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Written: 30/05/2021 | Updated: N/A

With Microsoft Build in the books you would think it high time to decompress, let off some steam and take some time out especially after the madness that was Teams Nation. Unfortunately, we’ve arrived at that time of the year. The summer circuit is underway; and yesterday I had the privilege of speaking alongside Vesa Nopanen at SharePoint Saturday Cologne: one of my favourite events which is run by my community friends Raphael Kollner and Jennifer Eimertenbrink. Cologne – Kölnis the fourth largest city in Germany, the largest on the Rhine and famous for, amongst other things, the Kölner Dom and Kölsch beer. Having been to Düsseldorf earlier in my career on business but never having made it out of the city or the Bolkerstraße Cologne is definitely one of the places I am sure I will visit to speak when things open back up. But yesterday was all about virtual, and the session Vesku and I did was on Approvals in Microsoft Teams. Now, earlier in the year I did a few blogs on the Approvals app: a few were on Approval flows using Power Automate and Microsoft 365 apps such as one using Forms, Lists and Yammer. Another focussed on Parallel Approvals. Since our session featured it yesterday as part of a roadmap update on what’s coming for the app, I thought I would just knock one out about Approval Templates which I think significantly adds to what it is rapidly becoming one of those really strong apps for Teams now it’s broken out of Power Automate. Vesku wrote one earlier this month but I thought I would also do one – for completeness and the opportunity to get hands on and get into the nuts and bolts. Based on Microsoft Forms, I don’t really need to articulate and evangelise the business value of templates too much simply because templates are templates: they are designed to save time, effort, execution is quicker, repeatable. They help inexperienced users and ensure consistency across an organisation that uses them

At the time of writing, Approval Templates are currently within Public Preview which means a user needs to be set up for the public preview in the Teams Admin Centre

This blog will cover

  • Enabling Public Preview
  • First approval template and creating the Template Admin Team
  • Creating a template from scratch
  • Using an Approvals Template in the Approvals App
  • Using an Approvals Template in a Team Channel or a Chat
  • Using an Approvals Template in a Teams Meeting
  • Approval Templates FAQ

Note this blog will have abridged steps which will assume some experience with Teams and navigating the Microsoft 365 environment

Pre-requisites

  • Teams Licence, Flow Licence (In an Office/Microsoft 365 Subscription)
  • Licence and permissions to use the Approvals App: permissions to create a Microsoft Dataverse database, an account on flow.microsoft.com, Administrator Role in the target environment
  • Microsoft Forms licence is required for users to set up new approval templates
  • Teams/Global Admin permissions to set up public preview
  • Teams Admin permissions to set up Templates for the org or Team Owner Permissions to set up a template for the team. A user can of course be both and create templates for orgs and teams

ENABLING PUBLIC PREVIEW

1.) As Approval templates are in public previews, Admins and Team Owners who need to create Approval templates need to be in the public preview. Log into the Teams Admin Centre and select Teams and then Update Policies

2.) Edit the Global (Global Org Wide default) or select Add to create a new policy with Show Preview Features set to on. and save the policy

3.) Apply to required users via direct assignment, batch, group policy or policy packages

4.) Each user who is part of the policy then needs to select the More Options Menu (…) in the Teams client next to their avatar and then select About

5.) Select Public Preview

6.) Select Switch to Public Preview

7.) The user is now in public preview which can be ratified in the same About section previously discussed

The full step by step of enabling preview are in this blog that I wrote previously

FIRST APPROVAL TEMPLATE AND CREATING THE TEMPLATE ADMIN TEAM

Now that we have enabled the public preview and the functionality, we can start with approval tempates

1.) From the left app rail, or the app store, select/open the approvals app

2.) On the landing page you may be notified by a card/nudge that you can create a template in More Options (…) which is to the right of the New Approval Request. Select More Options (…)

3.) Select Manage Templates

4.) The template management page will be empty as no approvals are currently created. To the top right there is a button which says New Template to get started – and several example templates on display which can be clicked on immediately to also begin the setup of a new template. On the left of the page is a drop down menu to change the scope and view templates which have been set up within the organisation at the org level (for everyone), at the team level (for the team) or targeted for specific people. This drop down menu will be good at a later date when several templates have been created and we are looking through our organisation and reviewing. Let’s get started and select New Template

5.) We now have two choices. We can select from a list of prepopulated template from the template store which Microsoft have already provided, or we can create one from scratch. In this section we’ll look at a prepopulated template called Overtime. Select Overtime

6.) Set the scope of the approval template: Org Wide, Specific People or Team Wide. This example is going to use Org Wide

7.) As this is the first template to be set up, you are now asked (and are only asked once) to create an Admin Team. Select Create

8.) Select Done. Note the warning here: deleting ‘Approvals App Admin Team’ will delete all data and cannot be undone.

9.) Since this is a prepopulated template, it’s very much a review and click through experience. Review the basic settings including the Template Name, Category and Description. Modify where appropriate and select Next

10.) Next review the Form Design: this is really the first indication that Approval Templates are built upon Microsoft Forms. Select Add New to add another field. This example is going to use a Text Question to create a new field called Line Manager. Once done, select Next

11.) The final section to complete is the Workflow settings. Here you can set if a file attachment is required, if specific people need to approve as opposed to letting the requester choose, and if there are custom responses such as ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ as opposed to the standard approve/reject. This example has file attachments off, lets the requester decide and goes with the standard options. Select Preview

12.) Review the Approval Template and then select Publish

13.) The template is now created in the template management store

14.) The Approvals App Admin Team is created. All admins of the tenant, including the global and Team’s service admins are added automatically. These admins are added as owners of the team so they can co-manage organizational templates. Admins that are new to the organization after the team has been created need to be manually added as team owners so they have the same permissions to manage organization-wide templates

15.) The Form which underpins the template is visible in Forms. Note, Approvals that are created from a template still store data in Dataverse, such as their title, details and template ID. Responses that are submitted on the approval request are stored in Forms. If you delete the Form template on the Microsoft Forms site, it will break the Approval template and users will not be able to start the request. Users will get an error “CDB TableNotFound” when trying to open an Approval template

CREATING A TEMPLATE FROM SCRATCH

The prepopulated templates from Microsoft are great. They help us get started quickly and we can modify them as we walk through reviewing, but we can also create something from scratch unique for our org, our team or for a set of our users

1.) Let’s return to template management and select new template

2.) Select Create from Scratch (at the bottom)

3.) Select the Scope of the approval. This example will select Team Wide

4.) Select a Team (this example will use the Approvals Team) and select Done

5.) Set the Basic Settings – Template Name, Category and Description and then select Next. Note, you can also modify the icon of the template and colour by clicking on it. This example is an approval template to review training course descriptions before they are added to a website or front facing documentation

6.) Add the form design build off of Microsoft Form questions and then select Next. Here, the approval will ask for some fundamental information such as the course name, number of days and technical level.

7.) Complete the workflow settings and then select Preview. In this example, as the approval template is for a course description review there will need to be a document (typically a word document) to review and it will be specifically approved or rejected by the head of education for the organisation

8.) Review the approval template and select Publish

9.) In contrast to the org wide template created previously, this template is now created and is shown under the team in template management

10.) The corresponding form is created. Note, because this is a team approval, not an org wide approval, the form is created as a group form under the corresponding team, not under the Approvals App Admin Team which is reserved for org wide forms underpinning org wide templates

USING AN APPROVALS TEMPLATE IN THE APPROVALS APP

Now we have set up 1 org wide approval template, and 1 team approval template time to use them!

1.) From the left app rail, or the app store, select/open the approvals app

2.) Select New Approval Request

3.) The tab Templates should now appear having created them. Select Templates

4.) Select the required template. Here, both the templates created previously are visible

5.) Complete the approval and Send

6.) The reviewer can approve or reject as usual. The great thing with using templates is it shows the scope and the template name within the approval

USING AN APPROVALS TEMPLATE IN A CHAT OR TEAMS CHANNEL

The templates above show how easy it is to get started and use templates in the approvals app. However, we can also use approval templates in teams channels or Teams Channel.

1.) Here, for example, using the steps above I have created an approval template for cleaning up demo environments for technical demonstration which need multiple approvals from the admins in my organisation

2.) This is a Team wide approval template and has been deployed to a team with the admins in since we are the only ones in our organisation who will carry out this activity

3.) To launch a template out of the chat, go to the Team and the Channel and in the Posts tab select New Conversation

4.) Select the Approvals messaging extension

5.) Select Templates and the new Approvals template

6.) Complete the approval information and then send

7.) If this is the first time using an approval in a conversation you will be asked to complete the terms. Select continue

8.) The approval will then appear as an adaptive card in the conversation

9.) You can also use templates in a teams channel conversation and leverage the approvals bot. In the app store search for and select Approvals

10.) Select Add to a Team

11.) Search for and select a team and channel and then Setup a bot

12.) Back in the team and channel, start a conversation and in the message field write @approvals and select approvals

13.) Select Create Approval

14.) Select Templates and choose the required template

15.) Complete and Send. The approval will appear in an adaptive card in the conversation exactly like it was sent via the messaging extension

USING AN APPROVALS TEMPLATE IN A TEAMS MEETING

Ok so we have used Approvals Templates in the Approvals App and within Teams Chats and Channels using the Approvals messaging extension and the Approvals bot. What about Teams Meetings? Yes, we can. I have created an org wide approvals template for the meeting called Allow Meeting Recording which is designed to be used with meetings in my organisation for sensitive content. Within Template Management this is deployed to Org Wide

1.) Schedule the meeting as usual

2.) In the app store search for and select Approvals and then select Add to a meeting

3.) Search for and select the meeting and then Set up a bot

4.) Select Create Approval

5.) Select Templates then the required template (in this case Allow Meeting Recording)

6.) Complete the approval and select Send

7.) The approval will be in the meeting chat within an adaptive card, both outside and inside the meeting

Our job here is done

Great consistent functionality has been introduced within the approvals app. Templates can be used in a variety of contexts and scopes. This will accelerate it’s use even further and I look forward to further developments such as being able to use them with flows

APPROVAL TEMPLATES FAQ

Q. Are Templates supported in Flows?
A. Not currently. Approvals are supported in flows and have been for some time. RID 70768 and 81408 on the Microsoft 365 roadmap which refer to Approval templates don’t specify this or include in the notes. If this is something which will be supported it’ll be at a later date but has not been confirmed by Microsoft

Q. What do admins have to keep top of mind?
Admins have to keep in mind that a.) They should not delete the Approvals App Admin team which may lead, as Microsoft state when creating it, to loss of data which is irreversible. More specifically, if an admin deletes the team, you have one month (30 days) to restore it within Azure Active Directory (AAD). After one month, or if the admin deletes this team within the recycle bin, all related data will be lost and b.) That templates can break if the form which underpins them in the Forms app is deleted. Forms can be restored from the recycle bin

Q. Is the creation of templates auditable?
Yes, in the audit log of the Microsoft 365 Compliance centre

Q. Does removal of the team remove the approval template and it’s responses?
Yes, as confirmed by Microsoft. The approval templates are stored in Substrate Data Storage (SDS), which is a compliant storage platform used internally only inside Microsoft. The organization-scoped templates are stored in “tenant shard” of SDS, and team-scoped templates are stored in “group shards” of SDS. This means that the org-scoped templates share the same lifetime of the tenant and team-scoped templates share the same lifetime of the team. So, permanently deleting the team deletes the related templates

Q. Is there limitations on Approval templates?
Yes, at the time of writing each team can contain at most 400 approvals templates, and each template can collect a maximum of 50,000 requests based on the current capability in Microsoft Forms

Q. Do Approval Templates support guests in Teams?
A. Yes, having tested they are supported but guests approve in the same way as ordinary approvals and have to log in to a web experience to approve. The approval is not done in the guests home tenant

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