What is collaboration?

SharePoint is a great tool supporting collaboration!!

What exactly IS collaboration?

Go ahead- define it. I’ll wait.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Does your response looks something like this?

“Activity leading to increased efficiency”

Or “People working together to achieve a common goal”

Or maybe even, “Improving team outcomes by participating in common tasks according to best practices.”

All good tries. But esteemed SharePoint expert Paul Culmsee (@PaulCulmsee) calls those types of phrases “platitudes.” He defines them as “Words or phrases that sound impressive and correct but ultimately do not contain a lot of substance… also defined as ‘a trite or meaningless statement made to sound profound.”

Hmm. This sounds like platitude-users are knowingly trying to put one over on their listeners. This is not usually the case. Most of the time, these types of statements are made with complete sincerity, and are perceived by those making them as being the right response to a given question or situation.

But there is a problem with platitudes as goals, mission statements, vision statements, purpose statements etc., especially in the case of SharePoint. To spend a lot of money on technology and the people using it requires (usually) that the “bang for the buck” can be at least articulated, if not captured and measured and shown to prove success. Platitude statements are too vague to suffice in those circumstances. 

If your definition/purpose statement for SharePoint is anything like this: “A tool to support increased collaboration and efficiency,” there may be cause for concern. How will you know if you have accomplished either of those things?

How will you measure the results? How will you recognize a state of affairs that is any different from how it was before SharePoint came into your life?

Some other common platitudes:

  • Quality (i.e., ‘increased quality,’ ‘improved quality,’ ‘better-quality widgets’)
  • Governance (see also, ‘a governance plan’)
  • Streamline business processes
  • Improve communication

So how do you get past the fuzzy phrases? (Culmsee calls this “busting a platitude“). You have to continually ask questions like, “What does [platitude] looks like?” or, “Can you describe how [platitude] would be recognizable in your company or in the course of your daily work?” or “What are some of the behaviors displayed by people in a workplace that have [platitude]?”

Paul’s presentation goes on to explain the benefits of asking questions like this. If you’re lucky, the answers tend to start with things like, “increased this…” or “decreased that…” If so- that’s good because these responses indicate items are often inherently measurable. This means you are on the right track.

BUT- sometimes you get answers that are just another platitude! Such as, “Increased efficiency would result in better-quality widgets.”

So you must ask again. “If you had increased efficiency, what would that look like? How would we recognize that efficiency had increased? And then, how would we know that widget quality was any better than it was before?”

Anyone considering use of a product like SharePoint must be able to articulate- WITHOUT resorting to platitudes– what SharePoint is supposed to be doing in whatever context it is being used. What is your “SharePoint purpose statement?”

All responses welcome! Leave a comment and share yours.

If you have not taken the time to read Paul’s articles, you are missing out! DO it now.

Advertisements

SharePoint alerts: THE UNTOLD STORY

alertI’ve had to have several conversations about SharePoint alerts recently. These conversations have revealed to me that many site owners don’t grasp that alerts are designed to be an “end-user empowerment tool” to facilitate self-service notification about SharePoint site activity. Alerts are not really intended to be an administrative tool for owners to “force” notifications onto site users or control how they work. Why is this so hard to understand?

This misperception can cause problems if that concept is not fully embraced. SharePoint assumes and expects that users are able and capable of managing how they want to be notified, and will appreciate/use the tools allowing them to do so. Savvy site owners will realize there is little value in choosing not to leverage this behavior. Why take on that responsibility? Choose to use alerts as they are intended. Instead of laboring over administration and control of alerts, use that time and effort to educate users about alerts and how they can be one of the most powerful aspects of SharePoint.

OOTB, site owners (or anyone with the Manage Alerts permission) can create and delete alerts on behalf of other users, but beyond that, alerts-for-others become the “responsibility” of the users for whom they were created. Included in that scope is the fact that at any time, any user is free to delete or change any alert put in place on his/her behalf, with zero awareness shared with the alert creator. Set up all the alerts you want, site owners; but just know that your users can delete them as fast as you can set them up.

For example: Joe Owner creates an Announcements List alert that sends an immediate email to 5 users and himself when new items are added. After a couple of days, Joe decides that this is too many emails, and wants to change the alert from an immediate email to a daily digest. He finds that he can only modify HIS own relationship to the alert parameters. It is not possible to change/remove a “mass” alert in one action. When he updates his own instance of the alert, his changes are not “rolled out” to the other 5 users. They will continue to get the alert according to the original set-up. To stop the original alert, Joe would have to remove it manually for each individual (or ask them to it themselves), then recreate the alert with the new daily digest settings for those 5 users. See the potential administrative burden? Who wants that?

UserAlerts

A frequent question is: How do I see alerts on my site?

Basically, this depends on your role:

Site Owners: To see the listing of all users who have alerts associated with them on a particular site:

  1. Go to Site Settings > Site Administration > User Alerts (see image).
  2. A drop-down box will say “Display alerts for.” 
  3. Select a user and then click “Update.”
  4. You will see a list of all alerts in place for that user.
  5. Mark the check box to select an alert and click “Delete selected alerts” to remove them.
    • NOTE: It only works in this direction- there is no option to see all alerts and then the associated user name(s).

End Users: Locate your name in the upper right corner of the site and click the drop-down menu, then choose “My Settings” (see image). MySettings

  1. On the next page, locate and click  the “My Alerts” link (top center, sort of small, above your user information).
  2. The next page displays all alerts associated with the user (self-created OR created by others).
  3. The user can then modify or delete any alert.

Companies that want to expand the alert scope into a more admin-focused tool usually end up purchasing a 3rd party add-on, such as the one linked from this article. Also, developers can modify the alert framework by reprogamming default options. See this posting for some of those possibilities.

More on alerts:
Manage Alerts in SharePoint
Alerts “For Dummies” (their title, not mine)
Video: Manage User Alerts in SharePoint 2010

The dreaded “D” word

I’m talking about DELETE. recycle-bin

The prospect of something getting deleted from SharePoint can strike fear into the hearts of many users. So much fear, in fact, that they go to extraordinary lengths to try to make it so that no one CAN delete anything…. EVER. But think about it- SharePoint is not a catch-all or a bottomless archive. SharePoint is generally meant to hold active content that matters- in real time- to you and your colleagues. Sometimes people need to delete things. Sometimes people SHOULD delete things.

Don’t you know that SharePoint has your back? Use the tools at your disposal to ensure that you’ll never be the last to know when someone deletes a document or a list item, and give you ample chance to restore it if necessary.

Continue reading

Required reading: What is SharePoint?

Brilliant article from WASBSIan McNeice. If you only have time to read one article about the role of SharePoint in the enterprise… make it this one.

What is SharePoint?

“SharePoint is increasingly an eclectic kit-bag of publication and collaborative tools, services and features that can be used somewhat like a Lego set to build technology solutions driven by business need. Receiving SharePoint for the uninitiated is rather like being given a toolkit as a gift. The first question would be: what do I do with this? Build something is the answer. Build what? Whatever you want or need to build. I’m not sure what I want, is there a blueprint or plan? No. Can we build what someone else has built? Sure. Can you help us build something the same as someone else has? Sure yes. How much will it cost? It depends what you want, we will need to discover what your specific needs are. Yes but how much will it cost as a ball-park figure? It depends on what you want. I want what everyone else has! Ah but everyone else is different so we cannot tell you how much it will cost and how long it will take until we have defined your exact requirements. And so it continues…

“In other words, the SharePoint toolkit is powerful but without a logical, progressive business plan, blueprint or roadmap alongside SharePoint is extremely difficult for a business audience to imagine in terms of a future, valuable whole. Business stakeholders have a requirement to describe SharePoint to their own internal audiences and this is frequently where initial problems occur. They call in a Partner to demonstrate the value of SharePoint in an hour. What is all too often described is a technical demonstration of a team site, or a workflow, or a form, or version control etc. SharePoint is being described both by some isolated features, and in isolation of a fuller business context.

“This issue regarding describing SharePoint is often anticipated by Partner Sales Managers prior to a client presentation by requesting some specific problems the business may be prioritizing and basing a pitch and demonstration regarding how SharePoint can solve these specific problems. Therefore SharePoint, as an enterprise platform, is all too often described in these situations primarily as a project-specific technological solution. What happens when that problem is solved – where does the client go then, what does the business do next, what else can they build? And so we come back to the same dialogue as before. What other problems do you have? What other priorities can we assist you with? How much budget do you have? It is because of this scenario, played out hundreds of thousands of times globally that a number of things have occurred that have assisted in defining SharePoint in a specific way. The first is the flexibility of solution design and delivery. This has led to SharePoint rather frequently being described as a ‘development platform’. ‘Tell us what you want and we will build it’. Ah, says the client, but we don’t know what we want. ‘It’s okay’ says the platform developer, SharePoint can be used to develop and provide you with anything and everything you want. Within a short space of time of the introduction of SharePoint solutions are being built without any form of business plan.”

See also: The Role of the SharePoint Business Strategist

Standing in the SharePoint Gap

IT departments must manage the entire SharePoint platform, ensuring long-term stability, security and integrity for the enterprise. The business just wants what they want! This can result in dissatisfaction on both sides. How does your company resolve this conflict?


bridgingthegapCompanies using SharePoint for end-user collaboration need someone who stands in the gap between IT and the business to broker that often tenuous relationship. This is usually assumed to be a business-side role. However, it’s much more appropriate for it to be a SharePoint role.

Before SharePoint, my background was in business process improvement and project management. I did not start out in IT at all. I was not a developer, programmer, engineer or system administrator. I took on SharePoint in the context of another initiative and quickly discovered its vast potential. I was fortunate to be able to make a career change and spent the next 5 years immersed in SharePoint, dramatically increasing my skill set.

Without the options of coding or development at my disposal, I learned how to get results by pushing the envelope and exploring the platform’s native options. Along the way, I also increased my knowledge of the IT side and built strong relationships with those responsible for the “care and feeding” of the platform. We quickly learned the value of what each side brought to the table. They appreciated the presence of someone skilled in speaking both languages. I interpreted “SharePoint-ese’ for the business; I also translated requirements and pain points into well-designed, quickly-deployed sites & solutions. These solutions delivered valuable return on a (sizable) SharePoint investment without spending a dime on development. I can also walk into any meeting and speak clearly and intelligently about SharePoint to stakeholders at all levels.

Do you have such a person on board? Don’t you wish you did?

From a technology standpoint, SharePoint is something of a latecomer. Those who currently make SharePoint their career have, by and large, come to it from somewhere else. Most were already in IT- usually developers/engineers/system administrators- who continue to focus on those areas as they extend into the SharePoint space. This tends to cause a “development approach” to solving SharePoint problems which is not always conducive to building a strong relationship with the business side. It can delay delivery of solutions and sometimes negatively impact upgrade paths. My strengths offset that risk.

By first exploring all “in-box” options to their fullest potential, companies can be assured of getting the most bang for their SharePoint buck. The vast scope of features built into the product practically demands such an approach to truly realize that investment. Before throwing development dollars at the problem, don’t you owe it to yourself to see what might be possible?

It’s amazing what SharePoint provides out-of-the-box! There are so many tools and functions are already there, just waiting to be leveraged. As previously mentioned, this approach also helps ensure future compatibility for upgrades, patches and service packs. Even more importantly, such methods are much easier to make transparent to end users. Handing over a “configured” solution often means that your users don’t need to come back to IT for enhancements down the road- with a little education, they can make many change or repairs themselves. It’s vital to take advantage of every opportunity at hand to strengthen the business partnership.

That’s MY SharePoint role. What’s yours?

SharePoint sites and solutions- set yourself up for success

Inspired by this blog post by consultant Gia Lyons which specifically targets launching a social media pilot program- it’s practically the same conversation with regard to SharePoint solutions. I recommend you read her article for context but I have used it as the foundation of this post.

Don’t pretend that throwing this rock won’t make any ripples- Acknowledge the impact that implementing SharePoint will have on your team.

  • Depending on user experience, SharePoint may present brand-new technology, ALONG WITH a brand-new learning curve.
  • It’s a challenge to establish both at the same time. Who will lead your users?
  • Manage your expectations- figure out how to prove usefulness in small ways before trying to make SharePoint “do it all.”

Survey the landscape

  • What is your team’s general contribution to the business?
  • How many people will use your site/solution?
  • How long will it be needed?
  • What is the lifecycle of the site’s content?
  • Where are team members/participants physically located?
  • What is their general attitude towards collaboration software? What concerns do they have?
  • Are there inconsistencies in technology? For example, multiple Office versions or IE versions in use) among participants?
  • Are most participants considered “technology-forward?”
  • Can you anticipate pushback from those less inclined to embrace a technology-based platform?
  • Are there cultural or language differences within your group that should be considered?

Find a purpose
How does the group want to use SharePoint? This is very important- mandating one person’s vision will not produce success. There must be a strong sense of “group-ness” permeating the reasons why SharePoint is the tool selected for this job.

  • How are participants getting what they want today, without SharePoint?
  • Fix on a few key “pain points” and go from there, then branch out.

Define roles and responsibilities
In the context of the functionality your site will be providing, classify all participants into the following broad categories:

  • Site owner/Business Process Owner (~1-2 persons)
    • Top “responsible party” for the site who would have to answer to upper management when/if anything about your site came on their radar
    • Person on the hook for budget dollars related to SharePoint costs
  • Site manager (~2-3 people)
    • Could be at the site or site collection level OR both
    • I consider this the most important role in SharePoint.
      • Person(s) established as site managers must spend a lot of time in the site; they are required them to know its ins and outs and troubleshoot most situations that arise for end users
      • They may also be responsible for on-boarding new users and/or hand-holding less confident users.
    • Facilitate use of SharePoint and help others incorporate its use into their work routine.
    • They are the go-to person for anyone who has questions about the site and should present a confident, knowledgeable, pro-SharePoint attitude.
    • They must know how to quickly and accurately escalate issues beyond their expertise.
  • Site contributors (as many as needed)
    • Persons whose normal role requires no stake in the site’s design, look & feel etc. but who need to be able to interface with content elements (lists/libraries) to do their jobs- upload, create/modify list items etc.
    • These people are the best resource for feedback on site functionality- site “mechanics” must work for them or overall success of the site will be threatened.
    • They need good training that lets them clearly step through the most common site-related functionality
  • Site visitors (as many as needed)
    • Persons whose normal role only requires them to view content to gain value from the site, but may occasionally be elevated to a more interactive role for specific situations.
    • They are a good feedback resource regarding site navigation- if an occasional user experiences frustration navigating the site, it needs to be re-thought.

Define success factors- How will you know if your group is using SharePoint successfully? What will the indicators of success look like? Define measurable success criteria BEFORE launching the site/solution. If your site/solution does not support the criteria you have listed, you have a problem!

  • For example:
    • Problem: Team members are constantly email-requesting current presentations from the team PowerPoint author.
    • Solution: Centralize presentation storage in a versioned document library. Train users on the new process.
    • Success indicator: Track email request levels before/after implementing the solution. Did they drop? Are users self-serving from the library? You’ve got a success metric.

Encourage feedback on site performance and user experience.

  • Have some early adopters create good-quality, substantive feedback early on, so that others have an example of what you’re looking for.
  • Periodically send out a simple user survey: “As a result of using SharePoint, I am better able to… ”
  • Share those responses to see if others can benefit from the gains. People support what they help to create!

What’s in a SharePoint Site? Understand the Basics (FREE Webinar)

Exceptionally helpful site NothingButSharePoint.com presents a webinar led by Benjamin Niaulin, specifically focused on educating people who are new to SharePoint:

What’s in a SharePoint Site? Understand the Basics (It’s FREE but you must register)

  • WHEN: Wednesday December 5th 2012 at 1:30pm Eastern Time
  • WHO: Users new to SharePoint (or anyone wishing to get a refresher on the elements of a basic site)

Only 250 attendees may attend- so register now!  http://sharepoint-site-structure-basics.eventbrite.com/