Making “Work Flow” matter. Part 2: WWYSYDH

Workflow Hero
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In Making “Work Flow” Matter Part 1, I discussed purpose and the benefits of setting a clear vision for your workflow.  Without a purpose, your workflow can end up being nothing more than a resource constraint on the platform, and no one wants to build that.

To honor my commitment to dig deeper with each part of this series, I offer you the below meme for some light humor.  The next part of the series I will simply title “Mr. Action, WWYSYDH? (pronounced Whissidh)”.  Interested?  Keep reading…

Part 2: Mr. Action, what would you say you do here?

When it comes to workflows, do you know what your workflow actions are actually doing?  This goes beyond the purpose, the logic and the idea or the workflow.  What actions are you using, and are they impacting the object and platform in the correct manner?  I touched on this some in part 1 so let’s go deeper.

If you have ever built a complex workflow, you would have at some point experienced that workflow failed to run, or an error message while running.  You may have had it complete successfully, but nothing changed as you intended. Sucks right?  Well, you are not alone.  Since actions are the backbone of workflows, when something is not working right, it usually prevents anything else that follows from working. Troubleshooting can also be just as daunting, but here is a tip: use the “log to workflow history” or “custom message” for certain actions so that the workflow can output data to the history area. Don't forget to remove those once everything is working fine.  They can bloat the Nintex database unnecessarily, so keep that in mind.  Another tip is to view the workflow visually to see just what action failed.

Nintex allows you to visually see the workflow, how it ran and what actions completed or did not complete.  This visual indicator is a nice way to see where your logic may need some tweaking. To locate this view, click on the item menu > view workflow history (see above).  Then select your workflow instance.  The goal is to troubleshoot and tweak your workflow until it does exactly what you want it to do.  As promised here are the double E's mentioned in part 1.

Workflow Effectiveness: Ensuring that the workflow actions work together following the logic implied to complete a process which produces the intended results.

Workflow Efficiency: Ensuring that the workflow accomplishes the intended results with minimal expenditure of time and effort (resources).

Everyone wants results, but are you getting the right results?  The scene in the movie Office Space, from which the meme at the beginning is taken, is really funny; however, it provides some good insight into the question of how to make work flow matter.  Being both effective and efficient can help determine the difference between a process someone is willing to work with and a process someone is willing to find a work around.

Nintex again helps by providing some great web parts for management and reporting. Two web parts that I would recommend you incorporate into your workflow strategy are:

  • My Workflow Tasks: this is helpful to put on a personal page or maybe even the site home page.  It provides a quick view with link to the workflow tasks that the signed in user may need to perform an action on.  Essentially it helps your users complete their task faster, by being able to find them and complete them from one central view on your site.

  • Workflow Report Viewer: This web parts is useful from an Admin’s perspective.  You can see the workflow reports for Nintex from within a page on the site. This is helpful for tracking your workflows such as the ones that have errors, are overdue, or are in progress.  There are about 10 reports that you can use to help manage workflows within your site collection or site.

The two above web parts can help your users’ do more productively and it gives them visibility into information that they can use to do their jobs.  There is nothing like having good data to support your claim that work flow matters.  Now who wouldn’t want that?

In summary, when you build workflows, check on them to ensure they are doing what you intended? If you are archiving data, how much are you archiving and where are you storing it?  If using workflows to break permission inheritance, understand the effects of that on your farm and ensure that the right people have the correct permissions. Use the information from the reports to find ways to do workflows better, decrease running time, or just to show why your workflow is helping.

Stay tuned for part 3 where I will discuss a specific use case setting a Training Events Calendar using the steps outlined above.  Part 3 will include an example list and workflows for you to download and use as well.