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Custom Workflow Notifications in the PPM Platform

When using a PPM platform such as Project Online or Project Server to capture, prioritize, select, plan, and manage their initiatives, organizations have a huge opportunity to automate their business process by collecting information about all project ideas in one place and, and based on their internal process, take a logical decision of which initiatives will contribute the most with the strategic goals that has been defined. In this scenario, the creation of custom workflows is vital to help putting this process automation in place (if you want to know more about the creation of custom workflows in Project Online / Project Server, you can visit this link).

When creating custom workflows for the customers I am engaged with, I am always looking for a way to provide them with a valuable experience, in a way that it is easy to find and understand the key information that will support their business decisions. And if there is one thing that I really think that needs to be configured in the workflows is the notification mechanism.

Think about the following scenario: when a new project request is created, a business user usually needs to fill in a form with essential information about that request; then, once all the information is inserted, the request needs to be submitted for review/approval. And here is where we have a problem: the workflow’s out of the box configuration does not bring any useful information about the request that can be used by the reviewer/approver. Here is an example of a project request form that an organization might use:

Figure 1: Example of a project request form


When submitted for review/approval through the workflow process, this is the message that is shared with the reviewer/approver:


Figure 2: Out of the box workflow notification

Let’s assume you are a reviewer/approver in this process: when you receive this message, there is nothing from it that you can use to understand what this request is all about. It means that, if you want to know more about the request, you must navigate to the Project Center page, find the request, open it, and check its Project Detail Pages. This represents lots of unneeded clicks, don’t you think?

In this case, my preference is to configure the workflow notification to include all the vital information, so whoever needs to review/approve the request will be able to easily understand its objectives. I must admit that I am a huge fan of tables (and their power to better organize and structure data) – so rather than just including the fields in the notification area, I like to use tables to standardize the request information.

However, we have an additional problem here. Unfortunately, SharePoint Designer (the software used to create workflows) does not have a functionality to create/design tables in its notification area. This is what blocks us from designing our custom notifications. The workaround is provided by an old friend: Microsoft Word. The idea is simple: we can create a new document and organize the notification the way we want it to be. Once ready, all we must do is copy and paste it to SharePoint Designer, including the project fields that will fill the notification. Here is an example:

Figure 3: Form created in Microsoft Word


Once the form is created and ready to go, it is just a matter of copying and pasting it into SharePoint Designer:


Figure 4: Form pasted from Microsoft Word into SharePoint Designer

To finalize the configuration of our custom notification, we need to replace the blank spaces with the appropriate fields from Project Online:

Figure 5: Filling in the blank spaces with Project fields


Now, once a new project request is submitted, it will be easier for the reviewer/approver to understand what it is all about:

Figure 6: Custom workflow notification

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Written by Raphael Santos

Raphael Santos is a PPM enthusiast with expertise in providing Microsoft Project, Project Online, and Project Server solutions. He has worked in several projects to implement PPM tools, including projects located in Latin America (Brazil, Peru, and Argentina), in the United States, and in Africa. He is also a trainer with more than 10 years of experience teaching users how to use Project Management tools in a more productive way. In 2016, Raphael was awarded the MVP title by Microsoft in recognition of his contributions to the Project Management community. Raphael is a PPM Consultant at Sensei Project Solutions, a certified Microsoft partner specializing in project and portfolio management deployments. Sensei offers a complete set of services to help organizations succeed with their Microsoft PPM deployments. Services include full implementation and training as well as pre-configured solutions and report packs. Visit senseiprojectsolutions.com or contact info@senseiprojectsolutions.com for more information.

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