Digital Transformation Today

The 4 Biggest Challenges of Working with Advanced SharePoint Workflows in Office 365

We’ve talked about SharePoint workflows in the past, but what is an advanced SharePoint workflow?Typically, it’s a workflow that started out as simple approval workflow with couple of approval steps and then gradually evolved to become more complicated with complex business logic over time. You could therefore end up working with advanced SharePoint workflows without realizing it, as your original workflows naturally develop.

Ifyou feel out of your depth with those more advanced SharePoint workflows, here are the four key challenges to look out for.

1. Throttling Limits

In SharePoint Online and Workflow Manager there arestrict throttling limits for SharePoint 2013-style workflows. And if your workflow breaks one of these limits, it will be suspended to prevent it from swallowing up too many resources. It’s a good failsafe to have in place, but the end result is that you’ll then have to “resume” the workflow manually or by using SharePoint workflow client object model.

But here’s the tricky part. There are no email notifications to let you know that your workflow has suspended, so you’ll need to keep an eye on it. Also, if you don’t resume your workflow within tendays, it will terminate automatically, potentially losing any progress that was made before the suspension.

You’re most likely to run into problems with throttling limits with workflows that include a lot of loops or complex algorithms. Loops are kind of like the requisite basecamp fire on a camping trip. Sometimes they’re necessary, but they can burn you if you’re not careful. Dampen down the risks by doing everything you can when designing the workflow to ensure it doesn’t end up trapped in an infinite loop, which will trigger a suspension.

2. Storing the State of the Workflow

No matter how well you design your workflows, you almost certainly won’t think of everything – nobody’s perfect. So at some point, a workflow will end up getting suspended. This can be a major headache if you have to restart it from the beginning.

The good news is you can lessen your frustration with workflow suspensions by always storing the state of the workflow in aSharePoint list or library column. That way you can restart the workflow from the point where it terminated, rather than having to start all over again.

It seems like a simple step, but it could help you out of a sticky spot when your workflow gets suspended shortly before an important deadline.

3. Custom Coding

Think of the standard workflows in SharePoint as your city’s public transportation network: If you want to make the same journeys as everyone else, it’s easy enough to hop on the bus and let it take you from A to B.

However, if your route is unique with no apparent public transportation options, you’ll need to organize your own transportation – perhaps by taking an Uber or a taxi.The same situation applies in SharePoint workflows. Out of the box workflow activities will do most of what you want to do, but some complex business requirements might require some custom coding.


Working with advanced workflows requires an understanding of SharePoint REST APIs. REST stands for representational state transfer and is the software architectural style that is used on the World Wide Web.Learning about REST APIs is a key part of creating Advanced SharePoint workflows in Office 365.

Final Thought

Advanced workflows aren’t for everyone — you need someone with a development background to manage them. If you don’t have someone with that background in-house, you may still be able to meet complex requirements by breaking down your workflows into smaller, simpler workflows that give your desired result.Alternatively, you can work with a consultant, like Portal Solutions, who can help you develop advanced workflows and provide for rapid deployment.

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