Jan 31, 2013

SharePoint Observations

I've started to work with Microsoft SharePoint for a lot of projects lately. I'm still fairly new to it. I've only started to seriously work with it over the last year. I thought I'd take a moment to share some observations.

People Don't Use SharePoint

People don't use SharePoint because it is not easy to access and documents are hard to find. Now, I know this is not true of all teams within organizations that use SharePoint. I'm sure it is a good solution for a lot of folks. However, what I'm observing is that people simply don't use it.

I'll use my team as an example. We've got a lot of good files on SharePoint. But most of us download those files to our computer and rarely come back to the site. My team does use it to update the status of projects...but they have to be constantly reminded to do so. Frankly, we do it so that our manager stays informed...not for collaborative work. My manager has done a great job or organizing the site and encouraging its use; but, it is rarely used for what it is designed for.

I've been asked to work on projects for other teams in my organization and I have observed the same mentality. These teams also have their own reasons for not using SharePoint:

  • The search function doesn't work well
  • Files are hard to find
  • Its not intuitive
  • Storage space is too limited
  • Permissions are always getting messed up

Some of these reasons are legit. However, many of these reasons are the result of a poor  implementation or IT issues that were not well thought out. Regardless, I bet I'd hear the same reasons mentioned by other organizations.

What are the Best Practices?

People don't use SharePoint because they have not seen best practices. IT has provided the teamsite space and told people to start using it to store shared documents. Chaos has ensued. People ask "we already have a shared folder, why do we need SharePoint just to share documents?" Good question. SharePoint is not meant to be a document repository alone. It is a collaborative workspace for teams. The problem is that most of the teams I've observed have no clue what the best practices are for creating a collaborative workspace...so they don't.

Improving SharePoint

I'm starting to be asked to work on some projects that leverage the strengths of SharePoint (document management, permission structure, versioning) but that fix some of the short comings I mentioned before. In particular, ease of use and quick access to information.

There are ways that SharePoint can be customized. Depending on the complexity of the project built-in customizations can certainly improve the usability.  You can add in content, remove unnecessary links, and more. But you still can not fully customize the look and feel of a teamsite without additional development work.  There is server-side coding that can be done to fully customize a SharePoint environment but IT owns this and there are certain expenses and overhead associated that can make this choice less than ideal.

I've been looking into SharePoint web services lately. There appears to be a lot of information that can be accessed through SharePoint web services. Since the web services can be accessed through JavaScript, no server-side coding is required. This means the overhead of getting IT involved can be avoided. However, it does require an experienced web developer. For me, this is promising for some of the e-learning and knowledge management projects I deal with.

Summary

Those are just a few of my observations starting out with SharePoint. What have been your observations?

Jan 28, 2013

Bullets are Bad, Questions are Good

Over the years I've encountered several courses about how to write good e-mails. They have all come to me in the same way -- a list of dos and don'ts. Frankly, it's not the way to describe it in a face-to-face setting and especially a bad idea in e-learning. Bulleted lists turn learners into zombies.

So the list comes in looking something like this:
  • Use correct spelling
  • Use correct capitalization
  • Avoid all caps
  • Skip lines between paragraphs
  • Avoid fancy fonts
  • Don't go crazy with the font colors
  • Use bold to show emphasis
Who wants to read a list like that? More importantly, who is going to remember this? Let's turn it into a question using examples of the behavior discussed.


Which would you prefer as a learner? More importantly, which is the learner likely to remember after taking the course? I strongly argue to do what you can to turn a bullet list into a question or some other type of engaging content. Bullets are simply bad in e-learning.

How have you handled boring bullet lists?