My application manages a few types of entities, each of them has its own workflow. For example - a task entity workflow will look something like this: task workflow

(this is a functional/logical drawing, this is not the UI).

In each state the user can change the status of the task to a different state (in some cases, there will be more than one states available - for example if the task is in "in progress" state, the user can change the state to pending, done or canceled.) In many of those situations I assume there is a primary path, most commonly used (for example in progress -> Done).

The workflow can be often more complex (not to say pretty scary to look at...) and include 10+ possible states. In some cases, a change in state will require more input (for example, setting a task to "Canceled" will require the user to add an explanation)

I'm looking for a good design for the action of changing the entity state. Currently in many applications I see the use of drop-downs (Outlook tasks/MS Project action items etc,). However I feel it doesn't reflect the process mental model nor the available stages from the current status.

2 Answers 2


Atlassian Jira uses a combination of

  • a configurable set of buttons for the most common transition(s)
    (Needs Verification, Verify Issue Exists)
  • a combo box for all remaining transitions

The link "View Workflow" shows the full workflow graph, similar to the graphic in your question.

Jira issue with custom workflow actions


IBM Rational ClearQuest makes a distinction like so:

Image of IBM Rational ClearQuest

If you click the button with a triangle on it (terribly unintuitive icon, by the way), it does the first action on the list (in this case changing the story from "Submitted" to "Working"). If you click the dropdown arrow next to it, it opens the list as shown, which differentiates between the likely completion path and other alternate paths which are also valid.

Mousing over the button shows a better affordance and a tooltip:

Image of ClearQuest with mouse on top of the change button

which I think works a lot better than the flat button in the top image (had some trouble getting a screenshot of the menu)

  • Thanks @Yamikuronue, I'm not sure if this fits the mental model of "making a progress" with something. Though I agree if I'll not find a more appealing solution, I should consider ClearQuest approach.
    – Noa
    Commented Dec 12, 2012 at 7:05
  • If space is available, you could enlarge the drop-down button so the default action is named, making it more obvious what the "standard" action will be if they don't use the drop-down.
    – TripeHound
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 11:44

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