This is one of those topics that I feel gets overlooked a lot as we move forward with additional releases of SharePoint. If you happen to have been using SharePoint for years you probably have a good idea of the workflows available and what you can do with them, but if you are just getting started (like so many I talk to are) then it can be often times overwhelming. In this post I am going to provide a very high level overview of the workflows available how they all work together.
What is a Workflow?
The first thing is an understanding of what a workflow is and how it works within SharePoint. In the most basic terms in SharePoint a workflow is a way to route content to a library or a list, collect data from a user, create tasks for a user or to send notification to users. The workflows come in two flavors – configurable or custom. There are currently two different workflow engines available and visible within SharePoint – the SharePoint 2010 workflows and the SharePoint 2013 workflows. These are two different types of workflows with two different sets of actions and functionality. This means that there are some things you can do in one version of the workflow that you simply cannot do in the other. This is honestly where some of the confusion comes from in my opinion. The reason that both exist today is to help ensure that workflows you built in SharePoint 2010 are still compatible in SharePoint 2013.
There are several different kinds of workflow that you can create –
- List Workflow: These are associated with a single list and are started for each item in the list.
- Site Workflows: These are workflows that are not based on a specific list and can be found in Site Actions. An example of these would be “sending a weekly email reminder”.
- Reusable Workflows: These are workflows that are associated with a content type (think “Project Charter” or “Sales Report”) and can be configured to run on any content that is of that same content type.
In my experience, most workflows that the typical business power user creates are the List Workflows and are based on a specific process that can be clearly identified.
Configurable or Custom?
The next area that seems to cause some confusion is around the area of adding a workflow to a list or creating a custom workflow. In SharePoint 2010 workflows there are a collection of workflows that exists as templates that can be configured for lists. These workflows are common activities such as document approval or collecting comments. In 2013, these configurable workflows don’t exist so all of the workflows you build are custom workflows that you can build within SharePoint Designer. If you want to add one of these configurable workflows to your list you can do so through the Workflow settings option (ensure the workflows feature is activated).
2010 Workflows on a 2013 Site?
Yes, this is completely possible. In fact in many cases I have seen users purposely create a 2010 workflow because they are wanting to use a set a features that was only available within 2010 and not available at all in 2013. Whenever you create a new workflow in SharePoint 2013 you will be given the opportunity to select if you would like to build the workflow using the 2010 or the 2013 foundation.
Hopefully this very quick, high level post helps shed some light on the concept of workflows and helps you see the available options for out of the box workflows.