KM – a practical example

In my opinion, the way to embed Knowledge Management in an organization is to a. avoid using the  term “Knowledge Management” as much as possible (like “Employee Engagement”, but that is another topic) and b.  keep it practical and aligned with the needs of the business or team.
That means you will still have to know the theory and do the thinking process, but you need to translate it into one or more products that work for you.

This is a small, but powerful, example of practical knowledge management: a list of good practices. This is one of the Knowledge Products from my earlier post.

In my earlier role, we had a team of 5 people creating Business Solutions, sites that were custom-configured to facilitate processes. Scroll through the tag “Business Example” to see what I mean. We advertised our services as “We have the experience, and we configure all solutions in a consistent, user-friendly, low-maintenance way”. We had expectations to live up to!

What did we do?

One of our tools was our “Good Practices List”. Here we added experiences, common issues, uncommon bugs, workarounds, useful URL’s, and other things we had found,  wanted to share and/or did not want to forget. Examples:

  • We agreed on a standard button from a button-creation website, and stored preferred shape, shadow, colours, typeface and font information.
  • We collaborated on a good explanation of the difference between targeting and permission settings.
  • We discussed the pros and cons of Choice and Lookup columns and as a result created some recommendations of when to use which type. (I turned it into a blog post)
  • We stored code snippets and instructions on how to use them for instance to change text colour on the edit page of a list item.

Everyone was free to add or comment on each item. We discussed new items and changes every two weeks in our team call.
At first, we all felt a bit hesitant. Sometimes we thought: “is this important enough to even write about it, let alone call it a good practice?” But once we got used to it, and we started to re-use more and more ideas from our list, it started to become a game. Who could add the most practices? Who found the next unexpected issue in our rather finicky content query tool? Who would finally find the code to use conditionally coloured texts in list columns?

Good Practices List
This is what the list looked like. Quite simple, right?

 

What were the results?

  • We became more aware of the benefits of having and sharing good practices. We learned about so many issues, small and large, that with every new solution we created, we thought more deeply about implications of changes over time, common misunderstandings from users, daily and on-demand maintenance etc.
  • We turned out to be complementing each other: one was very good at code; the other with visual design, etc. Each of us had our specialties that the others could learn from. We were stimulated to show our talents. This also resulted in shorter development cycles (we did not have to reinvent every wheel), and a better distribution of projects over the team.
  • Our solutions became indeed more consistent.

I am still using the knowledge from that list. Many SharePoint functionalities have not changed that much over time and some practices are still relevant. I have created a similar list in my current role.

It is not magic. In fact, the list itself was pretty straightforward:

GoodPractice
Only 4 fields to fill to submit a good practice.

It was just being practical and realizing that creating and sharing experiences is fun and helped the team forward. It gave us all recognition.
So, this simple SharePoint list supported Knowledge Management AND Gamification! 🙂

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Changing a column type

Column2When you configure a list or library, it is important to select the best column type for your purpose.
Each column has their own characteristics and if you make the wrong decision, you may run into issues later. You can not change every column type freely into another column type.

I sometimes find out I’d better use another column type while testing. That is fairly easy to adjust.
It has also happened that I had to make changes after the system had gone live and data had been added to the system. That is a bit trickier.
In a few cases I have made the mistake to delete that incorrect column immediately, only to find out that I had to re-add all data and reinvent all my views.
So, as a note to myself, here’s the proper way:

1. Can your column be changed into another one?
Go to List/Library settings > Column. Your options are shown underneath the title. For instance, a Single Line of Text can be changed into a number of other types:

Single-Line-of-Text can be changed into other column types
Single-Line-of-Text can be changed into other column types

However, you can not always go back to the original type! For instance, if you change this column to Multiple Lines of Text, the change is final. If you change it to Date and Time, you can only go back to 4 options. Also interesting: if you turn the Single-Line-of-Text into Currency or Number, you can then change it into a Yes/No column. But the Date and Time option is gone. How weird is that!

Changing SLOT into Currency and then Yes/No.
Changing SLOT into Currency and then Yes/No.

2. What about the data?
If you can change the column into another type, think about data loss (e.g. when turning a Single-Line-of-Text into a Choice field).
It may be wise to make an export of the data before you change the column type to know your original values.
You will get a warning before you finalize the change:

Warning message before you make changes
Warning message before you make changes

3. Create a new column if necessary.
If your desired option is not available, you will have to create a new column. These are the steps:

  1. Create the new column
  2. Create a Datasheet view where the old and new columns are side-by-side
  3. Copy data from old to new column. Please note this means you change all items in the system, so:
    a. Modified and Modified By will change
    b. sort orders or groupings may change
    c. views may be empty
    d. Alerts may be triggered
  4. Position the new column correctly in every view
  5. Adjust filters in views that are using the values from the old column
  6. Only then remove the old column.

Now let’s hope I remember to follow my own advice next time I have to use another column. 🙂

Image by imelenchon on Morguefile.com

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes – part 2

Changes-image2Last time we looked at changes in site, list/library and view names and URLs in your site, as a result of a change in your organization. This time we will make changes to:

  • Columns
  • Folders
  • Documents and List items

4. COLUMN

Library/List Column Name
How: Click “Library/List” tab > click Library/List settings from the ribbon > Under “Columns”, click the Column > Overwrite Column name > OK

Column name before change
Column name before change
Column name after change
Column name after change

What happens?

  • The new name is displayed on all views
  • If the column is used as the lookup field, the new name will be used in the lookup. In this case I changed “Product” in the Picklist to “Product Type”.
Changes in lookup list are immediately changed in the library
Changes in lookup list are immediately changed in the library


List/Library Column URL
You can not change this. Good 🙂

List/Library Column Values
In this case I also have to change the product groups mentioned in the Choice values and the Lookup values, and they both have a different approach.

a. Choice:
How: Click “Library/List” tab > click Library/List settings from the ribbon > Under “Columns”, click the Column (Business) > Overwrite Column values > OK

Choice values are changed in the library column
Choice values are changed in the library column

What happens?

  • The old values in the library stay there until the item is edited.
  • Views that are filtered on the old value will stop to be filled, because new items will get the new value.
    To solve this, you can add an additional filter on the new value, so you will have “Business = Dairy Drinks OR Business = Dairy-based Beverages”.
    Alternatively, you can manually edit all existing items to give them the new value. (This will change Modified, Modified By and version number. Depending on individual Alert settings, a notification will be sent.)
  • Grouping on these values may show a different sort order.

b. Lookup:
How: Open the Lookup List (Picklist Beverages) > Click “…” behind the item you want to change > select “edit item” > overwrite name > Save.
If you want to change more or all names, you an also use “edit this list”and change them all in Datasheet view. Click “stop editing this list” when you are done.

Editing Lookup Values in Datasheet mode
Editing Lookup Values in Datasheet mode

What happens?

  • The old values are immediately changed to the new values.
  • Views that are filtered on the old values will be empty. You will have to adjust the filter in the views.
  • Depending on individual Alert settings, a notification will be sent. It is unlikely that anyone will set an Alert on a picklist, but you never know.
  • Grouping on these values may show a different sort order.

I have written about the differences in Choice and Lookup columns before.

5. FOLDER

Name
How: Click “…” behind folder name > Click “…” in the pop-up > “Rename” or “Properties” > Overwrite name > Save.

How to change folder name
How to change the folder name

What happens?

  • The “Modified” date and “Modified By” of the folder, as well as the version number, will be changed.
  • The sort order of the folder in the list will change if you are sorting on Name or Modified.
  • All Links to  this folder,  accessed via My Favourites, Navigation, Links lists, emails, buttons or other places where you have used the old name, will display a “webpart cannot be found” error. The folder name is used in the URL.
    Interestingly, links to documents in this folder do not break because they use the folder GUID instead of the URL.
  • Depending on individual Alert settings, a notification will be sent.

URL
I have not found a way to change the URL, which may be a good thing 🙂

6. ITEM

Document Name
How: How: Click “…” behind document name > Click “…” in the pop-up > Click  “Rename” or “Properties” > Overwrite name > Save.

How to change document name
How to change document name

What happens?

  • The “Modified” date and “Modified By” of the document, as well as the version number, will be changed.
  • The position of the document in the list will change if you are sorting on Name or Modified.
  • All Links to  this document,  accessed via My Favourites, Navigation, Links lists, emails, buttons or other places where you have used the old name, will display a “webpart cannot be found” error. The URL contains the document name. Please note changing the document title does not break links.
  • Any views that are filtered on Name, will be empty and have to be adjusted
  • Depending on individual Alert settings, a notification will be sent

List item name
How: Click “…” behind name > Edit Item > Overwrite name > Save.
If you want to change more or all names, you an also use “edit this list”and change them all in Datasheet view. Click “stop editing this list” when you are done.

How to change a list item
How to change a list item

What happens?

  • The “Modified” date and “Modified By” of the item will be changed.
  • The position of the item in the list will change if you are sorting on Name or Modified.
  • Any views that are filtered on Name, will be empty and have to be adjusted
  • If this list is a picklist for another list or library, and the items in list or library are grouped on these values, the sort order of the groups will change
  • Depending on individual Alert settings, a notification will be sent

Overall conclusion from parts 1 and 2:

If your business or products are changing name, and you want to reflect those changes in a team site, it is possible but there are some little-known consequences.

Easy to change:

  • Site Name
  • List or Library Name
  • Column Name
  • View Name

Easy to change but needs attention:

  • Choice and Lookup values: Views filtered on these values will need adjustment
  • Folders: Links to folders will break

Avoid changing:

  • Document Name: It is better to change the document title to avoid broken links
  • Site, List/Library, View URL’s: These will cause broken links whenever they are used in Links lists, navigation, buttons, emails etc. Most people do not look at URL’s anway, so change these only when there is a legal requirement and everyone is aware of the consequences.

The title of this post has been inspired by David Bowie’s Changes.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes – part 1

Change-PictureOf course your team site’s information architecture is future-proof, so you do not need to make changes whenever something changes in your organization. 🙂

But sometimes you have to change the name of your organizational unit or your product portfolio, and that may have repercussions for your content.

To avoid unpleasant surprises, I have made a list of what you can change, how to do it, and what happens – good or bad. I will change my example “Drinks” business into a “Beverages” business, and the product categories will change as well.

  • Clear Softdrinks will now be “Clear Beverages”
  • Dairy Drinks will now be “Dairy-based Beverages”
  • Juice Beverages will now be “Juice-based Beverages”

This post deals with changes in

  • Site name /URL
  • List or Library name/URL
  • View name/URL

This is my “Drinks Business” site (URL: /Drinks) and the main library before the change:

Site before name change
Site and document library before the names are changed.

The columns “Business” and “Drinks Type” are a Choice field and a Lookup field, respectively. This is the position of the site in my site collection:

Subsites before change
Subsites before the change

Now, let’s make those changes!

1. SITE

Site Title
How: Gear wheel top right > Site Settings > Look and feel > Title, description and logo. Overwrite the title with the new one and click OK.

Changing site title and URL
This is where you change the site title and the URL

What happens?

  • The new site name is displayed on all places, such as top left of site, Navigation, site map web parts etc.
  • The old name still appears on my Office365 > “Sites I’m following” page.
  • The site has a new position in Site Contents > Subsites  (sorted alphabetically) or Navigation (if you use structural navigation)
Subsites after change
Subsites after name change


Site URL
How: Gear wheel top right > Site Settings > Look and feel > Title, description and logo. It depends on your permissions if you see this option.
Replace the last part of the URL  with the new URL and click OK. (Please do not use spaces because you will end up with “%20” in the URL)

What happens?

  • All content in the site will get a new URL
  • Content accessed via My Favourites, Navigation, links lists, emails, buttons or other places where you have used the old URL will display a “page cannot be found” error when clicked.
  • The site is shown on my Office365 > “Sites I’m following” page, but it uses the old URL so I can no longer access the page. (I can do it from the “Subsites” list though)

Oh dear, this is a serious change! Please do this only:

  • When you have not yet launched your site to a large audience
  • If the site is for a small, manageable audience (e.g. your project team or department team)
  • If you are prepared to spend effort on redirecting people
  • If the old URL can no longer be used for legal or other reasons
  • For any other reason as long as you are aware of the consequences

I have reversed this change because I want to access this site from the “Sites I’m following” page.

2. LIST OR LIBRARY

List/Library Name
How: Click “Library” tab > click Library settings from the ribbon > List name description and navigation. Replace the name with the new one and click Save.

Library or list name change
Changing the name of a document library or list

What happens?

  • New position in Site Contents (this is sorted alphabetically)
  • Changed name in standard site navigation
  • New position in standard navigation, when you have sorted automatically on title
  • Webpart titles, UNLESS you have edited the webpart title manually under Appearance earlier; in that case the title stays as is. (Interesting, but rather strange, behavior, which I will try to unravel)
  • If a list is used as a Lookup List for  a document library, the name change will automatically be adjusted in the library.

Library URL
How: Click “Library” tab > click “Open in Explorer” in the ribbon.

Changing Library/List URL
Changing the URL of a Library or List

Click the site name in the browser and you will see all libraries and lists displayed as folders. Then change the name of the “Documents”  folder. (Please do not use spaces)

Library URL change
How to change the URL of a Library.


List URL
How: You can not do this from the list, so you have to follow instructions for changing the URL of a library. Click on “Lists” instead of the document library name and then all lists open up. Change the name of the list you want to change. (Please do not use spaces)

What happens?

  • All Links to the library or list and their content,  accessed via My Favourites, Navigation, Links lists, emails, buttons or other places where you have used the old URL, will display a “page cannot be found” error.
  • Sometimes, the list name will change with the URL. I think this happens when you have not edited the name or URL before. (Strange!)
  • If a list is used as a Lookup List for  a document library, the URL change will automatically be adjusted in the library.
Lookup before change
Lookup leading to Picklist Drinks before change
Lookup after change of lookup list
Lookup after change of Lookup list


3. LIST AND LIBRARY VIEWS

On top of the library you will see the Views in alphabetical order (and the Default View first). Please scroll up for the first screenshot and you will see Dairy, Juice and, if you click on the …, there’s Soft.

View name
How:
1. On List/Library, select List/Library from the ribbon, and open Modify View in the ribbon OR 2. Click on … behind the views and click “Modify View”.
Replace the View name and click OK .

Changing View
Changing the Name and/or URL of a View

What happens?

  • New position in Views (sorted alphabetically)
Changing a view name
View after changing the “Soft” view into “Clear”


View URL

How: On List/Library, select List/Library from the ribbon, and open Modify View in the ribbon. Replace the View URL and click OK. (Please do not use spaces) What happens?

  • All Links to the views,  accessed via My Favourites, Navigation, Links lists, emails, buttons or other places where you have used the old URL, will display a “page cannot be found” error.
  • In a list, links or buttons that open a new entry form, and go back to another than the default view after entry, will display an error (although the data will be saved – the New Item part is correct; but the Source link is no longer correct). If you open a new form directly from the list, no problems will occur.

That is enough for today. Next time, I will show what happens if you change other elements in your site.

The title of this post is inspired by David Bowie’s “Changes”.

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

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