Power Automate – Complete Guide

If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to automate tasks, especially boring tasks, then this post is driving right up your alley.

We’re going to look at an amazing new tool from Microsoft called Power Automate.

Not only will Power Automate relieve you of many redundant and repetitive tasks, but it can also be used to produce reports that increase your productivity.  It’s like having an electronic personal assistant.

If you are unfamiliar with Power Automate, not to worry.  We will walk through a few examples in a step-by-step fashion that will be easy to follow and showcase some interesting automation ideas.

For our examples, we will create two Power Automate projects:

  1. Automatically convert Word documents to PDF files as soon as they are placed in a designated folder.
  2. Automatically generate an email that informs us of incomplete tasks. This email will be triggered at a set time.

Obtaining Power Automate

To use Power Automate, you need to perform the following steps:

  1. Log in to your Office
  2. Click the Apps icon (upper-left) to display a list of purchased apps.
  3. Select Power Automate.

NOTE:  If you do not see the Power Automate selection, click the All Apps link at the bottom-left to reveal the complete list of purchased apps.

The great thing about Power Automate is that it doesn’t just connect to Microsoft applications, but rather over 450 of the most used applications on the market today.

You could do things like collect Tweets with a specific hashtag and place them in an Excel file.

Many of the common automations that you will want to perform have already been constructed and posted in the Power Automate Template Library.

Creating an Automation From Scratch

Our first Power Automate project will be to convert Word documents placed in a specific folder of our OneDrive account into PDF files that are saved on a SharePoint site.

Although there is likely a template available to perform this task, we will build our solution from scratch so you can see the entire Power Automate construction process.

To start the creation process, click the Create button on the left panel.

We then need to decide what will trigger the automation (also known as a “flow”).  Triggers can include:

  • Triggered by a designated event (like a file being modified)
  • Triggered manually
  • Executed on a defined schedule (like an ‘end of the month’ report)

Depending on your environment, you can also create a Desktop Flow or a Business Process Flow.

Our mission is to convert Word documents to PDF files, so this is an ideal situation for an “Automated Cloud Flow”.

We begin by giving our flow a name, like “Create PDF”.

Next, we define the flow’s trigger.  This is the event that starts the whole automation process.

You can search for specific triggers or search for the app and see what triggers are contained within the selected app.

Because we are trying to convert files placed in a OneDrive folder, we’ll search for triggers related to OneDrive.

NOTE:  Be cautious when selecting a trigger because there may be similarly named triggers but are specific to business or personal editions of OneDrive.

If you are unsure if a trigger will perform your desired task appropriately, click the information icon to the right of the task to see the requirements/restrictions of the trigger.

We will select the “When a file is created (OneDrive for Business)” trigger.

Building the Task Steps

Define the Trigger

Our first task step is to select the folder that Word files will be saved that are destined for PDF conversion.

You can click the “Show advanced options” link to toggle trigger-specific features, like if you want the subfolders below the selected folder to be searched as well.

Define the Action(s)

We want to convert our Word files to PDF files, so a quick search for either the action or the app is in order.

Now we can tell the Action what files will qualify for conversion and to what they will be converted.

We can target files that meet a specific naming convention or file type.  This is where we click the field labeled “The unique identifier of the file” then select “Dynamic Content”.

We will select “File Identifier” and “PDF” as our Target Type.

We don’t want to replace the Word document with a PDF file, so we will save the converted PDF to a folder on a SharePoint drive.

We click New Step and search for actions that work with SharePoint.

The “Create File (SharePoint)” action requires several parameters:

  • Site Address (the URL of the SharePoint site)
  • Folder Path (the folder on the selected site)
  • File Name (this will be dynamically named based on the triggering file)
  • File Content (this will be dynamically determined based on the triggering file)

Bonus Action

Just for fun, let’s send a message to a Teams Channel once the files have been successfully converted.

We select New Step and search for actions that focus on Teams.  We’ll use the action titled “Post a message”.

We need to provide the following information to the action:

  • Team – add the Team ID
  • Channel – select the appropriate Channel Name
  • Message – compose the message that is to be sent to the team.

Click Save to commit the automation sequence.

We are informed that the flow is ready but are encouraged to test the logic.  Click “Test” in the upper-right of the window.

We will take a more adventurous approach to testing by performing our test under real-world conditions by saving a Word document in the target folder.

Flow Overview Page

From the Flow Overview page, we can see summary information about our newly created flow along with a run history.  As our flow is brand new, no history has been recorded.

Testing the Power Automate Solution

We start with an empty folder on our OneDrive and copy two Word documents into the folder.

If we return to the Flow Summary, we can see that two files were successfully converted.

If you click on one of the events in the history, we can see a breakdown and duration of each action performed.

Now we check our SharePoint folder and see that we have two new PDF files in our designated folder.

If we check our Teams channel, we see two notifications for PDF files added to the SharePoint folder.

Create an Automation From a Template

To create a flow from a template, select Create and scroll down to view a list of suggested templates.  You can also search for templates based on various keywords, like the actions being performed or the triggers.

You can also select Templates and search for templates here.

Our objective is to create a report that sends our Outlook account an email of unfinished tasks in Planner.  We can search for ”planner outlook” to see if there are any existing templates that will create our report.

Next, we see that our trigger will be based on a Recurrence (i.e., schedule) and a list of all applications involved in this flow.

If we are not actively connected to any of the needed applications, we have an opportunity to connect at this time.  If we are currently connected to all needed applications, we can click Continue.

The entire process has been created with all the needed steps in place.

What is happening in this template?

  1. We have a recurrence trigger that invokes the actions at 9:00 am on Monday every week. We can click the Edit button to change the recurrence pattern as needed.

  1. We list all the Tasks in Planner.

  1. We filter the Tasks to show only tasks where the value of the Percent Complete attribute is not equal to 100 (percent).

  1. An email is composed that includes the Title, Percent Complete, and Due Date from the task(s). You can add fields to this list if needed.

  1. Create an HTML table of the filtered tasks.

  1. Obtain your profile information from Office.com.

  1. Send an email to your Office.com address with the HTML table as the body text portion of the email.

Save the Flow and perform a test.

Testing the Flow From a Template

As our flow is triggered based on a schedule, we will test the flow by invoking its execution manually.

My Inbox presents me with a message informing me of my unfinished tasks in Planner.

Getting What You Pay For

Power Automate is available in the free version of Office 365.  However, the list of templates is limited.  The paid version of Microsoft 365 (formerly known as Office 365) contains the complete template library.

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