The Return of the Living Dead SharePoint Workflow

Longtime readers may recall that, over two years ago, I wrote a post on Working with Workflows in SharePoint.  Well, a few weeks ago I was reminded of that post in a most unexpected fashion. The test case I created to learn about workflows returned from beyond the grave and began to haunt me. On this, the eve of Halloween weekend, I invite you to read the terrifying details below … if you dare.

The backstory: For testing purposes during my research for that earlier post, I created my first SharePoint workflow, and assigned a task to my colleague, Bamboo Community Manager Chris Dooley. Shamefully, I didn’t even think to ask Dooley for permission to use him as a test subject but, even had I done so. I fear that I probably would have assured him that the adventure in workflowing would be quick, painless, and soon forgotten. And from all appearances, it seemed that day as if such would indeed be the case, with my little test workflow behaving (somewhat) predictably.

What neither of us could have foreseen, however, was that over two years later. That long-forgotten workflow would, zombie-like, return from the dead and once again walk among us.

Yes, it’s true, the task that was associated with that test workflow shambled into the inboxes of both me and Dooley, announcing its grisly return not with a cry for “braaaains”. But intoning with a menacing croak, “Task assigned to Chris Dooley on 8/1/2008 is overdue.”

I know, it’s chilling, right?  But wait, as if that’s not scary enough, that same “overdue” message has continued to periodically haunt our respective inboxes. Only to reappear when we least expect it and cause our blood to run cold over the past few weeks since initially making its rotting, undead workflow corpse known to us.

Additionally, as we huddle under our desks on this Halloween weekend eve, with the leaves rustling outside the office windows under ominously darkened skies, we ask ourselves, “Why is this horror being visited upon us?”. And, more importantly, “How can we make it stop?”

Steeling my nerves, I entered the lair of the undead workflow to begin my investigation. Not surprisingly, I discovered that the workflow is still running, and is accordingly listed as being In Progress. Thankfully, I also discovered how to terminate the ghastly creature with extreme prejudice, but I found no indication as to why, after over two years, the undead workflow has suddenly and terrifyingly started to intermittently send “task overdue” emails.

How do you kill a running workflow, undead or otherwise? The good news is that I discovered it’s a lot easier (and a lot less dangerous) than killing a zombie … all that’s necessary is to cancel the workflow. To cancel a workflow that’s already in progress, all you need to do is navigate to the workflow page, click the In Progress link in the Status column associated with the workflow in question, then click the Cancel this workflow link on the resulting Workflow Status page.

Before I do that with my own undead workflow. However, I’m going to willingly continue to live in fear of this hideous creature (and Dooley has bravely agreed to do the same) in the hopes that keeping the workflow active. Someone out there in the SharePoint community might be able to solve the mystery of how this workflow was able to slumber peacefully for over two years before beginning to haunt us with intermittent emails alerting us to an overdue task.

Please send help soon though … should the fear continue to mount, and our resolve begins to weaken. I might just have to go ahead and cast out this demon breaking the glass and pulling the lever marked Cancel this workflow. Then, and only then, might I be able to start thinking about rebuilding a life in a post-zombie-workflow world.

P.S.  Happy Halloween weekend, everybody!  I hope you enjoyed this “very special Halloween episode” of SharePoint Blank.  Don’t forget to tune in for the premiere episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead on Sunday night.

Alena Gondor
re: The Return of the Living Dead SharePoint Workflow
on Mon, Jan 30 2012 10:56 AM

Hi John,  your description of the living dead Sharepoint workflow describes our situation exactly.  All of a sudden, we have had a rash of “overdue task” emails for  Collect Feedback workflows that have been completed several weeks or months ago. Just as you found, the tasks were completed but the workflow was still in progress.

Did you ever find the cause of this and/or a more global solution (rather than canceling each workflow at a time)?



John Anderson
re: The Return of the Living Dead SharePoint Workflow
on Mon, Jan 30 2012 12:54 PM

Hi Alena – Alas, no, I’m afraid I never was able to find a global solution to the problem.

I’d suggest that you try posing the question on Twitter (including #SharePoint in your tweet to ensure that it’s seen by the community at large). If there’s a global solution available, one of the many experts on Twitter will undoubtedly be able to provide an assist.

Please let me know if that works out for you!

Alena Gondor
re: The Return of the Living Dead SharePoint Workflow
on Mon, Feb 6 2012 3:38 PM

Thanks anyway.  We may open a ticket with MS on this.