SharePoint 2010 : Workflow Modeling and Development Tools (part 1) - Microsoft Visio 2010 & SharePoint Designer 2010

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A workflow consists of two parts: a set of actions that encapsulate the business process and a set of forms that interact with the user for collecting inputs. Thus, workflow development revolves around these two activities: the creation of the business rules and the creation of forms for interaction. SharePoint 2010 workflows can be developed using the following tools.
  • Visio 2010 Used to create business processes with Business Process Modeling Notations (BPMN), which can be imported into SharePoint Designer for deployment. This tool is aimed at the business process engineer or consultant whose primary focus is designing business processes for the organization.

  • SharePoint Designer 2010 Used for modeling new workflows or modifying predefined workflows using rules and action steps. This tool is aimed at the information worker.

  • Visual Studio 2010 Used for creating reusable workflows within Workflow Foundation’s Workflow Designer. This tool is aimed at the developer who possesses the requisite knowledge needed in both the .NET framework and the SharePoint API.

Table 1 provides a summary of these tools, with the intended audiences of each.

Table 1. Workflow Modeling Tool and Target Audience
Visio 2010
  • Flowchart-based design using BPMN

  • Business user–friendly prototyping

Business users
SharePoint Designer 2010
  • Rules-based design

  • Rich human workflows

  • No-code reusability

  • Modify predefined workflows

  • Site collection level deployment

Information workers
Visual Studio 2010
  • Graphical design

  • Build custom activities

  • Develop pluggable services for interaction with external systems

  • Modify SharePoint Designer and predefined workflows

  • Farm deployment


In addition to these tools, ASP.Net and InfoPath are also used to design forms that are part of SharePoint 2010 workflows.There are four stages in the life cycle of a workflow: association, initiation, tasks, and modification. A separate form is required at each stage to collect input from the user. After you have created these forms, you can associate them with the appropriate workflow stage.

1. Microsoft Visio 2010

Microsoft Visio 2010 is a popular modeling tool used to create business process blueprints. With Visio 2010, business users can define their own workflow layouts before exporting them to SharePoint Designer 2010 for association with a list or site. This lets business users use a familiar graphical tool to define the steps in the workflow themselves, instead of having to communicate their needs to designers or developers. The resulting Visio workflow can be used as the initial building block for the workflow’s implementation.

Visio 2010 includes a new template called Microsoft SharePoint Workflow, which has a set of activity and conditional shapes that are dedicated to SharePoint Workflow design, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. SharePoint Workflow Conditions and Actions in Visio 2010

The workflows designed in Visio 2010 cannot be used directly in SharePoint 2010, however. You must import a Visio workflow into SharePoint Designer 2010 and then deploy it into SharePoint 2010. Also, the Visio workflow activities do not support any shape data. For example, you can drag and drop an e-mail activity into your workflow, but you cannot specify values for To, CC, Subject, or mail content. This data must be specified within SharePoint Designer before you deploy the workflow in to SharePoint 2010. See Figure 2 for a sample Visio workflow diagram.

Figure 2. A SharePoint workflow in Visio 2010

Visio 2010 also provides a design checker for SharePoint workflows. You should use the design checker to ensure that the workflow can be deployed in SharePoint 2010. After checking the diagram for any errors, it can be exported into SharePoint Designer 2010 for further processing.

When you export the Visio diagram, the export process creates a file with the .vwi extension, which is nothing more than a compressed archive file that contains the following.

  • [Content_types.xml] Contains the file extension and mime type of each type of file included in the VWI file

  • Workflow.vdx The Visio definition file that has the diagram layouts and file properties

  • Workflow.xoml Contains the workflow actions that are to be deployed in SharePoint 2010

  • Workflow.xoml.rules Contains the workflow rules that are to be deployed in SharePoint 2010.

As explained earlier, Visio workflows have to be deployed into SharePoint 2010 with the help of SharePoint Designer 2010. This gives the business users the freedom to define workflows that can later be deployed into SharePoint using SharePoint Designer. This approach takes the burden away from the developers and information workers, because the core of the workflow is already in place in the form the Visio diagrams.

2. SharePoint Designer 2010

Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2010 is an application that is available as a free download; it was developed for the information workers’ community. Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2010 enables information workers to add application logic (implemented as a workflow) to SharePoint sites. If a developer creates a workflow using Visual Studio, that workflow must be deployed on a server running SharePoint 2010 like any other feature. This means that the SharePoint administrator has to make sure the code is stable and not malicious, so that the SharePoint platform is not destabilized by the code. The ability to create straightforward workflows that are tied to documents and list items is very useful to users.

SharePoint Designer workflows offer an attractive alternative to code-based workflows built using Visual Studio 2010, as you have control over the list of activities that users can implement while building these workflows. Moreover, it is also possible to for you to determine if a Web application or site collection should allow SharePoint Designer workflows at all. This level of governance with respect to the ability of end users to define their own logic makes SharePoint Designer a stable modeling tool for workflows.

One more important aspect of SharePoint Designer–based workflows is that these workflows are declarative workflows and not compiled workflows. These workflows are based on simple rules and are compiled from the content database every time the workflow is associated with a list, library, or site. The use of rules in creating the workflows makes it easier for the information worker to create workflows. It is also easy for them to explain these workflows to business users in plain terms.

2.1. Improvements in SharePoint Designer 2010

SharePoint Designer 2010 has many improvements over its predecessor; some of the key improvements are listed here.

  • SharePoint Designer 2010 can be used for creating reusable workflows, which can be used in different lists within the same site.

  • SharePoint Designer 2010 can package the workflows into SharePoint solution package (WSP).

  • SharePoint Designer 2010 can be used for creating workflows with both serial and parallel activities.

  • SharePoint Designer can import SharePoint workflows created in Visio 2010 using Business Process Modeling Notations (BPMN) and deploy these workflows into SharePoint 2010. This feature makes it easier for the business users to create workflows, which can be enhanced and deployed to SharePoint 2010.

  • SharePoint Designer can use InfoPath 2010 Forms for creating association, initiation, modification, and task forms. SharePoint Designer 2007 allowed only ASP.Net forms for these purposes.

2.2. Creating and Deploying Workflows in SharePoint Designer 2010

You will briefly explore how to create workflows in SharePoint Designer 2010 and see how to deploy these workflows into SharePoint 2010. You will also see how to import a Visio-based workflow into SharePoint Designer, where it can be enhanced with shape data and then deployed into SharePoint 2010.

To begin, explore the process of creating and publishing declarative workflows using SharePoint Designer 2010.

  1. Launch SharePoint Designer 2010 and open a site.

  2. You can create a new workflow or edit an existing workflow using one of the following three options.

    • From the New group on the Site tab of the Ribbon, select List Workflow or Reusable Workflow.

    • Select the File tab and then select Add Item. Choose to add a List Workflow, Reusable Workflow, Site Workflow, or Import Visio Workflow.

    • Select Workflows under Site Objects in the Navigation pane. Then select List Workflow, Reusable Workflow, or Site Workflow from the New Group on the Workflows tab. Alternatively, you can click Edit Workflow after selecting Globally Reusable Workflow or Reusable Workflow.

  3. Based on the workflow type you select, specify the workflow association information, which includes Name, Description, and List (for a List workflow) or Content Type (for a Reusable workflow).

  4. You can add a set of Conditions And Actions that represents your business process.

  5. For each task added to the workflow, you can define task properties, including whether a change request is allowed, whether the user can reassign the task, whether overdue mails have to be sent, and so on. See Figure 3 for a sample Process Properties dialog box.

  6. After you complete your workflow design, you can check to find if the workflow has any errors by selecting the Check For Errors menu item on the Save Ribbon. If any errors are detected, fix the errors by taking the necessary corrective action.

  7. You can publish the workflow to SharePoint 2010 site by selecting the Publish menu item on the Save Ribbon.

This process will make your workflow available on the SharePoint 2010. The workflow will be associated with a container (list or site) or as a site-wide reusable workflow.


SharePoint Designer 2010 cannot be used for creating workflows that can be used across the farm. SharePoint Designer 2010 reusable workflows can be imported into Visual Studio 2010 and then published as a farm-wide workflow template.

Figure 3. Task Process Properties

2.3. Importing Workflows from Visio 2010

As explained earlier, you can model the workflows in Visio 2010 and then import them into SharePoint Designer 2010. Imported workflows can be further developed by providing actionable data for the shapes added in Visio 2010. To import a Visio-based workflow in SharePoint Designer 2010, perform the following steps.

  1. Open the site in SharePoint Designer.

  2. Select Workflows from the Site Objects Panel.

  3. Select the Import From Visio from Manage group on the Workflows tab.

  4. In the Import Workflow From Visio Drawing dialog box, click Browse and select the exported Visio SharePoint workflow diagram (VWI file).

  5. Click Next.

  6. Select the type of workflow to import by selecting either List Workflow or Reusable Workflow.

  7. Based on the workflow type you select, perform one of the following actions (see Figure 4).

    • If you select List Workflow, choose the list to which this workflow must be associated from the Specify The SharePoint List This Workflow Will Be Attached To drop-down list.

    • If you select Reusable Workflow, choose content to which this workflow must be associated from the Run On Items Of This Content Types, Or Any Child Content Types drop-down list.

    Figure 4. Import a workflow from a Visio drawing

  8. Click Finish to import the workflow into SharePoint Designer. See Figure 5 for a sample Visio SharePoint workflow diagram imported into SharePoint Designer.

    Figure 5. Imported Visio SharePoint workflow diagram without any data

  9. Now you can define values for the conditions and actions that are part of the imported workflow. After defining data for the shapes, you can verify and publish the workflow.

  •  SharePoint 2010 : Creating and Managing Workflows - Workflows in SharePoint 2010
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