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

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Oh good – our upgrade budget has been cancelled!

So, there is a new version of SharePoint coming up, so you may be thinking about moving to the latest version. But there’s an economic crisis going on, so your budget may be under attack.
In any case, I expect some very interesting discussions will take place in many organizations. But if your management decides not to spend money at this time, please do not despair! There may be other opportunities to improve your intranet.

What was the situation?
About eighteen months after the launch of our SharePoint intranet we started with preparations for the new version. We attended a demo of the new features, discussed how these matched the needs of our users and made a preliminary time schedule.

Of course I was looking forward to the adrenaline that “a new intranet” brings, such as the creation of a communications plan, doing road shows and late-night functionality testing….not to mention the excitement of the actual launch day!
On the other hand, I knew very well that many users still had problems with SharePoint. Even our most ardent publishers of our previous, custom-built intranet  were struggling with content management in SharePoint.  Would it be a good idea to confront them so soon with even more new functionality?
My more technical colleagues did not share my fears.

What happened?

As soon as we had incorporated our ideas in our annual plan, and had distributed the draft planning to the rest of the team, we received a corporate message that all budgets for next year had been frozen. Not only did we have to cancel our plans, but our in-house developer/support team had to leave as well!  All support and development would be using the normal process that also applied to other systems: completing forms, waiting until someone else decided on the priority, defending your request and fingers crossed that our support partner would know how to maintain our SharePoint environment because that was not their expertise. (Not to mention the amount of customization we had done).
And if you’re used to a few wiz kids in your team, who understand you with half a word, and who have located, if not solved, almost every issue within 5 minutes, it is difficult to accept the bureaucratic route.
My more technical colleagues were devastated.

Secretly I was a little relieved, because the delay meant that our end users were getting more time to get used to the existing platform. So I tried to keep a positive spirit in the team.
We allowed everyone one day for expressing frustration and grumbling.
The next day we looked for positive aspects of the new situation. And guess what .. there were many! Because of our focus on new technical developments, we had neglected some other aspects of intranet management. We could give attention to those aspects without any extra budget and with the remaining resources.

What did we do?

  • With the last part of our own development budget, our developers made some small application and modifications that we had never given priority before.
  • We made reprints of our Team Site manual with the remains of our promotion budget, and our designer created a new guide for the External Team Sites in her last weeks with us.
  • All technical specifications, use cases, process descriptions, configurations, special code and other technical and system stuff that I do not know much about, were collected from various sources, evaluated and stored in a Team Site, for transfer to the service partner.
  • We created a maintenance schedule to clean up empty or neglected Team Sites and other content types on a regular basis.  A Team Site Calendar was perfect to store frequency, process and communication for each content-type.
  • We replaced our labour-intensive monthly html-based newsletter by a blog.
  • We started creating personas. That would be taking a long time, so the longer we could think about those, the better.
  • We organized training for new users. We organized a classroom training for new employees on our location, and a Live Meeting session (live or recording) for everyone else. This has the unexpected benefit of getting to know our new employees from the start…and they knew us which was even better!
  • We created a central configuration team (our Business Solutions, who created the DMWS-Examples), to help the business use their SharePoint environment as good as possible.
  • We rewrote our annual plan in 3 days and shifted the focus from “technology” to “user experience”. It looked as professional as if it had been our back-up plan all the time!

My more technical colleagues finally saw the advantages of the situation. And the business was pleased with our training sessions and our Business Solutions Service.

What have we learned?
Sometimes it is good to not just upgrade to the new version just “because you can”.  If you keep focussing on having the latest version of your intranet platform, you may never get around to doing other things to improve your intranet. If your budget gets cancelled, think how much time you will have to spend to improve your intranet in other ways!
Next to that, we learned to enjoy the challenge of introducing new activities on a low budget.

Have you experienced an unexpected budget constraint? How have you dealt with that?

Crisis Management in a Team Site

Have you ever been involved in a product recall or another crisis? If yes, you will know that this is a stressful time! A recall is very important, it has to be dealt with NOW, and it has to be dealt with correctly to avoid risk, and all on top of your normal work. Everything that can relieve the stress is more than welcome.

What was the problem?

One of our larger countries had occasional recalls. It did not happen too frequently, fortunately, but it was a real hassle when it occurred.  There was an official procedure, and many people from different departments and external partners were involved, lots of documents were being sent in various formats and versions. Since people were in a stressful mood, they did not want to spend time on thinking.
The briefing was:

  • make all essential information as easy to find, read and edit as possible (not everyone was Team Site savvy, especially the external partners, and everyone was hurried)
  • avoid sending documents and emails back and forth – but notification emails are welcome
  • have the option to archive the generated information for legal reasons and for learning
  • make it re-usable

What is the solution?

We have set up a Team Site collection, with a templated subsite for every recall. The subsite can be created from the top site by the process owner without any help from the intranet team – he has Site Collection admin rights, a rare gift 😉
The site is set up to deliver maximum info with minimal effort. The process owner only has to check and update the  Team Members list which is in the template.  The email addresses are displayed in the list so process owner can copy these and give access to all in one step.
Next to that, there is an ongoing Live Meeting to be used exclusively for emergencies. The access information is  incorporated in the template.

The Homepage displays the essentials:

  • Announcements
  • Picture of the product and the problem, if it can be visualized
  • Last 5 documents
  • Actions assigned to me
  • Decisions taken
  • Links to set Alerts (all changes, immediately) to Announcements, Documents and Actions/Decisions
  • Content editor web part with information for the  Live Meeting
  • Content editor web parts to inform people how to work in the site

First I created a sort of wireframe, to test if we could display all the most important information on one page. 

Wireframe. The items in red contain the most important information.

We decided not to display two lists: the Evaluation (survey), which was only used at the end of a recall, and the Expense Declaration form, which was only used by a few individuals. The process owner will announce the path or link to those lists when necessary.
When a recall is finished, the process owner removes all users except himself and the designated legal person, and stores the site for the legally required period.

This is the final setup:
Recall Subsite Homepage

What are the benefits?

After the first recall that was managed in this new setup, all team members were very positive:

  • The Alerts mean that people receive many emails, but smaller in size and they do not need to be stored, since the actual information is in the site.
  • The Alerts ensure that everyone receives the same information – nobody is accidentally left out of an email.
  • Sharing everything in one Team Site creates one official version-controlled dossier  instead of various personal ones. This saves everyone time and stress and creates confidence.
  • The Live Meeting allows  people to discuss anytime from anywhere, saving time and travel. (especially since you need to meet at least once a day)
  • The evaluation survey and the expense declaration are now online, and no longer in individual documents. This saves time in aggregating the results, and creates instant transparency.

This is in fact a very simple setup, without any complicated lists or workflows. The most time-consuming part was making sure that a new subsite copied everything correctly, so it was ready to use instantly. I had to make some sacrifices, e.g. display the lists and libraries and train people to set an Alert, rather than displaying the direct links to the alert pages.  But because it is tailor-made for the situation and can be used almost instantly, it is a real time- and stress-saver!
Further improvements are possible, like using an Issue List for the required log, but at the time it was too complicated for the users.

Have you used Team Sites in a similar way? Please share your examples!