Microsoft Flow

Driving adoption of Microsoft Flow

Depositphotos_70209473_originalIn the land of Office 365, Microsoft Flow users are unique. While most of your users may use Outlook for email, OneDrive for file storage, and Microsoft Teams for intra-team collaboration, not all your users will create and leverage flows. Your approach to Microsoft Flow user adoption needs to account for this uniqueness. While you can launch broad Office 365 awareness campaigns, you will need to create a targeted adoption model just for Microsoft Flow.

Your user adoption campaign should focus on 4 key goals:

  1. Make flow relevant. Show your users how Microsoft Flow can help them meet their business goals. Making flow relevant to their daily work lives will drive home the why.
  2. Make flow achievable. Some innovators may start using Microsoft Flow based on word-of-mouth discussions or native curiosity about what the app can do. But the vast majority of your users will need help breaking through the conceptual barriers to using flow. They need an easy way to learn the basics, easy wins that can boost their confidence, and a method for getting peer or expert IT support as they start building more advanced workflows.
  3. Give your users a running start. Teach your users how to leverage Microsoft’s existing flow template gallery. And to drive stronger adoption and greater ROI, consider building out a series of company-specific flow templates that can be re-used internally.
  4. Make them shine. Provide your users with the educational materials and coaching they need to build flows that will make a difference and drive business value. Turning new flow users into flow superheroes will ensure continued adoption.

Planning for your flow user adoption campaign
To get started, you will need to clearly identify your target audience. I recommend creating formal personas for each of the key user groups you believe will leverage Microsoft Flow. You may have a business user, for example, that creates flows to help drive departmental process improvements. You may have a developer that creates flows as part of an agile engineering team. Identifying key types of flow users, documenting the reasons why they would leverage flow, and identifying their technology learning preferences will lay the groundwork for your custom user adoption campaign.

Once you identify your user personas, start building a target estimate for flow user volume. The estimate should project the rate at which users will start leveraging flow. If you have 1,000 Office 365 users, for example, you may target having 10% of your users adopt Microsoft Flow within the first 12 months. Your flow user adoption plans should account for driving this user growth, and monthly checks should be performed to measure your adoption efforts against your defined goals.

Now that you’ve identified your target adoption rate, it’s time to start building your flow user adoption campaign. It’s vital that you design your campaign to reflect and complement your organization’s culture. Look at programs that have succeeded or failed in your organization and unpack the key lessons learned. Determine what types of education and communication initiatives work well in your organization. If employees at your company don’t engage with or read news stories published on your company intranet, then publishing mass-market intranet articles about flow will not yield much success. If brown bags are popular, consider hosting targeted lunch and learns for each of your core Microsoft Flow user personas.

You also need to determine how to invest your valuable time and user adoption efforts. As I explain in Change by color: The secret of green dots, yellow dots and red dots, some of your users will readily accept change and be driven to adopt new technologies based on an intrinsic desire to learn and grow. Invest in these change adopters, but don’t overcommit your time. Target your efforts on the users that are slower to adapt but are still willing to change and learn new technologies.

Once you’ve defined your user personas and built specific user adoption campaign ideas that fit your corporate culture, you’re ready! Identify business needs and existing work processes that can be improved using Microsoft Flow. Leverage these opportunities as “starter projects” that will show of flow’s capabilities. Ensure you’re working alongside key influencers and innovators on your business teams for these starter projects. You want to engage with users that embrace technology and are quick to adopt. They’ll be willing to hear new ideas and, if they’re successful, will be able to evangelize flow’s capabilities. If you have resources that are already knowledgeable about Microsoft Flow (e.g. pilot testers or members of IT), introduce them to key business users and foster peer mentorship opportunities.

Most importantly, remember that flow user adoption isn’t a one-time project. In order for flow user adoption to become a reality, you need to treat it as an ongoing service. And yes, you’ll need to build, evolve, and drive your adoption program from now until the day you stop leveraging Microsoft Flow. Even the most successful adoption programs will die without dedicated attention and fresh ideas.

 

 

Creating a custom Microsoft Flow template gallery for your organization

Microsoft Flow comes with a wide array of templates you can use and customize to build the workflow capabilities you need. The templates serve as both a quick-start guide and a learning tool. You can use the templates as-is or review the templates to see how others have built custom flows. You can share flow templates you create by submitting them to Microsoft’s template gallery. If Microsoft approves your flow, it will be made available to all flow users.

FlowResourceCenter_08

Microsoft Flow template gallery

But what if you want to share Microsoft Flow templates internally within your organization? Microsoft’s flow template gallery is open to the public, and doesn’t provide any safeguards for securing your internal company data or custom internal data connections. But since Microsoft Flow enables you to export and import workflows, you can build your own custom flow template gallery in SharePoint Online. You can use your gallery to:

  • Provide a browsable interface for reviewing and downloading flow templates
  • Enable the submission and approval of templates for internal sharing
  • Provide a community space where you users can access flow how-to videos and share learnings with others
  • Give your Office 365 users a jump-start for learning Microsoft Flow

In the coming weeks, I’ll be publishing a series of blog posts with recommendations on building an internal flow template gallery in SharePoint Online. I’ll also share ideas on driving adoption of Microsoft Flow. (Hint: Flow isn’t like Teams or email. Your flow users are unique, and your flow adoption plan needs to be targeted and specific as well.) I also recommend checking out Daniel Glenn’s Ignite 2018 session THR1111 – Creating a custom Microsoft Flow template gallery in SharePoint. The session provides background information on how an internal gallery can support flow usage. Thanks to Daniel for partnering with me on our concept and design for this internal flow template gallery.

Welcoming the magic of Flow to OneDrive

In November 2017, Microsoft released its integration between Flow and OneDrive. Users can now create flows in OneDrive that will perform actions on OneDrive documents or folders. There are a wide variety of flows you can create, including:

  • Saving a copy of email attachments to a specified OneDrive folder
  • Routing OneDrive file(s) for approval
  • Sending OneDrive file(s) to other users
  • Sending links to OneDrive file(s)
  • Requesting feedback on OneDrive file(s)
  • Sending OneDrive file(s) to Microsoft Teams
  • Setting up alerts when new document(s) are uploaded
  • Searching for files in a given OneDrive folder
  • Copying OneDrive files
  • Converting OneDrive files to PDF
  • And more….

Because I present at multiple conferences/events per year, I wanted to test the capability of using Flow to convert my PowerPoint files to PDFs for easy sharing with conference attendees. I set up a flow in OneDrive to perform a PDF conversion on whichever files I select. I was able to use one of Microsoft’s standardized templates for the flow, with only a couple of minor tweaks.

Here are the steps to re-create this PDF conversion flow:

  1. Open OneDrive.
  2. Click on the Flow link in the OneDrive ribbon and select Create a flow.
    Flow_OneDrive_01
  3. When the window of flow templates appears, select the Convert selected file to PDF option.
    Flow_OneDrive_02If this is your first time using Flow, you’ll be asked to choose your country and click on the Get started button.
  4. You’ll be taken to a detail page that has information on the Convert selected file to PDF template. If this is your first time using Flow, you may be prompted to sign in and authenticate to OneDrive so the flow can be built. Simply click the Sign in button to log in. Once you’re logged in successfully, the Sign in button will be replaced with a Continue button. Click Continue to start working on your flow.
    Flow_OneDrive_03
  5. The template will populate, showing you all the preconfigured options for your flow. The flow is designed to save the selected file in PDF format and upload it to the root of your OneDrive folder structure. These default options are good, but I opted to make two changes to my flow:
    1. I clicked into the Flow name field and re-named my flow to PDF converter flow. This is the name that will show up in my menu of flows to run in OneDrive.
    2. I wanted all my converted PDF files to be stored in my OneDrive Presentations folder. To configure this option, I opened the Create file step and specified the creation folder path of /Presentations. (Note: If you choose to use a custom folder to store your PDFs, you must create the folder in OneDrive before you can specify the folder name in your flow.)
    3. Once these changes were made, I clicked on the Create flow option to create my new flow:
    4. Flow_OneDrive_04.png
  6. Once my flow is created, I’m taken to the complete screen. All I need to do is click Done to exit.
    Flow_OneDrive_05
  7. Now I’m taken to the overview page for my new flow. I can see that this flow is turned on and is set up to run on my OneDrive account. I also see a run history box. An audit record for each run of this flow will be recorded in the run history.
    Flow_OneDrive_06
  8. Now I’m ready to return to OneDrive and test my new flow. To do this, I navigated back to OneDrive, selected the file I wanted to convert to PDF, clicked on the Flow dropdown menu and selected my new PDF converter flow.
    Flow_OneDrive_07
  9. After waiting 5-10 seconds, I refreshed my page and there’s my new PDF!
    Flow_OneDrive_08

A few lessons I learned during the process of setting up this new flow:

  • Neither the free version of Flow nor the E1 tenant license supports PDF document conversions. While the free version of Flow and my E1 tenant could be used to create other flows, the PDF converter required at least an E3 Flow license.
  • The PDF conversion flow can’t be run against multiple files at once. I had to start the PDF converter flow for each file individually.
  • PDF conversion speeds are variable based on file size. A 51MB PowerPoint file took almost a minute to convert. Small PowerPoint files converted in under 8 seconds.

If you’d like more information on the integration between Flow and OneDrive, read the blog post announcement from the Flow team.