Monthly Reporting in a Team Site

Monthly reporting thumb

I thought it was time to show you another real-life example of facilitation of a small process.

What was the situation?

All units had to deliver a certain report at the end of the reporting period, before consolidation in their business. It turned out that the units reported different things and delivered their reports at different times.
Of course this was not the way to go, so someone made an overview of the different scenarios that were in use, and from that (and with many discussions with everyone involved) they created the desired process that all units would have to follow for consistent reporting and consolidation.
The process described all actions that had to be completed at certain days around the end of the period. Every unit had to mark the action as completed on the day specified.

What was the solution?

The next step was to think of a place where every unit could monitor their progress. We expected to be many items (x actions * y units), and the items would be edited regularly by many different persons, which might lead to messing up each other’s data, so we first thought we would create a list per unit. That would also make it easy for people to find their own dataset.
However, that would make it harder to see if everyone was on the right track, and it would mean we would have to make changes to many lists if there ever would be a change in the setup.
We decided to go for one central list.  A custom list, of course! I would add some safety measures to prevents accidental deletion or editing of other people’s items. (Few Datasheet views, a custom set of permissions and targeting – see also Dangers of the Datasheet)

Every unit had their own identical set of actions. Next to the actions, there were fields for unit, the responsible, the number of days before or after the end of the period that every step had to be taken (from -3 to +15), a free text box for comments and of course a Yes/No box to note if the action had been completed.

All units have the same set of actions to complete.
All units have the same set of actions to complete.

I then created one Datasheet view (Update View) with as few columns as possible to make it easy for all participants to update the list. I created a number of Standard Views  for the process owners to keep an eye on general progress.

Before the start of reporting
This is the set of identical actions that every unit had to report. Before the start of the cycle, it would look like this.
Progress view to track if everyone is on time.
Progress View at day 0. It is immediately clear which unit is behind with their reporting.

I also created a SharePoint group for each unit. Every group got a set of custom permissions: “Contribute without Delete”. This was one of the measures to avoid accidents that may occur when a big list is frequently edited by many people.

Targeting option in the web part.
Targeting option in the web part.

For each unit I created a page, and added the list webpart on it with the Update View. I filtered for the unit, sorted by day, and then targeted the webpart to the SharePoint user group of that unit. That way we made it easier for people to see and update their own actions only – if they accidentally clicked on the wrong page, they would see a blank page.

All actions that have to be completed
This page shows all actions that have to be completed for this unit.

After each period had been reported in the correct fashion, the site owner made an export of the list into an Excel file for archiving, set the Completed fields to “No”, and the system was ready for a new reporting cycle. When “action time” neared, she would add an announcement on the Homepage that the new cycle was ready to start.

What was the result?

After a trial run in a few units, it turned out that this worked well. The pages per unit and the Excel-type update made it easy for people to find and update their own items. It was also easy for management to track progress – the Progress View (showing only items where “Completed is not equal to Yes”)  showed if every unit was on track.

From now on, reporting was done in a uniform fashion and consolidation of the reports was a lot easier than it had been. After some months, another business asked me for a copy of the setup. So I guess it was a success  :-).

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Teleconference requests in a Team Site

teleconferenceThis is another example of how you can work with external partners via a Team Site.

What was the problem?

The company I used to work for was a big fan of conference calls, with or without a Live Meeting. We were facing some issues:

  • Computer audio did not alway provide good quality, so for calls with 3 or more people it was better to use a “teleconference bridge”: a set of telephone numbers (one per country) with a unique entry code  per meeting. Many employees, departments or project teams had their own permanent conference bridge.
  • Many employees did not use the preferred supplier, often because they did not know we had one or who it was.
  • It was not very clear how one could obtain a conference bridge.
  • Additionally, the Telecom department was unaware of the amount of conference bridges in use, and who owned one.

It was time for the Telecom department to give more attention to the request process.

One of the team developed a form in HTML, which automatically added your Employee ID. Neat! After completion the form sent an email to the Telecom department. Telecom then added the Cost Center number, and forwarded the email to the telecom provider. However, the form was on a local server which could not be accessed by everyone, and the emails had to be manually stored by Telecom as individual requests, making it difficult to create overviews. For other locations, there was a manual process where you contacted Telecom and they completed another form.

They asked my team if this process could be improved. And guess what…it could! 🙂

What is the solution?

The HTML-form was replaced by a Custom List in the employee-facing team site for all IT-related questions and information.
Every requester enters their Employee ID manually, but since you make this request only once (this being a permanent conference bridge), this is not perceived as a problem. I modified the “New Entry” URL so upon completion, the requester goes to a page with the next steps of the process. (Read here how to modify the URL, scroll to 2f.)
The Telecom department has set an Alert for Added Items, so they know about all new requests immediately. They enter the Cost Center code to the request and then the form is ready for the telecom provider.
Of course I suggested to set up an Alert for Modified Items for the telecom provider, but after some tests and discussions we decided to send the content of the request as an email to the provider with cc to the requester. (via Corasworks)
By using “Reply All”  the telecom provider then sends the conference numbers and other information to both the requester and the Telecom department.

(If you see only a very small picture below, please click it to enlarge. If you know how to fix it, please help!)

Employee part of the form
The part of the form that employees have to complete.
Telecom part of the form
The part that Telecom has to enter.
When “Send Email” is “Yes”, Corasworks will send the content of the mail to the provider’s email address. That field does not have a default value to avoid accidental sending of incomplete content.

What are the benefits?

  • The request form is much easier to find and the process is more transparent; this means more people use the preferred way, saving costs and reducing complexity.
  • The Telecom department saves time on entering and managing requests.
  • Telecom department has an overview of the number of bridges in use, and who owns a bridge. This helps them to check if the invoices are correct.

I would have preferred to just give access to the telecom provider, and ask them to add the bridge number to the original request. That would have given the Telecom department even more information without them having to do anything. But well, you can’t always win ;-).

You may also like to read about these examples where we used Team Sites with external partners:

High Tea Reservations

Crisis Management

New Packaging Requests

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Another 4 processes to streamline with SharePoint

In an earlier post, I discussed 4 very common time-consuming processes that you can make more efficient by using SharePoint. But I guess that the next 4, although perhaps less common, still occur quite often.
You can make your project managers, your business venture managers and your IT department very happy if you can show them that you can facilitate these processes with a SharePoint Team Site.

 

5. Corporate projects needing input from many countries/businesses

Forget sending large status updates in PowerPoint or Excel per email. For large central projects, use a site where you can collect the status updates from every country or business in a list. If you need security, or want to allow that country or business to share their project documents and other information, you can use a site collection instead, where every country of business has their own site. You can use a Content Query Webpart to collect all updates in another site for the Project Manager.

It helps to create one page where the collective progress is shown – you may lose confidentiality but it will reduce the time needed to create reports and it will help the business to see how their own efforts contribute to the projects’ or company’s goal. Of course everyone will be able to set alerts.

All this will reduce inbox overload, make the project progress much more transparent and save the Project Manager lots of time in reporting.

Some examples:

  • Centralizing the organization
  • Capturing procurement terms and conditions
  • Local milestones for a divestiture
  • Action plans following the global employee satisfaction survey
  • A global sustainability project

Example: PMO in a Team Site

6. Business experiments 

Why spend time and money on dedicated software if you are not 100% sure that your new business venture will be successful? Start with a process in SharePoint and see how things turn out. It will perhaps not do everything you think you need, but as you work with it you will learn more about your eventual software needs, helping you to define better requirements. And if your pilot fails, you do not have to add software costs to your losses.

Example: High Tea Reservations. 

7. Temporary pre-ERP solutions

If your “Problem Process” is not yet in scope for your ERP-system,  why not check if you can move it to SharePoint before making the leap to ERP? It may not be the ideal solution, but you may be able to iron out those process wrinkles, which will make your process more efficient now. And moving to your ERP-system later will be less painful because you have a better process to start with.

Example: CRM in a Team Site, now with screenshots!

8. Legacy processes 

Chances are that you still have a few of those one-trick-ponies from the nineties or noughties in your application portfolio.  The companies that created them have merged ten times or gone bust, there are no updates or support, the manual is lost, the user interface is outdated and they may even need separate log-on. This is a good opportunity to free up a server, use the regular support system, apply SSO and a familiar look-and-feel and generally reduce complexity.
We have used an InfoPath solution to replace an outdated Idea Submission programme, and replaced a visit-pass-request-system by a simple Custom List.

All these examples will help with “The daily dose of SharePoint” that your employees need to become more familiar with SharePoint. The more different uses of SharePoint they see, the more they will learn that SharePoint is a versatile tool that you can use every day, for almost every process.

Image courtesy of tungphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Travel arrangements in a Team Site

In my previous post I realized that I did not have an example of data collection via Excel files, so here is one.Business woman travelling
Are you on the receiving end of Excel files that you have to complete and return? Isn’t that annoying?

  • You have to open the file, enter the data, save the document on your PC, open email, pick file from your PC and then return it to the sender.
  • The sender has to spend lots of time on aggregating the different Excel files into one. He or she has to deal with changes.
  • Then you have to wait until the sender shares all information with you, as well as versions 2 and 3 etc. – if he or she ever does.

What was the situation?

Our HR team organized a global business development training several times a year, for a number of employees from all over the world. It was done in a central location. The training manager wanted to share preparation materials, as well as documentation and an evaluation for after the training, in a Team Site.

What is the solution?

The first step was to create a Team Site for the curriculum (calendar), the pre-reading material (document library) and pictures and bios of the attendees (picture library).  After the training, the documentation would be added in another document library.
The training manager started saying “For our evaluation I always use SurveyMo…” but she stopped quickly when she saw the expression on my face :-).
I added a SharePoint survey to the site.

Then she told me she was going to send out the customary Excel file to collect travel and diet details. She was not looking forward to that, because it meant a lot of cutting and pasting information. Then there were always changes to the schedules after she had completed and shared the consolidated file. Surely she could spend her time on better things!
So, in the Training Team Site we created a custom list with the relevant fields.

Now, with the introduction of the site to the participants she also sent a link to the Travel Arrangements list, where everyone could add  (and edit) their own information. We added a “count” on various diet preferences, so she knew how many of which diets were needed. We showed people how to filter the data to find attendees from the same country or with a similar schedule, allowing sharing a taxi or meeting up before or after the event.
I showed the manager how to set an Alert and how to export the information to Excel.

Travel - Data Entry screen
The complete Travel Data Entry screen. (Please click to enlarge)
Travel-All Items
All entries, allowing people to see eachother’s travel schedule. Clicking on a person’s name shows all details, such as flight number etc.
Entries grouped by diet
Entries by dietary requirements. This was a useful view for catering.

After the training we created a template from the site to use for other instances of this training.

What are the benefits?

  • Sharing all documentation via a Team Site saves email traffic – there are no large attachments and everybody knows where the documentation is
  • The participants can manage their own travel schedule and can always see everyone else’s, allowing all kinds of interaction
  • The training manager saves time with the travel arrangements because all information is added to the list and she only has to export the information if she needs it as a document
  • Since we turned the site into a site template her next trainings will save her even more time because the configuration is done and the standard information is already in the template
  • The participants are being exposed to a variety of SharePoint functionality

Using a SharePoint list for the travel arrangements is only a small process change, but it is another example of how you can save time and effort with SharePoint.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

4 Common processes that SharePoint can streamline

commsSo your organization has a SharePoint intranet. Your Communications team has done their best by creating and executing a communication plan including a teaser video, a naming contest (Check out this collection for inspiration), emails, intranet news articles and posters. They have given you a training and perhaps a nice gadget like a pen, a  mug or a USB stick. The intranet is here and it will be used for news, blogs, video, employee services, policies and procedures. Oh yes, and you can have Team Sites for collaboration. Good luck with it, folks!

But how often does an employee change their personal details online? How often do they go and find a policy? How many video’s will they upload? If they do these things only occasionally, they will never learn how SharePoint can help them in their daily work.

Few people know that SharePoint is very good at streamlining those annoying little processes that have been wasting your time for ages. Here is a list of processes that can be found in every organization, where SharePoint can add value by saving time and effort.

1. Recurring projects

Many projects occur regularly and follow the same procedures. Think about innovations, promotion campaigns, year plans and recalls.
You can create a tailor-made subsite and make a template out of it. If you use this in one site collection you will be able to create a ready-to-use team site for every project in almost no time, have all projects in one place and support consistency in your process.

Example: Crisis Management 

2. Requests with incomplete data coming from multiple channels

How often do people send you a request, by plain email, telephone, or Word/Excel document? And how often do you have to contact them again to ask for missing information?
Depending on the complexity, you can use a simple SharePoint list, an Office template in a Document Library, or an InfoPath form in a Forms Library, with mandatory fields. As additional advantage SharePoint stores all your requests in one central place, so you do not have to spend time on filing them. You can even add a filter to show only those requests you still have to process. The finished requests can be used to gain insights in your process.

Examples: Employee Directory  and Packaging Requests

3. Editing an online Excel file by many people at the same time

When several people are updating one Excel sheet in a document library, especially when this has to be done in a short period, e.g. at the end of the reporting period, you are asking for problems.

  • If you use mandatory check-out, editors may forget to check-in and you will have to chase people to check-in or to override the check-out yourself.
  • If you do not use mandatory check-out before editing, chances are that people edit the file simultaneously and overwrite each other’s changes.

Why not use a list, where everyone can update their own line items independently from others? Not only will it save problems, but you will also have much more transparency and better overviews if you do not “hide’ your data in a document.

Example: Telesales

checked-out document
Checked-Out Document

4. Collecting data by sending (Excel) files to a large audience

This is still a favourite process in many organizations. As the process owner who asks people to complete a form by the end of the month, you will have many files to chase and store. Then you have to spend your valuable time cutting and pasting the information into a report before the due date.
If you use a list to collect the information, you will have less inbox overload (just a small alert email when someone adds their information will do) and much more time to spend on analyzing your data and setting a strategy. That is what they hired you for, after all! And the results will be more transparent to your audience.
In fact, you may not even need that report at all…

Example: Travel arrangements in a Team Site

Do you recognize these situations? Could you please share some examples of how you have handled these processes with SharePoint? All tangible examples help us to help our colleagues save time and effort.

“Lady with megaphone” image courtesy of Stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Design Fault, Scope Creep, Moving Insight or Unexpected Success?

The design.
Once upon a time, I created a Team Site to facilitate a global project. It was based on a custom list where global and local people could enter project data, such as business unit, product, and a code from a choice column. The code represented a number. I suggested to the project owner that we add a column with the number corresponding with each code, to enable an automated calculation of the value of the item. *1)
The process owner did not think that was necessary. He wanted to keep things simple and would do the aggregated calculations via an Export to Excel.

Testing and feedback.
When the lists and specific views had been created, I asked the process owner to test and discuss this with a selected number of the 50 designated users. He came back with some good feedback and change requests. We ended up with 4 custom lists, each with the same structure, but with different values to select from.

So far, so good. We launched the site.

At first…
Shortly after introduction the site started to fill with entries. The only negative comment was when one person was flooded with Alert emails when someone  bulk-uploaded 500 entries. I showed him how to change the default “immediate” Alert into a “daily summary” and we happily agreed this was a sign of success.

Success
Success!

But then…
After some weeks, I noticed that Excel files with the required information were being uploaded to the site and updated online. It turned out that many business units had been doing this same exercise already on the business unit level, and thought they would share and update their work (which had been done in Excel) in our site. I would have preferred them to add their data directly into the lists, but it was a good sign that the business units wanted to share.

You can imagine what followed: “How can we upload the content in those Excel files into the lists?” It was not too difficult to create an extra Datasheet View with all mandatory columns, export it into a Template, and write a short manual on how to copy the content from Excel into the lists. *2)

And then…
Meanwhile, requests for access kept coming in from across the world. There were now about 200 people who wanted to share their data instead of 50. Great!
The site also got senior management’s attention. They wanted to show the real-time project results on the site’s Homepage so everyone would be stimulated to add to the numbers. Yes, I could understand that wish, but it meant that I had to add that extra numerical column in each of the lists after all (that the process owner had decided to leave out in the design phase) as well as a calculated field, and change all the views and templates. That was not too bad, but someone had to update all existing 1500 entries with the corresponding number.
A volunteer was appointed to do just that. 🙂

But wait…there’s more!
Just when I thought the whole setup was stable, the process owner approached me and asked me if we could capture two other values in the list while we were collecting data.
For me this was 30 minutes work, but for him it would mean that he had to communicate a change, re-educate everyone, and revise the input template and the manual. And for all business people it meant they would have to find out those values, revisit their entries (by now we had about 4000 entries) and update them. The “volunteer” could not do it this time, because the values were not as straightforward as the code.
He decided not to do it.

What do we call this?
It all worked out well in the end, but I have wondered what this is.

  • Is it Design Failure because we did not envisage properly how the site and project would develop? Should I have been more insistent on adding that numerical column from the start since I knew that would come up? Still, I could never have foreseen the wish to collect those two extra values.
  • Is it Scope Creep because the process owner had not set enough boundaries for what he wanted to achieve?
  • Is it Moving Insight because the organization learned what you can do with SharePoint as they went along and it was only natural that they wanted to make the most of it?
  • Is this an Unexpected Success because it worked well and we should be happy that it sparked so many new ideas?
  • Or is this just The Way These Projects Go?

This is something that I have experienced more often and I never know whether I should be happy about it (because it shows people learn about the possibilities of SharePoint) or sad (because it shows what we are not so good at project definition).

This is the reply when I asked the question on Twitter:

What is your experience and how have you dealt with this?

*1) The drop-down had too many items to enable an IF, THEN formula to calculate the number. Next to that, there was a “specify your own value” field if the project had a non-standard code.
*2) I thought connecting the Excel to the list would be too tricky for most users, and I also did not know how SharePoint or our system would react to so many simultaneous connections

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Machine Installations in a Team Site

Coffee machineWhile everyone in the SharePoint field is writing about the new features of SP2013, we may want to remember that the organizations we work for are just looking for a solution to a work-related problem. Whether that is on SP2003 or 2013 is not really an issue for them, since they can only work with the platform they currently have.  SP2013 has of course a couple of great new features, but I know that many day-to-day projects can be facilitated perfectly by an older version.
So I thought it would be time to show another example of a simple Team Site that has had a great impact on the business.

One of our most successful solutions of all time has been the Team Site we configured when we had won a large new customer in the US.

What was the situation?
A fast food chain with about 3000 locations had bought our machinery. Before the machines could be installed, a third party plumbing agency had to fit water and electricity at each location. The information needs were:

  • For the fast food chain: progress – in how many locations had the new machines been installed and when would the project be finished?
  • For the plumbing agency: planning and progress – where were the locations and how was plumbing proceeding – were there any issues?
  • For us: planning and progress – which locations were ready to receive the machines, and in which locations were the machines installed?

Until then, the normal process was to send an Excel sheet back and forth. Every party would update this every day and send around again. Of course all parties stored every version in their own archives.
For smaller projects it was workable, but it frequently happened that it was not clear if any document was the latest version.  This was a much larger rollout than we normally had, so our Sales Team asked us if we could create a more robust process to manage this project.

What is the solution?
An external Team Site was set up for all 3 parties.

The customer added a list of all locations, including address details, telephone numbers and local manager. This Location List could only be edited by the customer.

The plumbing agency used this list as a pick list to schedule their work in the Work List. This list was the backbone for progress reporting and it could be edited by the plumbing agency and ourselves.
Each location had one of the following statuses:

  1. Waiting for inspection
  2. Ready for installation
  3. Inspected-minor issues
  4. Inspected-major issues
  5. Machine installed

When the status was “2. Ready for Installation” our Sales Team could install the machinery. The Work List therefore also served as our work supply and our status update.

WorkList-Editing
Editing the Work List by the plumbing agency and ourselves

 

We created various views to enable every party to see the items they needed in an optimal way. Several managers set an Alert to the Work List to know how the project was progressing.
Work_List_Views
Different views of the Work List

We also added some real-time graphs to show progress. Every day the 3 parties had to update the list before a certain time. A daily conference call followed to discuss any issues.

What are the benefits?

  • Because the Work List was the only version of the truth there was no discussion about versions or status. This made the calls very focused and effective.
  • The views allowed all parties to see only the relevant items.
  • The Alerts and the real-time graphs kept everyone informed, so there was no need for additional progress reporting to management.
  • At the completion of the project, our customer complimented our team with the effective way they had handled this. We later heard that they requested the same process when they had a rollout with another supplier.
  • But also internally the success of this process was clear. It became standard procedure to use a similar setup for every large implementation. And because we learned with every rollout, the Team Sites were created better and faster each time.

I can not say this often enough: it does not require a rocket scientist to do this. All it needs is a bit of straightforward process thinking, creativity and two SharePoint lists. It did not even need SharePoint 2013 :-).

Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid at FreeDigitalPhotos.net