Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Phantom Workflow

If you’re a fan of the original Star Wars trilogy, you may have wondered “Where did the Storm Troopers come from?” As a child, I thought they were robots.

Similarly, a customer and I recently came across a phantom workflow and wondered “Where is this workflow running from?”

The customer, who is a site collection administrator, created a list on one of his subsites. He then added a Nintex workflow to the list. Because he needed to clone the structure for other lists, he saved the list as a template and created a new list from the template.

Once he started adding entries to the new list, the customer noticed that the workflow attached to the original list was running on the new list. However, when he went to Manage Nintex Workflows, there were no workflows for the new list. So he let the phantom workflow run, until he needed to change the wording in the email notification. So he asked me how he could access the phantom workflow.

Baffled by the mystery, I reached out to my friends Vadim Tabakman, a Nintex Evangelist, and John White, a Nintex expert user (and the Obi-Wan Kenobi of Power BI). They explained that the list template copied over the SharePoint pieces for the workflow. While the Nintex workflow was listed in SharePoint Designer (SPD), it could not be edited (nor would you ever edit a Nintex workflow in SPD).

There was one solution. First, I informed the customer that deleting the phantom workflow would also delete all of its workflow history. Next, using SharePoint Designer, I deleted the workflow. (Note: If the original workflow for the original list was called Workflow1, then the phantom workflow associated with the new list would be called Workflow2.) After deleting the correct workflow, I exported the original Nintex workflow to a .nwf file. Then I imported the .nwf file into a new, blank workflow attached to the new (cloned) list. At this point, the customer was able to modify the email notification in the new list’s workflow, without affecting the email notification in the original list’s workflow.

Now that we know where the phantom workflow (and the original Storm Troopers) came from, you may be wondering “What if I’m not using Nintex?” So I tested, and yes, a workflow created in SharePoint Designer could also appear as a phantom workflow.