Plan for approval and review processes in workflows (SharePoint Server 2010)
Published: May 12, 2010
As part of planning workflows for your Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 deployment, you will also want to plan how to use workflows for approval and review processes.
In this article:
Workflow approval overview
The workflow approval process in Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2010 enables Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 users to customize individual tasks, inside a workflow, that require approval.
For example, occasionally you might have a project, such as the completion of a specific document, where the usual turnaround time must be reduced. You can set the workflow approval process so that if the task is not completed by a stated time, the document is automatically rejected.
The approval process routes the item through one or more people, who are each assigned a task to review the item and decide about what to do with it. For example, if a document is uploaded to a document library, approvers can approve or reject the document, reassign the approval task to another person, or request changes to the document.
How the Approval workflow works
The Approval workflow routes a document or item that is saved to a list or library to a group of people for approval. By default, the Approval workflow is associated with the Document content type and therefore is automatically available in document libraries.
The Approval workflow supports business processes that involve sending a document or item to colleagues or managers for approval. The Approval workflow makes an approval business process more efficient by managing and tracking all of the human tasks in the process and by providing a record of the process after it is completed.
You can start an Approval workflow directly from a document or item in a list or library. To start a workflow, you select the workflow that you want to use, and then you fill out a workflow initiation form that specifies the workflow participants (approvers), a due date, and any relevant task instructions. After a workflow starts, the server assigns tasks to all participants. If e-mail alerts are enabled for the server, the server also sends e-mail alerts to all participants. Participants can click a link in the e-mail task alert to open the document or item to be approved. Participants can approve, reject, or reassign their approval tasks. They can also request a change to the document or item that is to be approved. Participants have the option of completing their workflow tasks from either directly from certain programs that are part of the 2007 Microsoft Office system and the Microsoft Office 2010 suites, or from the SharePoint Server 2010 Web site. When the workflow is in progress, the workflow owner or the workflow participants can view the Workflow Status page to see which participants have completed their workflow tasks. When the workflow participants complete their workflow tasks, the workflow ends and the workflow owner is automatically notified that the workflow is finished.
If a user runs a SharePoint Server 2010 workflow task from a 2007 Microsoft Office system program, the workflow does not open in the 2007 Microsoft Office system program. Instead the user is redirected to an InfoPath Forms Services in Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 browser form on the SharePoint Server 2010 Web site.
When the workflow is in progress, the workflow owner or the workflow participants can view the Workflow Status page to see which participants have completed their workflow tasks. When the workflow participants complete their workflow tasks, the workflow ends and the workflow owner is automatically notified that the workflow is finished.
The default Approval workflow for document libraries is a serial workflow, in which tasks are assigned to participants one at a time. By default, a version of the Approval workflow is also associated with Pages libraries on a publishing site, and the workflow can be used to manage the approval process for the publication of Web pages. Depending on what you want to customize, you can use either Office SharePoint Designer or to SharePoint Server 2010 itself to customize these pre-associated versions of the Approval workflow to meet the needs of your organization, or you can add a new version of the Approval workflow to a list, library, or content type.
Example — Manage the document approval process by using a workflow
If you have ever had to obtain approval from several people for a project plan, a proposal, or some other important document, you probably know that it can be a frustrating experience. First, how do you manage the logistics of getting the document to the appropriate people? Do you send the document to people by e-mail and request responses in e-mail? Do you schedule a meeting? Second, how do you keep track of which people have approved the document, and how do you formally record their approval? Do you save multiple e-mail messages? Do you save meeting notes?
Consider the problems that you could face weeks or months from now, if you could not remember who approved something, or who sent a particular piece of feedback. Unless your organization has developed formal approval processes, you might be in a situation where you could not locate this kind of information when you needed it.
You can avoid issues such as these by using the Approval workflow available on a SharePoint Server 2010 site to route your documents to colleagues for approval. Workflows reduce the time that is required to coordinate common business processes, such as document approval, by managing and tracking the human tasks involved in these processes. Because the Approval workflow assigns tasks, sends reminders, tracks participation, and creates a record of the whole process, you can concentrate on performing your work instead of tracking down people and dealing with the logistics of the document approval process. If you ever have to document that you received approval for something, you can provide stakeholders with a link to the workflow history for the document, which shows who approved or rejected a document, or who did not finish a workflow task. In this manner, the Approval workflow makes the approval process more transparent.
The ability to start an Approval workflow from Microsoft Office Word 2007, Microsoft Word 2010, Microsoft Office Excel 2007, Microsoft Excel 2010, Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007 or Microsoft PowerPoint 2010 is available only in the 2007 Microsoft Office system and Microsoft Office 2010 suites, and in the stand-alone versions of Office Word 2007, Word 2010, Office Excel 2007, Excel 2010, Office PowerPoint 2007 and PowerPoint 2010.
Hybrid review model
The hybrid Approval workflow model is a staged approval model. Approvals can be created in sets or stages; that is, the first set of approvers can complete the review and approval process, and then the next set of approvers, and so on. But each stage or approval set can also have its own order of events; that is, members of the first group of approvers can perform their review in serial approval order, members of the second group can perform their review in parallel, and so on.