SharePoint Projects – Who’s in charge?

29 May

Aint You?

There is awesome scene one of my favorite movies, Apocalypse now, where Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) arrives at a destination and no one has a clue who is in charge and has a clue what is going on.

Sheen, asks a soldier shooting randomly at nothing “who’s the commanding officer here?” and gets the reply “Aint you?”

Working on SharePoint Projects with Collabr8 is often like that.

As external consultants we are often on a hiding to nothing and are viewed with skepticism and scrutiny by IT departments and Business users alike.

But often we are walking into environments where the company is so big that:

–          there are multiple people involved in decision making process

–          Potentially many people need to be involved

–          The stakeholders are based all around the world

This often means that as consultants we are unable to get the answers we need from one person and we are often walking into chaos. 

Our job as SharePoint consultants is to not only produce something technically but to act as go between and translators with everyone that needs to be involved.

By pulling all the strings we make sure that the project gets delivered and no one can say we didn’t help.

Rightly or wrongly, we need to take the burden away from our clients so that they don’t have to worry about anything.

Dare I say it, we need to Consult.

Video

SharePoint Conference 2012 #spc12 – The Inside story

11 Jan

Thousands flocked to Las Vegas to find out where Microsoft are taking their flagship SharePoint product in 2013. Lee Stevens was there to decipher the rhetoric.

Summary of #SPC12 SharePoint Conference 2012

19 Nov

Introduction

Earlier this month, I flew out to Las Vegas to attend the eagerly awaited Microsoft SharePoint Conference 2012 (#SPC12) to see what the future of SharePoint will offer Collabr8 and our clients.

There were over 300 sessions held which were broken down into different categories for:

  • Developers
  • IT Professionals
  • Business case studies.

While I was not able to take in all of the sessions, I’ve tried to capture the highlights that will make users ‘super excited’; the tag-line of Microsoft speakers over the 4 days!

Improved UI (user interface)

Microsoft has clearly invested a lot and time and money into improving how SharePoint now looks and the overall UX (user experience). It’s fair to say that the new SharePoint interface is crisp, clean and noticeably uncluttered.

It’s easier for the user to navigate and actually ‘do stuff’. For those familiar with SharePoint this means far less Site Actions > Site Settings sequences. You can now also ‘drag and drop’ email attachments straight from Outlook into Document libraries.

Hurrah!

Image

 

Enterprise Social: SharePoint

This was, without doubt, THE biggest feature that Microsoft kept plugging – being mentioned in every session in some way. Microsoft was keen to show off its Newsfeed which includes very LinkedIn and Twitter-esque functionality such as Follow, Mentions and Discussions

You can pretty much Share anything (Sites, Documents, etc) now, without needing a PhD in SharePoint permissions.

Interestingly though, the Communities features (Groups etc) which I mentioned in my previous blog post, were hardly mentioned. Having had a chance to digest this, I have my suspicions why. See Yammer details below.

Enterprise Social: Yammer + Skype

Microsoft started the week by announcing that that it would not be discussing the roadmap for Skype, which was  slightly disappointing, if not understandable. Any information would have been nice. (Would be natural to think that Skype will eventually replace Lync!)

Yammer did feature quite prominently in a lot of the sessions, with ‘the big reveal’  being that the pricing is changing. They also announced that the Office 365 bundle will now include Yammer ( can still be bought separately).

However, what was covered in the sessions was more about what Yammer is and how they do things.  It’s fair to say that everyone I spoke to was a little underwhelmed, dare I say confused, about what Yammer is bringing to the SharePoint party. And here’s the reason why.

– SharePoint now has # follows. So does Yammer

– SharePoint has groups / communities. So does Yammer

– SharePoint now has @user follows. So does Yammer

Yes, there are some things that each of them does better and differently. However, I cannot see Microsoft owning two very similar products without killing one of them off at some stage.

My bet (Vegas takes its toll!) would be that the SharePoint Communities features would be the one to go or gradually superseded by Yammer. This is based purely on a hunch and  a) the fact that I didn’t see much of it in any of the social sessions I attended and b) Yammer does this a little bit better.

SkyDrive

SkyDrive will map seamlessly to SharePoint. This is Microsoft’s cloud based storage product. Think Dropbox and you won’t be far off. This allows external sharing of documents also.

Search + Content + Publishing

Image

As a Microsoft representative pointed out in one of the earlier sessions, Search and Publishing are now a lot more closely linked.

From a user perspective, Search is now a lot slicker in SharePoint 2013. Features like a floating ‘preview’ function when you hover over links are really effective.

From an administration perspective, it’s now easier to ‘point’ SharePoint search at multiple sources and promote results. This can also be based on social factors, such as the number of mentions and follows etc.

I particularly liked the new Content Search Web Part. This allows you to add any ‘related content’ based on Metadata (Tags). So, for example, if you create a news article on one of your brands, you can add content to page automatically which will show links to anything that has been tagged with that brand. Including documents and other news articles. Pretty cool, hey? For more info, take a peek at @wonderlaura Blog Post. She thinks its’ “awesome, awesome, awesome”.

You can now use managed navigation feature in SharePoint 2013 to create URLs  in your SharePoint site, which also means you no longer have to have the word ‘Pages’ or ASPX in the URL of Publishing sites.

Cloud + Apps

This is far too big (and complex) a subject to cover in detail – I will provide a top-line summary.

Cloud and Cloud based apps are going to be a game-changer for many companies using SharePoint.

It’s now theoretically possible for Developers to create “Apps” for SharePoint outside of SharePoint and/or upload these to the new SharePoint App store.

Now here’s the clever part. As these apps will be hosted in the cloud, the vast majority of the power and computing to run these apps will also be hosted there. This means that all of the legwork will be done outside of SharePoint, meaning that IT Departments will no longer have to worry about ‘SharePoint servers not coping’.

This will result in more vendors selling Apps on the SharePoint market and will ultimately allow companies to reduce development time by purchasing “pre built” Apps.

I would encourage you to read Suzanne George’s Blog Post if you want to know more about this subject – written in very accessible language.

Mobile

Saving the best for last. SharePoint 2013 on a mobile device is going to be a painless, enjoyable experience. There I said it!

In the various sessions I attended on the mobile space I saw SharePoint working on an iPad, Blackberry, Surface and Windows Phone (on different occasions).  Blackberry plan to launch SharePoint Apps in the next few weeks. Microsoft is also planning to launch an App for the iPad and the iPhone in early 2013

Another great tool is the new Design Manager in SharePoint 2013. This allows you to preview what your content will look like on various mobile device plus select what content appears on a mobile device through different, HTML5 based, views.

I think, companies that have already spent thousands of pounds customising SharePoint to work on mobile, will have a considerable challenge integrating these features. Once again, reiterating my belief that “out of the box” is always the way to go.

Feedback

Thanks for reading. If you have any feedback or would like any further information, please do get in touch.

SharePoint 2013 new features that end users will love

5 Sep


So… It’s been a while since my last SharePoint Business Analyst blog. (Far too long for my liking, especially as so much has happened since J)

I thought it would be a good opportunity to spend some time looking at what SharePoint 2013 is going to offer end users.

It’s fair to say, that there is a LOT of information out there already but in the main, it’s all very technical. So, as I wanted to get my head round some of the things SharePoint 20103 is going to offer anyway, I have done some research and extracted some of what I see as being the best bits for the end users and summarised these below.

I’d love to hear he thoughts and feedback of anyone interested, so please get in touch.

Mobile

Browsers

Microsoft have finally got this right in SharePoint 2013 (in my opinion). The number of users that want to view SharePoint ‘on the go’ on mobile devices such as iPods and Smart Phones is obvious. Views are now available in SharePoint 2013 which have been built using HTML5. (Click the link for a geek free explanation of HTML5!)

This should ensure that this will work on practically any device and will be optimised for most Mobile Browsers (Mobile IE9, Windows Phone 7.5, Safari, and Android. Office Web Apps also mean that documents and files should open on all of these, with no requirement to have Office installed on the device.

 

(Picture and further info available from www.nothingbutsharePoint.com)

Geolocation

There is now a Geolocation field you can use in SharePoint lists. This can store map co-ordinates and is very useful if on the move as you can then want cross reference the said map co-ordinates on SharePoint with your current location. (Think of your company’s office locations maybe? You know its round here somewhere!)

SharePoint 2013 My Sites

(Picture and further info available from SharePoint nuts and bolts)

General Features

It’s fair to say that My Sites in SharePoint 2013 are as close to a Twitter / Facebook offering that you will get (for an enterprise type solution anyway!). These now allow features such as

  • Newsfeed – Very similar to Facebook, this shows an aggregated view of everything a user is doing
  • Status Updates – In less than 140 Characters will be seen by anyone that is following you (see below)
  • I’m Following – Shows what sources a user is following including People, Docs, Sites etc)
  • What’s trending – Like twitter, shows what subjects are being discussed using the hash tag # symbol
  • Mentions – Shows where a user has been quoted or mentioned using the @ symbol (now where have I seen that before?? J)

Chris O’Brien’s Blog post on this subject matter has some more detailed info for anyone interested. (Thanks for the pic also Chris!)

My Site Document Library

The Document library in a My Site also has some interesting changes. The one that I think has largely gone un-noticed is the following

“When deployed, a user’s My Site document library is the default save location for files saved from Office 2013 Preview client applications. A discovery service identifies the user’s My Site URL and offers it as the default location in addition to other locations available for saving files”

That’s right. One of the biggest stoppers to user adoption of SharePoint has now (in theory) gone away. As their My Site now becomes the default “Save to” location. This should encourage a lot more people to not save documents to the Desktop or Local drives.

If they still want to do that do… Microsoft have thought about that.

Very much like Dropbox, you can now set up your My Site Document library to Sync with a local drive. Not only does this ensure you have easy access but also offline access (very handy if you need to work on that presentation on the train!).

I think these are two great features which all do a very good job promoting the My Site Document Library.

Share Anything

There is now a prominent link on the My Site that offers sharing hints. It’s also a lot easier to to establish who you are currently sharing with and what. This has removed the need to go through what can be a daunting granting permissions process to many users. Once again check out Chris O’Brien’s Blog post on this subject matter for screen shots.

SharePoint 2013 Communities (Think LinkedIn or Facebook groups!)

(Picture and further info available from www.cardinalsolutions.com)

For a number of reasons Social Networking for the enterprise has not really been something that is widely used in SharePoint 2010. Many large organisations turned to 3rd party vendors such as Newsgator or developed something custom to suit their needs. Neither is no longer really needed as there is massive improvement in SharePoint 2013. (Worrying for Newsgator maybe?)

Communities now provide a ‘forum’ type experience that allows users to become members, share files and participate in discussions in any subject matter. For example, a community could be set up for a team, shared interest or a one off event (results announcements etc). This is all very familiar to those that have used LinkedIn or Facebook for external communities.

Dedicated Community Sites can be created in isolation or as multiples with the new Communities Portal (needs to be ‘switched on)
aggregating and searching across all of the activities happening.

Alternatively, the following community features can be enabled on existing sites. (Very useful if you are upgrading as no need to migrate your existing site to a Community site J)

Community Features

  • Membership
  • Marking / Tagging content (Number of Stars)
  • Discussions
    • Assign Gift Badges ( e.g Level 1 = Rookie Level 5 = Moderator)
    • Best Replies (Like Yahoo Q+A)
    • Categories

Hope you found this useful. Please Retweet / Like +1 and do all the other nice things that you do is so, or get in touch

Scrum with SharePoint – How not to do it!

16 Jan

Have you wanted to know where SharePoint and Scrum can go wrong? (Or Scrum in general for that matter!)

Over the Christmas period, when trying to come up with some New Year resolutions, I had time to reflect on where projects and been a massive ball ache for me in 2011 and where I could improve on these in 2012. I have decided to share these with the community and give some pointers as to how I think I can overcome these going forward.

I warn you now; these are not Scrum by the book as that book got thrown out years ago! These are just my opinions. Please get in touch if you have any other suggestions!

No defined Product Owner / Lack of dedicated team members

This is by far the most annoying thing of all the things I list and that I promise to myself to make the priority at the start of every project. Everyone in the business will all too often, have a view on how things should and shouldn’t be done, yet trying to get anyone to put their neck on the line and/or to appoint an individual to take responsibility for what should be the ROI on the project is pretty much impossible at times.

At the same time, trying to get the business give up committed resources to the project (that it so clearly needs” and still wanting the “moon on a stick” still happens.)

As a Business Analyst, this makes life very difficult in defining acceptance criteria and prioritising the product backlog.

The solution I found was to allow be two people to be the product owner. This has advantages over a single person. You can get them to agree jointly or make a decision in the absence of the other. At least one of them should be senior enough to make a decision on behalf of the business (and not have to go back and ask every time). Also, you can get a nice blend of skills if there are two people.

Likewise beware Change Managers who try and adopt this role who clearly have a conflict of interest!

Allowing Team member to be hijacked into meetings

“This will be a quick one”, “Just a quick questions”, “Have you got time to go through X”

These will be an all too common question on most projects. Yet all of these meetings take up valuable time. As the Scrum Master it is your / their job to protect your team from these ad-hoc, time consuming requests. I needed to remind myself that same thing a few times, as I stopped being the Rottweiler at the door that my team needed me to be. 95% of these questions can (and should) be answered by the BA / PM.

Project Plans with Scrum

It’s a fact of life.

The business claims that it subscribes to Agile and the world of Scrum. Yet no one tells the Senior Management that!

You WILL get asked for a project plan. You will get asked for estimates. You will get asked to work to a deadline. The day you realise this, you will be a far happier person! I found that rather than trying to pick a fight that I didn’t have the energy for (or a chance of winning!) doing Karen Greaves’ release planning exercise helped greatly. Happy to share the love and actually a very useful article. I provided a project plan with User Stories on them with development estimates also.

Chinese Whispers

“The CEO Hates SharePoint” “, “We’ve heard that SharePoint is useless at X”, “We’ve heard that the business wants this”.

 Beware the Chinese whispers. Everyone has an opinion, yet as a SharePoint Business Analyst, it is your job to challenge, question and quantify what these statements are. If you see the business running round like headless chickens off the back of such statements you are not doing your job properly.

Forget process and methods how to deal with this. One question to respond to all of these?

Why?

If they can’t answer the question with a tangible response, treat this as noise. Likewise, also treat comments that are from important people  in the business but not to the project with a pinch of salt. (#justsaying !!!)

Not a clue about what they actually want / why they want it.

This happens when people do generic requirements gathering. Try to make sure this doesn’t happen and that you get to the business early on in the process. My previous post covers this off

Unrealistic Deadlines

This will always happen. This is where you can provide some guidance as a SharePoint Business Analyst.

My theory is that you should know the product inside out. As, if you know what SharePoint’s capabilities are you can actually try and trim back some of the work on the project by trying to get to the magical 90% functional acceptance mark on the requirements. To give you an example:

Method 1 – Uses “out of the box” web parts, no code but looks a bit clunky yet does 90% of the functionality = 2 days

Method 2 – Is Custom Code, Custom Web Parts and offers 100% functionality = 20 Days.

Guess what they will go for if they absolutely must, cannot miss deadline?

In other words, we are using fixed date but variable scope.

Summary

Like I said, I am not saying these are right or wrong. Just the way I have done and experienced it.

I now feel cleansed and promise to myself to be a better boy in all of these areas above this year. Would love to know your thoughts. Contact me on Twitter @leestevens1979 or use the comments below.

 

SharePoint 2010 – How to ‘drive’ user adoption

2 Jun

A secretary walks into a Giant Car showroom and demands ‘OK tell me how much it is… I’ll take it?’ This is without actually telling the bemused sales guy; what make she wants, the model, the colour, age, size of the engine, spec etc. She had failed to ask her boss all of these things (end user) who had instructed her to ‘go out and get a car’, as he she took his instructions literally.

The salesman rubs his hands together and she goes and blows £300k of her bosses’ hard earned money on the latest supercar. All he needed was a basic saloon car to get around town!

Ok this didn’t really happen but the exact same thing happens week in week out with Internal Communicators who use SharePoint as their Intranet and/or Content Management systems and never ask users what they need and would like to see.

Between IT and Internal Comms, they are the ones that often decide what the end users will need and want as they ‘know’ their audience and have done the requirements gathering. (Often a 1 hour meeting with them to tell them what they were going to do!)

The days of static content (pushed out by Internal Comms) are well and truly numbered. On an Intranet, users not only demand and expect content that is fresh and relevant to them personally but also applications that will make their lives easier. With SharePoint, you will be amazed how many applications can be built within days, without any custom coding and often life changers for the users. This will also drive user adoption and get people visiting the content you want them to more often. These can be anything as simple as a holiday request form, through to a Recruitment system.

You just need to ask them what their pain is!

8 Great Tips to get the most out of SharePoint

  1. Don’t let IT Run the project – SharePoint is a business facing application. Unless there is a fresh installation needed, try to keep the project run by someone in the business who understands the challenges in the business rather than of the technology.
  2. Requirements gathering – Ask end users what they want by actually asking the question ‘tell me about the challenges in your business’. Count the blank looks on people’s faces when you ask ‘tell me what you want SharePoint to do.
  3. Custom code – There is always a time and a place for this but avoid wherever you can. For every 5 days of development, the same can be achieved with configuration in 1.
  4. ‘Out of the box’ Features – Get to know all of the features that are in SharePoint. Knowing what the product can actually offer can avoid custom code!
  5. 3rd Party Products – SharePoint, like all systems, has its shortfalls, but there are thousands of products that can be bolted onto SharePoint to address these. These costs a fraction of the cost of developing from scratch and are supported also.
  6. Micro-Projects – Wherever possible, try to deliver SharePoint offering in small chunks. This will make SharePoint become viral and also make it easier to improve on each piece that you deliver. Hard to do with a ‘big bang’ approach.
  7. End User Training – Train Train Train – Allow a decent budget for training end users on how to actually use SharePoint. How will people use the tool if they don’t know how to?
  8. Support – Log a ticket approach doesn’t work with SharePoint. Try to identify the ‘power users’ that can be accessible to help the business users.

SharePoint User Group – 31st March 2011

1 Apr

Tonight was my first visit to the London SharePoint User Group (SUGUK) in over 6 Months! So.. I thought it was an opportune time to update the SharePoint Business Analyst Blog.

This lapse was caused partly by me being extremely busy but also due to lack of events, due to the fact that (apparently) Microsoft have pulled the funding (and thus sponsoring) of the events at their flagship office in Victoria. (That Pizza they serve up at half time doesn’t pay for itself I suppose!)

Overall, last nights session was perfect for a SharePoint Business Analyst or SharePoint Project Manager, as there was little Dev focus. (sorry Devs!) This was split into two sections, as follows.

Microsoft Office 365 | Alex Pearce |BFC Networks

For me, Microsoft Office 365 is going to be massive in the next 3-4 years, especially for SME’s who are looking for a low cost entry point to SharePoint. Alex confirmed that Microsoft has over 1500 developers currently working on Office 365, which will include:

 

  • Office Professional Plus
  • Exchange
  • SharePoint Online
  • Lync (Lync can be used to ‘federate’ between two Office 365 environments, so that video chat can be possible between users in sister companies for example)

SharePoint Online Includes:

  • My Sites
  • Team Sites
  • Intranet
  • Extranet
  • Workspaces
  • Public Facing Website

Main exclusions to Microsoft Office 365 are:

  • Web Analytics (lack of)
  • BCS – ( This is a biggie for me and not expected until 2012)
  • The SharePoint Timer Job
  • Records Centre

Disappointingly there is no Audio or dial in for (what used to be) Live Meeting, so if you need to be speaking with someone who has audio on their PC’s. (I am sure this is a cue for developers and companies to create a product, like http://www.gotomeeting.com)

Pricing is not out yet for the UK but the estimated price is meant to be on a par with BPOS, so around £6-£10 per user, per month.

Search Decoupled | Steve Smith |Combined Knowledge

Steve put together a really interesting presentation and covered the items listed below. In essence, he was talking about how you can configure different boxes to perform different jobs for search. This included mirroring and playing around with fallover settings.

This would ideally be for companies with over 5 Million Documents. (I can think of a few companies that are still using two boxes for everything!)

He stated that when Scaling Search to consider the following:

  • Crawl Server
  • Query Server
  • Search Administration
    • Inc Best Bets
  • Property Database
  • Crawl Database
  • Crawling Target Server

     

A number of rendering Issues were mentioned with deployments that were not planned effectively. These included.

  • Lack of memory
  • Active Directory Lookups are slow
  • User Profile Service access is slow for people queries

     

Steve mentioned that Search is becoming so big that you will have people that will know Search and Fast and nothing else

Oh and an150m Documents should become FAST. Now that’s a different story!