Posted in Techniques, Tools

Microsoft Forms, Flow, and SharePoint for contact sharing | Tracy van der Schyff

I like the approach to using this combination of tools (Flow, Forms, SharePoint) to solve a specific need (contact distribution). Where I struggle a bit is the “last mile” of people not necessarily having access to a QR code reader to start the process. 

When designing solutions using Office 365 tools make sure you are keeping the entire user experience in consideration. If you don’t have each step addressed and have unintentionally introduced a barrier to adoption in your process you have almost doomed your solution before you start.

 

Posted in Strategy, Tools

Top Three Ways To Use SharePoint To Gain A Competitive Advantage | HuffPost

I always find it interesting there are so many ways to apply SharePoint within an organization to improve operations, collaboration, and organization, yet when we look at how it’s actually being used it goes back to projects, ticket intake, and looking for things we didn’t organize correctly in the first place.

To discover the true strengths of SharePoint, you have to remove the blinders and look at the creative ways you can apply the out of the box functionality to make a difference. Business processes, content management, community building and more are well within reach of SharePoint power users much less experts.

Posted in Strategy

Creating an automatic project number with OOTB SharePoint

On a recent project for a manufacturing client we had a request to automatically generate a project number for tracking a new product through it’s development life cycle. This project number needed to be a unique reference, automatically increment, and be able to be revised should specific information on the project change.

This may get a little inside baseball for a bit, but bear with me to the end and you’ll understand why.

Requirements

Each project was being represented using a list record in a SharePoint list with an extensive set of information captured for the tracking of the product development life cycle. Another constraint was the process and data were being built out in SharePoint on Office 365, precluding a number of direct coding options.

In following our OOTB SharePoint approach, we looked at a couple of options for implementation including calculated fields and ultimately workflows to generate the needed project number. The specifics of generating the number were less involved than the strategic process around assessing OOTB capabilities to solve the problem. 

Options

In reviewing the requirements one of the first questions asked was, “does something like this already exist?” By default SharePoint generates an ID column for every record, but it is a fixed format and cannot be modified at any time. Let’s parking lot that column for the moment. Since that is the only automatically generated, sequential column we had to look at other options next.  

We considered using a date and time field to generate a unique number, and this was a path under consideration for a time, until we realized how long the resulting number would be. Nix that idea.

Decisions

We circled back to the ID field and looked at ways to put it to use. Since the ID field contained a large portion of the information we needed, we combined it with another column the submitter would select to provide the other part.

Adding to this the workflow necessary to update the project number column (since a calculated column wouldn’t do the trick) to trigger when a new record was created or the workflow was manually executed did the trick.

Learnings

What is most important to take away from this is that understanding what is already available within SharePoint and then finding ways to put it to new uses is a highly effective way to minimize the amount of custom development needed. This makes for easier support, migrations, and updates. Knowing the ID field availability and limitations made the decision process simpler and the final result a success. 

Posted in Strategy

What’s so special about out of the box (OOTB) SharePoint?

SharePoint as a collaboration and work platform has been around since 2001 and with 17 years under it’s proverbial belt it has gone through major changes, alterations, and expansions.  Part of that growth has been spurred by SharePoint’s ability to accept custom development of it’s platform. Changes through writing code beyond what can be configured by default have expanded the scope and reach of the platform and made it one of them most widely adopted collaboration platforms in the workplace today.  However, in many cases the instinct to customize overrides the ability to apply what SharePoint can do out of the box (OOTB) creating solutions that are harder to manage and migrate in the long term.

Configuring over building

SharePoint by it’s design is set up to allow for easy configuration by users and administrators.  Leveraging configurable web parts from a centralized collection, power users can create highly flexible and targeted content pages without requiring an understanding of web development. Data lists can be captured, shared, filtered, and manipulated all from within a browser without needing specialized tools or skill sets. Now I’m not downplaying the importance of custom development in many cases, but what I am suggesting is that custom development shouldn’t be the first thing we think of when it comes to SharePoint based solutions.

LEGOs in a box

To understand the SharePoint OOTB strategy approach better, let’s consider the world famous children’s (and many adults) toy…the venerable LEGO. When you have a set of LEGOs there is an unspoken understanding that there are just some things you can’t do with the LEGOs out of the box.

Making a circle, for example, will never be quite right because of the design of LEGOs. The benefit of using the LEGOs is that anyone of almost minimal experience can sit down and within a few minutes start to create something. With increasing skill and understanding of what LEGOs you have and how you can connect and repurpose them, your creations become more complex and ultimately more impressive.

Apply the same thinking to SharePoint.  When you deploy an instance of SharePoint there are certain collection of parts within the environment.  Some are for content, some for data, some for search, some for collaboration, and so on.

What is key in the beginning is to gather an in depth understanding of what’s “in the box” and how those parts can interact to create larger and more powerful solutions. When we think about doing custom development, we should look at it the same way as if someone handed us a block of plastic, a knife, and said “ok, go make your own LEGO bricks.” 

Blue Apron or Gordon Ramsey

Another analogy that helps understand the benefits of OOTB SharePoint is dinner.  Let’s say for argument’s sake you would like a nice, fancy dinner tonight.  You have a few options. Go out to dinner, cook it yourself, hire a chef, or use one of those meal box services like Blue Apron. 

Going out to dinner means you get what’s on the menu.  If it’s not on the menu it’s not an option.  Think about this as using a third-party solution on the web. You get what it offers and you have to find one that offers what you need.  Rarely do you find one that is willing to make you something completely custom.

Cooking it yourself is a viable option, assuming you have the prerequisite skills to make a quality meal, and the ingredients on hand to be successful. I’ll always encourage people to be self sufficient, but in many cases the resource and skill costs are just prohibitive.

Hiring a chef is an alternative to cooking it yourself or going out to eat, giving you exactly what you want and in the best possible way. Drawback here is you will get what you pay for and pay for what you get.  Completely custom has a high cost of entry in skill, experience, and expense.

This leaves us with Blue Apron / Hello Direct / and all the other various boxed meal prep companies out there. The objective for them is to give you all the materials and instructions necessary to make a successful meal. They’re giving you the LEGOs in your food box. It’s not as flexible as a chef, but it’s easier than requiring you to have the skills of a chef.  In essence, working with an “out of the box” solution in this case creates a much greater chance of success come dinner time.

OOTB SharePoint success steps

There’s some basic steps you can take to increase your chances of success when configuring OOTB SharePoint solutions:

  1. Learn as much as you can about what’s “in the box”
  2. Study how the box components interact and what they are and are not capable of
  3. Define your requirements with implementation using OOTB capabilities in mind

There is a great deal more to consider when developing OOTB strategies for solutions, but if you take the steps to learn about your tools, how they can be used, and refine a creative process for identifying solutions you can be successful with your OOTB SharePoint. 

Posted in Uncategorized

Office 365 Groups get SharePoint Sites

Microsoft is rolling out SharePoint Sites as part of their Groups offering in Office 365 beginning this month. The premise is when a Microsoft Group is set up, not only will the group get common notebooks and a Yammer site, but they will also get a SharePoint Team Site as part of the deployment.

Making sense of Office 365 and SharePoint Team Sites

Sounds confusing, right? Well it starts to clear up the confusion when you look at it from a different perspective. No longer do you have to choose which is a better fit for your group. Now if you focus on Groups, you can be confident the collaborative space you are using will scale up as needed into a SharePoint Team Site should it be required.

As Office 365 continues to grow in enterprise and business deployments the development of a comprehensive and cohesive strategy becomes critical for long term success. The strategy needs to include what collaboration tools to use when and how. Integration of this functionality by Microsoft makes the decisions easier but does not change the need for analysis and planning.

Looking over the operation of an organization, specifically around how team members collaborate and coordinate their work, and applying the features from Office 365 to optimize that operation can make all the difference in the success of the cloud based solution.  Three key questions you want to ask your team prior to rolling out Office 365 collaboration features are:

  1. How do you communicate most frequently between team members?
  2. What are you communicating?
  3. What is not working as part of those communications?

A better understanding of the natural communications processes between your team members helps you determine what will benefit from new tools and what should remain with the current ones.  Office 365 Groups and SharePoint are a powerful combination. Offering features and functions to help your teams work together the most important thing they leave up to you is to come up with a plan.