Creating Custom Workflows with SharePoint Designer 2010 (part 1) - Introducing SharePoint Designer, Workflow Types

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When you find the workflows that SharePoint provides for you do not quite fit the process, Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2010 gives you the ability to modify them or even design your own from scratch. This gives a business analyst or Power User the ability to create his or her own workflows without requiring the involvement of IT or even a developer. Using a predefined list of activities, the user can whip up a workflow to route her documents for approval, move documents, modify properties, and so on.


SharePoint Designer started its life as Microsoft FrontPage. While it was feared by many IT groups because of what damage untrained users could do to SharePoint, it has since evolved into an essential tool for managing SharePoint content by both IT personnel and business users. SharePoint 2010 adds additional controls and settings for IT administrators to have more granular control over who can use SharePoint Designer, what actions they can perform, and on what sites.

SharePoint Designer connects directly to a SharePoint site and allows the user to manage content in a very rich user interface. The workflow tools within Designer allow the user to develop a workflow specifically for a list, or a generic workflow that can be used by many lists.

1. Introducing SharePoint Designer (for Workflow Development)

Before we jump in to creating our first workflow in SharePoint Designer, let’s take a look at the application to see what we are dealing with. Figure 1 shows SharePoint Designer 2010 opened at its home page for our site.

Figure 1. The SharePoint Designer 2010 home page for our connected site displays general site information as well as subsites and permissions to the site

You can see from the home page that you can get a quick overview of the site, including general information, permissions, subsites, and other settings.

In the navigation pane on the left, you see a list of all available objects such as lists and libraries, workflows, site pages, and so on. As you can see, you can browse the majority of objects within SharePoint related to design. With our focus being on workflow, let’s open that tab to see what we have.

Figure 2 shows the Workflow tab selected. You will notice the options on the ribbon are all related to our workflow tasks. The main pane lists all our available workflows; because we have not created any custom workflows yet, this list only displays the reusable workflow templates provided with SharePoint Server 2010. The ribbon keeps us focused on the task at hand by making only our workflow options available.

Figure 2. The Workflow tab displays our available workflow templates and provides all our workflow options in the ribbon

Clicking any of the workflows listed will open an information page for that workflow template. This gives us a quick overview of information about the workflow, start options, and even the forms associated with the workflow (see Figure 3). This is very useful for troubleshooting.

Figure 3. The Workflow Information page displays an overview of the workflow, including the forms that it uses


You may be wondering why the workflow Quarterly Newsletter Review that we created earlier is not listed. Even though we created a new workflow, we used an existing template (the Approval—SharePoint 2010 template) to create that workflow. If you navigate to the documents library through Designer, you will see it listed in the workflows section for that list.

2. Workflow Types

When creating a workflow from Designer, there are three options: List Workflows, Reusable Workflows, and Site Workflows. The differences are explained in Table 1.

Table 1. Three Types of Workflows to Choose From
Workflow TypeDescription
List WorkflowAssociated directly with a list. Cannot be reused on a different list. Content-sensitive so can work directly with list values.
Reusable WorkflowNot associated with any list. Can be associated with any list once created. Is not content-sensitive.
Site WorkflowAssociated with the site and not a list. Can be used for workflows that are not associated with list data. Manually run from the site Actions menu.


Site workflows are new to SharePoint 2010. In SharePoint 2007, to achieve the same type of workflow you had to fake it by using a list with a single dummy item.

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