• Ed G.

Problem Solving with Power Automate / Flow

Updated: Nov 8, 2019

I've been hanging out in the Microsoft Power Automate Community forums lately (part of Step 5), and happily found an abundance of folks looking for help, and also plenty of people eager to solve problems.

As a new user, it can be intimidating to post a request for help - not knowing where to begin, thinking your scenario is too specific, or worrying if it's something silly like the "parking brake is still on"...but the community is there to help, and they seem to always enjoy a good challenge.

To help and encourage new folks, I've come up with a few problem-solving tips when using Flow to approach obstacles:


1. Keep it Simple

I've just finished reading Extreme Ownership, and one of the tenets was about keeping your plans simple. Many times my first question will be, "Does this even need to be done in Power Automate?". If, for example, you're looking to automate an email which is triggered from within Dynamics 365, you will most likely be able to accomplish this with a workflow. But, if you want that on a schedule, you can use a flow to trigger that same workflow.

This idea is different than if you want to do something in Power Automate. I've created flows which replicate existing ideas, but it was more of a challenge to see if I could do it.

Another important part of this is to just jump in and try something. As a couple of my favorite YouTubers say, "Start Small, Start Now"


2. Use Your Tools

"When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

My usual caveat when presenting a solution in the community is that there are probably more elegant ways to do this, but this is the hammer I have. Meaning: These are the tools I know how to use, so that is what I used to solve this problem. I know most of the things I encounter can be solved with three lines of code...but I don't code, so I'll take a few extra steps to work around that.

Flow provides for several ways to approach a challenge, so don't feel bad about using four small steps to do the same work as one big one.


3. Don't Get Discouraged

A couple of angles to this principle -

  1. First, I've seen plenty of posts where someone will ask "Is x possible?" and a respected expert will answer "No, this isn't possible right now"...when the reality may be that it is possible, but it would require a Rube Goldberg-esque flow, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The question is "Can I accomplish this mission?", not "Can I do it directly from Power Automate in less than four steps (or three lines of code)?". If I get an expected action from the desired trigger, I'm calling that a 'win'. If someone tells you it's not possible, then lean into the next step of thinking around the problem.

  2. Second, it's not unusual to be surrounded by so many knowledgeable people and feel like you'll never get the hang of such a powerful tool. It feels like a big thing, and a steep learning curve...but the reality is that this tool was designed for someone just like you. Even if you don't identify as a 'citizen developer/automator', there is a piece of this that will make things easier for you, and it is definitely within reach. Keep at it.



4. Think Around the Problem

When trying to get from Point A to Point B, don't consider the paved roads as your only path. Ask about constraints, push at the boundaries, and stretch the scope until a possible solution is conceived. Break some rules, if you have to.



5. Help Others

Docendo discimus - By teaching, we learn

When I was learning Flow initially, I was limited by my own scope of problems...there simply wasn't enough range in the challenges I was encountering for me to learn new things at an appropriate pace. By engaging with the community, I was able to work through a myriad of problems that I never would have encountered organically. These challenges helped (and continue to help) me develop new skills and fortify the old ones. Plus, it just feels good.

The first time one of my responses was marked as a solution, I was hooked.

If you do post a question, be detailed in the situation...remember, everyone else doesn't have the same context as you. Include a screenshot or two of your current flow and any errors you get. This will improve the chances of getting a solution in the first few replies.


Jump in, break things. Try. Fail. Learn. Repeat.

©2018 by The Flying Polymath.