Beware the SharePoint MVP!

 

No, I am not going to bash the SharePoint Most Valuable Professionals! I have received help, feedback and support from many MVP’s including Veronique Palmer, Jasper Oosterveld and Gregory Zelfond, and I have read and used the posts and presentations of many others.

But I am glad this title caught your attention 🙂

The Minimum Viable Product

This blog will be about another MVP – the Minimum Viable Product, a common word in Agile development, meaning you will launch a product that meets the basic requirements (as defined at the start of the project) and will be improved incrementally over time.

I think I have been woking somewhat agile  when I was configuring solutions, and met with my business counterparts on a very regular basis to discuss the proof of concept/prototype and checked if this met their expectations.
I only created a very small list of requirements, as I knew that many business partners only had a vague idea of what they were really looking for, and when confronted with my interpretation of their requirements all kinds of unexpected, or in any case, unspoken, things came up.

  • Is there an option to leave this field blank?
    Yes, but that means that we either leave this non-mandatory (which may lead to more blanks than you want) or we add a dummy value such as “please select”. What do you think is best?
  • Can we have a multiple choice for this field?
    Ofcourse, but that means you will be unable to group on this in the views, so we will have to resort to a connection for filtering. Oh and then it is better to make this field a look-up field instead of a choice field. Let me rework that.
  • What if someone forgets to act on the email?
    We may want to create a view that allows the business process owner to see quickly which items are awaiting action.

And more of those things. I generally met with my business partner once every fortnight, if not more often.

So I am all in favour of especially the short development cycles of Agile.

“Users” does not mean “end users”, exclusively!

I also think that “user stories” are much more realistic and human than “requirements”, although they sometimes look a little artificial.
By the way, I would recommend any team to think not only of “end user stories” but also of “tenant owner” stories or “support user stories” as other people involved have their own needs or requirements.

Rapid improvements

I also like the idea of launching a Minimum Viable Product and doing small, rapid improvements on that, based on feedback and experiences, because

  • You can show users that you are listening to them
  • You can show that you are not neglecting your intranet after launch
  • It gives you something new to communicate on a regular basis
MVP-DevelopmenttoLaunch
During development, you work towards the Minimum Viable Product

So, when we were launching our intranet I was quite interested to be part of the project and to work towards an MVP.

When we finally launched our MVP we also published the roadmap with intended improvements, and shared the process of adding items to the roadmap.  That way users could see that we had plans to improve and that we would be able to spend time and attention on meeting the needs of the business.

Vulnerabilities

When launching an MVP with a promise to make ongoing improvements you are more vulnerable than when you do a Big Bang Launch & Leave introduction. What about the following events?

  • Cuts in the improvement budget.
    Those can be a blessing or a curse, but they may happen.
  • People who leave before they have documented what they have created.
    I have never liked the extensive Requirements Documents and Product Descriptions that go with traditional development, but if you are handing over your product to the Support organization, you really need documentation of what you are handing over. End users can have the weirdest questions and issues! 🙂
  • Reorganizations which turn your product team or even your company upside down.
  • Microsoft changes that mess up your customizations. We have a webpart that shows your Followed Sites – it suddenly and without warning changed from displaying the first 5 sites you had followed to the last 5 sites. Most annoying!

So before you know it, you end up with a below-minimum viable product. ☹

MVP-Developmentfromlaunch
While in a normal development cycle you would slowly and steadily improve upon the MVP, unexpected events can leave you with something less than MVP.

What can be done?

So before you start singing the praises of Agile development and put on your rose-tinted glasses

  1. Make sure you have a safe development budget that can not be taken away from you.
  2. Ensure you have an alternative no-cost optimization plan, such as webinars, Q&A sessions, surveys, configuration support, content changes etc. to make the most of the launch of your MVP and to get feedback for improvements for when better times arrive.
  3. Insist that everyone documents their configurations, codes, processes, work instructions etc. as quickly as possible. It is not sexy but will save you a lot of hassle in case your team changes.
    If you are in need of extracting knowledge from leaving experts, here are some tips for handing over to a successor, and some tips for when there is no successor in place yet.
  4. Be prepared for changes in processes, data or organization. You do not have to have a ready-made plan, but it is wise to think about possible implications for your product or process if the Comms team is being reorganized, someone wants to rename all business units, or you need to accomodate an acquired company in your setup.
  5. Keep customizations to a minimum. Use existing templates and simple configurations.
    Personally I would be totally content without a customized homepage. The SharePoint landing page or, even better, the Office365 landing page as the start page to my day would work perfectly well for me, but I have learned not many people share that feeling.

Any experiences to share?

Have you had similar experiences? Have you found a good way to handle budget cuts, a way to develop budget-neutrally, how to deal with people changes or another way to deal with unexpected events that endanger your MVP? I am sure there are many people (including myself) who would like to learn from your stories!

Images are from Simon Koay’s totally gorgeous Superbet. Look at that B!
M=Mystique, V=Venom, P=Poison Ivy

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The Intranet Treasure Hunt

Treasure Hunt - PongWhen we launched our new intranet at the beginning of 2017, we also set up a Treasure Hunt to make people familiar with the new look and feel and setup. After all, moving to SharePoint Online has been quite a large step from our old SharePoint 2007 environment.

Many intranet folks have talked about doing treasure hunts, but as far as I know nobody has ever explained what they have done in detail, so let me share our recipe.

The ingredients and preparation

  1. A News article to introduce the Treasure Hunt
  2. A News article with clues and a direction to the next place of the hunt
  3. More News articles or intranet pages with clues and directions – as many as you need
  4. Emailaccount of our Founding Father
  5. Autoreply message from Founding Father
  6. Yammer message
  7. A page where people are instructed how to enter their solution
  8. A survey to collect the solutions
  9. The solution: in our case a sentence that people had to create with the clue words
  10. A thank-you page with information about the next steps
  11. Prizes

 The mechanics

A few days after launch, a News article (1) appeared on the new intranet homepage. It explained the treasure hunt and the mechanics. You were to look for clues to the next place and for words that were written in a certain way, e.g. <word>.
The words you would find during your search would form a sentence.

Treasure Hunt Announcement
The first announcement about the Treasure Hunt

The first clue was to find the oldest News post on the intranet. As we had not migrated older News articles that was not so hard to find. The oldest post (2) turned out to be a post written by our Founding Father.  It was full of hope for the future and predicted with remarkable accuracy some inventions we would do later 🙂

Treasure Hunt - all news
It was easy to find the oldest News item!

Of course there was another <word> in his post. At the end he asked to send him an email asking for guidance. As his contact details were on the page (as is the case for all News items) (3) it could be done with the click of a button.

Treasure Hunt Oldest News
This is SharePoint News, slightly different than our own custom News setup, so I can not show you the Author button + email link (but I trust you will get it)

When you sent him the email you received an autoreply (5). He sent you to the “modern watering hole Yammer”, where we were to look for a post from one of our senior management about a certain topic.

Treasure Hunt Email
The email message – I quite liked the “Eternity Leave” that our Comms people came up with 🙂

On Yammer, it was easy to look for that certain person (once you knew how to search) and the message (6) in question. Once again, it contained a <word> or two and a link to the next clue.

Treasure Hunt - Yammer
This Yammer message sent people to the new Policies & Procedures site, where you were asked to follow the IM page for later reference. (When will Yammer have a proper text editor?)

After sending you to a few other important new sites (with <words>) and asking you to follow those pages, the last link led to a page (7) which welcomed you to the Treasure hunt and asked you to

  1. Set your News preferences
  2. Make sure you had uploaded your profile picture
  3. Click on a link
Treasure Hunt- entry page
The last part of the journey

The link led to a survey (8) with two questions:

  • Create a sentence (9) with the <words> you have found. The sentence was one of the company values, so not too hard to compose once you had the words.
  • Describe why you should get the prize. (That was an easy one for me: I said this treasure hunt would not have been possible without me – as I created the pages & survey).
Treasure Hunt Survey
The survey

After clicking Finish you would go to a thank-you page (10) with more information about the publication of the winners.

Treasure Hunt-Thank you page
The Thank-you page – I like to use this with surveys

All in all, by doing the treasure hunt people have been exposed to:

  • Finding News
  • Setting their News preferences
  • Going to Yammer and finding a person’s conversations
  • A number of new sites with important company-wide information
  • Following sites
  • Adding a picture to your profile

This was a very simple setup, but of course you can extend it as you like.

(Disclaimer: I have replicated this on my own tenant in a schematic way. Our real Treasure Hunt looked much better and the texts were created by communication professionals)

BTW, Sadly I did not win any prize as I was part of the organizing committee 😦

The <words>  in my screenshots form a sentence as well…please add it to the comments if you have found it! (again, exclude <word>)

Image courtesy of Pong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

SharePoint Holmes and the elusive Link

HH-header

“Users can not access links”.
What a boring title, I thought when this incident was assigned to me. But, as usual, there was a twist to it.

The case

Several users of a local site received a “you do not have access” when they clicked a link that was added to a news item on the homepage. This link directed to a pdf-document.  According to the site owner, they should have access.

So I put my SharePoint Holmes Admin Hat on, and dove into the site.

The investigation

The homepage contained an Announcement list in Newsletter Style. The text “read more” (I know, not the best way to name a link) led to a pdf in a document library in the same site, called News Documents.

HH-Local News
The Local News list. “Read More” should take you to a document.

The News Documents library contained 2 items.

HH-NewsDocuments
The News Documents library
HH-NewsDocumentsLibrary
The 2 documents

The document library inherited permissions from the site.
The audience included myself, so I decided to take a look as my “normal” self.

Yes, I could access the page. But when I clicked on the link “Read more” I got a “Sorry, you don’t have access to this page”.

I looked into Site Contents and saw that the library contained 2 items, but when I opened the library, I saw no documents. Hmmm.

HH-Library-user
As a normal user, I can see the News Documents library contains 2 documents.
HH-emptylibrary
As a normal user, I do not see any documents in this library.

I went back into admin mode, and checked again.

  1. I checked the link on the homepage – was it perhaps a broken link? No, it looked solid and led to the pdf without further ado.
  2. Did the documents open in browser by default, which might hamper the opening of a pdf? I checked the Advanced Settings but it opened by default in the client.
  3. Had the documents been checked out? No, I did not see the green tell-tale mark.
  4. I wanted to take a better look at the views, to see if those could tell me more.  There were rather a lot of columns in the default view, so I had to do some horizontal scrolling to get to the Views link.
    “Draft” I suddenly noticed in the right-hand column.
    “0.1” I saw in the column next to it. That column was called Version.
HH-FullDocumentLibrary
I had not seen the “Version” and “Approval Status” columns in my earlier investigation…

AHA.

The solution

In the Versioning settings I noticed that content approval was enabled, and only people with approve permissions and the author could see drafts.

HH-ContentApproval
The Content Approval settings

Both documents had never been approved and were therefore visible for only a few users.  Everyone else got a “you do not have access” as for the majority of users, these documents were not yet accessible.

That explained why I could see it as an admin, but not as a normal user.

The site owner was not aware of the versioning as he had inherited the site. When I explained, he decided to turn of the content approval as that was not really needed for these documents.

Another issue solved! Now would you classify this as a document management issue or a permissions issue?

Image courtesy of vectorolie at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

 

 

Rest in peace, dear colleague.

InMemoriamI am posting this on the day that the Netherlands have a Day of National Mourning for the victims of the horrible MH17 airplane tragedy.

I have a reason to do that.
Many passengers were not only a partner, a family member or a friend, but also a colleague.

Recently I visited an intranet team who showed me how they use their internal social network to announce the passing away of a colleague, and to give everyone in the organization the opportunity to share their memories about that person.

Of course the immediate colleagues would be informed by their manager. Other employees had to rely on the printed newsletter, so they often learned quite late about the death of their colleague. In many cases, the funeral service had already taken place.

Since then, they have chosen to post the sad news on the social network, in a special “Obituaries’ group. The reactions have been overwhelmingly positive.

  • All employees are informed timely, and can attend the funeral service if they want to.
  • Many people value the opportunity to share their personal memories and stories about their colleague; the responses are many and long.
  • All reactions are collected and sent to the family, which is highly appreciated.
  • It draws people to the social network that normally do not go there.

Technology-wise it is quite straightforward: the main message is a copy of the printed card, with a picture of the colleague, a short message from management, and the reactions underneath. You can imagine it. It does not feel good to recreate screenshots.

I was very touched to see the internal social network being used for this purpose, it was new to me, and I wanted to share it. Perhaps you may need to deal with this one day. Perhaps even now…

My sincere condoleances to everyone who has lost a loved or liked one in this terrible event. My thoughts are with you.

Image courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

The oldest mobile intranet in history?

Mobile IntranetIt was the year 2004.
It was long before the iPhone was introduced.
It was long before the word “app” had the meaning it has today. If it had any meaning at all.
You could say it was the year 3 BA:  Before App. 🙂

The BlackBerry was all the rage in the corporate world. Everyone wanted one, and only senior management had one at that time. Having a BlackBerry meant you had arrived!

That year our team launched an “icon” on the BlackBerry’s home screen, that opened a small part of our intranet. That part of the intranet that we thought would be useful if you were not in the office.

This must have been one of the first mobile intranets. It was created and introduced by another part of the team I worked in, and all credit goes to the people who had the foresight and the skills to come up with the concept and make it happen. With this post I want to give them the applause that they deserve.

While reading about mobile intranets, and people proudly showing that they have features such as an employee directory especially for mobile use, I suddenly remembered our old BlackBerry app and that I still had some screenshots. So, for history’s sake, here are some more details. Remember that all information shown is outdated.

The intranet “icon” was automatically pushed to your BlackBerry, but not everyone was aware of it, or how you could use it. Of course we communicated, but we did not reach everyone. But everyone who knew about it, was very happy with it. It was still functioning when I left the company in 2011.

This was the icon. It showed our intranet’s logo.

BBAppHome
On the top right you see the icon leading to the intranet. It was the intranet logo, unfortunately not very well visible.

If you clicked it, you could choose 3 options.

1. Stock Quote

This was updated regularly throughout the day. I have not used this much myself, but I know there were people who could not do without it.

Stock Quote
The Stock Quote, updated every 15 mins. or so.

2.  News

  We showed Corporate News and External News only, because we could not target the regional and local news, as we did on the regular intranet Homepage. When I was sitting at an airport, it was good to be able to learn about organizational changes as soon as they were posted. I might have been on my way to a business manager who had made a promotion…or a sudden exit :-).

News
The News. Only limited news types could be shown.

3. Employee Directory

This was really useful for me, especially when travelling. You could search for someone, and their name, position, telephone numbers, email address and assistant would be shown. I have often used this functionality  when my plane was delayed or cancelled, or when I just wanted to email or call someone while being on the road.
If anyone in my audience is still  discussing an employee directory for use on-the-go: yes, this is useful. I think it should be one of the first things to implement on a mobile intranet!

Employee Directory
The Employee Directory. This has been really useful to me.

I hope you liked this little blast from the past! 🙂

If you would like to see more modern mobile or responsive intranets:

Image courtesy of scottchan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

SharePoint White Magic

White-magicianIf you are not a qualified designer, and/or SP Designer is not available, you sometimes have to find other tricks to design your pages properly. That is why the colour white is an important ingredient in my SharePoint page recipes. Used as image, web part or text, you can use it to make your pages look better. Here are some I have learned over the years:

1. The “White Space” webpart.
This is an empty Content Editor webpart, that you can import to a page to create some more vertical distance between webparts in a zone.
How? Add a Content Editor web part to a page, name it “White Space”, remove Chrome, and export the web part as a .dwp file to your computer. You can import it whenever you need to add some vertical space between two web parts.

No vertical space added
No vertical space added
With vertical space added to right column
With vertical space added to right column
White space web part
The White Space web part

2. The white (or transparent) image as space bar.
You can use a white picture of exactly the right amount of pixels to make one of those nicely-but-sometimes-annoyingly-flexible-web-part-zones behave better. You have to be careful though. First of all, it will only work if the content webparts in the zone are of identical or smaller width than your “space bar”. Secondly, your page will look different on different devices and with different resolutions, so the design you so carefully crafted on your own PC may look strange on other PC’s.
How? After you have created your pages, create a white picture of the desired width and a few pixels height, add it to an Image or Content Editor web part that lives at the bottom of the zone-to-be-fixed, give it a memorable name (e.g. “Spacebar”),  and remove Chrome.

3. White letters for vertical alignment.
Do you have two Content Editor webparts side by side, that contain different amounts of text? That will mean all web parts under those web parts will start at different heights, which may look a bit messy. You can add white text to the webpart with the least amount of text to make it appear of equal height as the other one.
How? In the CE webpart with the least amount of text, add as many extra lines of “blah” as the larger amount of text has. Make the “blah” text white.

4.  The “white news image”
I once talked to an Internal Communications manager who was complaining about his News functionality. A picture was required for every news item, but publishers did not always have the time or motivation to look for a proper picture. There was no image catalogue or any guidelines, so it frequently happened that people used outdated logos or used a picture from the internet, without looking if they were allowed to use it.
I suggested to make a white or transparent image easily available, for those occasions where a picture was not necessary, not available, or the publisher did not have time. A news item without a picture does not look particularly attractive, but at least they were no longer infringing copyright. (And worse, they once showed their intranet news to an audience containing representatives from their caterer, and the caterer said: “Hey, you are using the logo we replaced 3 years ago”…).
How? Create a white or transparent picture with the correct size and upload it to the library you use for your news images. Copy the link and add that to the description field of the Picture column. See screenshot.

Adding a White Picture made easy
Having a White Picture easily available saves time and helps the company avoid copyright issues

Mind you, these are all simple workarounds that are not a replacement for proper design. Some will no longer be necessary or available in SharePoint 2013. But in certain circumstances these tricks can help you create better-looking pages without too much effort.

Do you have similar tricks you would like to share?

Image courtesy of sattva at FreeDigitalPhotos.net