Tip #1379: App People vs. Flow People

The wand picks the wizard

Nick Doelman

Too tired to read? Why wouldn’t you listen instead – t.j.

It’s been my observation that with a few notable exceptions, people in the Power Platform community primarily focus on Power Apps or on Power Automate. Lots of people will use both, but generally people are more “app people” or “flow people.”

I don’t have a strong preference between the two, and I regularly use and enjoy both platforms, but I’ve had conversations with people in the community that say something along the following lines:

Flow Person: “I love Power Automate, but Power Apps (canvas apps) are confusing.”

Apps Person: “I can write canvas apps all day long but you need to be a developer to use Power Automate.”

I’ve also noticed that if you suggest a flow solution in the Power Apps forum or an app solution in the Power Automate forum at powerusers.microsoft.com, people will give you funny looks.

Intrigued by this phenomenon, I interviewed some of my friends in the Business Applications community to see what they thought was behind this divide. Why does one tool seem accessible and easy to some while difficult to others?

What did you learn first?

Nick Doelman says “I find that with people’s specialties/preferences is comes down to a particular tool that was required to learn to address a particular need.  “The wand chooses the wizard”.  So you needed to learn flow or Power Apps to solve a need, you did the project, and because in technology, anyone that is half a page ahead of everyone else in the docs becomes the defacto expert, that is how you become a “flow” person or a “power apps” person.”

Elaiza Benitez says ” I did Shane Young’s edx Power Platform course. Canvas Apps was like an alien to me whereas Flow was something I understood straight away so I went with Flow. Now things just come naturally to me for using actions and expressions. Kudos to my work bestie Rex as he is mentoring me through his development background so have started to understand developer principles, my flows that I build now are significantly different to when I first started. Maybe it’s how our brain operates when we gravitate towards a technology we understand and are comfortable with?

Inconsistencies in formulas and expressions

Since people gravitate toward what they know, it can be a challenge to learn an alternative way of doing something. Power Apps and Power Automate have sometimes dramatic differences in how expressions are structured, even to do the same operation, making it frustrating to do something you know how to do in the other platform.

Doelman adds “I would still argue that one still needs a certain level of coding abilities to be successful.  I would say the same thing when creating excel formulas. Coding is a skill that is not going away. ”

Hardit Bhatia says that the inconsistency isn’t between Apps and flow, but even inconsistencies between expressions in Power Automate itself. “Same entity needs to be written in diff ways within the same flow, sometimes its XML, sometimes its not. Just doesn’t make sense until you get into the habit of “knowing” stuff by practicing a lot.”

Reward/payoff

Generally speaking, Power Automate flows are usually faster to write than Power Apps, so flow makers get a faster payoff from their efforts than app makers. But Hardit Bhatia counters “although an app may take more time to “complete”, the gratification happens at each step or each screen when building Power App.

Also, many flows can be written without writing an expression, whereas Power Apps always need expressions, so Power Automate may be more attractive to less technical users. On the other hand, some makers find Power Apps more satisfying because there is a visual payoff seeing the app visually come together, where Power Automate flows are background processes and non visual.

Jukka Niiranen says “The divide is very real based on my observations, too. I can honestly say that the more I learn about how things need to be built in Flow, the more it scares me. Whereas whenever I see something cool done on Canvas apps, I’m excited about potentially being able to build something similar…Canvas opened up the doors to designing a UX that actually fits the purpose of each specific task. I used to do a lot of blog posts around the UX topic in XRM. When it comes to Flow, there just ain’t enough visible results from using the tool that would deliver the reward for me. “

Visual vs. Logical

Some makers find the UX side of Power Apps to be very exciting, while others prefer the more logical act of designing and building a flow.

How did you get here?

Much of the difference seems to come from the path you followed to get to the Power Platform. Carina Claesson identified the following common paths:

  1. You come from the Microsoft 365/SharePoint side and you find out that you can use Canvas Apps with SharePoint in the background and you think that is cool and just have to try that out, or have a customer who could need an app. You’ll end up as the Canvas expert and on the Canvas side.
  2. You come from the Microsoft 365 SharePoint side and you see great potential in using flows for connecting things/set up automation. Flow side!
  3. You come from the D365/CRM/XRM world, then you start to look at flows as an alternative to workflows (perhaps you’ve noticed the ”there is a more modern way to use instead of workflows” message or you’ve heard/read about it) and then you notice you can do cool things, that you can use flows as an alternative to plugins – if you’re not a dev you will probably feel very powerful, that you can use a lot more than the CDS connector and then you get hooked. You’ve ended up on the flow side.
  4. You come from the D365/CRM/XRM world and you’ve heard from a colleague about the cool things you can do with flows related to Model-driven apps and you either use it for a customer or start to explore it because you are a curious person. You’ve ended up on the flow side.
  5. You come from the D365/CRM/XRM world and you have heard about embedded Canvas App and realise that it what you could use in one of your customer projects – then you start with Canvas Apps. Perhaps you will need a flow for your app and you will end up learning both. Then you think it is amazing and fun so you will learn both.
  6. You come from the D365CRM/XRM world, you have heard about Power Apps and you are just curious about what Canvas Apps are. You will scratch your head, pull your hair until you learn about it. You might end up on the Canvas side. (Or you will encounter flows and your mind is very Model-driven and you will end up on the flow side.)
  7. You come from neither of those sides, perhaps you come from the customer side, and you realize that you can set up automation with flows or build a Canvas App if you need an app and you end up learning one of them or both.
  8. You have a background in object oriented programming. Hardit says “I think people from object oriented programming backgrounds like Java probably incline more towards Power Apps. Same or similar logical or analytical thinking without a lot of focus on syntax is good enough. In both cases, syntax is suggested by the compiler like Eclipse for Java and the studio for Power Apps. In other words, think Power Apps involve more analytical skills and less syntax just like any object oriented programming language like C, C++, Java “

What do you think? Do you consider yourself primarily a Power Automate person or a Power Apps person, and why? Leave us a comment and share your thoughts.

Listen to George and Joel interrupting each other in the latest podcast episode:

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