The new Office365 Homepage

Yesterday I logged in to my Office365 and I immediately thought : “Wow, that looks nice”. It is not often that I am struck by a beautiful page, so I decided to write about it.

This is it:

NewOffice365Homepage-NewMine
The new Office365 Homepage

 

NewOffice365Homepage-Bottom
And this is the bottom of the page. You can decide to show more documents.

 

First good impressions:

  1. The small top bar is much larger now and that really looks good. It must be my Raspberry theme, although it also looks cool with Cats  🙂
  2. The welcome message is nice, although I know it is calculated from my timezone and my account. Still, it looks vibrant and cheerful.
  3. Your most recent documents are displayed underneath.
  4. You immediately see you can install software. On iPad, you can download Office apps.
NewOffice365HP-iPad
This is the new Office365 Homepage on iPad

 

What would I like to see as improvements?

  1. It would be nice if you could also search for other things than documents. I am trying to wean myself (and my colleagues) of documents where possible, and this does not help.
  2. That also goes for the recent documents underneath the apps. I would like to see my unread email, or my unread Yammer messages, or the Tasks due today, as well as documents. If Office365 is going to be my Digital Workplace, it should display more than just documents.
  3. A little badge on each app to show the number of unread messages, or new tasks, or something like that,  would also be nice!
  4. The coloured bar overlaps the profile picture a little, so that needs some tweaking.

And this is the page as it used to look (on a different tenant) or still looks, if you are not on First Release.

NewOffice365page-old
The “old” Homepage 

 

All in all, I quite like this change and I think it can be made even better!

Playing “the shell game” with SharePoint folders

ShellGameThe other day, I gave a training session in SharePoint document management. For most people, managing documents in SharePoint is synonymous with  “putting them into folders”  so I knew I had some explaining to do.

I decided to demo “folders”  and  “metadata” with a simple example.
I created two document libraries.

  1. Folders: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Paris.
  2. A choice column called “Location” with the same cities, and one column for Document Categories “Agenda”, “Meeting Minutes” and “Presentation”. Of course I prefer to capture Meetings information in a different way, but this example would be familiar to most people.

Both document libraries contained 5 documents, according to Site Contents. 2doclibs I showed both libraries and asked my audience to tell me how many documents there were for location Amsterdam.
For the metadata library it was easy: it was specified in the Grouping.

Grouping shows you immediately how many documents are in a certain category.
Grouping shows you immediately how many documents are in a certain category.

The other one was a bit less obvious. So I said I’d give away my precious SharePoint mug to the first person that could give me the correct answer.

Silence.

So I opened Paris. 1 document.

Then I opened Barcelona. 1 document.

“Three” some people shouted. I opened the Amsterdam folder. No documents in folder Amsterdam. Nothing.

The audience gasped, and looked at me expectantly. Then I told them that a folder is counted as a document. And I showed them the other library again with the much more transparent grouping, and also showed them a view grouped by Document Type, and some other views.

The next day, two people called me to ask if they could do “that with the groups” in their own site.

I may still have several thousand people to convince but I was happy to see that some people got it. So, perhaps this is a good way to show people the difference and the benefits.

Please let me know if you have the same experience – or have found other ways to convince people in a nice way that they can relate to. Summing up all the reasons for not using folders is not always convincing for end users.

It is a sort of “shell game” really. O dear, have I just done gamification with SharePoint? 🙂

And in case you were wondering:  this is my SharePoint mug!

SharePoiint mug
My wonderful coffee mug from a SharePoint Connections event. Translation: “Silence! SharePoint guru tanking inspiration”.

7 Tips for copying from Excel into a Datasheet View

ExcelDatasheet-LogoSome time ago I was working with an Excel-loving crowd who had to share their data in a SharePoint list.
I wanted to make the transition as smoothly as possible, so I created a special “Data Import View” (a Datasheet View) to make it as easy as possible to copy their Excel data into the list.

There were too many people involved with too many different PC configurations, to trust a Data Connection. So a one-time copy-paste action it had to be!

After some tests I gave them the following instructions:

1. Sort the columns in your Excel sheet in exactly the same order (left-to-right) as the Data Import View (I listed all columns in the correct order)

2. Use the exact same words, spelling and capitalization as the values in the dropdown fields in the SharePoint list.
I listed all the words – we used “color”  and not “colour”, for instance.
If you use different capitalization in a Choice column (e.g. “Preferred Supplier” instead of “Preferred supplier”) the Choice column will accept your value without error message, but when you edit the item, the value will change to the first of the Choice values.

3. Check your cells have exactly the same formatting as the SharePoint list.
Sometimes text fields gave errors while copying – copying the text from the dropdown field and paste that into the Excel file often solved that.

4. Use the correct date-and-time format. (I had to test a few different notations to know what worked and what not in our multinational organization)

5. Select the first (utter left) cell before you start pasting. (The Data Import View contained many columns, and needed horizontal scrolling to see all columns, and sometimes people forgot to scroll back).

Error message
This is the error message if you do not start on the correct cell

6. Start pasting only when the first cell is ready. It shows a bold line around it.

Bold line around cell
This is what the bold line looks like
If your fist cell looks like this, please click it, otherwise you get the below error message when you paste.
If your first cell looks like this, please click it, otherwise you get the below error message when you paste.
Error message if you paste into a cell without a bold line around it
Error message if you paste into a cell without a bold line around it

7. Do a test-run with one line. Adjust your data and check again when you encounter issues.

Next time your users say that “they can not copy -paste their Excel data into a Datasheet View”, these tips may point you towards a solution.

I could have made things slightly easier by using a single-line-of-text for each column. Single-line-of-text is like bloodtype AB:  it can receive anything :-). But because I had originally designed the list for adding new items via “New Item” in the Standard View we had to create these instructions. And single-line-of-text columns lead to more deviations in spelling.

David Young has also found that you need to refresh your screen after deleting data and trying again.

Do you have any other tips or experienced other errors? Please share!

You may also like:

Dangers of the Datasheet

Design Fault, Scope Creep, Moving Insight or Unexpected Success? (The project that inspired this post)

10 tips for Choice or Lookup Columns

No more meeting minutes!

NoMeetingMinutesWhen I visit “collaborative” sites, e.g. for a team, a department or a project, I often find a document library called “Meetings”, or even worse, several document libraries, each for one particular meeting date. These generally contain documents for prereading, presentations from the meeting, agenda and minutes. And sometimes they have an action or decision list as well.
The good thing is that these meeting documens are now in one clear online location, and that (hopefully) sending documents via email and printing are reduced.

But now think again. It is 2013.

  • Do you still store everything in document format, while there are ways to do thing directly online?
  • Do you have to open multiple Meeting Minutes or Decision List documents when you are looking for that one decision from early 2012, but forgot the exact date?
  • Is there still someone responsible for writing down “refer to next meeting” for several agenda items in the Meeting Minutes, and then remembering to add them to the next meeting agenda?
  • Are you still emailing various draft agenda’s to your team?
  • Does someone in your team have to collect the progress of the action list and recreate the new Action list?
  • Do you have to chase everyone for approval of the meeting minutes?

A different approach.

It may be time to move to a simpler process. Of course there is the Meeting Workspace, but sometimes you prefer to have everything in one site. The MW will also no longer be supported in SP2013.  An alternative is the Meeting-Agenda-and-Minutes List, combining agenda, meeting minutes and decisions in one list. Our team started this in about 2002 and we have happily used it for our weekly team meeting for years.

The concept is as follows:

  1. Everything you discuss is first an agenda item. The owner of the item creates and manages it themselves.
  2. All items not marked as “completed” are visible.
  3. The meeting owner adjusts the order of the agenda items just before the meeting.
  4. During the meeting, the item is discussed. We always had online meetings, so we viewed items on-screen. The item owner can adjust the item while discussing, and show the updates to the team.
  5. After discussing the item, the decision and date are added to the item and the status is set to “completed”.
  6. All completed discussions are stored in one or more “completed” views, sorted and grouped as needed.

Example.

Does it sound complicated? Let me show you the (Custom) list that I have worked with.

This is an item on the agenda:

New Agenda Item
This is the item to discuss.By default, status is “New”.

This is the agenda, sorted on “Order” and filtered by “Status is not equal to completed”.

Agenda
This is the agenda for the upcoming meeting.

During the discussion, the relevant info and decision are captured in the bottom fields of the item.

During Discussion
During discussion, the relevant information can be added.

This is the view that shows all items that have been discussed. You can easily filter for specific topics, regardless of meeting date. Of course you can also group on other metadata, but this view clearly shows the increased transparancy compared to Meeting Minutes in document format.

Completed
All decisions from earlier meetings, grouped by discussion date.

Of course you can simplify or extend the list to fit your own meeting style and goals.

What are the advantages?

  • No need to send agendas via email; if everyone sets a notification you wil get a message when a new item has been added or changed.
  • The meeting owner can easily adjust the order of items
  • During the meeting, the item is open and any next steps can be added straight away
  • When something is not discussed or no decision has taken place, it simply stays on the list. You do not have to specifically state that it is “moved to the next meeting”.
  • One archive of individual decisions means you do not have to look through documents by date. Now that you have one “online database” it is much easier to find any decisions relating to your topic, since they can be found by date AND by creator AND by tag if you have used those.
  • Everyone has seen the decision so there is no need to circulate any meeting minutes for approval.

Will this work for all meetings?

Of course this needs change management. If your organization is relying heavily on documents, not used to PC’s and projectors in the meeting room, or has been pampered by people sending things to them, this will be a big change that will need discussion, training and an extensive trial period.
It may be wise to measure time involved in the current meeting setup beforehand and to compare that to the new setup. This information will also help you to convince others.

For some meeting types this setup may not be appropriate. There may be legal requirements to have documents, perhaps even printed, with handwritten signatures, or some external participants may not have access to your SharePoint environment.

But for your average team, department or project group meeting, this may save lots of time!

Have you used something similar? Please share!

Note April 2013:  Gene Vangampelaere shares his use of OneNote for meetings. Nice!

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