One of the best and most highly requested Flow features is approvals. Approvals are a common and integral part of business processes that are great candidates for automation. This post will highlight the basics of how Flow approvals work and how they can be used. Although approval flows can be used with hundreds of connectors, for this post I will be focusing mainly on SharePoint.
Triggers and Conditions for an Approval
Every flow needs a trigger event which will start the flow when it occurs. Flow has all of the same triggers as SharePoint Designer workflows but with some additions. Currently there are 9 SharePoint triggers in Flow but this numbers changes as new features get added. There are separate triggers for SharePoint lists and libraries. Anything mentioning a file pertains to libraries.
“SharePoint- For a selected item” is a fairly new trigger that allows users to select one item in a SharePoint list, and then run a flow. This is very useful functionality that was not readily available to users with SharePoint Designer workflows. This trigger can be used so that users with edit level access to the list can send an approval on an item of their choice.
You don’t have to have conditions in a flow, but if there is a need you can add conditions so that the approval action will only run if the conditions is met. For example you can have a an approval action occur only if a certain person create the item, or a metadata field was set to a certain value.
To add an approval to your flow you need to click on add an action and then select “Start and approval”. Then at least the required fields need to be populated.
Values available from the flow trigger or previous actions can be used in the approval by utilizing Dynamic Content. For example if your trigger was “Share-Point-When an item is created”, you can pull fields from the SharePoint item into the Title and Details for the approval. One common way to use Dynamic Content in approvals is to create an “Approver” people picker field in the SharePoint list then use that field in the “Assigned to” approval field so approvals are sent to that person of choice.
Who Sends the Approval
At this time, whoever has their credentials used for the Approvals connector is the “Requestor” or who the approval will be from. This is not the desired behavior for many users and the Flow team reports that adding a “From” field for approvals is being worked on.
When you add an approval action to your flow, you get to decide if you need one person from the list of people assigned the approval to approve or everyone. Email addresses have to be entered into the “Assigned to” field or you can select something from dynamic content as stated above, but it will have to be an email address value. It should be noted that if you have multiple people assigned to an approval and select “Anyone from the assigned list” for the Approval type there is no way to capture who actually Approved. Also, if the approval email is forwarded to someone else they will be able to approve.
Approvals can be sequential or parallel. Sequential means that there is a set order of approvers that are sent approvals one after another. Here is an example of how to create a sequential approval.
Parallel means that more than one approval is happening at the same time. This is done by adding a parallel branch to the flow and adding approval actions. Each approval action is independent of the other. Here is an example of how to create a parallel approval.
There is a way to limit the amount of days approvers have to make a decision that requires a bit more advanced configuration using a timeout. Read this post by Daniel Laskewitz to get the details.
Templates are a great way to get started with Microsoft Flow. There are many Flow Approval Templates that can be browsed in order to get ideas of what is possible. You can filter the templates to only see the Approval ones, then search for the connector you are interested in such as SharePoint. At this time there is no way to save your organization’s Flows as templates unless you want to make them available to everyone that uses Flows. If your organization has a strong need to save internal Flow templates, view these instructions on how you can export Flows into a .zip file and save them in a SharePoint library.
Modern SharePoint Library Request Sign Off Approvals
Within SharePoint modern libraries is a built in approval flow called “Request Sign-Off”. If you select an item in your document library, the click on the Flow drop down, you will see the “Request Sign-Off” option. You will also see any other flows you may have added to the library. When you select the “Request Sign-off” flow you will then be able to enter in one or more approver as well as a message. If you select more than one approver, either one will be able to approve and who approved will not be captured in the library. Once this flow is used once, a Sign-off status field is added to your library. The field shows as “Pending” when it gets sent to an approver, then to either “Approved” or “Rejected” based on the decision.
Microsoft Flow offers an approval center which allows for you to view all of the approvals you have sent, you have received, and all of your approval history in a central view. The approval center can be accessed by going to the Flow site and clicking on the Approvals tab. There are also options to reassign the approval as well as email the requestor in the approval center. You can search by the title of the approval and also sort the approvals in the history list by the newest or oldest.
Formatting the Approval Message
In the past, the approval messages came in a standard format that was unable to be changed. It was recently announced that there is a way to format approval messages. See more information here.
More Flow Approval Examples: