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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Bjørn Furuknap

I previously did SharePoint. These days, I try new things to see where I can find the passion. If you have great ideas, cool projects, or is in general an awesome person, get in touch and we might find out together.

6 thoughts on “SharePoint Designer 2013 Workflow Features: State Machines?”

  1. Pingback: SharePoint Designer 2013 Workflow Features: State Machines … | Mastering Sharepoint
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  3. Most likely it wil run based on the next WF engine as provided by the .net environment.
    Current 4.5 is the most new version.. maybe sharepoint 2010 runs version 3.0
    So lets see whats new about .net framework 4.5

    With some luck maybe even regular expression filters on lists..!

    It’s just me combining things i read about .net
    i’m no developer at MS; but their products are based on it

  4. Sir,
    Thanks a lot for your service to Sharepoint tech cmmunity. I love your articles !
    I have been trying to find the logical difference/need between sequential and state machine workflows.
    Can you please clarify if “going back” ability is the prime difference ? Also can you please clarify on how the backend WWF handles this going back and any relation to “rehydration” concept of WWF ?

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