Archive for March, 2010

Branding SharePoint, not so fast!


Often developers are given the task of deploying SharePoint and one of the first things they want to do is “not make it look like SharePoint”.  I can understand they want to customize the look and feel, but hold on, not so fast!

Do we need to brand the web site?

I think the natural gut feel to brand comes from legacy development where we always started with a blank slate.  We could “draw” it up any way we wanted and we expect to do this because SharePoint is a web site after all, and we should be able to make it look like we want.  However, don’t forget SharePoint is an application and platform which does not give you a blank slate, so complete customization can be difficult if you don’t understand what you are getting in to.

What is the business ROI (return on investment) to branding?

If SharePoint is used as an external facing website I totally agree some level of branding needs to done.  External customers need to know they are at your site and can associate the site with your company.

If the site is for internal usage, for example, to manage projects, I don’t think branding makes any sense.  Simply changing the colour theme, and logo is enough and easy to do.  Otherwise, there is not payback on the time.  I think it would be better to take the time that it takes to brand and use that time to teach users how to use the web site instead of making it look pretty.  It looks fine out of the box!

Look at it this way, when you deployed Microsoft Office in your organization, or any other internal tool, did you brand it?

Recently I saw at a client, the developers customized default.master, a common master page in SharePoint, which is used in many common templates in SharePoint.  All looked great, until the users created a Decision Meeting Workspace that was based on a different master page, MSWSDefault.master. Yikes, now what?  Customizing default.master was difficult enough, now we have to do another one, or we remove the template which users like, or live with the inconsistent look and feel?  How many other templates and associated different master pages are there?

Branding requires complete understanding of master pages, content pages, core.css, themes and how all these components intertwine in SharePoint.  Think about the ROI and what you are getting into before making code changes in SharePoint.

Gord Maric

Testing and Tracking Alpha Issues


Issues

This week has been incredibly busy as we carried out the Alpha test of our SharePoint 2010 Introduction course

If you are testing and giving feedback about a project, one list you may want to look at is the issues list

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This allows you to report issues, assign them and track them. Many people use spreadsheets for such tasks however these invariably get lost on old file shares and vary in format over time. Centralizing your content in a common form brings many benefits. Starting by using a list such as this can immediately bring benefits such as knowing the data is being backed up, being able to search across many items, being able to apply workflows to the data, security and most of all visibility (it can be found easily in your site).

If you need extra columns for company specific data then these can be added. If groups of columns are showing up repeatedly in different lists and libraries, or better still in your requirements analysis, then you can create what are known as content types which allow a whole new level of consistency in your data. These will be explained in the course

Course Update

The Alpha is where we test the exercises and review the course notes to ensure they all work, make sense and finish off any pieces that need to be in place of the course pilot.

As mentioned previously we need to exchange a lot of information and track the progress. Naturally SharePoint is ideal for this and so Dux has been uploading documents to a ‘Document Library’

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This has the usual document management features enabled. A key aspect of this is versioning whereby Dux can create a document that I then modify. If we need to go back to a previous version then we simply roll back.

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Next Step

The next step in the course development is the Live Pilot  in Washington April 13-16 ! when we will find out did we get it right and did the testing pay off.

Naturally SharePoint provides a way for us to get such feedback – the Survey List.

Respondents answer questions similar to the following clip_image008

and then we can analyse the feedback!

Dave

Managing Projects and the Secret to SharePoint Success


 

In this post I am going to show you the new projects list.  SharePoint sites are ideal for managing a project. There have been books written about this subject so if you need to do this there is plenty of material available.

SharePoint 2010 provides a list known as project tasks.clip_image004

As for any list you can use Site Action | More options to see the types available for creation. clip_image002

Once you have added a project Tasks list you can add Tasks or Summary Tasks from the ‘New’ button in the ribbon.

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The summary task is like a folder for related sub tasks.

When I create a new summary task the following is displayed

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I have added a ‘kick off meeting’ task as a pre requisite for the new group of tasks required to plan the ‘Review Material’ group of sub tasks.

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In the main view I now see ‘Review Material’ as a hyperlink. If I click on this I see a view of the tasks for this group of summary tasks.

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To navigate back to the higher levels I simply use the breadcrumb trail

Using other buttons on the ribbon I can compress/ expand the date range shown and scroll down to tasks. clip_image014

Using zoom out I have changed the date range below to show months instead of days

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In order to keep the displays in this post simple I have omitted assigning the tasks to users and omitted setting dates and other pieces of information. Keep in mind however that the project task is a SharePoint list which means you can customise it, set alerts, use RSS feeds, Create new views etc etc. In short it builds on the underlying list technology which already gives huge number of features available for use in building solutions.

So does this replace tools like Microsoft Project and Project Server? Not really the tools in SharePoint are there as a starting point for the simpler type projects. Adding Project Server takes it to a new level. This emphasises how SharePoint 2010 is an extensible platform that you can use in many ways.

SharePoint 2010 Success

And finally here is my suggestion for making SharePoint a success for you and your organisation. Start using it!

I know this probably sounds a little too obvious but reading posts and articles is not enough. So here is the real suggestion, set up a study site for SharePoint 2010 and encourage all of the people who are investigating it to share notes and experiences and links to useful resources. Of course you can take this a step further and put together training plans using the project task list!

And of course schedule and take our SharePoint 2010 course, the development of which is progressing nicely.

Course update.

Soon we will carry out the Alpha test. This is where Dux presents the course internally to myself, Karen and possibly other Learning tree people.

Karen and I will be making Dux justify the content in every page and we will test each exercise. We also have to make sure it all flows along nicely and make sure it serves its purpose.

Following this the next step is the Live Pilot  in Washington April 13-16 !

Dave

Managing Time with SharePoint Calendars


Using calendars to manage time and resources is a common requirement in many systems and for many reasons. Being able to quickly and easily create calendars and views of events has always been a powerful tool within SharePoint. Often however the out of the calendar features were not sufficient to meet users needs and third party equivalents needed to be considered.

SharePoint 2010 has enhanced calendar facilities that offer some extra features to help with this.

clip_image002To see this, create a calendar by using the ‘Site Settings’ then within ‘More options’ select the  ‘Calendar’ image.

This will take you through the dialogs needed to create a new calendar type list as per SharePoint 2007. In order to get the new features we need to activate a feature at the site level.

To see this use the, ‘Site Actions | Site Settings | Manage Site Features’, links.

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After this has been activated the calendar list has a new option to use the calendar as a group calendar

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Select yes here and return to the new calendar and you will see some new buttons

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Select either Day group or Work group and you will see a new view of the calendar as seen below

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This is a nice step on from the 2007 calendar allowing us to manage people. SharePoint server adds the ability to manage resources such as rooms and equipment as well.

Multiple Calendars

If you need to use multiple calendars to track events, then this next feature will really help. This is that of ‘Calendar overlays’ whereby we can view multiple calendars at once in a single view – as if the calendar contents had been laid on top of each other.

On the ribbon for the Calendar there is a new button

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Note: Although the link says new calendar it means add a view of an existing calendar

When pressed displays the following where you select the calendar to be overlaid.

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The calendar can either be a SharePoint calendar or an Exchange calendar! – Another significant enhancement.

The result is in my case two calendars being combined showing events in one view

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This can be used in many ways to keep track of different teams or individuals. The calendars can be from different sites or as mentioned can be Microsoft Exchange calendars

Course Time

And at this point of the development of our new SharePoint 2010 course, time is speeding up as we get closer to our alpha date.   Our First Run Pilot session on April 13-16 in Washington will then be next.  If you would be interested in attending, let us know!

No matter how good the calendars are, they mean nothing unless we actually use them and carry out the work. My calendar entries for this week are beginning to fill up with items of course material to review !

Deadlines, Deadlines, Deadlines 🙂

Dave Severn

To learn more about SharePoint, download Learning Tree’s free white paper, SharePoint® Empowerment: Making Document Management and Organizational Collaboration Easier.

Managing and Organising Documents


Dux and I have been exchanging information as our new SharePoint 2010 course development progresses.

This week I sent some information to him about some of the exercises in a word document as an attachment to an email. This is the kind of thing that happens a lot in any organisation but what happens to the document after it has been sent ? How can we ensure it is stored in the correct location and how do we group this together with related documents that share characteristics such as course number, author name etc.

SharePoint has been providing document management features such as Centralised library storage, Check in / out, versioning and content approval for a long time. SharePoint 2010 adds some interesting new features which will help us with the above.

Content organiser

The first is the content organiser. This allows us to either upload a document or send it via email to a special library known as the ‘drop off library’. The drop off library acts as a starting point from which documents are automatically routed to their destination based on rules that we create through some simple to use dialogs. In my example above the document I sent to Dux can be sent to an email address associated with a drop off library from where it can be routed to a course 1501 library.

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Similarly Anna in marketing might have a new course brochure ready and she can also send this to an email address which gets routed to the same 1501 library.

When the document is in its correct location (library) we can use standard document management features such as check in/ out, versioning and content approval to maintain the information integrity.


 

Document ID’s

Over time we might need to move such documents to alternative locations. For example the 1501 document library might start in a general purpose course development site but at an appropriate time need to be moved to a dedicate course 1501 site. If for example Karen and Carl had saved the url of the document I sent in their favourites menu they would not be able to retrieve the document once it had been moved. This can be solved by the use of ‘document ids’. When this feature is enabled a special identifier is assigned to documents within the site collection. Viewing the document properties (see image below)  reveals a special URL which is what Karen and Carl should save in their favourites.

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Now even when we move the document around and they will be able to open it by using this special URL.

http://islserver2008vm/course1501/_layouts/DocIdRedir.aspx?ID=COURSE1501-1-9

Document Sets

Learning Tree has many courses and each one has lots of associated files. Grouping files by discrete document libraries or folders is one option to keep them together. Another is to use a ‘Document Set ‘. This grouping allows the set to share metadata such as Author name, Course number and can be versioned the way documents are now. In addition if we need to download the documents in a group they can be downloaded as a zip file.

Here we see three documents grouped into the Chapter 1 set

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So Much to Learn

From this partial list of new features we can see that each version of SharePoint is bringing more and more ‘ease of use’ features that will require much less traditional code based programming for us to satisfy business requirements.

However SharePoint is an extensible and very flexible platform. If we really need to we can add to and enhance the above features by building workflows, no code (composite) applications or full code based solutions using tools such as Visual studio.

Whichever way you look at it there is a great learning curve here and fortunately we will have some courses to help you out.

Dave


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