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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10 things you want to know about Yammer external networks

YammerSome weeks ago I offered a project team to create a Yammer group. It was a team with a lot of externals, so it had to be an external group. Or so I thought.

However, it turned out I had to create a new “child” network off my company network, because external groups were not available at that time. They are now, but your administrator can turn this off, so a child network may still be the only option available to you.

This has been a great learning experience since a child network has some peculiarities: it is different from a group (obviously), and also different from the company network.

So of course I am logging all the interesting things that I find as the project develops; for myself, my colleagues and for anyone else who is involved with external Yammer networks.

For the administrator:

  1. The URL of your new network will be https://www.yammer.com/name  so you are competing with all the world. Your desired name may already been taken, so have a few alternatives ready.
  2. The person who creates the child network is automatically added as the (child) network administrator, with all the trimmings. If you do not like the idea that everyone in your organization can become a network administrator, you may want to limit the options to create child networks, and can decide to make this option available for the parent Yammer administrators only. (If you are a Yammer admin, go to Network Administration > External Networks)
  3. You need to invite everyone with their email address; you can not use the existing network to select from.
  4. Some companies do not allow their employees to join any external Yammer network, but need approval from their Yammer admin. This is a setting that lives in the same place as nr. 2.
  5. This is a separate network, not a group, so people can create groups under this network. You can not turn this off.
  6. The parent network has more administration settings and options than the child network. For instance, the “External Networks”, Ïnvite Guests” and “Account Activity”  options are not available in the child network.
ExternalNetworksAdmin
Part of the  parent network admin settings.

 

For the users of your network:

You may want to inform them about this in a quick user guide. I have logged them in a Yammer Note on the All Company network.

Network Note
Yammer notes are a good way to capture information for the group/network.

 

  1. The new network will not be visible under My Groups; instead you have to navigate networks via the gear wheel next to your profile pic (bottom left at the moment of writing).
  2. Since this is a separate network, you will have to refollow those people you want to follow.
  3. You will also have to re-set your email notifications for this network
  4. Make sure that you are on the correct page – you enter the default homepage but this is not the same as the All Company stream. (Which does not feel logical to me, but that can be me)

Have you found any other “gotcha’s” for Yammer external networks? Or have I got it wrong on some things? Please share!

No company pain, no SharePoint gain

Pain-ManThe conference audience sniggered when I showed a slide with that title a few years ago. It was one of the lessons learned from doing SharePoint configuration projects. I sincerely believe that SharePoint adoption will be easier if your business is suffering.

Here is how:

1. SharePoint can help manage a portfolio of projects that boost performance.
Companies that are underperforming often introduce company-wide projects to analyze processes and find ideas on how to increase top- and bottom-line growth. Managing the programme of those projects can easily be facilitated with SharePoint. I have done that before.

Collction of Tam Sites to manage an improvement programme
Portfolio management can be done easily with a collection of Team Sites, one for each project or topic.


2. SharePoint can facilitate processes.

Every company may be losing money because processes are not optimized. Rich companies may have the budget to buy the best possible tool for every process (they have to be careful not to end up with a quilt of different solutions, of course). But if you do not have that money, and you have SharePoint you can use SharePoint to facilitate those processes.
Remember, SharePoint can generally provide you with at least 80% of your requirements. That is not too bad, is it?
An example is CRM in a Team Site – a system to collect and process customer complaints. In an improvement project, it was found that the company spent large amounts of money on reimbursing customers who complained. It turned out that there was no consistent process to manage complaints. A project was started to map and redesign the process.  The idea was to use SAP, but due to timing and budget restrictions it was decided to use SharePoint as an intermediate solution.
After introduction of the new site and process, the company was able to save millions of dollars by no longer reimbursing every customer regardless. Issues could now be investigated and responsibility assigned. And by keeping track of all complaints in one database they could analyze where internal processes could be improved.

3. SharePoint solutions can easily be re-used.
When budgets are low, companies can drive re-use of existing solutions instead of allowing different business to create their own solutions.
If you have a process facilitated by SharePoint, and you want to re-use it for a different business or team you can generally make a template out of the list, library or site as a starting point for the other business. (You may want to read my 10 Tips for Choice and Lookup Columns because columns behave differently when templated)
The concept of CRM in a Team Site has been re-used for various other processes in different countries, as well as Telesales and Software Reductions.

4. Everyone will learn what SharePoint really looks and works like.
I know it is fashionable to say that SharePoint looks ugly. But I am always scared when I hear intranet managers boast that “our intranet does not look like SharePoint at all”. It means they will not able to use standard training and support, and when they migrate to a new version all those custom changes will likely not migrate well, and they will be depending on 3rd party support and their costs for eternity. (Trust me, I’ve been there)
If your company is on a budget, you will not have money to hire consultants to do “fancy design”.  But then, why should you? With some standard things you can make your site very presentable. Remember, this is an internal tool that should make people’s work easier.  It should be easy to work with first and foremost.

So, if your company is in pain, SharePoint will be used more often and more in its default shape, than if you have plenty of budget for everything. In my opinion that is a good thing. It will allow users to become familiar with SharePoint more quickly because they will encounter it in its native state more frequently. The menus and buttons will always be in the same place. Lists, libraries and will work the same way across the company. It will mean a consistent user interface and show employees that SharePoint can be used for many purposes. You know what? It feels strange talking about “SharePoint” when my last post was so much about not using the word SharePoint anymore.

Perhaps the start of 2015 will be a good time to start using “Office365” more often.

But before that, I wish all my readers a merry Christmas and a wonderful, happy and successful 2015!

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Intranet spring-cleaning revisited

BlossomtreeIn the past weeks I have asked many users if they still need their sites that are empty or look abandoned. Now we have had a very mild winter in the Netherlands, and the temperatures have not risen dramatically, so there must be different forces at work. 🙂
But whatever the trigger, I can only conclude that it is time for intranet spring cleaning again!

This interesting post by Mimi Dionne suggests that a cleanup project can very well be managed by the records management department. I think that is a good idea because:

  1. Record retention is important for all kinds of reasons. Not retaining some records is equally important, and users have to be aware of what information they (should) store and keep available. You do not want people to draw the wrong conclusions because they have read an outdated document.
  2. It will be much more acceptable and credible if this is a requirement from the business, and not an “obsession from the intranet team to reduce storage space and complexity”. (Guilty as charged 🙂 )
  3. If the records management department manages the project, there will be objective measures to decide what to keep (on the intranet at least), and less emotional reasons (“You never know if this will be needed one day”, “But I have spent so much time on this presentation”).

I really like the angle of this post, althought I do not agree with everything (Always hire a consultant? Metadata are always available and tell it all?) .

But even if you have no records management department to help you, cleaning up your intranet on a regular basis is always a good idea that will bring many rewards!

My earlier posts on this topic are still current, so if you are in the mood for a spring-clean, please check them out!

It is time for intranet spring-cleaning! For the reasons and benefits.
How do I spring-clean my intranet? For the actual steps to take.
How I archive a site  For that content that must be kept but not necessarily has to live in an active site.
How to win space and not alienate people part 1   and part 2 if reclaiming storage space is your main reason for spring-cleaning

Good luck with your project!  And if you have any successes, or tips and tricks to share, please do!

Image courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Configuration: Mind over Muscle

My SharePoint-related posts are also published on NothingButSharePoint.com. Recently, they displayed my series of Business Examples and I received a Tweet from someone who appeared to be a little disappointed with my “Facebook in a Team Site“.

FacebookTweetWell, with my post title you could expect anything really. I mainly chose it because the business asked me for “Facebook functionality” in so many words. But at the time of creation, around 2010-2011, Facebook had much less functionality than today, so expectations may well be higher now than they were then. So yes, I can understand that for some this post may have been a bit of a disappointment.

But what really struck me, was: “SP Announcements, wow”. And I take it the “wow” was meant ironically. And that is where I disagree!

BecauseICanI often come across solutions where it appears as if the business analyst thought: “Oh, great, this is cool functionality! Let me use this as often as possible, just to practice. Let me experiment how complex I can make it, because it shows how clever I am. That will be good for my next assignment”.
It looks as if that person forgot that this solution needs to be maintained, often by a succession of business people who are not as expert as that business analyst. It appears as if this person forgot that people in the process will change, that content will be added but perhaps not removed, that workflow history may need to be purged, and that metadata may need to be adjusted. In other words: the inevitable changes that will happen over time, and the necessary maintenance that will bring, have not been accounted for.

My approach is different. I can not run away after creation. If things are too complicated or break down, I will have to provide the support. That is why I try to make things as simple as possible. It will be easier to explain to and maintain by the process owner.  It means things will not break down as easily if the management is handed over to someone who has not “lived through” the creation and implementation of the solution.
I never create a workflow when a “send email to Assigned To” or an Alert will do. I always try to use a custom list rather than InfoPath. How much value does the autofill of your name in an InfoPath form add, when your name will be shown in “Created By” by default?

For me, the challenge is to create a simple but robust SharePoint process, rather than automatically slap a workflow into the site and be done with it.

That is why I am really proud to solve a business problem with a simple Announcement List. That is “WOW” for me!

Wow

Well, and because I am not that good with workflows and InfoPath. 🙂

You may also like:

The Perils of InfoPath
The 80-120 rule for IT Projects
Empathy or Business Sense

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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!

Another 4 processes to streamline with SharePoint

In an earlier post, I discussed 4 very common time-consuming processes that you can make more efficient by using SharePoint. But I guess that the next 4, although perhaps less common, still occur quite often.
You can make your project managers, your business venture managers and your IT department very happy if you can show them that you can facilitate these processes with a SharePoint Team Site.

 

5. Corporate projects needing input from many countries/businesses

Forget sending large status updates in PowerPoint or Excel per email. For large central projects, use a site where you can collect the status updates from every country or business in a list. If you need security, or want to allow that country or business to share their project documents and other information, you can use a site collection instead, where every country of business has their own site. You can use a Content Query Webpart to collect all updates in another site for the Project Manager.

It helps to create one page where the collective progress is shown – you may lose confidentiality but it will reduce the time needed to create reports and it will help the business to see how their own efforts contribute to the projects’ or company’s goal. Of course everyone will be able to set alerts.

All this will reduce inbox overload, make the project progress much more transparent and save the Project Manager lots of time in reporting.

Some examples:

  • Centralizing the organization
  • Capturing procurement terms and conditions
  • Local milestones for a divestiture
  • Action plans following the global employee satisfaction survey
  • A global sustainability project

Example: PMO in a Team Site

6. Business experiments 

Why spend time and money on dedicated software if you are not 100% sure that your new business venture will be successful? Start with a process in SharePoint and see how things turn out. It will perhaps not do everything you think you need, but as you work with it you will learn more about your eventual software needs, helping you to define better requirements. And if your pilot fails, you do not have to add software costs to your losses.

Example: High Tea Reservations. 

7. Temporary pre-ERP solutions

If your “Problem Process” is not yet in scope for your ERP-system,  why not check if you can move it to SharePoint before making the leap to ERP? It may not be the ideal solution, but you may be able to iron out those process wrinkles, which will make your process more efficient now. And moving to your ERP-system later will be less painful because you have a better process to start with.

Example: CRM in a Team Site, now with screenshots!

8. Legacy processes 

Chances are that you still have a few of those one-trick-ponies from the nineties or noughties in your application portfolio.  The companies that created them have merged ten times or gone bust, there are no updates or support, the manual is lost, the user interface is outdated and they may even need separate log-on. This is a good opportunity to free up a server, use the regular support system, apply SSO and a familiar look-and-feel and generally reduce complexity.
We have used an InfoPath solution to replace an outdated Idea Submission programme, and replaced a visit-pass-request-system by a simple Custom List.

All these examples will help with “The daily dose of SharePoint” that your employees need to become more familiar with SharePoint. The more different uses of SharePoint they see, the more they will learn that SharePoint is a versatile tool that you can use every day, for almost every process.

Image courtesy of tungphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net