity of your workflows, you may need various levels of technical skills and experience to create and manage them.
You may also need various levels of knowledge and familiarity with the Microsoft suite of tools and services that you use to create and improve your workflows, such as SharePoint, Power Automate, Power Apps, or Power BI. You need to balance your technical expertise and Microsoft suite knowledge, as they both affect the quality and efficiency of your workflows.
4. Integrating Power Platform and Power Apps for enhanced workflows
The last way to overcome your implementation roadblocks is to integrate the Power Platform and Power Apps for enhanced workflows. The Power Platform is a collection of Microsoft tools and services that enable you to create and manage powerful and dynamic workflows across multiple applications and data sources.
The Power Platform includes Power Automate, Power Apps, Power BI, and Power Virtual Agents. Power Apps is a low-code platform that allows you to build custom apps that connect to your SharePoint data and workflows. You can use Power Apps to create user-friendly interfaces, forms, and dashboards that enhance your workflow experience and functionality.
Are you ready to optimize your SharePoint workflows and enhance your productivity and collaboration? If so, we are here to help you. We have consulted more than 100+ companies and assisted them with implementing SharePoint and automation with workflows. We have the expertise and experience to guide you through the best practices and tools that we have shared in this blog.
Whether you need help with planning, designing, creating, managing, or improving your workflows, we can provide you with the solutions and support that you need. If you would like to learn more or need assistance, feel free to contact us for a no-obligation consultation. We would love to talk to you and determine to what extent we can assist you with your SharePoint implementation journey.