How to Start Using Microsoft Flow in 10 Steps
What is Microsoft Flow?
Simply put, Microsoft Flow is used to create workflows between your favorite apps and services. And why do you need workflow? Well, to automate tasks, of course, as well as gather data, send notifications, move files, and so much more.
Now that that’s covered, let’s get going with how to start using Microsoft Flow in 10 steps.
Step 1: First, go through the templates.
Before building something from scratch, take a look at whether there’s a template that you could use. Chances are good that there will be, and there’s no point in re-inventing the wheel when you can save yourself a lot of time.
Templates are categorized by:
- Data collection
- Events and Calendar
- Social media
In my example, I’ve looked at Approvals, and found that for this category there are 59 templates available. These use different connectors from SharePoint, Forms, Teams, Twitter, and much more.
Step 2: Know which connectors are available.
What exactly is a connector? The technical explanation from Microsoft is that “A connector is a proxy or a wrapper around an API that allows the underlying service to talk to Microsoft Flow, PowerApps, and Logic Apps. It provides a way for users to connect their accounts and leverage a set of pre-built actions and triggers to build their apps and workflows.”
In layman's terms, a connector is a translator used between different apps or services to connect accounts, relay messages, and supply various actions and triggers for use. Currently, there are 187 different connectors available, though some of these exist only on the Premium plan.
Here are some examples:
Step 3: Get your login details ready.
To be able to use the different connectors, you would need the credentials for those accounts. If you want to create an item in a SharePoint list every time a hashtag is used on Twitter, you would need the SharePoint (Office 365) credentials, as well as the Twitter account name and password.
Step 4: Ask the right questions.
As with all projects, it’s important to remember that you won’t think of everything. Keep everyone in the loop and ask the right questions to the right people.
I use the “5 Whys” to help me, which I’ve modified to who, what, when, why, and how.
Below you’ll see an overview of the questions, what they relate to, and how they help us understand the requirements better:
- Who > Stakeholders + People = Permissions + Interaction
- What > Relationships + Interfaces = Third-party + Complexity
- When > Frequency = Versions + Process
- Why > Business Goals + Policies = Output, Reports, Views
- How > Process = Process + complexity
Step 5: Create the environment you require.
When the Flow I create uses SharePoint, I create this environment first.
I still use the following naming conventions when creating columns in Apps for workflows: Create column as “LineManager,” then rename the column to “Line Manager.”
Step 6: Work back from the end result.
As explained above, understanding the requirements is an important step. Sometimes, it’s easier to start with the desired outcome, then work yourself back to the beginning.
For example, let’s say that I need a library that shows documents with a status of approval. The document should only be viewable to end users once it is approved, and the details of who created or approved the document should be available.
- Change status of document to approved or rejected.
- Send email to approver with task to approve or reject.
- Start process to acquire approval.
- Change status of document to pending approval.
- Ability to modify or create document.
Step 7: Fast track with quick wins.
Sometimes, the overwhelming urge we have to overachieve will get you working on a complex flow for weeks without making much progress.
Start by creating many small “quick win” Flows to help and impress your users (while you work on that award-winning Flow of yours).
An example would be “Save Office 365 Email attachments to OneDrive for Business or SharePoint Document Library.” These Flows can be setup in a matter of minutes using the template and can help hundreds of users in a short time.
Remember: Baby steps enable iterative change.
Step 8: Pick your starting point.
Flows can be started straight from the SharePoint app or the Flow portal (and soon, from your Microsoft Team App).
Step 9: Fail early. Fail often. Fail forward.
Don’t be so hard on yourself.
The more mistakes you make and the more you struggle, the better you’ll get at it.
Step 10: Get started!
Creating Flows using existing templates are the easiest way to get started.
Here’s a quick video clip to show you how easy it really is!
It really is easier than you think. Take baby steps and build some simple flows until you figure it out. There’s lots of helpful resources out there to help you with more complex scenarios!
Tracy is a Microsoft MVP and an energetic, hyperactive adrenaline junkie who sees challenges and issues as opportunities and thrives on improving processes, environments and the general quality of life. Her broad knowledge about IT and Business gives her the ability to communicate on both levels and convey meaningful requirements and narrow the (ever present) gap between the two.