Working in a SharePoint box

spintranetsinaboxRecently I have been helping to launch a new Office365-based intranet.
While we set out with the idea of “out of the box” (a sound strategy, knowing my earlier experiences with extensive customizations) we have had to create some custom things to meet the requirements of several stakeholders.

I was therefore very interested in Clearbox Consulting ‘s evaluation of 26 “SharePoint intranets in a box“.
Unfortunately this report was published when we had already progressed very far in our intranet journey, so there was no reason to buy it.
Still, it kept nagging me because I was really curious if we could have used one of the “out-of-the-box” solutions.

So you can imagine my surprise and elation when Sam Marshall provided me with a copy just before Christmas, as well as a discount code for the readers of this blog.

What is this report about?

It compares 26 products of companies claiming to have a ready-made SharePoint intranet. This means that you do not have to do any developments yourself. It is just some configuration and a little branding.

The researchers have made the evaluation by comparing a set of standard scenarios that most intranets will need:

spbox-content
Content of the report. (Screenshot from the website)

Strengths

The major strengths are:

  • Many offerings compared – I never knew there were currently 26 different products!
  • The evaluators are all experienced intranet peeps who know what they are doing.
  • The evaluation is based on recognizable business scenarios.
  • Consistent and objective evaluation. (We could never have done it, since we would undoubtedly be biased by our own requirements)

To think about

  1. The cases provided are all very common in the intranet world. However, you may have some unique requirements that are not mentioned here. In that case, you may need to create your own filtering to find out who would be the best in-a-box-partner for you.
  2. As mentioned earlier, SharePoint and Office365 are changing very rapidly, and I do not know a. how well all vendors can keep up, and b. if and how quickly SharePoint developments will catch up with the vendor’s unique features. (I heard “Corporate News”  is on the Microsoft roadmap for 2017)
  3.  I expect new vendors to appear as well as consolidations.

So, I therefore hope and expect that there will be regular updates to this report…

Who should read this report?

  • Anyone who is starting on a new intranet should definitely read this.
    This may help you to decide if SharePoint would be a good option for your organization. You may think SharePoint is too much and too big, but an out-of-the-box solution may just offer what you need without too much hassle.
    If you already know you are going the SharePoint way, the report may help you to determine if a ready-made solution would be useful. Even if you think you know SharePoint well, you will learn a few things that may be relevant for you now or later.
    You may decide not to go for a ready-made solution, or even not to go for SharePoint at all.
    The report may also trigger you to refine or extend your requirements. For instance, we all have “Company News” on our radar, but have you thought about if and how SharePoint can be used for ideation? If Communications is your major stakeholder, they may not immediately think of the need for transactions. You may want to check with all stakeholders if they have thought about those things.
  • Anyone who has to decide on the need for custom development.
    If none of these vendors mentions what you are setting out to do, you may indeed need to develop it yourself. But if they all provide this functionality, it is probably available as an app somewhere.
  • Anyone who is working on their intranet or digital workplace roadmap, to determine whether it makes sense to move to a ready-made platform in future.
  • Anyone who is curious what intranets-in-a-box have to offer.

But isn’t this a lot of money?

No, it is not.

  1. That amount of money will buy you only a few hours of consultancy.  If you want to set up your own requirements to test against, agree on it, find and talk to all the vendors, have demos and evaluate all the results in a consistent way you will need much more time than “just a few hours”.
    Besides, the evaluators have not been biased by their own requirements.
  2. I can offer you a 10% discount if you use the code IIAB2CBOX10on the product page .
  3. You can probably get away with charging this (< 500 € / £ / $) on your credit card and submitting it as expenses 🙂 .

Good to know

I have reviewed this report for a number of reasons:

  1. I was interested in the topic because I was curious if the intranet I am working on could have been done out-of-the-box, which might have saved us a ton of time and hassle.
    (Answer after reading the report: I think we really needed the extra work we have done to meet the requirements.)
  2. So far, I have been the only “practicioner” who has reviewed this report. I think it is important that someone, who is actually in the middle of a SharePoint project in a company, shares their view.
    You will find more reviews on the Clearbox blog.
  3. I have known Sam Marshall personally for a number of years. I also know most of the people who have worked with him on this report. I have great respect for all of them. Therefore I trust this report.
  4. This has been a Christmas present so I have had the time to read and think. 🙂

So, everything came together very nicely this time.

Title inspired by “Living in a box” by Living in a Box from 1987.

 

 

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Yammer promotion videos

YammerVideoMy latest post triggered the question:
“Do organizations create separate promotion or instruction videos for their Yammer rollout?”

Yes, they do.

So…they are now in my collection, tagged with Yammer.

I have found many that just demonstrate the standard functionalities. I think that is a waste of effort, since there are plenty of tutorial materials around.
Therefore I have focused on videos that are specific to an organization, that  demonstrate how you can use Yammer within your team, with your specific issues. Those add real value, because demonstrating a case that people can relate to, is a good way to make people understand the benefits of Yammer.

These are my favourites:

Qantas

This is more like a teaser, informing catering employees how to use a specific Yammer group to collaborate with internal and external partners.

Friesland Campina

This one has some very company-specific “dairy ingredients”, but is suitable as a starting point for  many large multinational organizations.

VerizonWireless

Tongue-in-cheek animation about project management in Yammer and the power of Yammer topics. I must admit that I was not aware of all functionalities of Yammer topics so I learned something new!

I am sure I will be adding to my collection over time. And as always, if you know another promotion video for my collection, please share the link!

Creating an adoption plan with the Office365 Customer Success Center

O365successAt the Office 365 summit  I learned about the Office365 Success Center. This contains tons of resources and planning tools to get your Office365 launch and adoption planned. I was quite happy about that because it means all those Microsoft/Office365 customers no longer have to reinvent all wheels themselves. (You know I hate that)

A Yammer implementation (Work like a network)
I recently had the opportunity to do a Yammer implementation for a specific team so I was eager to test-drive the tool and share my experiences.

0. Access and sign-in.
Go to https://success.office.com/en-us and go to Adoption > Adoption Plan. My default Dutch version does not have the Adoption Plan options, so please add “en-us” to the URL.

How to create and access your plan.
How to create and access your plan.

After signing in, click on Create New, add title and description, and after saving the following screen is shown. (All progress bars are grey if you start)
You can see different steps with their progress. You set the progress yourself using the Save (in progress – blue) or Finish (finished – green buttons below every topic.
You open or close the item with the icon on the right of the section.
As you go along, you will also see many document-based templates on the left-hand side of the page, such as tips or templates for posters/flyers. This blog focuses on the online plan.

Progress Overviw
Progress Overview. You start with only grey boxes and you set the progress yourself.


1. Stakeholders.

You can select which roles are involved and add their names. You can also remove all roles not needed. In this case, we only had a few roles, but it was a useful exercise to note the names and responsibilities for everyone in the project team.

Adding names to roles
Adding the names to the roles.

2. Vision
The tool tells you to use ”1-4 sentences” but it is unclear exactly how many characters you can use. There is no warning when you exceed the character limit. In that case your data is simply not saved, or an older shorter version is saved.

Vision statement
Enter the Vision statement


Suggested improvements:

  • Add information about the # of characters allowed for the Vision. Show a warning when you are using more.
  • Make the Vision statement more useful, by e.g. prompting to check or revise the vision during creation of your plan.  I understand that a tool like this can not tell you that “this action or metric is not in line with your vision”, but I would like to be prompted to review the vision or to check if your action plan will promote the vision.

3. Scenario
Next in line is the Scenario you are looking for. There are 5, and I chose “Work like a network”. You can then prioritize the scenarios, but we only had one so there was no need.

4. Success Metrics
Of course you have to measure if you are on plan.  You get 6 examples, but you can add, edit and delete according to your own plans.
The examples were very useful for the exact wording of our metrics, but the display is a little odd 🙂

Success Metric section
The Success Metrics section. Good content, but the display needs some work.


Suggested improvements:

  • In the plan, please improve the display of the texts – there is html in there (screenshot)
  • In the Snapshot, check display – many spaces between words are missing.

5. Activities
Selecting your Scenario filters the suggested Activities for your project. These contain a very complete overview of all possible actions during pre-launch, launch and post-launch, including a proposed timeline.
There were a few that we had not thought of and gladly included in our plan.  There were also a couple that were not relevant for us, so we removed those.

Activities
Activities, grouped by Pre-Launch, Launch and Post-Launch.


Suggested improvements:

  • Replicate the names of the Stakeholders automatically into the Owner fields.
  • Explain what the square box does. (highlighted)
  • Replace “Office365” by “Yammer” in the Activities texts if you select the “Work like a network” scenario.

6. Snapshot
You can save and download a Snapshot (in Word) of your adoption plan, with all information you entered as well as a lot of explanation, tips etc. This turned out to be many pages (25 in our case for just 1 scenario!), and it also does not sort as in the plan.
I had to rework it (mainly removing all content that was not added/modified by ourselves) to make it into a concise actionable sharable plan.

Snapshot in Word
The Snapshot is your total plan in a document


Suggested improvements:

  • Add an option to create one Snapshot per scenario. Success Metrics and Activities may be different for each scenario.
  • Remove the additional info from the Snapshot so you end up with a concise plan, preferably in Excel so it can be turned into a SharePoint Task List 🙂 
  • Make Snapshot available as PowerPoint and/or Sway  so it can instantly be presented and/or shared.
  • Check texts for consistency: e.g. the Stakeholders are called Project Members  in the Snapshot.
  • Accept the comments in the first pages of the Snapshot.

Conclusion:
The concept is excellent. This tool and the templates will help you structure your adoption plan for the maximum chance of success, without having to invent everything yourself.
I have suggested some improvements mainly on the execution part. I expect Microsoft will be solving those soon. The current plan is already much better than when I used it a month or two ago.

Have you used this tool as well and if yes, what were your findings?

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Meeting Actions in a Team Site

Actions-FeaturedSome time ago I was contacted by an employee from one of our locations.

What was the problem:

The department she worked for had a lot of meetings, and everyone was a bit confused about the actions and decisions that resulted from those meetings. All meetings had different attendees, and meeting information was properly documented and accessible for all, but in various files and in various locations.

This resulted in the following issues:

  • People had no central overview of all tasks assigned to them at the meetings
  • People forgot where the documents were, because they could be in different places
  • Meeting owners had no way to check progress between meetings
  • The workload was not evenly distributed – some people had too many action points and could never finish them all on time, while others had almost none.
  • People were sometimes given conflicting tasks in different meetings (such as:  “we need to keep more stock so we can work around inconsistent raw material deliveries”/ “we need to reduce stock because it costs money”) and because there was no central overview, it was difficult to recognize those.
  • It was not always clear which decisions had been made, by whom and when.

What was the solution?

Well, their team site, of course! 🙂
They wanted to have all the action points in one central place. They thought of an Excel file, but reckoned that that could create issues with concurrent editing, and in fact their first question was if they could do something to avoid that.

Of course I showed them that it might be much easier to use a list.

I started with a Task list, because they liked the idea of an email notification.
I added a few columns, such as “Meeting Name” and “Topic” for  classification.
I created some extra  views: “Open Action Points” grouped by meeting, and a view grouped “By Topic”.

Entering a new action
This is the form to capture Actions from the meeting.
All open actions
All Open Actions – this is the View used during meetings.

This setup was easy to understand and work with for everyone and was implemented in no time. The only reason that they had not done this earlier was because they did not know it could be done this way!

The Decisions List was a separate custom list with similar “Meeting Name” and “Topic”fields.

What were the results?

  • Time savings because all actions and decisions are in one easy-to-find place
  • Consistent progress management of action items and decisions
  • Faster turnaround of action items because everyone knows the list and the process
  • Better distribution of tasks over all meeting attendees
  • Insight in and avoidance of conflicting assignments
  • Insight in decisions taken
  • 3 other departments that want a similar setup (I have already created the list as a template)
  • The project was featured in the local employee newsletter (mentioning me as well :-))

Yes, this is simple standard SharePoint and technically not very challenging. However, this very simple solution has made a real difference to that department and to the company. So I think it is worth mentioning!

While I was recreating this list in my own Office365 environment I noticed the Timeline bar. I do not remember seeing this before so I am curious what it does. Another thing to investigate!

Timeline
The Timeline in the Task List. This is available on every view.

Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Office365 may not be what you think

I was at SharePoint Connect in Amsterdam recently. It was great to meet some of my “fellow-nerds” again and I attended a number of great sessions by people whose blogs I have been following for some time. I noticed that the word “SharePoint” was used less frequently than the word “Office365”. As I sat there, I become more and more aware that my assumptions about Office365 were no longer valid.
Office 365 = NOT online (Office + SharePoint).

When I started using Office365 in 2011 (mainly to make screenshots for my blog) it was pretty much SharePoint online and the standard online Office tools. I think Lync was part of the game as well, and that made perfect sense to me.
But now, Office365 feels as if many things have been added, the mix has been shaken up, and reorganized into something new. Yammer has pervaded into everything (good!) and it is starting to look and feel like an integrated set of business tools for the regular knowledge worker. May I use the word Digital Workplace? 🙂

My Office365 apps  -an integrated toolset
My Office365 apps -an integrated toolset. Please note I have a “Small Business” subscription so I do not have all functionality.

I am so curious to see how this will evolve!
There are also a few things that bother me.

Small things
FreakOut-SeriouslyNot that “View all site content’  is now at the bottom of the menu instead of at the top and being called “Site Contents”. Or that the Recycle Bin button is now on the top right. Those are merely annoying because I have to retrain my end users, just after telling most of them that their content lives in “View all site content” top left.
Not the fact that Lists and Libraries are now called Apps. It still makes me laugh every time I have to tell that to people!
Not the fact that the space-eating tiles are now sorted alphabetically without grouping, which makes it hard to find the “app”  that you are looking for if you have many, like me. It amuses me that I have always thought that grouping “apps” by Libraries, Picture Libraries and Lists was silly, but now that my wish has been granted I do not like it either. 🙂

Bigger things
What bugs me is the fact that many things that cause issues will be harder to support now, because they are out of my control.
The creation of Groups from Outlook for instance. I know already that Groups will be created easily and abandoned as quickly. Whether that is because of the current lack of functionality in document management, or because projects will be completed and forgotten, I do not know yet. But I expect tons of potentially damaging content (should have been deleted but is not), will be lingering out there beyond the company’s control because it is in someone’s personal space.
I also expect issues with Sharing, because people are encouraged to share documents individually, by having that Share link in a very prominent place. It is even more prominent than editing properties or seeing version history.

The Share button is very prominent
Sharing an individual document with individuals is very (too) easy. The Share button is more prominent than e.g. View or Edit Properties, which are hidden behind the …
The first “Edit” link means editing the document in Word, Excel etc.

I expect issues that I will not be able to solve at my own pace because I can not look into people’s Inbox and OneDrive, and I will have to guide people via Lync to check what the issue is. It will mean less email and more personal contact, which is nice. But “personal attention” is not always in accordance with current customer service theory 🙂

What really bugs me is that Microsoft has decided to launch unfinished products, and that you only have a few weeks to postpone any launch.  I am not sure if we can be ready on time with governance, maintenance, knowledge and training if something really new or controversial is introduced.

What really really bugs me is that functionality may be changing very quickly, which may mean that investments you have made in training or solutions can be wasted if that functionality is retired. Or, worse, that my end users will not be able to keep up with the changes. They are experts in their own field and their digital workplace should support them, not challenge them every time with new functionality.

Personally I am very excited to work with this changed and changing environment. But please be aware that Office365 is no longer “an office suite” and “an intranet” that both happen to be hosted in the cloud. The offer has transformed into something new and you will really have to rethink everything: ownership, administration, governance, end user support, design, etc.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A cure for “Social Media” allergy.

It still happens…managers who do not want “Social Media” in their organization, since they think this means “wasting valuable working time”.  Sometimes it is Communications who resist, because they think Social Media will remove the focus from their Corporate News items. Or it could be HR or Legal, because they are afraid that people will say inappropriate things.

Are you convinced that a social intranet is a good thing for your organization, but you feel that senior management blocks it because they do not like the word and therefore refuse to understand the concept and the benefits?  Why not use a better word for it? Here are some examples.

1. Give your complete Social Media suite a fancy name.

You could call it “The Hub” or “the Water Cooler”. Or as Philips does, “Connect Us“.
The good news is that it is a nice way to refer to it, and it does not sound as competition for your other initiatives.
The bad news is that it sounds like something separate from your other tools, while you may be looking for integration.

Barb Sawyers gives some more suggestions here.

2. Focus on the aspect that is most relevant for your organization.

Another option is to zoom in on the actual way this will help you in your organization. Social tools are pretty versatile and can be used for a variety of business purposes. The best name is depending on your specific purpose and your specific organization, but what about these:

  • Networking or Knowledge Sharing. In modern Knowledge Management circles, the people in the network are now considered to be more important than the actual knowledge of the network itself. And indeed, I have been able to find colleagues to connect with when I started a project. I searched for skills and experience in the company’s employee profiles.
  • Company Address/Phone Book. If this is created from your employee’s profiles, why not call it that? Nobody will object to the necessity of having that!
  • Two-way Communication or Open Communication. If you currently have formal, top-down communication on your intranet only, “two-way” or “open” communication could be the next logical step. It may come from comments to news articles, but also from microblogging and status updates.
  • Dialogue. Once again, this sounds like the next logical step for your internal communication.
  • Discussion Board/Forum. If you are used to discussing topics and opinions throughout your organization, why not keep the name when you change the tool from the traditional Discussion Board functionality into something more contemporary such as microblogging?
  • Democratic communication. I personally do not like this word too much, but it may be useful in some instances where you want to stress that all employees can have their say.
  • Crowdsourcing. You can use this if collecting ideas, getting feedback and opinions is the most important reason to introduce social media. My own experiences are very good – I have already received lots of good feedback to my questions through Yammer. I have also crowdsourced a “general terms of usage” for the Dutch Government intranet platform Pleio with help from the Pleio tools and Twitter.

3. Do not talk about it.

“We do not give it a special name, it is just part of our set of Collaboration tools”, an intranet manager told me once.  I really like this approach. If this does not sound like “work” then I do not know what does! What I like most about it is the natural and seamless assimilation of this new work tool into your existing established tool set. With all the hype around social media, giving it no emphasis is a refreshing idea.

What is the name that you use to describe your organization’s social tools?