Recently I used Microsoft Flow for the first time, as a SharePoint Consultant and Developer for 5 years I was excited to have this opportunity. I thought I’d share some of our findings as they could help design decisions and be useful for others building their first Flow. I won’t be going into the details of the actual Flow we created but wanted to share our experience.

The scenario: Our requirement was a fairly simple one. Using a custom list in SharePoint Online in Office 365 to create a two stage approval process, the first level being to the users line manager and the second to a specified single user should certain criteria be met.

During design sessions we considered other types of workflows, we had one main issue; a requirement that specified that users should be able to only see items they created, or that they needed to approve. Not wanting to create item level permissions we decided to check if Flow required a user to have permissions to an item to be able to approve an item – the results were just what we needed, users do not need to have permissions to an item in SharePoint in order to respond to an Outlook Approval Email – we practically had an office party and began development.

During this fairly basic implementation of Flow we noted down the pain points we encountered and how we overcame these. It could be that our limited experience of Flow simply meant we didn’t have the knowledge to do what we needed, however Microsoft do have some of these items on their list of Improvements and I’ve added a link so you can go and vote for them if you share our thoughts!

I’ve also listed the benefits we found from using Flow – definitely impressed with this tool and eagerly awaiting future updates.

The – ‘OMG I hate Flow’ moments

  1. Not all column types are supported yet. In particular we were unable to write back to a Person field (you can read from them) – instead we used a single line of text. It just means our users don’t get a rich experience from the information gathered during the Flow. Vote Now! https://powerusers.microsoft.com/t5/Flow-Ideas/In-Flow-actions-SharePoint-Update-Item-Allow-access-to/idi-p/26287
  2. Person field that allows multiple selections. Instead of not seeing the field or a nice message, it simply returns a null value. Not helpful when you want to send an email out to everyone who appears in a Person field allowing multiple selections – Instead we have written a SharePoint Designer 2013 workflow to perform those actions. Vote Now! https://powerusers.microsoft.com/t5/Flow-Ideas/Person-or-Group-field-in-item-should-support-multiple-values/idi-p/23778
  3. Multiple Lines of Text. You can’t include the content of them in emails you send out in the Flow, null value is returned – Instead we managed to negotiate with the customer to use single line of text. Vote Now! https://powerusers.microsoft.com/t5/Flow-Ideas/SharePoint-When-a-new-item-is-created-enable-use-of-quot/idi-p/23302
  4. Outlook Approval Emails formatting. We wanted to have line breaks in the email to break up the text. In a standard Flow Outlook Email (not approval one) there is a flag to set it to HTML. This isn’t present on the approval one therefore our email just came out with </br> written in the text – We found if we included a href link somewhere in the body of the email then the </br> was rendered correctly. Vote Now! https://powerusers.microsoft.com/t5/Flow-Ideas/Is-HTML-option-included-with-Send-approval-email/idi-p/28007
  5. Capturing information from an Approval Email. No way of capturing comments or who actually clicked approve in the email – Instead we, well… we had to tell the customer we couldn’t do this! This one is already in progress see https://powerusers.microsoft.com/t5/Flow-Ideas/Approval-with-multiple-users-and-support-for-comments/idi-p/3151
  6. ‘Moving’ a Flow. Developing for a customer we were deploying the associated Site Collection and columns using CSOM – but not specifying the list guid. Anytime we did this we were unable to reconnect the Flow to the new list. The new site collection would be selected, the old list guid would then display and you’d select the correct list name from the drop down – job done we thought – apart from it decided to reset itself after every save therefore the Flow would not work as it was looking for the old list guid. This was probably the most time consuming issue as the only resolution appeared to be recreate any steps that directly interacted with the list. This planned improvement may help resolve this. Vote Now! https://powerusers.microsoft.com/t5/Flow-Ideas/Flow-export/idi-p/8912
  7. Similar to the above, the lack of being able to package a Flow means our deployment steps are very lengthy as it means re-creating the Flow from scratch – at least it gives us good practice hey! This one is planned but still needs your vote! https://powerusers.microsoft.com/t5/Flow-Ideas/Flow-export/idi-p/8912

It wasn’t all bad – here are the ‘OMG I Love Flow’ moments.

  • Discovering that Flow approval emails don’t require the recipient to have any permission on the list in SharePoint (we included all the item details in the email so they had the information they required)
  • The ability to forward these approval emails for action by another user, however see pain point above that you can’t capture who actually clicked approve in the email. We managed to put the onus on the person who was initially sent the email as it being their responsibly to forward it on as appropriate.
  • Loads of options in the Flow – we used very few in this simple implementation but was very pleased with the variety of options available, especially a very straight forward method of obtaining the users Line Manager in Office 365. The exposure to the options available means that we will be readily considering Flow for future implementations.
  • Ability to share the Flow making it a team Flow, we wouldn’t have been able to choose Flow without this recent addition.
  • Very easy to use interface, it’s so easy to follow and try new things. Glad to see the drag and drop ability is there.
  • The prospect of it being evergreen, reassuring that it can be enhanced constantly and we can quickly get access to new functionality as the tool evolves.

There are of course many more exciting things Flow can do that we simply haven’t discovered yet! You can find support on the community site and vote for many of the other great ideas https://powerusers.microsoft.com/t5/Flow-Ideas/idb-p/FlowIdeas

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About the author 

Nicki Greene

Organised and pro-active, leading development team of large scale SharePoint implementations, contributing to overall architectural design and making informed key decisions to individual application design.
Technically aware and experienced in many aspects of Business Analysis. Ability to build positive relationships with clients and currently progressing certification in IIBA.
Specialising in SharePoint for 6 years , with extensive understanding of the functionality and it's limitations across versions including 2003, 2010 and SharePoint Online.
Proficient in many tools of the trade such as Team Foundation Server and Visual Studio.

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