September 20, 2020

Power Automate: Send email with Options

Most of us use approval actions to collect feedback from a set of options, but were you aware that there’s another way to send a set of options to a user or set of users that don’t involve the formal “approval” process? To do this we can use Outlook’s action “Send Email With Options,” so let’s dig in a little bit further to understand what are the differences

Why pick one instead of the other

To understand this, you should realize one big difference between them. The approval process is a feature of Power Automate, and the emails are sent directly from Power Automate. The emails mention in the text that you sent the approval process because you’re the one hosting the Power Automate, but the email address that the other person sees is not yours. Sending an email with options is something different because it’s an Outlook action, so Outlook sends it on your behalf. The email is formatted automatically to display the boxes (options) that the person can pick

Another key difference is that, in the approval process, you can define that if one person replies or approves, the Power Automate may continue, or it needs to wait for everyone to agree. In sending an email with options, if you submit to multiple people, the first will reply, and the Power Automate will collect the answer and stop, so it’s wise to send it always to one person.

Finally, there are comments in the approval process, while in the send email with options, you can only tap the buttons and answer that way. It may not make a difference, but it’s good to know nevertheless.

First, let’s see it in action

Here’s what it looks like in Power Automate. You have a simple version and an advanced version.

Simple Version

Advanced Version

Let’s send an email with each option and see what we get.

Simple Version

In this version, you’ll only have to configure the person, email subject, and options. Let’s put all of them and the email side by side and see where the fields go in the email:

Power Automate does an excellent job of asking the right questions in the email, so that’s quite simple to what you need to do. But let’s go a little bit deeper into the configuration and see the advanced option.

Complex Version

Let’s put the options and the email side by side and see what we get:

It’s quite straightforward, and you can create something entirely customized using the default template, and it looks quite lovely.

Both of them, once you pick an option will return something like this:

When to use the “Approval” action

I’ve written an article and video about approval processes, and you’ll notice that the theme is always very close to the name of the action. It’s entirely configurable, but the critical feature is the control of the answers. You can have the Power Automate advance on the first reply, to wait for everyone, to have custom fields or not. It’s quite powerful, and you can use it, for example:

  1. Vacation approval. You can fill a form, Power Automate get’s the information and sends it to your boss with a “Yes,” “No” button.
  2. Project approval. For example, a person asks for a project, and the Tech Lead, Team Lead and Project Manager can either reject if it doesn’t have the requirements, for example.
  3. To create complex workflows like document approval. The process can be “approved” (goes forward), “rejected” (stops there), or “needs clarification“ (you can send an email to the person with the comments).

When to use the “Send Email with Options” Action

As you’ve seen above, I created an example where I’m trying to get a friend to help me, but I don’t have access to his calendar, so I need to ask when it would be a good time for him. I can define the options, or you can even provide a dynamic set of options just by creating a comma-separated string of values. Each one will be considered a new one.

It’s quite simple and you can:

  1. Ask for options to multiple people and collect the results in one shot
  2. When a Sprint ends, trigger an automatic email to get feedback.
  3. Monthly you can trigger it to check if a person wants to still work from home or come to the office for legal purposes, for example.

The mindset behind this is to get feedback based on options not to “approve” anything. The approval process is quite more complex and has features that can help on those topics, but I like the send email with options a lot because it can automate things that I need to ask people.

Final Thoughts

Both are quite different but quite powerful in each type of action that you want to perform. Now that you know what Approval actions and “Send email with options” do, you can use them more in your day-to-day activities and automate actions that, otherwise would be boring to perform.

Have a suggestion of your own or disagree with something I said? Leave a comment or interact on Twitter and be sure to check out other Microsoft Power Automate-related articles here.

Photo by Burst on Unsplash

Manuel Gomes

I'm a Project Manager with experience in large projects and companies. I've worked in the past for companies like Bayer, Sybase (now SAP) and I'm currently working for Pestana Hotel Group.

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