SharePoint 2007 Workflow – A First Look

June 20, 2006

SharePoint 2007 is in Beta now and while all of the licensing changes are still somewhat of a mystery one thing that is very clear is that the new features and functionality available out of the box are very compelling.

One of the most interesting new feature areas is Workflow.

Workflow is one of those double-edge swords when it comes to automation and efficiency.  The right amount of automation applied to a business processes can be a huge efficiency boost and provide visibility into a complex process.

On the other hand, too much rigidity when it comes to process automation can be an absolute disaster.  There’s no better way to bring a business process to a grinding halt than to introduce a workflow which does not have adequate flexibility to handle ALL of the exceptions and outside cases that we encounter every day.  Because the fact of the matter is, no matter how much we would like our processes to be simple and straight forward, handling the exceptions and all the various paths can be a very complex task.

It is because of this that I believe most organizations who are considering leveraging SharePoint’s workflow features would be well advised to start simple with the out of the box workflow options.  SharePoint is a horizontal product meaning it does not cater to any one vertical industry.  As a result the built-in workflows are very generic in nature and are designed to cover 70% of the general workflow tasks needed – or at least the ones Microsoft could envision during product planning.

Out of the box SharePoint will ship the following workflows:

  • Approval
  • Collect Feedback
  • Collect Signatures
  • Disposition Approval
  • Issue Tracking
  • Consensus Approval

Customizing a WorkflowThe great thing about these workflows is that they offer a vast amount of flexibility and configuration options.  For example, the Approval and Collect Feedback workflows can both be configured to run in Serial or Parallel mode.  They can enable or disable options such as task delegation, requesting changes, and adding participants after the workflow has started.  In addition, these options can be customized for each different type of document or site where the workflow is available.

This flexibility comes at a cost however.  That cost is training and usability.  Having a workflow which is fairly generic means that users need to learn how to use the workflow correctly.  The workflow is not necessarily going to lead the user through the process as much as a completely custom workflow which maps exactly to the business process at hand.

Starting a WorkflowIn addition SharePoint still suffers in the usability department and there are some areas (at least in the Beta) which are a bit tough to get the hang of at first.  The good news is that SharePoint Workflow and the Office 2007 client work beautifully together and this goes a long way in addressing these usability concerns.

In the end however, the training and usability cost weighed against the cost of developing a completely new workflow from scratch will be acceptable in my opinion – at least as a starting point.  Using an out of the box workflow to pilot business process automation can be a great way to really expose all the variances in a business process in a very low cost way.

So in conclusion there is a lot which can be accomplished using the workflows available out of the box in Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007.  However, for more specific business processes these workflows can be used as a pilot to better understand just how much customization or configuration is required.

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One Response to “SharePoint 2007 Workflow – A First Look”

  1. Marty Says:

    Whats the average cost of developing a sharepoint portal with these features


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