Creating Project Tasks in a SPD Workflow

A lot has changed in Project Server workflows in the past few years, with the release of SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 the world of workflow completely changed. Fortunately SharePoint Designer’s (SPD) evolution into an actual usable tool for creating Project Server workflows filled the huge gap that previously existed for Project Server consultants and implementers, however at the same time the changes created a new major gap by completely blocking any sort of custom code in any workflows!

All is not lost though, with the changes in workflow we also received a handy set of new RESTful API’s to use so in theory at least we should be able to do a fair bit that previously required C# code via pure non-code-based SharePoint Designer workflows.


Putting the theory to the test

I have a theory with working with customers, that whatever is possible through the out-of-the-box features of a Microsoft product will never be enough after the first workshop. It seems that I like saying yes to customers. ;)


My customer’s business process dictates that based on the result of an approval gateway the Microsoft Project schedule will require changes, specifically additional tasks need to be added to the schedule based on custom fields (or even a SharePoint list).

As there are no SharePoint Designer workflow actions that update project tasks, this would fall into the category of workflow built with Visual Studio (based on the MSDN: Decision tree: SharePoint Designer vs. Visual Studio), however the reality is that when you get down to it Visual Studio workflows share fundamentally the same limitation as those built in SPD i.e. declarative, no code workflows only (See the bottom of this article about some more practical limitations).


Let’s use my new favourite workflow action – the Call HTTP Web Service activity – in conjunction with the RESTful CSOM API for Project Server to actually create some tasks directly from SPD as follows;

  1. Get our task data – We’ll need task name, duration, start date, etc.
  2. Prepare our REST request – a bit of HTTP request header / body knowledge will be required but can be borrowed from some other examples like this one: Create a project site based on a custom field value.
  3. Post the http request and handle the result.

I’m going to skip a lot of details for this article and just focus on the above interesting bits, of course in the real world you’ll have to worry about publishing and checking out the project and although I don’t include those I will discuss check-out at least below as it is important. Additionally I will just create a single static task in this example, ideally you would get the values from custom fields, or better yet get a list of tasks to create using a separate OData http request then loop through creating each one.


PWA Workflow Configuration

Let’s keep this simple, you can use your imagination as to how this would fit into your requirement but I will even omit the approval and any other normal phases and stages.

Phases (Using Defaults):

1. Create

2. Manage


1.1 Project Details – where we will get basic project details.

1.2 Create Tasks – where we will create the task(s) in the workflow.

2.1 Manage – we’re done, as you were..



Begin the SharePoint Designer Workflow

Here’s one I prepared earlier:



Okay so I’m assuming that this is not your first ever workflow, so the above is the following: Stage transition including basic history / status messages, plus in [stage 1.2] we are manually (and statically!) creating a dictionary of properties for the task we are going to add. (This is static and as per my comment above you probably want to dynamically populate this dictionary even by just setting the value(s) to the value of specific custom fields.)


Note on Check-in / Check-out

The project will need to be checked out to update the schedule, fact. However SPD workflow runs in the context of the user who started it, i.e. the PM in most cases. So in this example I’m going to assume that the project is currently checked-out by the PM and just go ahead and do the update. You may be surprised but this will actually work, of course in reality you will have to check for this and if an error occurs then retry after checking-out – or conversely you could require the project be checked in before submitting and then do the check-out / check-in every time.


Preparing the new task dictionary

SPD uses extensively the Dictionary object in the HTTP Activity, both for the headers, body and return values, so to create our task we are going to need a dictionary formatted in the format expected by the Project Server REST API for creating new tasks. This is where it starts getting interesting.

It turns out that this is easier that you might have guessed, see those properties of the task; Name, Duration, ParentId, etc? Guess what dictionary values we’ll need? :)


On the left is the complete dictionary, and on the right is the properties of the first “Name” row expanded. Surely it’s not that simple? For once yes it is.

So create the dictionary from the menu Action – Build Dictionary, populate the dictionary with the fields you want, specifically you’ll need Task Name as a minimum, and importantly pay attention to the data-type, for this the MSDN link above is handy, names are strings, dates are dates, parent task Id is a GUID, etc. (Note: Duration is text! Hello manual tasks!)


Prepare the HTTP request

Now we’ll need another dictionary for the request header, if you’ve previously read the MSDN article on using the Bulk update of custom field values, or my article on creating a Project Site based on a custom field, then you’ll see here we need the same thing.


Two string entries needed:

Accept: application/json; odata=verbose

Content-Type: application/json; odata=verbose

The great thing about SPD workflows is that it takes care of the authentication and any other headers, so that is everything that we need.


Submitting the HTTP request

Now we get to use my favourite activity: Call HTTP Web Servie.

Insert the activity, first click the this URL and we’ll build the request URL by basically calling the following REST resource endpoint: MSDN: PS.DraftTaskCollection.add Method, note from MSDN the syntax is as follows:

POST http://<sitecollection>/<site>/_api/ProjectServer/Projects('projectid')/Draft/Tasks/add(parameters)

So we need to dynamically create the URL as follows;


  1. Use lookup params to insert the Workflow context: Current Site URL
  2. Append the text “_api/ProjectServer/Projects(”)/Draft/Tasks/add()
  3. Then insert the Project Data:Project UID into the text.
  4. Finally (importantly) Select HTTP POST as the HTTP method.

Next right click the activity and open properties to assign the request header and body, and while there specify something for at least the response content (so we can check the return http code).



Check the Response

Okay we’ve made our REST call, now we just log the response to the status field, and to help with troubleshooting in the case where “responseCode” is not equal to “OK”, I actually log the full response to the history list.

(Warning! Logging to the history list like this has a max length of 255 characters, so if the error message exceeds that you will get another error and the workflow will fail! Use the Extract Substring activity to avoid this.)

You should now have something looking like this:


Finally save and publish the workflow and you’re ready to go.


Time to test

Associate the workflow to an EPT, then create a project. As we’re not doing anything special in the first stage submit and you should see the workflow status info as “Building project schedule…” (looking good so far!).

Give it a minute and then refresh the page:



Better yet, open the Schedule PDP and you will see our new task:




Further Thoughts, Experiences and Limitations

This method opens up quite a few options when it comes to SharePoint Designer workflows, the ability to interact with all levels of the Project Server API via a workflow opens the possibility of working with any aspect of project data (tasks, assignments, resources, etc?).

However my experience of pushing this to the limit does raise some significant limitations:

  • SPD Workflows can contain a maximum of 50 local variables.

This sounds like a lot but it doesn’t take long before you’re needing to re-use variables, especially if you’re like me and you like nice verbose and unmistakable variable names. (Fifty max is killing me! ;))

  • Dictionaries are great but you can’t dynamically update them.

This is where we see the true limitations of SPD vs Visual Studio, doing a simple loop in code then adding the results to the end of a collection (array / dictionary etc) is pretty basic stuff, but with SPD can’t be done. You can loop yes sure, but you can only build a dictionary either statically (like I did above), or from the results of a query such as a http OData request.

  • Finally as a developer I’m going to call out this as a major limitation; single concern / no source control. (Ahhh!)

While creating some large workflows you don’t know how many times I have panic’ed thinking that an overly-long and unresponsive save or publish of my work has just crashed SPD and corrupted the whole workflow (it actually happened at least once), give me source control and a proper separation of concerns and let me sleep at night, please. :)


Recommended Reading

Here’s a great article on working with SPD dictionaries that I’d recommend: How to work with dictionaries in SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 workflow)

Complete basic operations using SharePoint 2013 REST endpoints

PS namespace MSDN reference (want to know what REST endpoints are available for Project Server?)


Download the solution



Customising PDP Navigation

Despite the best efforts of Microsoft with the UI design of SharePoint / PWA, I frequently get requests from customers to make changes / additions to the standard UI elements such as the ribbon menu, which – if you’re reading Microsoft – people very often still just “don’t get”.

So a small thing I came across while digging around in the internals of the Project Server undocumented JavaScript was an easy way to re-use the standard functions of the ribbons in your own html / JavaScript.

(Note this is not a post about ribbon customisation, see Alex’s great post series here if that’s what you’re after.)


Example: ever wanted buttons at the bottom of a long form?


Simple yet effective.


Source html

<div id="myFooterBtns"><span>
    <input type="button" value="< Previous Page" onclick="PDPInfrastructure.GotoPreviousPDP();">
    <input type="button" value="Next Page >" onclick="PDPInfrastructure.GotoNextPDP();">
<span style="float: right;">
    <input type="button" value="Save Project" onclick="PDPButton.SaveData();">

Note the JavaScript function calls which are quite self explanatory: PDPInfrastructure.GotoNextPDP(); etc. As you might guess you can find a similar method for most options (although some are not so simple).

To use: simply save this as a html file somewhere in your site collection and then reference it in a Content Editor Web Part, see here for an example of how to do that.



It may go without saying but I will anyway: This is using undocumented and unsupported internal functions that will undoubtedly change at some point in the future whenever Microsoft feels like it.

You have been warned. But in the meantime keep giving customers what they ask for. :)


Create a project site based on a custom field value

One of the nice new features recently released on Project Online that will also be available for on-prem sometime in the future (PS 2016 or maybe if we’re lucky 2013 sp2?) is the ability to create custom fields via workflow using the new API CreateProjectSite. While on its own this may be a rather small change what it opens up is the possibility to completely control the Project Site creation which previously had only the out-of-the-box options i.e.; on or off!

So using this new feature I have created a walk-through here to resolve an often asked customer requirement:

How can we create the Project Site using a name other than the Project Name, e.g. a Project Number?

Solution Overview

Note: This solution can be used today on Project Online, but as of yet will not work on Project Server 2013 on-premises.

In order to fulfill this requirement we will need to create a simple two stage workflow and associated Enterprise Project Type to be the default project type.

Stage 1: Project Registration

Used to collect project details including “Project Number” which will be a required field. Other PDP’s such as the project schedule will not be available.

In this stage no project site is available.

Stage 2: Project Execution

First thing upon entering this stage the project site is created using the details from the previous stage (site URL = “Project Number”), then other PDP’s, etc are shown to allow for the project to continue.

Project Online Configuration

I will go through the configuration of PWA for the workflow in brief, if you are not familiar with creating workflows or need further information then I’d recommend the following MSDN How to: How to: Create a Project Server workflow for Demand Management.

Firstly you will need a custom field called “Project Number” that is configured as a Project entity, type Text and Workflow-controlled enabled, as so:


Next create / edit the “New Project” PDP, and add the Project Number field to the PDP.

Optionally leave the field out of the PDP and go and install the Nearbaseline ID App which will set the project number in the background once the project is created (ahem shameless plug).

Now create the required Stages and Phases as follows:


Note that in the Project Registration stage the “Project Number” field must be marked required.

Now create an Enterprise Project Type using the New Project Page created above and for now leaving everything else default / blank as you’ll have to come back and associate the EPT with your workflow after the next steps.

Finally configure the default settings to NOT create project sites automatically from PWA Settings > Connected SharePoint Sites > Settings, as follows:

Setting "Allow users to choose" in PWA settings

With that all setup we’re ready to create our workflow in SharePoint Designer.

Workflow Creation in SharePoint Designer

The workflow creation is based on the steps documented in the MSDN guide: Project Online: Bulk update custom fields and create project sites from a workflow, as such I will skip some of the details and suggest you review that article if you have any problems.

Open SharePoint Designer, create a new SharePoint 2013 Workflow – Project Server workflow and add the following:

  1. Insert two stages Project Registration & Project Execution
  2. Optionally set the stage status in the Project Registration stage to WaitingForInput.
  3. Set the transition to go to the Project Execution stage.
    No additional wait for submit event is really required here as the workflow will automatically wait for all required custom fields to be entered before allowing submit.
  4. Now in the Project Execution stage add a step in which you can add the Create Project Site call as documented in the MSDN article.
  5. Finally terminate the workflow as the final transition.

Your workflow should look something like this:


The only change from the steps outlined in the MSDN article is in the forth step where the URL is constructed for the CreateSite call, in our case we want that to reference our “Project Number” custom field in the parameter in CreateProjectSite(parameter), so your URL should look like:


Note: Don’t try to cut and paste those URLs if you do so you will lose the special [%tags%], use the Add or Change Lookup button to insert the tags.

Once your workflow is done, save, publish and return to PWA and associate it with your EPT that you created then test!

Solution Download

Find attached below the SharePoint Designer Workflow solution created above exported as a Visio diagram, note that I cannot provide any guarantees or support for this downloaded Visio file.

Download: Demo Create Project Site from ECF

Screen shot of the workflow in Visio:



Hope this is useful to someone out there!


Microsoft Ignite 2015

A week of Ignite in Chicago is coming to an end and I thought it is about time to share some of my thoughts and discoveries over the last week, firstly though it’s been great to see a lot of familiar faces amongst the 23,000 or so people here in Chicago!

I’m not going to do a full write up of every session I’ve seen, the great thing about the blog-o-sphere is I can point you to the great write-up’s done by others (@PWMather‘s posts herehere and here are a great place to start!). What I will do is focus on some of the details that have interested me most.

New Project 2016 features

First up of course is what can we expect from Project 2016 / Project Server 2016 and Project Online in the next release; hmm how do I say this diplomatically? –  Not that much.


Write support in MS Project client side API

I really really wish this feature was available six months ago considering the work I have been doing for customers lately! Good riddance VSTO I say! :)


Resource Engagement – Request / Review / Approve resource assignments

This is a long awaited feature for Project Server, however for some reason it didn’t get much air-time here at Ignite, fortunately I’ve had a chance to see most of during my day job working with some TAP customers and it goes a long way to addressing the typical need for managing / controlling and monitoring resource usage and over-allocation in a typical organisations.

I have to say though, with a major disclaimer (as I am an employee of TPG – The Project Group), that this new feature doesn’t quite come close to what is available in TPG’s TeamManager App, but then again I think that’s great as it really shows the the benefits of the App Model that Microsoft has created!


No more Project Server database – Project database to merge with the Content DB

This is already happening in ProjectOnline, but the interesting thing is what does this mean for reporting directly from the RDB as it is not supported to report from the SP Content DB’s? Well the good news is that according to at least one MS product manager for Project it will still be supported, so allow me to quote @mikemcleanlive; “You will be able to report directly against the new consolidated db if it’s on a dedicated server” (I’m just going to ignore that little “if” in there for now)


Other improvements

  • OData limit changes are good to see, specifically for Timephased data the max rows per request has been increased to 2,000, apparently this can improve performance by 10x, but more importantly however it will make it possible to actually report on timephased data via OData. (No sorry 2-3hours to wait until Excel times-out or crashes when loading those datasets in the past was not a viable solution)
  • Zero-downtime patching, this is a great and very well received new feature on the SharePoint side.
  • PowerBI, PowerBI, PowerBI, seems to be a popular topic here this week. Well seriously seeing what can be done using it connected to OData from Project is pretty cool, shiny responsive dashboards are cool (excuse my hint of sarcasm).
  • No more Project Service Application – goodbye one more configuration step – details TBA. :)
  • Small API changes previously announced (but now documented!) include BulkCustomField updates and ProjectCreate methods enabling faster custom field updates and controlled Project site create via workflows.

Final thoughts

I was really hoping to see more cool new features both for Project and SharePoint, much of the latter focused on Delve and Office Graph API which I have yet to see any relevance in the Project space. Additionally the push to be mobile first, cloud first for most of Microsoft seems to have been neglected in parts of SharePoint and especially Project Server, I expect it will be a very long time before we see PWA usable on a mobile phone for instance! :(

Having said that, the good thing about Microsoft’s online story with Office365 and Project Online is that all that hard work MS have put into making the software fast, responsive, stable and fully integrated across the full stack of MS products are all now going to be available on-premises as well, so this might mean Project Server 2016 is not going to be a major release (2003 -> 2007 or 2007 – 2010 for example) but it will be a solid upgrade for existing and new customers.

Update to Bulk Edit Available (v1.0.4.4)

A new version of Bulk Edit is available from the App store, check your site settings for the upgrade link now to install it.

Bug Fixes

  • Updates to multiple fields in a single project failing without error.
  • Update to correct filter issue when values contain special characters.


Open site contents in PWA to find the update link next to the App Tile.

Finally if you use and love Bulk Edit, please rate it in the App Store!

Updated 21st April: Re-released and updated to build

Project Site Risk List in a PDP Webpart 2013 Version

Back in the days of 2010 there was a Project Site List Viewer WebPart that gave you the ability to show specific lists (Risks, Issues or anything) from a given project’s site in a PDP. While in 2013 on-prem you can still install that solution starter from Fluent-Pro (here), that doesn’t help you with Project Online and not to mention with the dozens of on-prem scenarios where the solution doesn’t work without code modifications. So recently I was asked to solve this problem again and I thought that I’d try to find another way.

Another (simpler) way

Let’s start with a screenshot of the end result:


Perfect it looks exactly like a typical SharePoint list only in the Project Detail Page for our project – and of course importantly it shows the Risk list from the currently open project.

Reason 9,999 why I love JavaScript

Basically using a small script we can show the actual SharePoint page for the risk list e.g. “/PWA/Project Name/Lists/Risks/AllItems.aspx?isdlg=1” in an iFrame on our PDP. To do that firstly you can see that I’ve added “&isdlg=1” to the URL which tells SharePoint to show the page without the rest of the SharePoint master page and quick launch menu in the frame (which just looks weird), then we need to update the address with the actual project’s name and finally by default the ribbon menu would be shown again in our frame so we need to hide that.

JQuery script

<script src=""></script>
<script type="text/javascript">
function RenderiFrame (c) {
	document.write('<iframe id="nbDataGridFrame" src="' + c + '" width="100%" height="1400" onload="hideRibbonMnu();">');
	document.write('<p>Your browser does not support iframes.</p>');
function runSummaryReport() {
	var projectName = $("[id$=RootAspMenu]").find("[href*=projuid]").first().find(".menu-item-text").text();
	var URLString = '/PWA/' + encodeURIComponent(projectName) + '/Lists/Risks/AllItems.aspx?isdlg=1';
function hideRibbonMnu() {
	var $isFound = $("#nbDataGridFrame").contents().find("#s4-ribbonrow");
	if ($isFound.length > 0 && $":visible")) {	
	else {
		setTimeout(hideRibbonMnu, 100);

Okay so I won’t go through it line by line, but in summary what the script needs to do is the following:

  1. Construct the correct URL to the list (Risks in this case) by obtaining the Project Name from the quick launch menu of the current page- Yes I’m assuming the default site naming based on project name!
  2. Passes the encoded URL into a function which renders an iFrame of the specified size.
  3. Finally as a part of the iFrame itself there is an ‘onload’ parameter which calls a function to hide the ribbon menu once the frame is loaded.

Installing the script

If you’ve not used the CEWP much before here are a few reminders on how to create a PDP with this kind of script:

Firstly save the script above to a file named “showListonPDP.html” (note it is .html not .js), then upload that to your PWA site contents where everyone can access it /PWA/SiteAssets/ or /PWA/Site Collection Documents/ etc.

Then create a new PDP as normal and add the Media and Content -> Content Editor web part:



Now edit the web part properties and paste in the URL of the script:


Note that the URL must be just the file name, not the full URL, e.g.: “/PWA/SiteAssets/showListonPDP.html”

Now add the PDP to your EPT and go ahead and open a project.



Just one more little thing

Now if you click the new or edit item menus it opens the form in the frame which could be better, fortunately SharePoint lists can be configured to open forms in a dialog, the option can be found from the list settings on the project site itself (obviously you want to do this on your project site template as well), so open your site project, go to the Risks list, and select site settings -> Advanced settings, at the bottom you will find:



Select yes and Ok, now when you go back to the PDP and click New Item this is what you should see:



Neat huh?