When a team asks me to create a SharePoint (SP) site for them, I happily oblige and ask immediately “and what are you looking to do on the site?” Most of the time a new site owner has been introduced to SP through other team sites, but they struggle with the getting started part. And it makes sense. SP seems easy to use at first sight, but I have noticed that the first excitement can wear off pretty quickly.
After all, SP is a pretty big animal and there is so much content on the internet on how to do specific tasks, but it’s hard to find simple content on “how to get started”.
Following is my approach to introducing SP to new site owners.
I start a new engagement with a 1:1 meeting with the new site owner. I have a few high-level slides that cover:
- What is SP? A collection of many different products and technologies. It makes web sites and you don’t have to be a programmer or web designer.
- What are the elements of SP? Site collections, sites, lists, libraries, pages, web parts; user interface; automation processes.
- How do we use SP within our organization? A simple graphic provides an overview.
- What type of sites are there? Collaboration sites (everyone joins in), publishing sites (small group of content creators, large group of content consumers).
- How do permissions work? Driven by the business need, managed by the site owner, inherited from parent site.
- Where can I find Training resources?
After I am done presenting the 6 slides, I navigate to the SP Homepage and review Navigation basics:
- What is the Quick Launch? Review what type of links you can add there (site internal vs. external, or based on your organizations’ practices).
- What is the Top Navigation Bar? Review what type of links you can add there (sub sites, pages, etc.)
- Site Contents: Most content on a site is NOT shown on the home page. Understand what else there is.
Next I move into the SP sandbox for a demo, by building out a site with the new site owner watching. I navigate to new out-of-the-box (OOTB) team site, and I review the basic content of the team site. Then I start building.
Let assume the new site owner is part of a Finance Team. If the initial goal is to make policies and other documentation available to employees, I ask how they would categorize the files: examples are Expenses, Travel, Purchase Orders. Next I ask who the audiences are: examples are employees and contractors.
At this point, I usually notice surprise in my new site owner: Why are you asking about audiences? Can’t I just move my files to SP and then I’m done? Well yes, but no. Moving on.
I still haven’t used the word metadata (and will not do so), but here I am diving into the Document Library, showing the File/Library Tabs and of course the Library Settings. I demonstrate how to create columns and explain how they enable us to create views. I tie this back to my question about what the file categories are and who the audiences are, which I tie back to the fact that SP makes web sites. Not every audience wants to see the same content. Plain and simple.
Next I create a few views, one for employees and one for contractors. Then I create the pages, for employees and for contractors. My last few steps are adding to both pages a brief welcome message, a web part looking into the document library that displays the respective views, and then adding the page links to the Top Navigation Bar.
Oh wait, we forgot the home page. This is easy. I add meaningful headline, add the Summary Links web part displaying the Finance team members, and then a few bullet points about current Finance projects and objectives. Part of my main objective is to create a visual that reflect how a real site could look like.
I just built a very basic site (but specific to my new Finance site owner), and as I start clicking on the different page links, I often see the light bulb go on in my new site owner. They are starting to see what can be done in SP. And I haven’t started talking about alerts, versioning, check-out, workflows, information management policies, announcements, and the many other features SP provides!
But now comes the downer. So it was really easy to build the site and it took no more than an hour. As my new site owner starts asking more questions, and has ideas on how to use SP, I in turn ask more questions. And that’s when it becomes clear really fast, that a functional, user-friendly SP site requires Planning. Ouch. Who has time nowadays to plan?!?
Now what? What project should a new site owner get started with? I recommend to start with a project that:
- solves a big pain point;
- has a positive impact on a wide audience;
- and the solution to the problem is easy to build.
I very much emphasize how important Planning is, otherwise there is a good chance that the SP site becomes just another dumping ground for files and information, or worse, will not get used at all.
My new site owner has now plenty of information to digest. I wrap up the first session with a gentle reminder that SP should support the business processes in place. It should not add complexity to existing processes.