Workflow Dreamin’

March 23rd, 2012 | Posted by Robert Curlette in Tridion

Workflow has been in the Tridion product since version 4 and is one of the most often requested and least often implemented or used features in the product.  The upcoming bundles feature in the product has sparked up some discussions this week.  In this article I will attempt to de-construct these old assumptions and provide my dreams for workflow.


Chris Summers and Dominic Cronin brought us great posts this week about Tridion Workflow and I agree with both Dominic and Chris’s points. However, they suggest we might be missing a method in the API or the business needs to think and plan more for the workflow. But, I disagree. Tridion has added API features since it was built but the concept has remained the same since v4. I would argue that the assumptions that workflow was built for in 2001 do not exist today. These ficticious organizations and ficticious Authors are not there and therefore the workflow system we have does not work. Current Tridion workflow assumptions are reviewed below:

Assumption: Authors need everything reviewed all the time.

Tridion workflow currently assumes that the we have some rogue users in our Tridion system that need every change they make reviewed and approved every time for all content using a particular schema, for example an Article, with no exceptions. These rogue users are believed to be dangerous and we need to watch everything they do otherwise our site will fall to ruins.
In reality, this is very far from the truth. Our Tridion users are regular Tridion users, most of them daily users. They are experts in the content and know it better than most people in the organization. They know when they need approvals or not – and want to do the right thing by requesting an approval for a completely new article. However, for correcting a typo in some content they will not need to have an approval since it is a small change. In other words – we need to empower our Authors and make it very easy for them to get approval when they need it or want it, and all other times stay out of the way.

Assumption: Content needs approval every time.

Currently Tridion workflow is assigned to a Schema and whenever any content using that Schema is modified, even a little bit, the content goes into workflow and needs approval. A lot of content updates are for fixing typos, updating an image, adding 1 line to the text. What we need an approval for is big content changes and new items. And, who knows when we need an approval? – the Author. Because we trust them to know their content.

Assumption: All content using this Schema should go into workflow.

Context matters. Today when workflow is assigned to a Schema, all content using that Schema goes into workflow when edited. Maybe we want to have all articles under the Press Release folder to go into workflow A and the articles in the News folder into Workflow B. Or maybe the articles in the News folder don’t go into workflow, because the Author is the person in the organization responsible for that content – and we trust them to make the right decisions. We don’t want to turn workflow off for this – we want to specify the context the workflow is turned on.

Assumption: Workflow will protect our content by allowing certain roles to make changes

If we want to restrict users – then use the excellent Tridion security system with roles and rights. Want to not allow an author to change content? Set the security rights. Limit publishing to Staging? No problem, restrict publishing. But, I argue, limiting what users can do is a matter of security, not workflow.

Solution – Dreams for a New Workflow- If This Then That

My proposal is to flip workflow on its’ head. Think of the app If This Then That. The idea is simple – If ‘This’ happens then do ‘That’. Here are some examples,, Imagine these Tridion recipes:

If ‘I’ create an ‘article’ AND
If the ‘article’ is in the folder ‘News’ AND
If the date is ‘today’ THEN
Mark it for ‘Needs Approval’ AND
Notify ‘John’ with ‘once per day’ by ‘Email’

Or, maybe a pull workflow created by ‘John’ the manager:

If ‘anyone’ creates an ‘article’ AND
If the ‘article’ is in the folder ‘News’ THEN
Notify ‘me’ ‘once per day’ by ‘Email’

Or, maybe a pull workflow created by ‘Sally’ the web products manager:

If ‘anyone’ publishes ‘anything’ to ‘live’ AND
If the ‘article’ is in the structure group ‘products’ THEN
Notify ‘me’ ‘each time’ by ‘workflow notification center’

The power of this is amazing. We can create flexible rules that follow our organic organizations. And, we can empower our users.


The core concept here is notifications – notify someone that something has happened and request an approval. That’s it.  My dream is to allow users to pull and push notifications for actions in the GUI. I believe Tridion users and not only editors, but are owners of content, and responsible for the content they publish online. I believe they want to do the right thing – and we should help them do that with a flexible rules system that includes notifications and approvals.

Thoughts? Please share.

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