Keeping a Tidy Workflow Canvas

Have a look at two examples of sprawling processes, and imagine trying to make sense of them.  The first I can take credit for; the second, I can only take credit for grabbing a screenshot when I saw it.

Symantec Workflow Unkempt Designer Canvas
Click for a larger view of sprawling process number one.

Let’s take a look at how to keep a readable, usable Workflow canvas, and untangle that spaghetti.


Rectangles and description components (Annotation, Sizeable Annotation, and Rich Text Annotation) are exceptional for helping keep our workflow readable.  You’ll notice that in the first example (above), I’ve begun to use annotation and rectangles to help separate some of the components into process groups.  Here’s an example of where this fits.

Symantec Workflow Designer Canvas - Annotation
Rectangles and annotation help a developer to quickly find sections and processes. Click for a larger view.

In this illustration, the three main sections have been clearly separated by colored rectangles, and named with annotation labels.

Annotation can also be useful for documentation purposes, even to the extent of brief descriptions of each step of the flow:

Symantec Workflow Designer Canvas - Annotation
Click for a larger view.

Grouping Components Into Models

Click here to read more about how to use model components such as the Embedded Rule Model to group components into embedded models.

Implied Data Flow

Here’s a tip to remember: component connector lines are not always required in order to get from one component to another.

There are several components we can use to replace the connector lines we thought we needed — the ones that are jumping all over one another trying to get to their destinations.  Let’s cover Go To Component By Name and Hanging Path Trigger By Path.

The key difference (although not exclusive factor) when deciding between the two components is that the hanging path can be used on exactly that – a component’s output path.  What if we need to send data somewhere else on our canvas from a component that has no named output path?  We can’t grab it with a hanging path component, so we’ll use a go-to component after it instead.

Some examples:

Symantec Workflow Designer Canvas - Avoiding Lines
A regular “Hanging Path Trigger” is used as a catch-all for any paths not caught specifically by name. “Hanging Path Trigger By Path” components are used for “Complete” and “Other” outcome paths in order to avoid using messy lines on the canvas.
Symantec Workflow Designer Canvas - Avoiding Lines
Because the “UpdateParts” linked model component has no named outcome path to grab with a Hanging Path Trigger, we can use a Go To component instead.

Tethering Lines

There are times at which implied data flow with triggers and go-tos aren’t possible.  For those situations, we can use Single Path Demo components to make the best of it.

cableringFor example, take another look at the first illustration in the Annotation/Documentation section above.  You’ll notice the use of “Tether” components that are keeping our lines pulled in the direction we want, and out of the way of other components and lines on the canvas.  Think of it as cable management for your connector lines.

Symantec Workflow - Single Path Demo Component
Left of the line is the original design. To the right of the line is the tethered version, where the lines funnel through a single demo component. Click to view full size.

Demo components can be used as adaptation buffers as well.  As an example, let’s say we have 36 components all leading to the end component in a model.  Now, what happens if we determine during testing that we need to add one last component before the end component?  36 lines have to be redrawn to the new component, and then the new component to the endpoint.  However, if we use a demo component as a tether instead, we then have a buffer between the endpoint and our 36 lines.

I Informed You Thusly – Variable Persistence

When using methods that circumvent the normal connector lines for data flow, model-scoped variables may not be available after the jump.  Have a look at this illustration:

Symantec Workflow Variable Persistence
The variables declared in the Initialize Data component aren’t available at the endpoint, because no direct connector lines carry them there.

In order to grab the variables that were lost, we’ll use a Variables Exist component and select which variables we want to pick up from the model’s available variable list.

Symantec Workflow Components - Variables Exist
Configuration window for the Variables Exist component.

Here’s an updated model.


Even though we have no direct connector lines to the endpoint, the variables have been plucked from the air by the Variables Exist component, and are now available.

What About Swimlanes?

It’s solely my own personal preference and opinion that swimlanes are both cumbersome and unappealing, so I don’t use them.  That’s not to say that they’re not useful in some way, I’m just not a fan.

Further Reading

Workflow Basics – Modular Workflows

Featured Components


Sizeable Annotation

Rich Text Annotation


Go To Component By Name

Hanging Path Trigger By Path

Single Path Demo

Variables Exist

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