Archive for the 'Sharepoint' Category

Bridging the Tech Gap with Nice People

Via a search today, I just read this brief post on HBR from Tom Davenport from March: Why Enterprise 2.0 Won’t Transform Organizations.

He brings up a good point about:

Such a utopian vision can hardly be achieved through new technology alone. The absence of participative technologies in the past is not the only reason that organizations and expertise are hierarchical. Enterprise 2.0 software and the Internet won’t make organizational hierarchy and politics go away. They won’t make the ideas of the front-line worker in corporations as influential as those of the CEO. Most of the barriers that prevent knowledge from flowing freely in organizations – power differentials, lack of trust, missing incentives, unsupportive cultures, and the general busyness of employees today – won’t be addressed or substantially changed by technology alone.

Recently in a conversation I had at the PDX blogger dinner. I spoke with the Director of Product Marketing of Jive Software (sadly, I was not able to stay and see the demo of their alternative to Sharepoint. Any alternative to Sharepoint gets my attention). I noted that one of the biggest mistakes we make in project management is assuming that the tools (software, spreadsheets, web aps, etc.) will take the place of hiring good people, setting reachable goals, and building good relationships between team members.

Davenport is right. Technology won’t change things alone. But people can help, and especially ‘nice people’ who are passionate about what they do. When I think of really nice people like this, I think of Josh Bancroft. I used to work with Josh in IT at my former company. Josh has a real ‘can do’ (can’t believe I used that term) attitude about sharing what he’s excited about. He actually introduced a friend of mine and me into the worlds of podcasting and wikis. He was always excited about sharing his ‘geek’ knowledge, as he called it, with others and helping them learn and discover how to use Web 2.0 technologies. He inspired a few communities within the company that spawned new movements in applying collaborative technologies, some with some pretty impressive and cool results.

Davenport openly admits that he’s being a curmudgeon in regards to the potential of Enterprise 2.0, but Curmudgeons are important too. They force us to really take things into perspective. Though we should never let any resistance, negativism, criticism or cynicism shape our view or hinder where we want to take our imagination and creativity.

Though I disagree with Davenport on the matter of structuring of knowledge in the workplace. Structured information environments don’t necessarily need to limit or hinder the sharing of information. I can learn just as much about how to process a purchasing document in SAP or what the best transaction could be by networking with my co-workers and learning how they do things. That’s the problem with creating prescriptive or linear materials and documentation for tools like SAP instead of training people to ‘think for themselves’ or even learn from each other, you get people locked into automaton mode and you don’t build a workforce that can think on their feet, innovate or adapt quickly to change.

I have hope for Enterprise 2.0 despite everyone thinking that it is or was a big. Though still we have to let the curmudgeon in us rise up every now and then and question where we’re going. Sometimes questioning when done constructively can only open up new avenues or possibilities.

Somewhat to mildly related stuff:

Personality Matching for applications

SAP is…

MS Sharepoint (Many MS products) if the “Trust me Guy” and “Anal Retentive Guy” had a love child it would probably resemble someone in the Microsoft family…

 

 

Images are from Creating Passionate Users

Promote inner dialogue between both sides of your brain

The Creating Passionate Users post below actually eloquently (both visually and verbally) points out one of the biggest struggles I’ve had in dealing with how we at work get rewarded for ideas:

http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2006/12/how_to_be_bette.html

She argues that it’s the ‘right’ side of the brain that often saves us.  Although Kathy Sierra is referring to the two halves of our brains in human form, I’ve seen the real-life versions of the people depicted below in the corporate work environment. More often than not I feel like the pensive Asian man in the comfortable sweater rather than the sharp looking schmoozer in the shirt and suspenders (by the way, never trust anyone who wears suspenders unless he also wears a bow-tie and sells popcorn).  Perhaps it’s just my perception but it feels like the bow-tie/suspender wearing people usually get a lot of credit in meetings or their the ones that look, sound and smell right to leaders.

Lately, too, it feels like project managers and leaders listen to the ‘glib’ guy because he usually tells them what they want to hear:

  • “We can get this project done if we do a,b,c.” (Also, the like this guy because he’s seen as strong and confident – real bully material)

But they don’t like it when the intuitive guy utters:

  • “This might not work because experience tells us that end users will not be able to figure out this configuration of buttons.” (This guy seems wishy washy because he hesitates and can’t put his finger on the idea)

I think that the challenge project managers and leaders will face is trying to get both types of people to have a constructive dialogue with each other, and also deal with some of the pertinent problems a design or project may face rather than pushing forward just to get the product out the door.  I’m sure their are a ton of arguments against doing this. But that’s the Microsoft-type model of product development (example: Sharepoint)  and hey, why fix it if it ain’t broke.  But I’d be the first to tell them IT IS BROKEN!!!! FIX IT!!!  STOP PRESENTING US WITH UNINTUITIVE, _ _ _ _ _ _  (*censored*), HALF-BAKED PRODUCTS!!!

So why do we use tools like Sharepoint?

  • Because we paid for them
  • Because they’re ‘safe’
  • Because that’s (the product brand) is what the boss is familiar with
  • Because they’re supported (theoretically)

Funny… each time I check my blog stats I find that most of the traffic on my blog is attracted by the rants I’ve posted on Sharepoint.  This can only mean one of two things: Microsoft does regular searches for disgruntled users on the web and they’ve decided to monitor my blog (wishful thinking, but less likely) or other people have usability issues with Sharepoint as a collaboration tool too (more likely than not).

While I was testing the new Sharepoint out, I had a resurgence of painful memories come back from both my beta-testing days and from my daily usage this past year. These were memories of corrupted files which had to be rebuilt from scratch, of unrecorded changes to documents (which resulted in hours and hours of rework), of server space issues and sharing limitations. And I wasn’t the only person who faced these problems. Others I worked with experienced them as well. There was a point where we actually needed to back up the versions of a critical spreadsheet we were sharing to our own hard-drives because the version control on our Sharepoint site was not working!

So it seems that Sharepoint continues to have a myriad of problems which make it a not so ideal tool for business collaboration.   But then why do companies and IT managers continue to determine that we manage our documents and projects using tools like Sharepoint?  Besides the points I listed at the beginning of this post I can only think that, it’s because IT departments (IT department managers/leaders) know that MS products are supported by MS and that if we have problems with it as part of the service level agreement that comes with purchasing the suite of tools we get support and assistance from MS.  Also,  it doesn’t matter if employees have to spend extra time figuring out how to wrangle with the tools’ un-usability, or that they have to spend hours figuring out how to troubleshoot limitations with the tools – because after all most of them are on salary.  This learning and troubleshooting time ‘should’ be built into their job responsibility.

So Sharepoint isn’t exactly usable, so some of the key features such as document versioning aren’t working properly. If IT departments are going to continue to support use of tools such as Sharepoint, they should also start listening to their employees’ issues with the tool, because these issues directly impact employee productivity and hinder employees’ ability to deliver truly great product results.  As a result of listening to their employees and capturing some of the biggest usability and functional issues, they should leverage their partnership and customer standing with Microsoft to truly work out the problems with the tool/software design.

I came across this article in Collaboration Loop by Irwin Lazar about the waning trends of Corporate Web 2.0 tech usage.  The article noted that most companies (“large global enterprises”) will turn to known collaboration software packages from Microsoft or IBM rather than use the web-platform stuff.  It’s easier for these large entities to accept and continue to use tools from ‘known’ suppliers rather than branch out and test and use the newer and unfamiliar apps. “Go with what you know,” apparently is their mantra.  More, from my observations it seems that most of the folks who choose the products we use don’t assess their usability (listening to the counsel of Human Factors Engineers) or the impact of tool problems to employee productivity.

As I observe from many people within my organization who are the early adopters and enthusiasts of Web 2.0 tech, many of them are frustrated end-users who want to find better ways of collaborating and sharing information.   But I’m also noticing that our leadership needs to continue to grow in their understanding of the impact of 2.0 and how it can help us become more productive. As Mr. Lazar points out:

The trends we’re seeing continue to demonstrate a possible disconnect between the visionaries of the Web 2.0 “Internet as the Platform” world and the enterprise IT manager. 

And if we do continue to use products created by the “Big Guys” they really need to understand how to influence these suppliers to provide us with software, tools that live up to their hype and expectations.  In previous posts I did note that Microsoft is trying to apply some of the Web 2.0 features to it’s software. This is evident in MS’s attempt to include blog/wiki featues in Sharepoint. My question continues to be… are the features the way their built truly fit for enabling end users to collaborate, share and find ‘implicit knowledge’ items as seemlessly and easily as possible? Or is Microsoft just putting the blog and wiki features into the tool so that they can claim that they are following allong with the “Web 2.0″ trends? 

Sharepoint – Discussion Features

 Addendum 2.9.07-

I really feel that tracking discussions or exploration of some topics is a good part of capturing implicit (unspoken/written) knowledge.  Within a company or organization we should be able to capture or determine tribal knowledge or unspoken knowledge about our processes and products so that others who must work with the processes, adopt or update the processes or products can leverage this information, gain insight which may help future design and perhaps avoid any problems or issues that people will face.  Attempting to capture this information is a focus of good Knowledge Management.

 I’ve come to the conclusion that Sharepoint isn’t the best tool for accomplishing this. Again, I’m mostly putting my intuitive hat here when it comes to making this assessment, but I feel that much of my judgement about the tool is based on the following:

  1. It’s difficult to find or determine how to accomplish simple or regular tasks (it takes some amount of clicking and digging to find out how to do it or where you need to do it
  2. Some of the processes require too much documentation or mitigation from training. They are too difficult to remember or learn intuitively
  3. From my experience in working with other groups there are too many issues around document versioning and control

——————-

I know I few days ago I spoke about how my mind and attitude was beginning to warm up to using the “New” Sharepoint. I will admit that they’re making some strides in designing a more usable product, but I’ve decided that using MS Sharepoint may be contributing to the unhealthy rise in my blood pressure.  I simply cannot use some of the features without excessive digging and clicking.  In fact, this seems to be Sharepoint’s (the old and new) biggest problem, it’s designed under the assumption that most users will click on every or most of the features to learn how to use them.  Too many features are buried in sections or places that are not intuitive or easy to find.  In short, you can’t use the tool without training and time to learn its intricacies, and if you don’t use it on a daily basis, you’ll forget how to use the tool.

Speaking of frustrations and learning how to use features on your own hap-hazardly in Sharepoint, the Discussion feature in the new version provides an excellent example of this. It’s about time we had an alternative to  lengthy group e-mail correspondences. Everyone has had this happen to them. No matter how diligent you are in saving what you perceive to be crucial e-mail correspondence, I’m sure you’ve been put in the position where you loose that important long e-mail conversation which references some point or verifies that you had a dicussion about a certain topic. Imagine if you could have all messages, discussion threads and group communications (pertinent to the project) archived where everyone could see and read them. Of course, for those of you who would rather communicate in private you can use e-mail as well, but depending on the topic and how frequent your project communications are with just the ‘select few,’  you may find yourself barrelled in a silo on of these days.

If Sharepoint is successfully able to house discussion and correspondence and allow people to search for discussions easily and seamlessly then I’d say that it’s well on it’s way to being a business collaboration product of the future.

“Even a cave man can use it…”

Though after testing and proding the new Sharepoint, I’ve decided that I’m not sold on its discussion features, simply because they’re not intuitive. I clicked on a Sharepoint “Team Discussion,” and I tried to post a reply….   I encountered a menu option bar that included the following:

 DisucssionBar

Okay, so I assume the first thing I need to click is “Actions” right? Because after all posting a reply is … “an action.” However, here’s what I see as the selections after selecting “Actions.”

 

I don’t need to do any of these things… why would I want a spreadsheet of this discussion? I might if the discussion is popular or extremely pertinent to my job or project want to subscribe to the discussion using an RSS feed and I might wish to be alerted if people add things to the thread. That would be great, but I STILL CAN’T figure out how to POST A COMMENT!?!! 

 “Signage and directions are key!”

Though after some thought I wondered if the permissions on the site were NOT set to allow me to participate. Even if that’s the case, Sharepoint  should TELL me this. It’s the same as walking through a Hotel conference hall and walking by a room that says PRIVATE.  Using proper error messages or even informing the user of why or they cannot use a feature or if they’re going about it the wrong way, is a good example of Jakob Nielsen’s ninth Usability Heuristic: “Help Users recognize, diagnose and recover from errors.”

There must be a better alternative…

I want seamless and easy to post/respond actions in a discussion feature.  Basecamp is one example of a tool that does this better.

http://basecamphq.com/tour-messages.php (basecamp tour)

Note: I know exactly where to click to post a message or response(see below)

Basecamp Discussion

Sharepoint – Wiki Features

Continuing with my effort to give my impressions on the new features in Sharepoint, I’m going to just highlight some of the positives and negatives:

 Nice:

:) Image Library: Can use the “Image Library” feature to upload pictures…

:) You can Search for Images provided they have been tagged adequately with keywords by those who upload.

:) Can apply formatting and styles (colors, bold/italic)to text using WYSIWYG editing feature. No markup language or coding to learn.

:) Adding images or links is easy (if you are already familiar with standard MS icons)…

SharepointWikiEdit

Not so Nice:

:( Finding out how to start a wiki is just as hard as figuring out how to start a blog in MS Sharepoint.  (You have to go to Site Actions –>Create –>Sites and Workspaces.) NOT INTUITIVE!!

:( It took me about 10 minutes to figure out how to create a new wiki page… &*$@!!! This is what drives me nuts about MS. It’s not exactly clear from the image below what I’m suppose to click to to create a new page? 

SharepointMenu

:( Don’t see any tracking features that tell me who has edited my page or when. Or a rollback feature that allows me to change my page back? Or again, maybe I just have to dig deeper.

:( You need to copy our Image URL to a clipboard to copy it to the Image link if you want to insert an image. Of course you can do what I always do which is to have two versions of the Sharepoint site open and then cut and paste the link directly from the page with the Image Library link to the wiki page I’m editing.

To be continued…..

The New Sharepoint – Blog Features

So I’ve been playing around with the new version of Sharepoint (created for the Office 2007 release) to check out the features.  There were some things I did like about it, and I’ll try to capture these here. But honestly, I feel like I’ve been burned by the tool in the past. Specifically, I’ve been burned by some of the user-assumptions that Microsoft made.  This end-user slighting, has resulted in much of my disdain for Microsoft products and perhaps my skeptical view of their tools. But who knows maybe MS under it’s new leadership is really starting to care about what users think (now that they have to be concerned by some competition from the open source realm).  It is possible to re-gain a slighted end-users trust and loyalty. Maybe, just maybe Microsoft will be able to wash some of that “dorkness” off of themselves.  My husband noted the other night that maybe it’s just that the open-source world has made headway on some in-roads by developing more usable and ‘sexy’ products and so this is just Microsoft’s attempt to keep up.

My biggest questions in exploring this new version of SP were:

  1. Can I effectively use Sharepoint to blog?
  2. Can I effectively post wiki articles that are easily editable and searchable and editable by others?

In short the answers were:

  1. Yes will a lot of initial frustration (but I believe that’s a common business model held by companies or projects that assume that the users must deal with the shortcomings of their tools because they don’t have a lot of other choices – i.e. their company bought the software and now they’re being forced to use it)
  2. Yes, well sort of…

In the next few posts I’ll try to capture most of my observations on the ease of use of the tool as well as it’s key features.  What i’d really like to do if I had the time and better expertise is to evaluate the Sharepoint tool and it’s features using the Ten Usability Heuristics.  These observations are only from an ‘end-user’  or blog writer and wiki editor/author perspective. It would also be helpful to evaluate the tool from both a content management/admin perspective. 

Brief observations on Sharepoint blog features

  1.  It’s very difficult to figure out how to create a blog.
  2. Right scrolling for minutes IS NOT AN OPTION
  3. Search feature works okay, but you still can’t search for posts or comments.
  4. You can readily access blog admin features from your blog home page.
  5. Image posting has universally accessible features

1.)  :( It’s very difficult to figure out how to create a blog. The path to the  blog creation feature in this new version SP is NOT intuitive.  The designers did try to make up for the lack of ‘intuitive’ design by creating a mouseover menu feature that illustrates what each link in the “Create Page” section does. See if you can guess where you should click first to create a blog just by looking at the image:

SharepointCreate_SM

2.) :( Right scrolling for minutes IS NOT AN OPTION.  The default settings on the blog feature post a list of all blogs at the top of the page. This list scrolls horizontally.  Unfortunately, Sharepoint is set so that the horizontal page content determines the entire length of the page. Perhaps there’s a setting or control that changes this, but someone needs to tell Microsoft that they should set page settings so that they fit common web usability standards.

3.) :) / :( Search feature works okay, but you still can’t search for posts or comments.  I was able to search for unique words in test postings and also for the names of posters without issue.  However, I wasn’t quite able to figure out how to use the categories for searching.

4.) :) You can readily access blog admin features from your blog home page. (See below image).

SharepointSearch

 

 

 

 

5.) Image posting has universally accessible features- You can use the same image library to post pictures to both your blog and a (Sharepoint) wiki page.


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