Beginner | Flow of The Week: Create and manage a request backlog with Microsoft Flow
Whats up Flow Friends?!
This weeks post comes from awesome community member Bryant Boyer!
Bryant Boyer (@BryantBoyer) is a Product Manager at BrainStorm, Inc. (http://www.brainstorminc.com) and specializes in successful rollout and adoption of Microsoft applications, especially Office 365. His expertise and interests are with Microsoft Excel, Flow, Power BI, Dynamics 365 CRM, citizen developers and no-code solutions.
What would your day look like if you were entirely in control of where you spent your time? It should be ridiculous to even ask that question, but the reality is that workplaces are trending more agile. With the added emphasis on the ability to be nimble, folks are more likely to lean on one another to reach their goals.
Here is an example of my own. When I get to work each morning, I write down the three things I want to accomplish, and I dive right in. It isn’t long before an email, a private message or call in Teams, or even a visitor at my desk pulls me out of my deep thinking and sets me on a different path. And once I’ve been pulled into the ether, there is no telling when I’ll find my way back to what I was working on. And at this moment, y’all are nodding your heads–this isn’t uncommon.
What’s the best way to stay focused and accomplish what you need to? I don’t want people to stop bringing questions to me. But I wish there was a way to wait until I had time to allow the distractions in. I’ve experimented with pausing my inbox, going on do not disturb in Teams, and a few other strategies, but the only real solution is going to involve a new sort of communication and collaboration contract with my coworkers. Here is one such solution that I’ve found to be successful in filtering requests on a team level and could absolutely be applied on a personal level as well.
This Flow is going to leverage Microsoft Forms and a connection to Planner. There are also two variations: the first is an integration with Teams for visibility on a broader scale, and the second includes an approval step prior to creating a card in Planner. Let’s dive in!
Create a Form
Since this is going to connect Microsoft Forms and Microsoft Planner, you’ll need to have created each of those first. Let’s begin with Microsoft Forms. Navigate to https://forms.office.com and create a New Form.
Forms is pretty intuitive, and it’s up to you exactly how you want to gather information about your requests. Let’s start by taking a look at the Forms settings, which you can find by clicking the ellipses icon on the top right of the navigation bar.
One huge plus with using Microsoft Forms with your co-workers is that Forms will grab the name and email address of the person submitting a response (that is if the “Record name” box is checked). That means that you won’t have to ask any questions related to who is submitting the request.
The second important setting to note here: keep the “One response per person” box unchecked so that your coworkers can submit more than one response.
In terms of questions for the form itself, I always include something about priority, and perhaps a category to easily bucket requests. Check out the “Eisenhower Box” for a good strategy to prioritize tasks. Also, think with the end in mind—this will eventually be a Planner card, so ask for what you would need to fill out a card (title, description, etc.).
Create a Plan
Alright, now that we’ve got our Form, let’s move on to Planner. Navigate to https://tasks.office.com and select New plan.
Give it a title like “Bryant’s Prioritized Tasks,” select the privacy, and click Create Plan. I would recommend creating your plan as “Private” as you and those you specifically add to the plan should be the only ones prioritizing your tasks. Now, for your buckets.
Tasks in Planner are in a card format, and they are meant to be moved from bucket to bucket depending on their status, progress, etc… The best bucket format I’ve found is to mirror agile frameworks and create an “Not Prioritized” bucket, a “Backlog” bucket, a “Working On” bucket, and a “Complete” bucket. I’ve also experimented with other buckets, like “Current 6 Tasks,” “Next 10 Tasks,” and “On Someone Else’s Plate” to give me a better sense of how new requests will affect my current plans, but do whatever works best for you.
Just for kicks, click one of the plus signs to add a Task. Here you see that you can add the task name, a due date, and an assigned person. However, once you create the task you’ll see that you can also add the Label (colored tabs to the right of the card), Bucket, Progress, Start date, Description, Checklist, Attachments, and Comments (note: you cannot currently add checklist items or comments to Planner cards via Microsoft Flow). Does this change what you might ask in your Form? I think asking for a due date makes sense as we can add that to the card here, so I went back and added it. Go back and tweak your questions on the Form if you’d like.
Create Your Flow
On to Flow! Go to https://flow.microsoft.com and click My Flows > New > Create from blank.
In the blank flow, add the Forms trigger When a new response is submitted. In the “Form Id” field, find your Form from the dropdown. Note: If your Form doesn’t appear in the dropdown then select Custom and find the Form Id in your Form URL as the string of characters after the “FormId=”. Enter that here.
Next, add a new Forms action to Get response details. Again, fill in the Form Id as you did above. When you click in the “Response Id” field, the Dynamic content box should pop open. If not, click Add dynamic content.
Wait, there’s no content to insert? Click See more to display more items and click List of response notifications Response Id.
Here’s where Flow does some lifting for you. You’ll notice that an “Apply to each” container has been created for you. Assume that two Forms responses are submitted simultaneously. Which response should the action be taken for? In this way, you’ll perform the action on all responses for the Flow check period.
Next, within the container and directly below the “Get response details” action you just placed, click Add an action. Now, we need to get details about the user that submitted the Form response. So, navigate the Office 365 actions and click Get user profile (V2). For the “User” value add the “Responders’ Email” as a dynamic value. This will allow us to get the user’s department name, display name, and more. It’s just cleaner to use the responder’s name rather than their email. And, if you choose to send any emails as a part of this flow then you can address them by name.
Here’s where we are going to connect to Microsoft Planner. Search for and click Create a task to add it to your flow.
Select the plan from the “Plan Id” dropdown, or select Custom value and get the custom plan id from the Planner URL (just like above with the “Form Id”). For the task “Title,” I’m adding the question where I asked the user to give a summary of their request. You could also just write “Task submitted by “ and include the responders’ name from Office 365 dynamic content. Up to you.
For the Bucket Id, pick Not Prioritized. This is where the task will be created. Leave the “Start Date Time” field blank, because we don’t know when we’ll start this task. In the “Due Date Time” field, I’m going to add the dynamic answer to the question “What is the due date (if any)?”. Just be sure that any question you are pulling into this section is formatted to be a date question in Microsoft Forms—text answers won’t work.
Finally, I put my own email address in the “Assigned User Id” field. At this point, your flow should look like this:
Now hang on, there’s a lot more information on the Planner card that the fields above. How do we add a description? Add a new action within the container and select the Update task details Planner action. In the “Task Id” field insert the Id from the “Create a task” section of the dynamic content. For the “Description” field, add the question that best applies from the “Get response details” section in dynamic content. In my case, that’s “What is your request?”. But there’s probably more you want to put in the description of the card, right? Well, it’s easy to add more text and fields into the “Description” field. Just hit return and keep on typing. Insert dynamic content where it makes sense. Here’s what I’m ending up with:
Notice here that you can also add references to your Planner task card. Imagine asking for a valid URL in Forms and then inserting that here as a reference. That could be cool.
Now you’re good, right? Wrong. I’ll submit a test action to illustrate something.
It failed?? Clicking into the failure, it looks like the “Update task details” step couldn’t find the task I had created in the previous step. Basically, here’s what happens: you tell Planner to create a task, and then you ask to update the task before it actually gets created. To avoid the issue, insert a “Delay” action between the two. 5 seconds should be enough.
Now, I don’t need to submit a new response. Instead, I’ll click Test in the upper right corner of the window and resubmit the data from my failed test.
Success! Now I’ll go to Planner and check out my new Planner task.
Here’s some variations and pro tips for customizing this to meet your needs:
If you want to update the “Progress” of a task, use the “Update a task” action in addition to the “Update task details” action
Add an added notification if the task has a high urgency or is due today or tomorrow
Create an Outlook task for requests with high urgency to surface it more quickly
Add an approval step for your manager to approve all requests for your time or for you to approve requests
Add an automated email a few minutes after the submission to send back to the user thanking them for the submission and that you’ll be in touch with them soon about it
If this is for a team, consider posting the submission in a Teams channel as well
There is a limitation to using Planner: there are no Flow actions for when a task moves between buckets. What that means is that you’ll need to manually email users when you begin working on or complete the task they requested. Now, you could easily do this with a SharePoint list, so look into managing your tasks from a SharePoint list if that’s a must for you.
Now, go out there and have a more focused work day thanks to Microsoft Flow!