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SharePoint Online Workflow Error “User cannot be found”

While on paternity leave, I’ve been having some fun playing with SharePoint online. I’m a big fan of Office 365 and the features it gives (and the price point). GrowthPoint Group is starting to use SharePoint Online internally for document management, project management, super-light CRM and more.

I started playing with workflows and have been getting an interesting error:

User cannot be found

Troubleshoot issues with Microsoft SharePoint Foundation.

Correlation ID: 519442d6-a684-9456-4d94da871808

This happens when I do a number of things:

  • Click Workflow Settings in a document library
  • Try to enable SharePoint 2007 Workflows in the Site Collection Features

This is a brand new site collection. Right out of the box with no workflows or customizations. Interestingly enough, my own SharePoint site doesn’t have that issue – and it’s been my playground for ages. If anything was broken, I’d expect it to be that site! Both sites have the same features activated and the same out-of-the-box workflows shown in Designer.

Some Googling of the g postmessage propecia guest reply error sadly did not provide me with an easy fix. One person claimed that they went into SharePoint Designer and deleted some of the other language workflows and the problem went away. More checking found this community post – where they talk about having to republish the workflows. I’m lazy and don’t want to do that. Plus, I’d rather find what the problem really is!

My troubleshooting steps:

  1. Check one of the standard workflows and ensure all users exist (there’s only the Approvers group). Group exists, and I’m in it.
  2. One by one, deactivate ALL workflows features at the site collection level.  When I did this – I stopped getting the error message when I hit “Workflows”.
  3. Activate the OTHER workflow features to ensure it’s just the one package. Still works!
  4. Reactivate Workflows. Still works!

So in the end, the problem was due to the “Workflow” feature at the site collection level not being right. Deactivating it and reactivating it solved the issue.

7 Responses to “SharePoint Online Workflow Error “User cannot be found””

  1. Veronique Palmer Says:

    THANK YOU SO MUCH!! I have had a call open with Microsoft for ages on this issue, and the nonsense they told me do to resolve it actually just made my hair curl. In sheer frustration, I decided to Google it and the very second hit was your blog – and it solved the issue instantly. This is what Microsoft’s solution was to the problem :

    Regarding service request number XX which was created for the “User not Found” error when trying to assign a workflow. Thank you for your email reply. I wanted to let you know that our Operations team has gotten back to me again. Here was their response. They let me know that the workaround is to open the site in SPD, find the workflows on the site, open them and press “Publish” from SPD for each. The reason this needs to be done is because the user that published the workflows has changed in a subtle way, which causes this functionality of workflows to break. That is why the workflows have to be republished within SharePoint Designer. If you have no workflows made, please display your site in SPD, and click on “Workflows” on the left hand side, and take a screenshot. If there are no workflows there, I can forward this information onto our Operations team. However, this is the only workaround that is available at this point, as they are developing a global fix for the issue, to be deployed in a future Service Update. They also let me know that the issue will not be resolved until this global fix has been deployed in the service update.

  2. Mike Knapp Says:

    @Veronique: Very happy I could help out! You’ve got a great site – and are doing much better than I am about keeping it fresh! Maybe one day I’ll get back to writing here.

  3. Guido Says:

    Thanks for this – I was banging my head against the table and screen trying to get this figured.

    this is actually quite a shitty bug, as users inevitably tend to leave (or move within) the organisation, which then can cause a whole site to fail working properly.

    Only workaround then being using functional accounts for workflow editing, as functional accounts can be perennial. Downpoint then is though that you have to centralize workflow creation, which goes against the grain of a decentralized system like SP2010.

    Who signed off this code…

  4. Mark Says:

    What worked for me was deactivating and activating all of the workflow site collection features.
    When i did this all worked perfectly again!

  5. Abhilash Says:

    Hi Veronique,

    I followed the same steps and deactivated the workflows at site collection level. Now, i am unable to activate them.

    It fails with “User cannot be found” error.

    Any help would be appreciated.


  6. Konnie Says:

    wow, after hunting and trying numerous suggestions, this is the one that fixed the issue. One of the workflows did still need to be republished. Most were fixed with just this fix. curous to find out what the heck caused the problem to begin with.

  7. Konnie Says:

    I had to deactivate every single workflow feature.

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