Don’t give users a blank or generic collaboration template

why do we provide our users with out of the box [SharePoint] Team Sites that contain a bunch of senseless containers for information that offer no guidance as to what they should be doing with these things (Shared Documents, Discussions, Tasks, Announcements and so on)? A SharePoint Site is simply a medium with which to accomplish a business goal, outcome or process. You need to provide your users with clear guidance around what function the site will serve. Simply telling them to use a Team Site is not going to provide clear context to users working within.

Further exacerbating this is that now not only do users not have any idea where to store things, they now have little idea about how to store them. With the new capabilities that SharePoint offers beyond that of a simple fileshare users are further confused about what is the best medium for their content. So should be they putting a team meeting in the shared calendar, or should it go in the announcements list or maybe they should email out to everyone and store it in a document library?

The Fix?

The fix is to inject the context that users need into the sites that you create. To accomplish that you need liberal doses of Information Architecture, an understanding of user requirements, an appreciation of the processes they are using all combined with the SharePoint configuration options that leverage this (metadata, content types, document and list naming, navigation and so on).

All sound advice for SharePoint champions from Michal Pisarek, but it also highlights how much reinventing the wheel goes on with collaboration technologies (actually, in the intranet space as a whole).

Obviously the actual configuration options and methods are specific to SharePoint, but the idea applies to all collaboration tools. If you aren’t helping users customise their online workspaces then you will make it harder for them to make sense of the underlying tools. This is potentially one important difference between ‘community management’ on the public Web versus inside organisations, which should include moderation and curation plus workspace design.

Pisarek’s post is also a reminder that so far SharePoint really hasn’t taken us far beyond the original Lotus Notes collaboration paradigm – we were doing this kind of contextual customisation at E&Y with Notes and Quickplace back in the early 2000s. Take a look at a product like Newsgator to get a sense of where we should be taking users on their SharePoint journey.

Hat tip Alex.

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