At our Introductory SharePoint courses for SharePoint 2007 and SharePoint 2010 I often meet attendees who are completely new to SharePoint. I like to ask the class what they know already, what they have heard and what is of most concern to them. Many will be expected to carry out some newly learnt tasks as soon as they return to work. For the people who are completely new the response to what have they heard already is frequently similar to this: “It will make us better at collaborating at work, it will automate current manual processes.” For the next question, “What is of most concern?”, answers range from, “It’s a huge learning curve,” to “It’s a complex product,” to “I have so little time to learn all the things my manager wants me to do.”
Firstly it will help you collaborate and implement business processes. The key thing here is that it will help you but you need to set these things up. This leads neatly into the response to the second question (“It’s a massive product”). It is massive and complex but SharePoint isn’t simply a product that you install and start using. SharePoint is an impressive framework upon which is built many components. Some of which can be used pretty much out of the box such as basic team site with lists and libraries to get you started through to Business Intelligence services which can display incredibly meaningful dashboards.
To get the best out of SharePoint you have to invest your time in some study. There are lots of books and resources on the internet as well as training courses. If you are thinking about using SharePoint for your company then allow for some serious study time as part of you overall implementation plan. Gord has blogged about why SharePoint sucks and in my view those who think it sucks are looking at it in the wrong way. If you expect it to be a simple product then it will suck if you accept it’s a starting point that can help you achieve great things with little or no traditional development then it shines.
One thing I stress during training and initial consultancy engagements with new SharePoint users is the need to actually start using it. Even if you start simply you will get a feel for the SharePoint way of doing things. There are several patterns to working within the browser on a SharePoint site , within the site and within list and libraries.
One way is to start by using a calendar and synchronising it with Outlook. Assuming you have access to site that has calendar, start using the calendar.
Another way is to create a simple to-do list. You can use the built-in tasks list, or if that seems too complex, consider creating a sipl custom list named To Do.
Use it as is to record things that you have to remember. Add a date time type column named Required By and a choice column named category with choices such as Work, Home, and Family, etc.
These columns allow you to enter values that can be used in a variety of ways. This is also known as metadata. Start adding some items to the list and you are already using SharePoint. As you use it ideas for enhancements will occur such as creating a view of Work only items and items that are complete which will prompt you into creating a new column of type yes/no called Complete.
Over time the simple to-do list may become a key part of your personal time management strategy and along the way you will have gained lots of useful techniques for making better use of SharePoint which can be applied to many kinds of solutions. However before you start creating lots of custom lists ensure that you review what you get out of the box as there maybe functionality that already does what you need. This can be quite time consuming even with a good book to guide you so if you are going to use SharePoint a lot then a good training course may pay for itself. Especially if an instructor with real world experience is available for example see here to guide you towards things that are relevant to your particular needs.
If you create such a list as that mentioned above take a step back and consider what you have done and what SharePoint has provided for you.
You brought the idea and need together with knowledge of how to create a useful and practical list that can be enhanced over time. SharePoint provided the tools to allow you to achieve this. You see it’s not just a simple product that you use out of the box it is so much better than that.
This is the kind of subject matter that is covered with in the first day and a half of our introductory training courses. With another two and half days material it should be obvious that this is just the beginning. We’ll see how to move on from here in future posts.