SharePoint Tips: Manage Documents the Easy Way with Workflows

You probably remember hearing about SharePoint’s potential to simplify your communication and collaboration efforts. Today I’m going to tell you about one of the great features that not only makes things easier, but also saves you time: SharePoint Workflows!

One of the things that can take up a lot of our time is waiting for approval. Everyone has had a situation in which they were assigned a project, and had to create some kind of a document relating to it. After creating a really thorough article or abstract, you send it off to your manager in an email for approval, and then you wait.

You may have one of those managers who is notoriously slow at responding to emails, or perhaps your manager has to send it further up the food chain via another email (after making suggestions and changes, of course). Either way, you are effectively stalled while you wait for the document to come back to you — approved or rejected.

Well if your company utilizes SharePoint, there is a better way to deal with these types of problems. That way comes in the form of workflows.

Time To Simplify …

Workflows provide a way for people in any organization to easily pass along documents for review, editing, and approval. The best part is — everything is integrated and works smoothly since it’s within SharePoint. You can see the progress of the document and better plan out your next steps.

No more waiting for the return email, or worse sending the “did you get my last email?” message — no one likes those. Better still, if your item is meant to be published out for the rest of your organization to see, using workflows in SharePoint can ensure that this happens automatically.

Getting Started with Workflows

To set this up, you simply navigate to the SharePoint Site for which you want to have a workflow assigned, click the Settings menu and then go to the site’s settings. In the example below, we have created a document library for this purpose:

Manage Documents the Easy Way with Workflows - 1

In the resulting page, select link for Workflow Settings. Pretty straightforward, right? Here is a screenshot of it anyway, just in case:

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The next page presents you with a few options to change. You can select the type of workflow you want, essentially what you want done with the document — for example: request approval, request feedback, request signatures, etc.

Next you specify the workflow’s name. Workflows will usually take the form of task lists that must be completed by those they are assigned to. Here you can decide to use an existing task list to add this to, or use a brand new task list (I recommend the latter).

Similarly, you can specify a history list for this workflow, or create a new one. Lastly, you can select options to know when this workflow will be started. This option gives you a very good amount of control over how and when you want the workflow itself to move along over time.

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After you have made your decision for those options, click Next at the bottom of the page, and you will be taken to the Customize Workflow page.

In this page you can specify whether users who are assigned tasks in the workflow can delegate the tasks, or pass them off to other users to complete. You can also specify whether all users or only one user at a time can be assigned a task, and even decide who exactly can approve a document or mark a task as complete and under what circumstances (i.e. if the document is rejected).

The level of control here is really great, especially the fact that it is still so easy to customize all of these options right from the page you are trying to edit. Once you are done editing these options, simply click OK at the bottom of this page to finish up and view the workflow summary page.

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Using Workflows To Their Full Potential

Once you have completed the setup for your workflow, the abilities of SharePoint to combine with Microsoft office products really begin to shine. You can create a document within your library, and it will open up in Word automatically. You simply edit the document and save it as you would any other.

The office application will actually check in with the SharePoint server on a regular basis to update the document’s status in the workflow that you created. When the person assigned to approve your document attempts to view or edit the document, the workflow status dialog will be displayed in Word automatically. The approval manager will be asked to approve or reject the document, and will be allowed to leave comments on it as shown below.

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And that’s really all there is to it! The process is no more complicated than sending the documents via email, and since all the functionality is handled by the server, everything works very interactively but still automates many of the steps.

It’s a great system, and one that I recommend you try out as soon you get the chance. Have fun, and check back here at Train Signal Training for more articles and tips.

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