Manage the document approval process using a workflow

If you have ever had to obtain approval from a group of people for a project plan, a proposal, or some other important document, you probably know firsthand that it can be a frustrating experience. First, how do you manage the logistics of getting the document to the right people? Do you send it to people in e-mail and request responses in e-mail? Do you schedule a meeting? Second, how do you keep track of which people have approved the document, and how do you formally record their approval? Do you save multiple e-mails? Do you save meeting notes?

Consider all the problems you could face weeks or months from now, if you're unable to prove that you obtained approval from the right people. Or what if one of your approvers denies that they ever approved your important business document? Unless your organization has developed formal approval processes, you may be in a situation where you routinely manage the approval or review for important business documents on an ad hoc basis.

You can avoid hassles like these by using the Approval workflow available on a Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 site to route your documents to colleagues for approval. Workflows streamline the cost and time required to coordinate common business processes, such as document approval, by managing and tracking the human tasks involved in these processes. Because the Approval workflow assigns tasks, sends reminders, tracks participation, and creates a record of the entire process, you can concentrate on performing your work instead of chasing people and managing the logistics of the document approval process. Should you ever need to document or prove that you've received approval for something, you can provide stakeholders with a link to the workflow history for the document, which shows who approved or rejected a document, or who failed to complete their workflow task. In this way, the Approval workflow makes the approval process more transparent.

 Important   The ability to start an Approval workflow from Microsoft Office Word 2007, Microsoft Office Excel 2007, or Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007 is available only in Microsoft Office Professional 2007, Microsoft Office Enterprise 2007, and Microsoft Office Ultimate 2007, and in the stand-alone versions of Office Word 2007, Office Excel 2007, and Office PowerPoint 2007.



How you can use a workflow to manage the approval process

An Office SharePoint Server 2007 site includes a number of predefined workflows that address common business processes. One of these predefined workflows is the Approval workflow, which routes a document or item to a group of people for their approval. By default, the Approval workflow is associated with the Document content type on an Office SharePoint Server 2007 site, and thus it is automatically available in document libraries.

When you use a workflow to manage the document approval process, the server manages all of the tasks.

Start the workflow     When you start the Approval workflow on a 2007 Office release document, you are prompted to fill out a workflow initiation form in which you specify the names of the people you want to approve the document. You can provide specific instructions to the approvers, and you can specify the date by which you want the workflow participants to complete their task.

Workflow initiation form for the Approval workflow

Complete a workflow task     After the workflow starts, the server assigns approval tasks to participants. By default, the Approval workflow is a serial workflow, which means that workflow tasks are assigned to one person at a time. In a serial workflow, the server assigns the first workflow task to the first person listed as an approver in the workflow initiation form. If the Approval workflow has been customized to be a parallel workflow, in which tasks are assigned to all participants at once, then the server assigns workflow tasks to all of the participants. If e-mail is enabled for the site, the server also sends all participants e-mail messages with task instructions and a link to the document to be approved. Participants can click this link to review the document. To complete the approval task, workflow participants can click the Edit this Task button in the Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 e-mail message to approve or reject the document.

Task completion form for the Approval workflow

View the workflow status     While the workflow is in progress, the workflow owner (the person who starts the workflow) or the workflow participants can check the Workflow Status page on the Office SharePoint Server 2007 site to see which participants have completed their workflow task. The workflow owner can also update active tasks or add or update the list of participants. When all of the workflow participants complete their workflow task, or when the specified number of people have provided their approval, the workflow ends, and the workflow owner is automatically notified that the workflow has completed. After it is completed, the Approval workflow consolidates all of the comments from participants and sends these comments to the workflow owner in an e-mail message.

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Before you begin

Starting an Approval workflow is easy: Just click the Microsoft Office Button, click Workflows, and then click Start. You can start a workflow on your document directly within the 2007 Office release program that you used to create it.

Before you begin, make sure that:

  • You are working with an Office Excel 2007 workbook, Office PowerPoint 2007 presentation, or Office Word 2007 document.
  • You have saved the file to a document library on an Office SharePoint Server 2007 site. For more information about saving a file to a SharePoint library, see the article Save a file to a SharePoint library or another Web location.

If any commands in the following procedure are not available, you should know that:

  • To start an Approval workflow directly from within an 2007 Office release program, you must have at least the Edit Items permission for the library where the document is saved. Some workflows may require that you also have the Manage Lists permission to start a workflow. In other words, you need the same permissions as if you were in the browser. Check with your site owner.
  • A site owner can remove a workflow from a specific list or library. You must save the document to a library where the Approval workflow is available. Check with your site owner.
  • A site collection administrator can deactivate a type of workflow, such as the Approval workflow, for all sites in the site collection.
  • The ability to start an Approval workflow from Office Excel 2007, Office PowerPoint 2007, or Office Word 2007 is available only in Office Professional Plus 2007, Office Enterprise 2007, and Office Ultimate 2007, and in the stand-alone versions of Office Excel 2007, Office PowerPoint 2007, and Office Word 2007.

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Start an Approval workflow on a document

Before you can start an Approval workflow on a document, you must save the document to a SharePoint library in which the Approval workflow is available. For more information, see the previous section Before you begin.

When you start the workflow, the options available to you may vary depending on how that workflow was customized when it was added to the list, library, or content type for the item. For example, the Approval workflow can be set up as either a serial workflow or a parallel workflow. A serial workflow is a workflow in which tasks are assigned to participants one at a time. If an Approval workflow has been set up as a serial workflow (this is how the Approval workflow is configured by default), then you will see options relevant to a serial workflow when you start the workflow. For example, you will be able to specify how many days to give each person to complete the tasks.

 Note   If you want to ensure that workflow participants receive e-mail alerts and reminders about their workflow tasks after you start a workflow, check with your server administrator to verify that e-mail is enabled for your site.

To start a workflow on an Office Excel 2007, Office PowerPoint 2007, or Office Word 2007 file, do the following:

  1. Open the file on which you want to start an Approval workflow.

 Note   To start a workflow, you can open the document in either Read Only or Edit mode.

ShowOpen a server document from within an Office program

  1. Click the Microsoft Office ButtonButton image, and then click Open.
  2. Under Look in, click My Network Places or My SharePoint Sites.
  3. Click the name of the SharePoint site where your file is located, and then click Open.

 Tip   Alternately, you can double-click the name of the site to open it. You can also double-click a library or file to open it.

 Note   If you don't see your server in either category, type the URL for the server in the File name box, and then click Open.

  1. Click the name of the library that contains the file, such as Shared Documents, and then click Open.
  2. Click the name of the file that you want to open, and then click Open.
  1. Click the Microsoft Office Button Button image, and then click Workflows.

Workflow command

 Note   If your document has not yet been saved to SharePoint library where workflows are available, you will be prompted to save it to such a location.

  1. In the Workflows dialog box, locate the Approval workflow, and then click Start.

Workflows dialog box

 Notes 

  • If the document is checked out to you, you are prompted to check in the document. You then need to try again to start the workflow.
  • If your organization has made a customized version of the Approval workflow available, the Approval workflow might have a different name.
  1. In the Approval dialog box, click Approvers to select the names of the people or groups to whom you want to assign workflow tasks.

 Note   If the workflow is a serial workflow (tasks are assigned to participants one at a time), type or select the names of the workflow participants in the order in which you want the tasks to be assigned. You can determine whether a workflow is serial or parallel by looking at the due date information. If individuals are each given a set amount of time to complete a task, then the workflow is serial, and tasks are assigned to participants one at a time. If there is one due date by which all participants must complete their tasks, then the workflow is parallel, and all participants receive their workflow tasks simultaneously.

  1. If you are including groups as workflow participants, select the Assign a single task to each group entered (Don't expand groups) check box if you want only one task to be assigned to the group instead of individual tasks assigned to each group member. One individual in the group can them claim the task.
  2. If you want to include a message or specific task instructions, type this information in the text box under Type a message to include with your request.
  3. To specify when the task should be completed, under Due Date, do one of the following:
  • For a serial workflow, type a number, and then select either Day(s) or Week(s) as the increment of time.
  • For a parallel workflow, type or select a date under Tasks are due by.
  1. If you want other people to receive notifications (not task assignments) when the workflow is started, type their names on the CC line, or click CC to select people and groups.
  2. Click Start.

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Complete a task in an Approval workflow

You will probably discover that you have a task to approve a document when you receive an e-mail task notification. You can complete your task directly from this e-mail message in Office Outlook 2007.

  1. In your e-mail task message, click the link to the document that is displayed under To complete this task.

 Note   If you add comments or make changes directly in the document, be sure to save your changes to the server.

  1. To mark your task as completed, click the Edit this Task button at the top of the e-mail task message.

Edit this Task button in a message in Outlook

 Note   The Edit this Task button is also available at the top of a task notification when you view it in the Reading Pane.

  1. In the Approval Requested task completion form, do one of the following:
    • To provide comments to the workflow owner and either approve or reject the document, type your comments in the text box that is provided, and then click either Approve or Reject.
    • To reassign the approval task to another person, click Reassign task, specify to whom you want to assign the task, and then click Send.
    • To request a change to the item, click Request a change, specify to whom you want to assign the change request, provide information about the change requested, and then click Send.

 Note   Depending on how the workflow was customized when it was added to the list, library, or content type for this item, the options to reassign the task or request a change may not be available.

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Applies to:
Excel 2007, PowerPoint 2007, Word 2007