Microsoft Flow vs SharePoint Designer (SPD) Approvals


Perhaps one of the most useful automated processes out there is the ability to do approval processes. We fortunately have two tools on-prem or online that allows us to perform this action. Microsoft Flow offers some incredible connectivity between services (like approve a Tweet and post it, approve something from Google Docs and have it moved to SharePoint, etc.), but the approval process itself is very simple at this point and doesn’t offer some of the more robust features and customization options we get in SharePoint Designer 2013 approval processes.

I also will use both tools in the same business process occasionally, because they both have unique strengths.

But which do you use for approvals?

The quick answer to the question is: Use Flow for simple approvals, or approvals that involve multiple sites or external services. Use SPD for more complicated processes and customization options for approvals that involve a single site.

Abilities in Both:

  • Both allow you the ability to seek approval from multiple individuals simultaneously and to require just one or all from the group to respond.approvalgroup
    SPD Group
  • Both “response” options can trigger additional steps/actions based on response
  • Both can send email notification of the approval task assignment

When to Use Flow

  • Mobility/Convenience
    • There’s a mobile app
    • Get push notifications
    • Approve or reject without leaving the app
  • Multiple sites
    • SPD doesn’t easily allow multiple-site or multiple-site collection workflows/approvals. Flow does it with ease.
  • External services
    • Involve multiple services like Twitter, Dropbox, Wunderlist, Google Docs, etc. in your approval process (when this hashtag is used, start an approval. If approved, add a “response due date” to this person’s google calendar and log the tweet to our SharePoint List.)
  • Anyone can create their own Flows – it’s very individual-based.
    • SPD workflows have to be built by someone with proper permissions.

When to Use SPD

  • Stages and Loops (2013)
    • If rejected, go to a previous stage based on conditions to try again
    • Loops are more reliable
  • Customize the approval form (2010 & 2013)
    • Change “Approved” to “Acknowledged” or “Agree”
    • Add more than two options, like “return to sender with comment”
  • Customize the message
    • Flow’s message notification of an approval task is very restricted. You can only put one URL and a brief description. Of course in approvals, that link would go to the important content/topic/requestoptions.PNG
  • Delays and timer jobs tend to be more reliable
    • Flow can time out or fail if asked to wait very long or do a loop until. I’ve had better luck with long-term (months) timer jobs in SPD
  • SPD is focused on the organization, where Flow is built more for individuals.
    • If a SPD workflow creator leaves, others still have access to the workflow. In Flow, you can export Flows and have someone else import it but there’s no ability yet to do a clean transfer of ownership when someone leaves an organization. Best to use a service account with Flow.
  • Serial tasks
    • Assign tasks to multiple people in a certain order (A approves before B) but within the same step. Flow will require multiple separate approval steps to do serial approvals
  • Overdue notices
    • SPD makes it super easy to send overdue reminders and to utilize due datesoverdue

Add your thoughts and ideas on the matter in the comments below.

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