This week’s SharePoint learnings: Usability, surfing and stupidity

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” (Albert Einstein)

I’ve run across several interesting webinars, articles, etc. the past few weeks. There’s no underlying theme or “take over the world” vision here–just random SharePoint deep thoughts. Enjoy!

2010 vs. 2013 Usability Showdown

Depositphotos_6409100_mHigh Monkey Consulting recently released the findings of their heuristic usability tests for SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013. They asked a small group of testers (all of which had no prior SharePoint experience) to perform a series of end-user, power user and site administration functions on SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013. The goal was to see which SharePoint version offered the easiest-to-use OOTB (Out Of The Box) end-user experience.

While this was a small (and unscientific) study, it provided some interesting results. I recommend checking out High Monkey’s blog to learn about the results.

Surf’s Up: Your Governance Visualized

WaveAnt Clay published a new SharePoint governance article on NothingButSharePoint.com this week. If you haven’t read my blog post “The celery effect” and other lessons learned from The SharePoint Governance Manifesto and checked out Ant Clay’s work on disruptive thinking about SharePoint problems, I highly recommend taking a look. This latest article (aptly titled Surf’s Up: Your Governance Visualized) offers a visual methodology for outlining your wicked SharePoint governance problems. Very interesting.

Your SharePoint User Is Not Stupid

Depositphotos_2399547_mIn her recent blog post Your SharePoint User Is Not Stupid, Tamara Bredemus reminds us to meet our end-users where they live. And since most of our end-users are not riding on (nor have ever visited) the SharePoint bandwagon, it’s time for us to hop off the bus. Remember: your SharePoint end-users were not hired for their SharePoint expertise. So give ‘em a break!

Richard Harbridge presents: Why use SharePoint workflow?

I love SharePoint workflows. I believe they’re an essential building block in the routing and tracking of your business data. But understanding where (and how) to use workflows is a challenge–particularly when you’re new to SharePoint.

Richard Harbridge (SharePoint thought leader and speaker) recently published a conceptual guide to SharePoint workflows. Here’s an excerpt of his post:

SharePoint Workflow: What Should We Use It For? What Are Other People Using It For?
 
We all know that we should always aim to automate and improve our business processes more. Many organizations reap enormous benefits from improving the way they work alone or with other people through enabling technologies like SharePoint. The big question is how do we start? Or perhaps which processes or workflows should we automate and improve first? This article dives into this issue and offers advice and recommendations based on successful experiences with many customers.
 

The post goes on to 1) describe the initial scenarios and conversations many SharePoint users have about workflows, 2) define the types of workflows that can be  used and 3) explain the rules under which the workflows should be used to automate business processes. If you are new to SharePoint (or are a SharePoint advocate that wants to understand how workflows can benefit your organization), check out Richard’s post. You won’t be disappointed.

How SharePoint Chose Me!

Sarah Haase:

I’m thrilled to welcome (and introduce) a new SharePoint business blogger–Edith Young. Congrats on the new blog, Edith!

Originally posted on Edith Young:

I recently read a great blog post by a fellow SharePoint enthusiast titled “How Did SharePoint Choose You?”. Here’s a link to that post: http://quest2b.typepad.com/my-blog/2013/04/how-sharepoint-chose-me.html

Because I found it so intriguing, I thought hey, that is a good topic to blog about! So here is what I have to say…

SharePoint does have a way of pulling you in… it’s like a gravitational force that can’t be reckoned with or even stopped. I myself started working with SharePoint in 2007. My initial experience was using it as a document repository, moving files from a shared network drive into a document library. I then moved into how to use metadata effectively… creating columns with the information about what kinds of documents were being housed in the library… then there were views, what if a Project Manager only wanted to see project management documents or a Business Analyst only wanted BA docs…

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SharePoint Saturday Twin Cities opens with a new registration record!

unitedMinnesota–the land of cold winters, SPAM and sellout SharePoint Saturday events. What a comparison!

We’re fortunate, though, to have a phenomenal SharePoint community here in the Twin Cities. With an active Minnesota SharePoint User Group that is approaching its 100th meeting and SharePoint Saturday events that sell out twice each year, we clearly have an involved (and supportive) SharePoint community.

The community THRILLED us this week, though, with their thunderous response to our registration call for the May 2013 SharePoint Saturday Twin Cities event. We’ve had 570 people register for the event in only 9 days. Sound impressive? It should. It breaks every registration record we’ve ever seen. While we may not be the largest SharePoint Saturday worldwide, we pride ourselves on being one of the best. So if you’re anywhere near Minnesota in May, please stop by. We’d love to show you how we do SharePoint Saturday Minnesota style!

For more information on this event, visit our SharePoint Saturday Twin Cities web site and registration page.

Using information policies to set up automated “content review” emails for your SharePoint document libraries

Close-up of white dandelionFile repositories are like weeds–they grow fast, are difficult to control and can choke the life out of everything around them. It’s easy to wish the weeds of your SharePoint environment didn’t exist, but let’s be realistic: People love creating documents, and SharePoint stores documents. This means that file repositories are a part of your SharePoint future (whether you like it or not).

Not all file repositories are bad, though. Well-organized document libraries that make use of content types, metadata tagging, customized views and information policies do exist. The problem is, these well-managed document libraries don’t get much press. So let’s take a look at a solution you can implement to build a content review/retrieval strategy for your document library. It uses information management policies and workflows to send automated reminder (aka nuisance) emails to document owners once a document review/expiration date is reached.

Business scenario:

The ABC Company uses a SharePoint document library to store all of our help desk support documents. When one of our help desk support representatives resolves a new (previously undocumented) issue, we create and upload a new support document. Since we want support documents to be reviewed regularly to ensure they remain current, we’ve added a required Date for Review field to our document library. Now when support reps upload a document, they’re prompted to specify a date when the document should be reviewed. The tricky part is enforcing the review date. We want SharePoint to automatically email the document’s creator when the review date is reached, advising the author that they should review their support document and either delete it or reset its Date for Review.

Solution:

We’ll be using an out-of-the-box information management policy and a SharePoint workflow to build out this solution. The information management policy controls the timing of your solution. It watches the clock and fires off a SharePoint workflow when the Date for Review is reached. The SharePoint workflow is responsible for sending the review notification emails to your document creators. You have two options for creating this review notification workflow–you can use an out-of-the-box SharePoint workflow (a built-in SharePoint workflow that provides limited configuration options) or a custom SharePoint Designer workflow that you build to your specifications. There are pros and cons for using either approach:

Out-of-the-box SharePoint workflow advantages:

  • Can be set up/configured within the SharePoint web interface
  • Only requires admin privileges for your document library–not site admin privileges

Out-of-the-box SharePoint workflow disadvantages:

  • Pre-configured workflows are fairly limiting. You take what is offered, with little ability to customize

SharePoint Designer workflow advantages:

  • Enables you to customize who your email is sent to
  • Enables you to dictate the verbiage that goes in your email
  • Enables you to tailor your workflow to run under specific conditions
  • Enables you to take a wide variety of actions, from sending emails and updating document metadata fields to performing calculations and logging workflow history messages

SharePoint Designer workflow disadvantages:

  • Requires knowledge and use of SharePoint Designer, which is not available to all power users or site collection administrators
  • Requires site owner permissions

Choosing which type of SharePoint workflow to use requires 2 key elements–an understanding of each workflow’s options and a thorough list of your own workflow requirements. To see the options that come with SharePoint’s out-of-the-box workflows, go to your document library and select Settings > Document Library Settings > Workflow Settings.

Since our scenario requires an automated review email notification email with custom verbiage, we’re going to proceed with creating a SharePoint Designer custom workflow.

Phase 1: Set up your document library

  1. Go to the document library you want to update with an automated expiration and email review process. (If the document library doesn’t exist yet, create it.)
  2. Create your Date for Review column. If you want to make sure this column is always populated, make sure you set it to be required.

I’m often asked if you can automatically calculate a review date (as opposed to populating one manually). You can, but SharePoint doesn’t make it easy. The fastest way to calculate a review date is to create a new Calculated column that automatically adds or subtracts days from one of your existing date fields. Unfortunately, information management policies can’t “see” calculated columns, and thus can’t use them to kick off your automated email reminder workflow. Your next-best option is to create a Date/Time column and build a custom SharePoint Designer workflow that performs your date calculation and populates your new Date/Time column. Not ideal, but it’ll get the job done.

Part 2: Building your SharePoint Designer workflow

  1. Go to your document library. Click on the Library sub-tab, click on the Workflow Settings dropdown and select Create a workflow in SharePoint Designer.SharePoint Designer should open up, enabling you to start building your workflow. If SharePoint Designer doesn’t open automatically, don’t worry. Just open up SharePoint Designer 2010 manually, open your site, click on the List Workflow button and select your document library.
  2. When the following dialog box appears, specify a name and description for your workflow:
  3. Click OK to save your changes.
    Now it’s time to set up your workflow. Fortunately, our workflow needs are fairly simple. As we mentioned in the business scenario above, we just need the workflow to send a review reminder email to the document’s creator.
  4. To get started, click on the Action button’s dropdown arrow and select Send an Email.
    The phrase Email these users will appear in Step 1 of your workflow.
  5. Click on the these users hyperlink to configure your email.
  6. Click on the address book icon next to the To field. When the Select Users dialog box appears, double-click on the item User who created current item and click OK.
  7. Place your cursor in the Subject field and type in the subject line that you’d like to use for your email.If you want to include a blend of text and field data from your document library, click on the ellipses ( …) button. This will open the String Builder dialog box. Now you can type in your text and use the Add or Change Lookup button to add field data to your subject line. We opted to have our subject line use a blend of words and field data. Here are the results:
  8. Now you’re ready to enter the body text for your email. Type in whatever message you’d like to send. If you’d like to display item-level metadata in your email body, use the Add or Change Lookup button to select the field(s) you want to display. Consider adding in a hyperlink to your document as well. This makes it much faster (and easier) for your reviewers to find the document to review. For instructions on how to enter the item’s URL in your email body, take a look at Brian Jackett’s blog post.
  9. When you are finished defining the body of your email, click OK to save your email settings. You’ll automatically return to the main edit page of your workflow. The blinking orange line should appear directly below your Email action item.
  10. Click on the Action button’s dropdown arrow and select Log to History List. This action enables you to log a history message to your workflow history list. While your users won’t see this history log, it will be a useful tool for you and other admins to troubleshoot your workflow.
  11. The Log to History List action will be added to your workflow. Click on the this message hyperlink to add a message. Since I want this message to confirm that an email was sent to the document creator, I type in the message Email to document reviewer sent. Hit the Enter key to save your message.My workflow settings now look like this:
  12.  Now it’s time to save and publish your workflow. Fortunately, all the buttons you’ll need to save and publish are located on the SharePoint Designer Workflow tab, which should be displayed immediately above your workflow settings. First, click on the Save button to save your workflow configuration settings. Then click on the Publish button. This publishes your new workflow and ties it to your document library.
  13. Exit out of SharePoint Designer 2010.

Part 3: Setting up your information management policy

  1. Go to your document library. Click on the Library sub-tab and select Library Settings.
  2. Under the Permissions and Management column, select Information management policy settings.
  3. Now you have to determine the granularity level you want for your information management policy. In SharePoint 2010, you can apply a policy at 3 distinct levels:
    • Content Type level (the policy will apply to all documents in the current document library that are tagged with a specific content type (e.g. Document))
    • Document library level (the policy will apply to all documents in the current document library, regardless of content type)
    • Folder level (the policy will only apply to documents stored in a specific folder in the current document library)

    By default, SharePoint 2010 assumes you want your information management policy at the content type level (as shown below).

    To change your granularity level, click on the Change source link. (Note that changing your policy source has broad implications, including the suppression of all content type information policies. I recommend doing some in-depth research before making this change.)

    Since content type management of information management policies is ideal for our business scenario, we’re going to leave the default Content Type selection.

  4. Since our document library is only using the default Document content type, we will click on the Document link to set up our information management policy.
  5. When the Edit Policy page appears, fill in an Administrative Description and a Policy Statement. Follow the on-screen prompts for details on these fields.
  6. Click on the Enable Retention checkbox.
  7. Click on the Add a retention stage hyperlink to set up the retention schedule for your documents.
  8. In the Time Period dropdown, select your Date for Review field. If you want to use this date as-is, place a 0 in the number of years/months/days to add.
  9. In the Action dropdown, select Start a workflow. Then select the specific workflow to start. In our scenario, we choose to have the Nag emails workflow started.
  10. Click OK to save your changes.
  11. Click OK again to save your new information management policy.

That’s it! Now when users upload documents to our document library, they’ll be prompted to specify a Date for Review. Once that date is reached, the retention schedule we set up will trigger the Nag emails workflow. When the workflow runs, it will send an automated email to the person who originally uploaded the document, telling them the document needs to be reviewed. Here is a picture of the email I received when the review date was reached for a document I uploaded:

Version note: This solution works in both MOSS 2007 and SharePoint 2010.

“The celery effect” and other lessons learned from The SharePoint Governance Manifesto

sharepointgovernancemanifestoA few weeks ago I read Ant Clay’s new e-book The SharePoint Governance Manifesto. The book takes a refreshingly honest look at the failure rate of SharePoint projects. On the surface, it appears many of these failures are caused by ineffective governance, antiquated project staffing models and a myopic focus on SharePoint’s technical features. If you peel all that aside, though, you’ll find the crux of the issue–that we (as practitioners) often fail to tie SharePoint firmly to our business goals. As Clay writes, “we need to be stating projects in terms of ‘what difference will this make’ to our employees and more importantly to our organisation. If we can’t define that, then we shouldn’t be doing the project.”

Christian Buckley echoed this sentiment in his recent blog post Aligning SharePoint to Your Business Goals. To quote Christian and Dan Holme, “The Business Matters. SharePoint doesn’t matter.”

For many, this focus on business value–and the resulting need to quantify or qualify SharePoint’s contribution to the bottom line–is daunting. We’re not sure how to tie SharePoint’s features to our broader business goals, so we proceed with implementing SharePoint as a software project.

The key is to think differently about SharePoint from the start. So instead of focusing on SharePoint’s features or its internal infrastructure, we should be identifying ways SharePoint can help us increase our speed-to-market or enable our employees to share information more easily. Business goals and business needs must take center stage. After all, SharePoint is merely a tool to enable business success. So if you have a weak (or non-existent) return on investment (ROI) for SharePoint, you’re behind the times.

??????Clay goes one step farther in The SharePoint Governance Manifesto, likening SharePoint projects to eating celery. A stalk of celery is roughly 8 calories. The physical effort required to pick up, eat and digest a stalk of celery burns 14 calories. Do the math and you find that celery has a net negative caloric effect.

Many SharePoint projects have the same net negative effect. If you compare their “real costs” (including costs for infrastructure, licensing, staff time, training resources, etc.) to the demonstrable business value the projects generate, many projects return a negative ROI. As Clay states, “implementing SharePoint in an inappropriate way, without proper governance and without aligning it to business needs and vision, is the same as eating celery; it’s no good, and there’s no value in it.”

Want to know more about Clay’s model for SharePoint governance? Buy The SharePoint Governance Manifesto at http://www.soulsailorconsulting.com/spgovmanifesto/. For help quantifying or qualifying the ROI for your SharePoint projects, check out my SlideShare presentation DeMystifying ROI for SharePoint.

And remember: SharePoint shouldn’t be a diet plan. So stop dieting and do SharePoint for your businesses’ sake.

Here we go! Planning for the next SharePoint Saturday Twin Cities ramps up.

2012_SPS_Logo_300Last night was the first all-team planning meeting for our upcoming May 18th #SPSTC event. After nearly 3 hours of discussion over a packed agenda, we emerged tired but victorious! I’m most excited about some changes we’re making to this next event. We’ll be using brand-new classroom space at Normandale Community College for all our sessions. The new rooms have more space, offer better technology and are situated close to one another–thereby eliminating the speedwalking portion of our event. We’re also going to offer a community service opportunity for all attendees. This is part of our new focus on giving back…and giving back feels great!

What isn’t changing? Our focus on providing great content and networking opportunities for our attendees. We will still be running 8 concurrent sessions throughout the day, including tracks for Information Workers, IT Pros and Developers. We’ll also have sponsors on-site to provide walkthroughs of their tools/services.

If you’re interested in sponsorship opportunities for this event, please send an email to Sponsors@SharePointSaturdayMN.com. And keep an eye on our Facebook page for other event updates–including our upcoming call for speakers.

No post about #SPSTC would be complete without a shout-out to our leadership team. I can’t say enough about the enthusiasm, talent and hard work these folks bring to the table each and every day. We are one of the few organizing committees that consistently put on two SharePoint Saturday events per year–and this kind of effort comes with a personal cost. Please give Wes Preston, Jim Ferguson, Don Donais, Tamara Bredemus, Garon Rowland and Raymond Mitchell a “thank you” when you see them–they’re the best!

Don’t forget to SHARE!

In my last post, I talked about the road to becoming a SharePoint speaker. As SharePoint’s popularity continues to grow, the number and variety of SharePoint user groups, events and conferences has exploded. Whether you’re an IT Pro, a SharePoint developer or an end-user focused on business process automation, there’s a SharePoint event designed for you. The key (and the challenge) is finding the events and conferences that fit your niche.

My niche is leveraging SharePoint to drive business value. From business process re-engineering solutions to studying the latest trends in user adoption and governance, my focus is on business engagement. One of the reasons I love attending SHARE conferences is their dedication to building events exclusively for business users like me. With focus areas like change management, training/resource management, information architecture, workflows & business process automation and social business, these events are dedicated to helping users design and build a business case/roadmap for SharePoint success.

This year I’m speaking at two SHARE events–SHARE Johannesburg in March and SHARE Atlanta in April. I’ll be delivering the following four sessions over the course of both conferences:

  • Escaping the land of confusion: How to create effective business process solutions in SharePoint
  • In search of the SharePoint tipping point
  • De-Mystifying ROI calculation for SharePoint
  • SharePoint doesn’t have to be hard: Setting the stage for SHARE success

The recurring theme through all of these sessions is Do something. Don’t sit back waiting for someone to give you permission to try something new. If you have an idea, go after it. The mere act of starting something increases your chances of being successful. For more on this “do something” theme, check out Seth Godin’s blog post “Reject the tyranny of being picked: pick yourself.”

And if you’re a SharePoint business user, don’t miss your chance to register for a SHARE conference near you. I look forward to seeing you there!

Going for broke: An editorial on how to become a SharePoint speaker

HEvery few months, someone approaches me at a conference and asks how I became a SharePoint speaker. I never know how to respond. It’s not that I mind the innocuous question; I just don’t think my evolution as a speaker is very interesting. As I stand there trying to form a pithy response to the “how did you get here” question, I get flooded with tactical follow-ups: How do you get on a conference agenda? How do you decide what to speak on? Where do you come up with your material? How do you get to travel around the world speaking at these events? And how can I do that?

The logic behind the question makes sense. If you want to learn something new, a good way to start is building a couch-to-success plan. You find someone to emulate, learn how they succeeded, replicate their strategy (with a few tweaks if necessary) and voila! You succeed.

Or not.

Becoming a SharePoint speaker is hard–much harder, in fact, than it was just a few years ago. And there’s no magical methodology for success. So asking me how I became a SharePoint speaker is really the wrong question. The right question is much more personal–it is about you, the expertise you have, the story you can tell and the audience you are meant to connect with.

I started attending local Twin Cities SharePoint events in 2008. At the time, many of the events and sessions were designed for technical audiences (IT Pro’s and Developers). I attended sessions and gleaned what I could, but quickly realized that I was not the target demographic. My goal wasn’t to learn all the technical aspects of supporting a robust SharePoint implementation. I wanted to learn how I could exploit SharePoint to make my business run faster.

Was I interested in becoming more involved in my local SharePoint community? Yes. Was I interested in speaking at national events? Not really. My first priority was connecting. I wanted to find other SharePoint people who had the same burning questions I did about business valuations, information architecture and user adoption.

I started small, applying to speak at a local SharePoint Camp. And I spoke about what I knew–how to implement SharePoint as a business automation tool and calculate its return on investment (ROI). People were excited to hear my story, and we connected. One presentation led to others and eventually I was asked to speak at the Best Practices Conference.

I used my time at conferences wisely–connecting with others in the community and learning as much as I could. And yes, I was star-struck when I met many of the SharePoint gurus that I had conversed with over Twitter and followed on EndUserSharePoint.com. But I also saw what set SharePoint community leaders like Lori Gowin, Ruven Gotz, Cathy Dew, Laura Rogers, Dux Raymond Sy, Mark Miller, Bill English, Wes Preston and Virgil Carroll apart. Yes, they all were knowledgeable about SharePoint and were natural presenters. But they also had unique skills and knowledge sets. They focused in different specialty areas and supported one another. None of them took the same path to success, but they were all successful.

The SharePoint community is a community. Relationships are important. And the best relationships are forged on curiosity, common questions and give-and-take learning. So if you’re interested in becoming a SharePoint speaker, go out in the community and connect with other SharePoint-ers. Attend a user group meeting. Ask a question. Volunteer to sit on a discussion panel. Invite a fellow attendee out to lunch so you can learn about their background and how they use SharePoint. Then expand your reach even farther–attend a regional SharePoint Saturday event and offer to work as a volunteer. Attend or organize a SharePint. Open a Twitter account and start following and tweeting other SharePoint-ers.

Once you’ve started connecting with others, it’s time to share what you know. Apply to speak at an upcoming user group meeting or SharePoint Saturday event. Start a blog. Offer to host a SharePoint discussion group at your office. If you are willing to share what you know, you will find people who want to listen and learn from you. And yes–if you have a message to share that resonates with others, you may just find yourself on a conference agenda somewhere…

Limitations on modifying content types via SharePoint Designer reusable workflows

Man's hand tied  limitation with a rope. On a white background.If you’ve read my blog post on using content types to modify your NewForm.aspx and EditForm.aspx pages, you know how fond I am of using SharePoint Designer workflows to flip the values in my Content Type fields. Since content types control which fields are displayed on your forms, they provide an easy way to customize the input forms for your lists and libraries. The trick is building SharePoint Designer workflows that automate the transitions between your content types. By flipping the value in your Content Type field via workflows, you make your list and library forms look dynamic–all without the effort of building custom ASPX pages.

Unfortunately, I hit a major snag this week while trying to modify the Content Type field in a reusable workflow in SharePoint Designer 2010. No matter how I set up my reusable workflow (e.g. assigning the workflow to work with one content type or ALL content types), I couldn’t use the Set field to… action in SharePoint Designer to reset the value in my Content Type field. Neither the Content Type nor the Content Type ID field appeared in the list of columns I could select to update. And I couldn’t add the Content Type or Content Type ID field as Associated Columns either.

reusable-workflow-01

I did some research, talked with a few smart folks and finally figured out why the Content Type field cannot be modified via a reusable workflow. Unlike “normal” list workflows, reusable workflows aren’t tied to a specific document library or list when they are created. Reusable workflows are built and published independently so they can be ported–or assigned–to any of your site collection’s libraries or lists. Unfortunately, the portability that makes the reusable workflows so useful also inhibits the workflow’s ability to modify the Content Type field.

When you associate a content type to a document library or list in SharePoint, the document library or list sees and recognizes the new content type’s ID. Because it knows the content type IDs that are associated to your list/library, SharePoint Designer allows you to query against the content type and update it via a workflow. Reusable workflows aren’t associated with document libraries or lists until after they’re published. As a result, SharePoint Designer can’t see or obtain any relevant content type ID(s) during workflow creation. This is why SharePoint Designer locks out the Content Type and Content Type ID fields from being updated via reusable workflows.

The only ways I’ve found to work around this issue are:

  1. Use list workflows instead of reusable workflows.
  2. Use reusable workflows, but leave out the Content Type field flipping. Your users will just have to reset the Content Type field by hand.

Anyone have additional ideas?