Confessions of a SharePoint Skeptic

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MainSpring has a history with SharePoint, supporting the U.S. Army’s Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care (MC4) mission at Fort Detrick, Md.

They use the centralized tool for managing people, processes and operations. They have many users, not only across America (CONUS), but also in theater (OCONUS), where it provides a centralized location for tasks, project management and file storage. While we had resources supporting the effort, unfortunately, I didn’t really get it.

I’ve heard a lot about SharePoint and knew that it was included in Office 365, but in my numerous field trips to our site, I came back with the same conclusion—SharePoint was stupid. I didn’t understand why SharePoint developers made so much money on a product that practically developed itself. I created libraries, task lists and secret hideaways for information for our own SharePoint site.

I even was so bold to declare myself a SharePoint developer. It was easy. Create a library, put it on a page. Wash, rinse, repeat. I liked the idea of the calendars and tasks, and the Intranet where our employees could see upcoming events and awards. But again, I didn’t get it. I called it file sharing on steroids.

Seeing the light

Seeing the light

Finally, I invited one of our SharePoint consultants, Gary Greene, into MainSpring headquarters to show me once and for all what all the fuss was about. And he schooled me.

He started by explaining that SharePoint isn’t a file server. You don’t create individual libraries, put files in them, and then rely on a carefully crafted file structure and naming convention to remember how to access files. Instead, you create a searchable, metadata-driven site that allows you to search for what you want and find it. Most importantly, you shape it around your organization. It shouldn’t be cookie-cutter. It should work for you, like creating workflows.

One word came to mind—process.

In just a few hours, Gary created a site to house all of our processes so that finally we could not only get to them corporate-wide, but access and work with them. With consultants supporting clients across seven states, we are as dispersed as any one of our clients is likely to be. The difference is that now everyone can access files without having to understand how they are filed. They simply have to know what they are looking for.

Drinking our own Kool-Aid

Because we are a process-driven company, Gary developed a site that allowed us to create and approve processes that we were implementing. Once we defined our approach, we let SharePoint do the work.

We published our processes safely and securely, and shared them with our consultants so they could easily find them, review them, and understand their roles and assignments. The Kool-Aid went down smoothly.

When we created a document, we simply tagged it with data that was important to us, like the type of document it was, department, function and other searchable data. The emphasis is on simply. We quickly learned how to use filters and search functions and off we went. This wasn’t hundreds of hours; it was a couple of days.

Three things

This confession has reinforced three things I already knew, but needed Gary to remind me. To be successful in business, you need to:

  1. know your processes
  2. document and store your processes
  3. teach your processes

In many organizations, the third is the most difficult because teaching processes often requires making them easy to access. SharePoint automates and streamlines this like none other. Process leads to control and control leads to success. A file structure approach is not a tool to store success.

Case in point

Not long ago, I was looking for our MainSpring Word template. Unfortunately I hadn’t fully subscribed to the SharePoint search functionality and traversed directory after directory looking for the file. I even sent an email that read: Where. Is. The. Word Template? I was frustrated, simply because I didn’t understand where we stored it in a file structure. Logical to others, insane to me.

While I impatiently waited for a response, I went back to our main SharePoint page and searched “MainSpring Word Template” and guess what showed up? Guess what I used? Guess when I had my a-ha moment? If the best way to find a file was to root through a file structure, we would use Google in an entirely different manner.

Keeping it simple

SharePoint isn’t a file server. It is so much more. Documents that you store in a SharePoint structure can be immediately checked out and worked on in Word, Excel or PowerPoint. Yes, it is web-based, you can edit documents on line, but the experience can also be local. Understand your processes and workflows. Automate them. Let the technology work for you.