Reusability as a SharePoint guiding principle

There are very few instances where you will interact with SharePoint and NOT find yourself in a position to benefit from re-used content in one form or another. From site columns to site templates, “one-off” content creation has practically no place in a well-planned SharePoint environment. SharePoint wants you to leverage that which has already been created, which is why so many features and tools exist that facilitate this behavior.

Create for re-use
The more you can standardize aspects of your SharePoint site, the better off you are. The more users your site has, the greater this need. Every time you create with re-use in mind, you save time and effort down the road for everyone (even though you may not see instant return on your investment). You also increase consistency, improve adoption rates, boost search results and build integration.

This is important to remember when you’re tempted to just throw another choice column into a default document library or list… instead, stop and consider whether that column should really be a site column. Wouldn’t it be better to place that column in a location where everyone could benefit from it? And while we’re on the subject, why not go ahead and save that library as a template, so no one has to recreate it from scratch? If you thought it was worth creating, chances are someone else will too.

I feel so strongly about this that I will go so far as to say ,“If you create something in SharePoint without first thoughfully evaluating it for re-use (or incorporation into an already-existing content element), you’re doing it wrong.” That evaluation should become second nature and be part of every creation process.

Obstacles to adoption
Unfortunately, today’s throwaway culture doesn’t offer a lot of support for this mindset. Neither does a fast-paced work environment where planning often takes a back seat to demands for fast results. Wise users (and wiser managers) see beyond the immediate and acknowledge the value of taking time to lay a foundation for the future. To consistently ignore this practice negates the value SharePoint brings to the enterprise and squanders the investment made in its implementation. Over time, these are the sites that will produce the least benefit, generate the most headaches and be soonest abandoned.

Another obstacle is SharePoint itself. Nothing forces you to follow best practices. In fact it’s easier to produce a one-off, non-reusable content element now than ever before. Left to their own devices, user behavior will find the path of least resistance. This supports even more strongly the need for training among those users whose site permissions allow them to create content elements. Standards surrounding WHY these best practices are to be followed will set the stage for effective content deployment. Drive home the benefits and value reaped by the business when you sow and grow the seeds of planning and reusability. Set yourself up for success.

The graphic below shows a high-level illustration of how this “building block” reusability model works in terms of designing a site template. Think of site columns like bricks; think of content types like walls. Lists and libraries are like buildings; site templates are like cities. When it’s time to build a new site (city), do you want to go all the way back to the brickmaking process every single time? No way! Just create from the saved site template, which is preconfigured to already give you the standard, default setup you need. All the wiring, plumbing (infrastructure) will already be in place. The signage will all look the same. The users will feel “at home.” If you need to, you can then modify it to suit any specific needs of the site’s users.

OR– think of automakers, mass-producing the base model car, then adding options when/if customers want them. If they had to make every car from the ground up for every buyer, they’d put themselves out of business in a matter of days. The base model ensures that all the cars operate the same way; they have the same safety features and functions. When you drive one, you know what to expect. The base options are consistent and standard across the model line. This is efficiency- reusability- in action.

OR– think of decorating a cake for a party. The foundation- the cake- is produced by following a set series of steps where designated ingredients are combined according to a prepared plan (the recipe). The decorations are specified according to the occasion. If the cake is complete, any decorations can be applied on top to suit the purpose of the event. If a new cake is required, just follow the recipe and make a new one, then decorate it. Even faster- use a box mix! That provides even more consistency in appearance and flavor. But what if there were no box mixes? What if  there were no recipes? How long would it take to produce that cake now? See the value in application of reusable elements?

Think before you create and plan for re-use. Does that make sense?

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