"Yes, I Understand" - A Story of the Importance of Clarity

Have you ever gained sudden ownership of an abundance of Nintex workflows and forms? I have - over 350 of them - huge, undocumented monoliths, tiny stand-alone notifications - it's a bouquet of Nintex goodness and for the most part I have wrangled the workflows into a state of subservience. Generally, I only interact with these when I need to: maybe there's an error, maybe there's a change request - that's when I swoop into action.

But this story isn't about when things go well.

This is a story of how on February 21st at 3:28PM, the click of a vague button on an inconspicuous page by a well-meaning end user cost me over 5 hours of work.


What Havoc Did This Cause?

This workflow resets all of the document number references for a project. This means that all of the document numbers generated after 3:28PM were erroneous and had to be changed via individual workflows on each record, which also have their own sub-processes to run.  Oh, and, I didn't find about this until the next day.

How Can This Be Improved?

Ideas that would've made this button less tempting:

  • A title of the workflow that this would trigger.
  • A description of what the workflow does.

Some ideas that would've prevented this issue:

  • Audience targeting. This is in a web part, it could have been visible to only particular groups.
  • Limiting which workflows end-users can run.

Ideas that would have lessened the impact of this issue:

  • A notification at the end of the workflow to let the Nintex Admin know when this has been run, since it should be done only a few times a year. The faster we can react, the less mess there is to clear up if it's run accidentally. 
  • A requirement to gain permission at some point in the workflow from the Nintex Admin or another user to reset it, with a description of what will happen if "Yes" is chosen.
  • A workflow that undoes whatever that previous workflow did. (In my dreams.. maybe some day!)

Anything Redeeming About This Approach?

The requirement for a "Yes, I understand" to be checked to prevent accidental "Start" clicks is a great idea when you have that big tempting start button out on a page.  I also think that having a simple way to run daily workflows, like this one, is great. ... Daily workflows, mind you. Not annual ones. 

Final Thoughts: Don't Cry; Laugh!

Admittedly, when I figured out what had happened ... I laughed really hard. The fact that this button existed in the first place and that the end user not only clicked it, but also checked the "Yes, I understand" box without any idea what it was... you have to admit, that's pretty funny! 

I'd love to hear your thoughts! Have any of you ever run into some questionable workflow practices? 

20 replies

Rhia Wieclawek‌ I love love love this blog post - it is highly entertaining and well written (and you know already how I feel about the yes, I understand).  Massive kudos!

As for the content, well I think it's a marvellous idea in some cases to have such agreement prior to starting the workflow but as you say, only if the user has access to read about what the workflow does before clicking it.  I think this will make those more conscientious pause and think about what they are doing before they start.  But I also think it encourages those with the "hmmm, I wonder what this does" to start the workflow more so than they would have done without it.

I think your options above are good, and I look forward to reading your next instalment: "How I created a workflow to completely undo the work of the previous workflow". 

Hooray! I'm glad it's entertaining

Unfortunately, my follow-up blog post would be, "How I Removed the Button" and it would only be one bullet point: "I removed the button."

Everything else is manual for now .. this shall not happen again, haha.

Congratulations on making a workflow blog post funny and entertaining! Those are the best troubleshooting issues; the ones you can laugh at even though it causes you hours of work to fix it. We all know the challenges of inheriting someone else's poorly built/documented tool. Frankly I am surprised this did happen sooner! We often have to step back from the tools we build and think of how all types of users are going to interact with it and try to visualize what problems may arise from this. Thankfully you seem to be good at that sort of thing and this is an excellent lesson for all of us.

LoL, the button should have been colored red and labeled Pain. Awesome comic/graphics to go with the tale btw

‌ - 

Always a good time when you spread the pain around

Also, not sure what is worse, your experience with this, or while reading it I started architect-ing how to fix it moving forward!

I'm curious what you have in mind!

I've removed the button from the page. NO TOUCHY.

First thought was to have an approval of some sort to manage things like this. This way someone has to say "Yes, do it!" or can cancel the whole thing right from the start. It would be important to have this someone be versed enough in the process, so that they are not just arbitrarily approving it!

As you mentioned, have it so only a select group of users can actually start it.  Without knowing more of the process I started to really overthink everything...

I hate to limit what the user can do, but at the same time you have to protect them from...themselves. 

If there are more than one of these types of workflows, make a single workflow that can trigger all of them and make users submit a single request for all of them they want to start. Again, do some sort of validation that they can or route for approval before just kicking it off.

Making it not so heavy handed is always tricky because you do not want to own it all, but then again, no one does, so who do you make the steward of the workflow? I make simple approval steps for me and my team simply so we know what is going on in case one of us goes missing. I like it because it gives us the ability to stop the train before it derails and correct it, or at the very least, keeps us in the loop of what is going on!

You have these memes on the ready? 

I have a mental catalogue of movies and tv shows that I can google at the ready, yes.

Well written story Rhia!  I love it how you had a Nintex coffee mug in the cartoon

Hahah, thank you! I'm not sure such a mug exists ... I will need to track one down...

Start the Coffee Mug for vTE(s) campaign. heh.

Now THAT'S my kinda workflow.

By the way -- I sent this blog post to the person who originally created this workflow & button. He approves.

How about at the start of the workflow, an email pings to the Nintex Support team ( Geoff ), warning them that this workflow has been started by so and so. The workflow then pauses for 5 minutes before actually starting, giving the admin a window of opportunity to kill educate the user or stop the workflow, if run in error.

Maybe you could have a list of these deadly workflows along with who can run them. The workflow checks if the user running it is in this allowed list and runs or stops accordingly.

As ever, you only think of these things after the horse is in the field.

I love that you gave the Nintex Support Team a name - Geoff.

And yeah that's what I was thinking as well - similar lines - and then the person who built it told me, "I'm not even sure why I built that..." ...sooooo... haha.

Regarding deadly workflows, we have an upcoming project to assess the feasibility of moving the WFs to O365 & also to clear out any old / obsolete WFs ... maybe that is a blog post in itself, though... as I say, there are 350+

 you are my new idol! Love this post so much!!

Yes to the vTE mug campaign!

Yes to a blog post about your mission to locate, document, and destroy obsolete WFs.

Userlevel 5

Rhia Wieclawek‌, I may or may not have a bookmarks folder labelled "Gifs" in which there is an Emperor's New Groove Folder... No shame!

"Deadly Workflows"

Love this. We need a discussion for Nintex-isms like this.