SharePoint 2010 provides a great built in workflow platform. Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2010 (SPD) can be used to create robust and powerful workflows on top of it without using any programming. There are three types of workflows you can create using SPD – List/Library, Reusable and Site.
Creating a Workflow attached directly to a list or library is the simplest option of the three. Doing it this way, you tightly couple a workflow directly to a list or library so that the workflow can use information from the column information (metadata) easily within the workflow logic.
The list workflows are great for many applications. However, they are not meant to be moved from one list/library to another. Thus they are not ‘reusable’. That’s where the second type of workflow comes into play. SPD allows you to create reusable workflows and attach them later to a list/library or even to a content type. The benefit of these types of workflows is that you can use the same workflow structure in multiple places. No need to recreate it for each instance.
The third type of workflow does not even require to be attached to any specific component of a site. Instead, it’s a site workflow that can be executed directly from the site itself. The workflow logic in that workflow can access any component of the site.
SharePoint workflows can also be modeled using Microsoft Visio Premium 2010. Visio ships with workflow shapes that can be used to design your workflow. This can be really beneficial for business analysts who understand the business logic, but don’t want to create their workflows in SPD. Once the workflow is created in Visio, it can be transferred to SPD where it can be enhanced and then published to a site. Another integration that Visio provides is being able to visualize a running workflow so you can see exactly which steps have been accomplished and what are the pending steps. This requires Visio services which ships with SharePoint Server Enterprise 2010.
SPD workflows use forms for a variety of purposes. If a workflow is started manually, there is an initiation form that users can fill out. When a workflow uses an activity to assign a task or collect some data from a user, that interaction also takes place using a form. If you are running SharePoint Server Standard 2010 and have a license to Microsoft InfoPath 2010, you can use InfoPath to customize the workflow forms with all the power that InfoPath has to offer (data validation, conditional formatting, access to external data and more).
SharePoint Server 2010 ships with a bunch of built in workflows such as Approval, Collect Feedback, Collect Signatures and more. These workflows are globally reusable within the whole site collection. Using SPD, you can modify these built in workflows to meet your organization’s needs. Or you can create a copy of one of these workflows and make modifications to that copy instead. You can publish your own workflows globally as well so that it is available throughout the site collection.
The reusable workflows created using SPD can be exported as a SharePoint solution package (.wsp file). You can then deploy that workflow solution package in another site collection so you can utilize your workflow there. This is an extremely powerful functionality since this will let you publish workflows across site collection as well as SharePoint farm boundaries.
Creating an entire application without code is now a reality. You can use SPD in coordination with Visio and InfoPath to create truly end to end applications.[/am4show]