SharePoint Designer 2013 Workflow Features: State Machines?

As you’ve probably seen already, I’ve started releasing some bits and pieces of information related to SharePoint 2013 already. As a huge fan of SharePoint Designer workflows (I’ve written two books and recorded 20+ hours of USPJ Academy lectures on this topic alone), I’ve been paying extra attention to how SharePoint Designer 2013 will handle workflows.

In a previous post, I wrote about how SharePoint Designer 2013 will finally support loops, a feature that so many people have implemented in so many risky ways that I guess the Redmondians just had to do something.

Apparently, they have been listening to more than just the loopy, pun intended, loop developers, because there are more cool features on the ‘To-Do’ list of SharePoint Designer 2013.

There’s a new action/activity in SharePoint Designer 2013 called the Stage. It’s an activity like the loop or the steps (regular step and impersonation step), what are called container activities in workflow, and this leads me to speculate that SharePoint Designer 2013 will indeed also include support for state machine workflows.

This will either make you giddy with anticipation, somewhat confused, or completely unaffected. The first two are good, the latter just shows you’re ignorant, which isn’t a good thing…

If you’re confused, well, let me give you the quick overview of why state machine workflows are incredibly cool and how their introduction to SharePoint Designer 2013 workflows will completely change your life forever. Oh, and if you’re already giddy with anticipation, that’s likely because you know how cool state machines really are :-)

State Machine Workflows?

In short, state machines are groups of ‘normal’ (called sequential) workflows. These workflows are called states in state machine terminology. At the end of each of these state workflows, the workflow jumps into another state as determined by the logic of the completed state.

The cool factor here is the ability of state machines to adapt to changing conditions. In a sequential workflow, everything in the workflow happens in a rather one-way direction; from start to finish. Granted, you can have simple branching, but there’s no way to go back to a previous step, for example if you require a second approval in an approval workflow.

State machines allow you do jump between these states, for example between “Get approval” and “Implement suggestions” states, as many times as are required. Not just that, but you can also jump between any states of the state machine, for example if your business logic requires multiple levels of approval.

A scenario may be an editorial process like the one we have in SharePoint Magazine (albeit very simplified for this example):

  1. Author submits article. At the end, move to step 2.
  2. Editor reviews article. If approved, move to step 3. If not approved, suggest changes and move to step 1.
  3. Copy editor works on article. If approved, move to step 4. If not approved, suggest changes and move to step 1.
  4. Layout editor makes pretty things. Once completed, move to step 5.
  5. Publisher sets up publishing schedule. If everything is OK, complete workflow. If changes are required, suggest changes and move to step 1.

From this logic you can see that an article goes back and forth between ‘states’ of completion. This is a much more human acceptable method of working and allows the humans to make decisions without having to restart or even redesign a workflow to get the required outcome.

Wouldn’t it be swell if these state machines were indeed supported by SharePoint Designer 2013? Well, beyond the introduction of the Stage activity, there is another factor that leads me to believe that state machines are indeed coming, but I’ll save that for the next (or a later) article on rumors around SharePoint 2013 :-)


PS: Keep in mind, these are just rumors. I believe my sources are credible, and considering who they are, I have no reason to distrust their information, but you have nothing beyond wild speculation on which to base your opinion of this information. Do not make important decisions based on rumors.

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Could SharePoint 2013 be SharePoint 2012?

If you were around back in 2009, and chances are you were, you know that I keep my ears close to the ground on what’s going on with new versions of SharePoint.

However, I’ve also paid close attention to what’s going on with the beta and leaked information revolving around Office 15. It seems that the rumors indicate a 2012 release of Office 15, and that got me thinking: Perhaps that means the next version of SharePoint is in fact SharePoint 2012.

I don’t think so now, however, and let me tell you why.

I know the cycle at Microsoft says it should be three years between a major Office release, but with the state of completion of Windows 8, and with the new Metro interface making an appearance, perhaps Microsoft aims to get Office 15 out as soon as possible, maybe even in 2012.

It wouldn’t make any sense to leave SharePoint behind then. Microsoft would want the Office client suite to take advantage of the latest and greatest, and that leads me to believe that if Office comes out named 2012, then SharePoint will be so too.

Scouring the interwebs for Office leaks tells no story about the name; it’s all called Office 15. Based on that, the only safe thing would be to call it SharePoint 15. However, a name isn’t the product, so let’s examine what we know.

  1. SharePoint 2010 came out in May 2010.
  2. SharePoint 2010 was a huge deal for Microsoft 12 months before release
    (you may even remember the controversy around my SharePoint 2010 Beta series)
  3. Even if SharePoint vNext comes out in late 2012, considering it’s already late 2011 now, it is highly unlikely that Microsoft will drop the bomb during SPC11.
  4. None of my usual sources of behind-the-scenes information knows anything about SP vNext. Either Microsoft suddenly managed to clamp down every piece of information or there simply isn’t any information there yet.

However, the most compelling argument against the next version of SharePoint being SharePoint 2012 is this: The Office 15 client suite consistently refers to SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013, for example in Visio, where you can create workflows for either SharePoint 2010 or SharePoint 2013. In fact, in Visio, even the next version of SharePoint Designer is called “SharePoint Designer 2013”.

Although it is still possible that SharePoint 2013 comes out in 2012, it will probably still be called SharePoint 2013, just as SharePoint 2007 was released in 2006.


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SharePoint Designer 2013 Workflow Features: Loops

Oh no, it’s that time again. A new version of SharePoint is just so far away that rumors and leaks start appearing.

Obviously, the teams in Redmond want to keep lids on this as long as possible (or do they?), but the community wants to know, so here it is.

Looping has been on the request list since SharePoint Designer first came out. Weirdly enough, although competing products like Nintex Workflow has supported loops for the IT version of decades, Microsoft has only allowed you to create loops either in Visual Studio workflows, or by using hacks such as auto-starting new workflows on modified or created items.

The funny thing is that one of Microsoft’s likely reasons for avoiding loops is that loops are inherently dangerous. It is very easy to create endless loops that take down a server or kill all your data. Very easy. So, best to avoid the issue completely.

Of course, the need is still there, so the public then goes on to create the hacks that are inherently more unstable and dangerous.

Seems like the SharePoint product team will finally at least attempt to implement looping  in SharePoint Designer workflows for SharePoint 2013. Yup, there will now be a new action, like the workflow steps, called a Loop, and although it’s quite possible the have completely different intentions, the name at least suggests that there will be a loop functionality in SharePoint Designer 2013 workflows.

Of course, I can’t tell you my sources, so you’ll just take this with the massive amount of salt you should for every other rumor out there.

I’ll keep my eyes peeled for information, and feel free to ask the team if you meet them during SPC 2011. In fact, I already know at least a couple of more bits of information and I’ll ‘leak’ that over the next days.


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