Best Practices, Tips, and Tricks in Using Flow

Businesses take advantage of automated workflows that are made possible by Microsoft Flow. Flow automates workflows between apps and services to get notifications, synchronize files, gather information, and more. Flow also vows to bring sophisticated business solutions when partnered with Power BI and PowerApps.

In this blog, we’ll focus on Flow, which is part of the Office 365 applications.

Anton Robbins, Microsoft PowerApps Champion and MVP (Most Valuable Professional), shared the best practices, tips, tricks, and new features of Microsoft Flow during the Microsoft Flow Online Conference held in September this year.

His session talked about how to create an outline, name conventions, and use variables and functions in Flow. He also shared Flow’s newest feature, which is the copy and paste.

Creating Outline

“Outlining is essential to executing a successful Flow. This process provides a framework for your flow and begins the documentation process,” said Robbins.

Robbins reminded those outlining Flow to always capture necessary information like the name of the Flow, purpose, data source or sources, and owners. Robbins emphasized the need to add owners to take care of the Flow when the other user is not around.

A basic Flow has one trigger and multiple actions as seen on the photo below. The main idea is that whenever an item is created or modified—which is our trigger—then we have our actions. If the chosen action is no it prompts a certain action. If the chosen condition is yes, the workflow ends.

Screenshot from Anton Robins’s demo during the Microsoft Flow online conference in September this year.

Other Flows may be complex depending on their purpose. Remember that you can add more conditions and actions to your Flow. Robbins said it is better to use PowerPoint and Word to your outline because everyone has access to these two applications, making it easier for everybody to work on. But if you can use other tools in your outline, he said it’s okay.

Naming Conventions

Flow provides you with naming conventions that include triggers and actions. It depends on which naming convention suits your needs. Robbins emphasized the ease of renaming the trigger and actions in Flow.

To rename, click on the ellipsis (…) and choose Rename. Rename your trigger or actions. Once you are done with renaming your trigger and action, just hit Enter key on your keyboard or click anywhere in your dashboard to implement the changes. The icons in the Flow will also help you familiarize your Flow.

Robbins shared tips when working on Flow. His first tip is to never leave a Flow unattended because the session will end. Unattended means that you are not inside your browser, making any changes.

“When you come back to your Flow, you may get this error message. This thing made me cry. I spent hours working on a Flow, decided to get water, come back and my session ended. Furthermore, it makes all the work that I put in unrecoverable,” he said.

Screenshot from Anton Robins’s demo during the Microsoft Flow online conference in September this year.

Make sure you save all your changes if you decide to leave your Flow unattended, Robbins added. Or else, you will have to start from scratch.

His second tip is to test the Flow using Flow Checker to make sure that everything is buttoned up before it is saved.

His third tip is to be careful in using Test, because once you click Test, everything will go live.

His last tip is to be careful with working on different versions of actions. For example, there are two actions that are titled similarly but contain different versions in them. Robbins cautioned that this may cause confusion and burden in the process.

Screenshot from Anton Robins’s demo during the Microsoft Flow online conference in September this year.

“Anything that has version 2 or any version, just be careful to make sure that what the previous version that you may have used and version 2 that has the same thing plus something more. Let’s not name it as version 2. Give it a real name,” Robbins said.

Using Variables and Functions

“Variables and functions go together hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly, like ham and burger, like culet and sugar. You can have one without the other, but it tastes so much better together,” he said.

Variables are just vehicles to move information from point A to point B, he said, adding that you can build a variable once and use it multiple times. In creating a new variable for expressions and functions, Robbins advised you to first initialize the variable to utilize a variable across a Flow.

You can click on the plus (+) sign and click Add an action. In the Search bar, type the word variable or variables. You’ll see multiple variable actions: append to array variable, append to string variable, decrement variable, increment variable, initialize variable, and set variable.

Screenshot from Anton Robins’s demo during the Microsoft Flow online conference in September this year.

Click on initialize variable option. Start adding a name like EmailValue. Next, in order to use a variable, identify what type of information you want to pass. You can do this by clicking the arrow down option in the Type field. There are different options for you in the Type field, and these are Boolean, integer, float, string, object, and array. In the demo, Robbins used the string type.

For the Value, Robbins clicked on Expression builder that use a functions (fx). Functions, according to him, are reminiscent of formulas inside of Microsoft Excel. In the Expression builder, fill in the details for the function. If you want to see more functions, click See more in the builder and choose one. While you’re typing in the function field, there’s a handy automated help that guides you. Once you’re done, click OK. See photo below.

Screenshot from Anton Robins’s demo during the Microsoft Flow online conference in September this year.

Robbins shared that he preloads his variable. But if you decide not to preload your valuable, you can reuse the variable by adding an action (click plus sign in dashboard) and clicking Set variable.

Screenshot from Anton Robins’s demo during the Microsoft Flow online conference in September this year.

Fill in the name and value fields. Robbins explained that in the variable name field, you will only see one item: Email/Value. This is because anything else that has been initialized is beneath the previous variable set (initialize variable).

Screenshot from Anton Robins’s demo during the Microsoft Flow online conference in September this year.

To get more items under the name option, simply drag the set and place it under the Initialize variable Email/Address. Click on the name option and you will see Email/Address and Email/Value items in the drop-down menu.

Robbins said it is important to consider location in building a set variable or other actions within Flow. In his demo, the location of the set variable gives the ability to have the initialize variable of email address and email value.

New Flow Feature Copy and Paste

The good thing about Flow’s newest feature, copy and paste, is that it saves you time. To use this feature, simply click on the ellipsis (…) symbol on any trigger or action. In the demo, Robbins clicked the ellipsis beside the If Demo Status Equal Draft bar. Then click Copy to my clipboard.

Click New Step and select My clipboard option, where you will see the copy of the If Demo Status Equal Draft set in your Flow. Click it.

Screenshot from Anton Robins’s demo during the Microsoft Flow online conference in September this year.

You will notice that the latest draft indicates that it the second draft (If Demo Status Equal Draft 2) and everything from the first draft made it to the second draft.

Screenshot from Anton Robins’s demo during the Microsoft Flow online conference in September this year.

The feature works inside your existing Flow as well as your other Flows. Just click Edit in one of your Flows, select New Step, go to My clipboard, and you will see the copied trigger or action.

Take note that pasted code clears each time you log out of Flow.

Robbins was among the speakers of the September’s online conference about Microsoft Flow.

The other speakers were the following:

  • Shane Young, “Why I Love Microsoft Flow” (Session 1)
  • Melissa Hubbard, “Getting Started with Flow Approvals” (Session 2)
  • Anton Robbins, “Things to Know Before You Flow” (Session 4)
  • David Patrick, “Intro to the Common Data Service in Flow” (Session 3)
  • Sean Bugler, “Tell a Better Story with Flow” (Session 5)
  • Elaiza Benitez, “Delaying Emails Based on Time Zone” (Session 6)
  • Daniel Christian, “PowerApps and Flow for Social Media” (Session 7)
  • Tomasz Poszytek, “Scopes and Run After Actions” (Session 8)
  • Sandy Ussia and Daniel Laskewitz, “The Flow Pro Show” (Session 9)
  • Scott Shearer, “Flow for SP Designer Workflow Developers” (Session 10)
  • Sarah Critchley, “Flow, Model Driven Apps & Cognitive Services” (Session 11)
  • Gabriel (Galo) Corvera, “Flow + Teams + Adaptive Cards” (Session 12)
  • Devin Knight, “Power BI Streaming Data sets + Flow” (Session 13)
  • Haniel Croitoru, “You Have an Error in Your Flow? Let’s Deal with It!” (Session 14)
  • Vivek Bavishi, “Sending .vcf Contact Cards with Flow” (Session 15)
  • Joe Unwin, “Getting Started with Custom Connectors in Flow” (Session 16)
  • Geetha Sivasailam, “Microsoft Flow and Azure Dev Ops” (Session 17)
  • John Liu, “5 Keys to make your Flows run Insanely Fast” (Session 18)

There were 29,109 people who registered for the Microsoft Flow Online Conference 2019, according to Microsoft Flow senior program manager Jonathon Levesque.

If you would like to watch all the eighteen sessions, click here.

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