What makes a ‘Usable’ SharePoint Solution?

What makes a ‘Usable’ SharePoint Solution?

Any SharePoint solution has to be usable, by the users and by the support team who addresses those challenges posed by the users, and by those who delivered the solution to ensure that enhancements and modifications can be applied. The solution must be usable, irrespective of what that solution is. For example, there would be no point in building a SharePoint platform unless you followed some design standards (or even had them applied), like service account naming, DNS naming, taxonomy, search topology and more. There would be no point in building a document library which has several global workflow templates assigned unless there was a consistency in development standards, which was defined and applied.

If the solution is usable, the provision of the solution repeatable, it can be supported and scaled with minimal effort, then the solution is deemed successful in terms of its provision.

To understand whether your SharePoint solution is usable, consider these service delivery concerns:

  1. Design Standards. The process by which the solution is designed impacts on its usability
  2. Development Standards. The process by which the solution is developed impacts on how extensible it will be and how effective the support
  3. Commonality. The look and feel, the components used whether they are SharePoint, third Party integrated, or a combination
  4. Consistency. The expected outcomes impacts on how the users learn about how the solution works
  5. Tools. Choosing the tools necessary to design and build the solution impacts on the support available
  6. Cross platform and environment concerns. This is related to all of the above points. For example, what happens if you have more than one SharePoint environment to deliver to? What security constraints are there? Are there dependant systems involved?

Design Standards

Designing a SharePoint solution is akin to carrying out systems analysis which results in a blueprint of the solution, which is then communicated to the client. Once communicated, the client can agree to the design. The communication can come from a workshop or series of workshops, for example.

The solution is deemed designed when the design layout is acceptable to the client, acceptable based on the resources provided, and acceptable in terms of being provided by those responsible for delivering the solution. Unfortunately, however, there are many instances where design standards are simply not adhered to.

I have witnessed examples of where the design of a SharePoint solution has been completely bypassed. One of the reasons is that there is an assumption that the user will be able to use the solution, without needing to ask what the user actually needs, without needing to document how / why / which / what. Yes, this sounds crazy, but I have witnessed clients faces of amazement when they are told that a new SharePoint site (being the solution delivered) has been built, and to get on with using it, without any mention of the value gained, the benefits that will be delivered, or even the reasons why the solution was created in the first place.

The reasons why this mistake was made could be one or more of the following:

  • Those responsible for delivering the solution did not follow any systems analysis and design – instead, they jumped in and built the solution ad-hoc
  • Those responsible for receiving the solution were not concerned of the lack of systems analysis, in other words, were happy to just ‘get’ the solution, even if it was built ad-hoc
  • Design standards are seen as something that takes people a lot to learn, ties them down, and does not offer flexibility

A laissez faire approach to design standards results in a SharePoint solution which will not be useable.

Following a design standard creates consistency that will help your users, and will save you pain and will save money. Additionally, following a design standard actually makes upgrading the SharePoint solution a lot easier.

Following a design standard needs to be done by those delivering the solution and clearly understood by those who will be receiving the solution. A good resource to get further information on this is from “SharePoint Customization Impacting User Adoption”, Chapter 10, in the book “SharePoint 2013 User Adoption and Governance”. This covers deciding when you should and should not customize SharePoint, choosing the correct resources, development options and more.

Development Standards

Once the design of the solution has been agreed upon, the development of the solution can get underway.

Development does not mean “Yaaaay…. Visual Studio! You’re mine now, let’s jump in, slam some CODE”.

Again, based on the usable concepts described in this section, the solution being developed must be usable when delivered, and must continue to be usable until it reaches end of live (the customer is no longer using the solution). That means the solution needs to be stable, easy to maintain, scale with the changes to the platform which it relates to.

Therefore, a ‘dive in’ and ‘gun-hoe’ approach is not going to make a solution ‘usable’ to ensure the solution lifecycle, without a development process being followed.

A development process begins with understanding the limitations of the resources available to develop, both person and tool inventory. The process also includes ensuring that there is a correct fit between the tools being used and the resources being applied.

Amazingly, following a development standard is sometimes not addressed by the over-zealous developer and/or the over-zealous customer who has not been made aware of what is currently available in SharePoint. Examples of this are where developers have been brought in to provide functionality to SharePoint which could have been achieved using out of the box tools and components. Other examples of ‘epic fails’ concerning solutions being provisioned as ‘usable’ include customers who ignore the features of SharePoint and request third party tools be bolted on ‘because they look nice’ and spending far too much money and resources on ‘look and feel’, instead of functionality of provisioned solutions (and the process). Other examples include developers who are unclear of the aspects of SharePoint that should and should not be targeted for customization; this being due to those developers not aware of the resources available.

So, to correct this issue, the first standard needs to identify what resources are available which then defines the tools that will be used to develop the solution.

  • If the requirement can be met using SharePoint built in features then build the solution and integrate into the inventory
  • If the requirement can be met using an existing solution in the current inventory that the organization has and that existing solution can be applied then requisition that solution from the library, configure then integrate into the inventory
  • If the requirement can be met using a third party package or application then obtain, configure and add it into the inventory
  • If the requirement can be met by customization through development then author the solution and add it into the inventory

And, even if the above has been done there are plenty of things to consider to ensure that a standard is being applied when actually considering or doing development in SharePoint, irrespective of whether the development is based on using built in features, custom coding using the API, web service development, Javascript, jQuery etc. Thank goodness that Richard Harbridge has provided a great resource that identifies development standards here which I strongly suggest you read and digest: http://www.rharbridge.com/?page_id=259

Final point in this section, if you are new to development standards from a higher level and wish to know more about how management is applied to these standards check out the following:

  • 15288 ISO/IEC 15288 Systems and Software Engineering; establishes a common framework for describing the lifecycle of systems created by humans. It defines a set of processes and associated terminology.
  • ISO 12207 ISO/IEC 12207:2008 Software Life Cycle Processes. ISO/IEC 12207:2008 establishes a common framework for software lifecycle processes, with well-defined terminology, that can be referenced by the software industry. It contains processes, activities, and tasks that are to be applied during the acquisition of a software product or service and during the supply, development, operation, maintenance and disposal of software products. Software includes the software portion of firmware.


In order to build a usable environment the need to create a design based on the same methods used before is important. There is little benefit in choosing a different method to build a solution, if the solution will be planted into the same environment.

An example of this is having a garden where you need to plant two trees upon request from your partner who gave you the trees. You locate a spot, then dig a hole, put the tree in the hole, fill in the hole and water the tree. That’s it. No rocket science needed. Ok, so there will be a need to water the tree after, choose the right spade, etc. However, the process is a common one in terms of planting anything in the garden, whether it is a tree, a flower, or a scrub.

Now imagine if you will, having to plant the second tree, but instead of digging the hole, you simply throw the tree onto the spot, then water the tree. By not using the common method, a number of things will occur:

  • The tree will die
  • Your partner will be very angry
  • A lot of weeds, with probably no tree

Let address this from a SharePoint perspective. Imagine that you have developed a collaborative site in an organization for a department of ten people. The site has a graphic on the right, the quick launch bar on the left, a calendar in the centre, and an announcements list at the top. Assume that a new site needs to be provided for another department in the same organization. Some of the users of the new site already access the current site. Do you:

  1. Design the new site so that it has the elements of the current site (calendar, quick launch bar, announcements etc) applied in the first site is applied to the second OR
  2. Go for a fresh approach, because you wish to boast of some SharePoint wizzy features

Going back to the analogy of the tree, the site will either (a) not be used (b) the users will get frustrated because it does not look and feel the same from site to site (c) the site will have a lot of features but not meet the actual requirements (i.e. that it is simply a SharePoint site).

So, by providing a common approach in all aspects of SharePoint solution delivery is a key aspect of ensuring the solution is usable, from the design, to the build to the deployment of the solution. This is not just from a UX design perspective, but also from even the requirements gathering of the solution in the first place.


The consistency in the approach used to provision a SharePoint solution is another important aspect in ensuring that the SharePoint solution is usable.

For example, take a SharePoint site which has a piece of Javascript in place embedded in a Content Editor Webpart. The person who put that Javascript has since left the company. There is no documentation concerning how the Javascript operates. Another person decides to modify the Javascript, finds they lack the knowledge and instead downloads another piece of JQuery. Meanwhile, unknown to them, that same Content Editor Webpart with the original Javascript is in use elsewhere. Then, later, someone downloads a SharePoint app which supersedes the need for the content editor Webpart.

Let’s take another example. Your client wishes to have another SharePoint farm in addition to the current in place. The original documentation concerning the design, build and deployment of the current SharePoint farm is used as a basis to provision the new SharePoint farm.

Now, take a look between the two examples above. Clearly, the second shows more consistency and at least an approach. Why is this? Is it because there was documentation? No. It is because there is an approach already in place which IS documented. The good thing about that is that the solution provisioned in the second example is usable straight away, simply because the approach will to a large degree take into consideration all the other aspects of service delivery; is the solution supportable, can the provision be repeated, is it usable, can it be scaled.


A distinct aspect of a solution being usable are the tools used within the construction process. However, we will need to be clear on what we mean by tools when talking about a SharePoint solution. That is because SharePoint includes tools which can be combined to create a solution.

In particular, take SharePoint 2013 with the terminology ‘App’ being applied to repositories (commonly known as document libraries and lists). So App is short for application, meaning that the document library is in fact a configurable aspect that can make up the solution. On the other hand, a tool could be the use of a programming tool like say Microsoft Visual Studio, or even a third party tool deployed into SharePoint, like a workflow tool, or a form building tool, or even a digital signing tool (ad infinitum). Irrespective of the tool used to create the solution, care needs to be taken that the right tool is selected, and that training, support and adoption is factored into the choice of those tools. This is because there is a danger that in order to produce the solution that meets all the business requirements that a complex web of products needs to be employed which in itself requires a host of tools to help configure the solution.

Delivery actions

To recap, all solutions created for the purpose of being used in SharePoint must be usable, repeatable, supportable and extensible. In this section, I’ll give you the implementation, consumption and administration tasks that will need to be carried out to ensure that the service solution being delivered is ‘usable’. Usable Implementation deals with ensuring that the way the solution is going to provisioned follows a known standard which can be managed, and that the deployment for any solution can be repeated.


  • Examine the most successful implementation of a SharePoint solution, and then identify the standards used to put it in place.
  • Ensure there is a bank of tools available which are documented in terms of what they should be used for, including examples and an inventory of solutions which have been constructed using the tools
  • Document policies which describes the software development policy which stipulates the process under which solutions will be system analysed, designed, constructed, released, supported and maintained going forward.


People are required to ensure that a solution is deemed ‘usable’. If you consider that when you have provided a something in SharePoint designed to improve the productivity of the users involved, that you have already addressed an element of what is considered for the solution to be ‘usable’. So, you will need to know what audiences are involved, since at the very least they influence the usability of the solution provided.

  • IT Support
  • Software Developers
  • SharePoint Architects
  • SharePoint Support


  • Build a SharePoint site for each of the third party products. Use that site to house solutions created using those third party products
  • Build a repository to hold source code
  • Identify valid sources of libraries which hold validated tools
  • Record key resolutions to typical problems concerning the use of the available tools.

This article is part of Delivering SharePoint Solutions – Areas of Importance.

Embarking on Third Party Tool Articles – oh Gosh…

Embarking on Third Party Tool Articles – oh Gosh…

Hi Folks, As promised in last weeks’ article, a quick warn that I will be drawing attention to a number of third party products which I have used with SharePoint in particular articles going forward. Before embarking on what can only be described as a wonderful adventure, I’d like to clarify why I am doing this, given that this site is devoted to SharePoint service delivery. This clarification is important, because, for a long time, I have been “externally SharePoint technology agnostic”, and instead, user focused in terms of the actual process of service delivery (implementation, support, capability etc). That will not end of course!

So why the third party tool mentions Geoff? Well, as a SharePoint solutions architect, I have always maintained that whilst a lot of things can be achieved using SharePoint in-built features and components, that there will be times where a third party tool, used to augment SharePoint, or to meet a specific requirement, carries more value add. There will be instances when it is either bringing in the third party tool, or instead, having to either (a) redesign the wheel (b) attempt to hack around SharePoint (c) bring in developers to code (d) inform the customer in a Star Trek Scottie style ‘It cannae be doon, capn’, or a combination of those.

Indeed, I can think of many instances where a third party product, sanctioned by the SharePoint sponsor, meets key requirements much quicker, smoother and can bring long term enhanced user adoption and therefore a greater ROI.

Note however, that in adopting third party tools is not without its pitfalls, for example, having to ensure that there is a strong relationship with the third party development team. Support must be manageable, that the third party tool must be scalable (or its limitations understood fully), and that the tool sits within the organizational SharePoint strategy. This is the essence of commoditization of course, the ability for SharePoint to evolve and morph into exactly what the customer requires (if the process of doing so is defined and managed). And, given that as a SharePoint community the app model of the cloud (Office 365) brings a lightning bolt of third party components means SharePoint becomes even more commoditized. Already, Microsoft Office is fully tuned into SharePoint – with the news that the Access App is now available in SharePoint online it is now even more important that we, as SharePoint workers are aware of third party tools also. This is particularly since, as these tools gather pace, they will increase their own customer base to the point that new skillsets evolve in the marketplace that become commoditized. For example, a number of third party tool providers produce their own training courses, which become a commodity due to the size of the customer base for that tool.

Anyway, I will for now list the tools (in alphabetical order) which I will give special mentions to as they relate to areas of SharePoint service delivery. There are many others I have absolutely no doubt, but these are the ones which I particularly have experience in and therefore can write about with a little more authority:

Tool Provider Purpose
Cardiolog Intlock Web Analytics
Cosign ARX Digital Signatures
ControlPoint Metalogix (was Axceler) Administration (governance)
Nintex Workflow Nintex Workflow Process automation
PDFShareForms PDF Share Forms LLC PDF Forms Design
Quick Apps for SharePoint Quest Rapid application development

A gentle reminder that where the tools are discussed that I will not describe what is good or what is bad about the tool. I am not a sales person for any of the tools. Do not expect me to go into details of installation or configuration either. The key is to identify where I have used the tool, why, and how – including the process of how I went about provisioning the tool from a business perspective……

Road Map Perspectives for SharePoint Service Delivery

Road Map Perspectives for SharePoint Service Delivery

Lets take a look at developing Road Maps for SharePoint. Now, before you start yawning and thinking ‘Like I need to know about Road Maps?’ – Well, let me tell you that whenever you deliver solutions in SharePoint you should at the very least be thinking of how not only what the capabilities required to build those solutions, but also consider support, user consumption, and administration of SharePoint solutions in an ever changing organization technology landscape (whew). That means building Road Maps.

If you design SharePoint solutions, you will at least be thinking, ‘I want the solution provided to my SharePoint users to last as long as SharePoint does’. If that’s not your thinking on delivering SharePoint solutions, one might say ‘Why are you delivering solutions for into SharePoint in the first place’?

The challenge is what process do you adopt to even start thinking of Road Maps for SharePoint? When talking about this to other SharePoint solution architects they generally have their own ideas, but it is a massive topic to consider. This short article therefore is to look at what layers need aid Road Map development in SharePoint. There will be following further articles looking at each of those layers, describing detail behind each, along with key actions that are required.

The Challenge

A SharePoint roadmap takes the relevant customer goals, prioritises them into short, mid and long terms and defines a plan that provisions those services. You do this to ensure that the solutions being provisioned within SharePoint, whether they be default, third party, internally developed, integrated meet the customer needs and at the same time helps planning future SharePoint developments. This is not to be confused with simple SharePoint implementation; developing a road map for SharePoint requires a thought process which encapsulates the fundamental goals of the customer in utilising the relevant technologies in order to fulfil the key SharePoint premise: “To create and manage content in a website”.

Through engagements and interactions with customers over the last couple of years, I have recognized a need to document the capabilities required to aid the development of a Road map for SharePoint. For example, one client had a hard time appreciating the need for site design and user experience. They were quite content using automated tools to drive site development without challenging those requirements or even managing the process. Through explaining the importance of delivering solutions through a modular approach it has helped the customer not only understand but engage with the development of processes manage site design and user experience in SharePoint for their user-base.

My challenge though has always been mapping SharePoint requirements to not simply refer to a technology release, but into a Road Map which ensures the future-proofing of that SharePoint solution. So, that means not simply looking at SharePoint in a gold fish bowl. It is taking into consideration all other services and processes that the client has through their use of the technology available to them, and making sure that whatever solution is provided follows a defined method of delivery.

I found that it is important to recognize that not all capabilities of the solution being delivered are driven by the actual service owner, or the provider of the components being provided in the solution. For example, if an app that allows automation of a process is deployed in a SharePoint site, which does not necessarily mean that the exact same app can be used in another site meeting all the requirements of that new site. No two sites are identical – the reasons for their existence are never identical, even the support matrix for each site is never identical.

What Capabilities are needed

So, let’s firstly take a look at the three perspectives that aids the development of a Road Map for SharePoint.

  • Implementation. This relates to the development and the deployment of the SharePoint solution and from only the providers perspective. This area is the one virtually all organizations appreciate by default and requires the least of clarification. For example, when procuring a third party application which provides SharePoint capabilities, there is an assumption that the implementation process is documented, and can be adhered to (assuming that the SharePoint organization does its home work and identifies these things up front beforehand!). Likewise, developing a solution in-house that relies on several SharePoint components, third party apps and data-sources internal to the organization needs to follow an implementation process that can be repeated. Again, this is something that the customer assumes will take place, and it is highly unlikely that the provider would not define a method of implementation.
  • Consumption. This relates to the consumers of the services provided by the SharePoint solution, thus making the solution easier to implement and successfully adopted. Of the three capabilities, this is the area that I have found is somewhat neglected by customers. In other words, customers are simply not leveraging the services provisioned through the SharePoint solution, or, there has not been enough work to identify the value that the service will provide to the customer. Check out the Value Management in SharePoint article for further information.
  • Administration. Any solution in SharePoint needs to follow an operational management procedure to ensure stability, and adheres to several governance rules that are both organizational and platform related. This will include proactive monitoring, support, automation rules, reports of usage, etc. The fact that user analytics is seen as an important measure and driver to adoption, and the fact that SharePoint provides usage information (and a number of third party products also provide this and more), means that this perspective is now recognized and appreciated. That said, more needs to be understood about its value and impact.

These capabilities are needed within all SharePoint solutions. It is important to realize that an organization can choose to focus on one or two of the capabilities listed above, but the overall maturity of the SharePoint solution, and hence, the overall value of the SharePoint services, depend on all three. Neglecting any of the three will have consequences – some more readily apparent than others.

To put this into context, appreciate that all services that are in the Road Map need to be extensible, supportable, repeatable and usable. Administration, Support and Implementation are all factors to consider for each service as stated. As an explanation:

  • Extensible means that the SharePoint solution is capable of aggregating services and extending its use beyond its own borders. From a simply perspective, take a basic SharePoint site. Then, by adding components to meet the user requirement the SharePoint site grows. However, extensibility is not just growing a site. It’s managing the growth in such a way that the service grows using mostly enterprise technology.
  • Supportable means that the SharePoint solution can effectively be managed even when services are increased against relevant SLAs.
  • Repeatable means that SharePoint solutions can be implemented by reusing standard and defined processes. It also means that those solutions can consume and reuse relevant services efficiently and consistently. Examples of this includes using third party apps to deliver SharePoint productivity and ensuring they are set in such a way to provide the likewise functionality in other SharePoint solutions.
  • Usable means that SharePoint solutions can if necessary use standard mechanisms to connect to enterprise technology. This is very important in order to keep pace with changes in SharePoint and connected technologies.

The four topics above, Extensive, Supportable, Repeatable and Usable are vital aspects in SharePoint service delivery. I use them as a mantra when designing, developing, and implementing SharePoint solutions. They will each have an article devoted to them where I hope to go into more detail on what each means and how you can apply them to your SharePoint solution delivery processes.


As pointed out in the start of this article, the topics discussed in this article will be expanded in future articles (particularly Extensible, Supportable, Repeatable and Usable). The capabilities whose thinking needs to be planted into your SharePoint Road Map are:

  • Implementation. Ensuring that the design and development of all SharePoint solutions is optimised.
  • Consumption. Ensuring that the services can be used by others which includes all aspects of continual service provision, like support, adoption, training, roll-outs of enhancement services, etc.
  • Administration. Ensuring that the SharePoint services being provided are stable and governed. That means proactive monitoring, ownership, configuration management.

This (short) article has been an attempt at describing the key facets that help build a SharePoint Road Map. While it is important to know where you are (hence the reason for starting to build a Road Map in the first place), getting an exact bearing is less important than identifying the capabilities needed to address, so you can continue the advancing the value of SharePoint in your organization. As long as you are willing to ask yourself some hard questions in an objective manner across all the relevant SharePoint services, including third party, integrated and internally developed, you should be able to get a good understanding for your current challenges. If you apply the strategy and objectives of SharePoint, you will be able to identify which capabilities you will need to address in the short, mid and long term.


Port, Pies and SharePoint Support

Port, Pies and SharePoint Support

Providing a sustained and good SharePoint service means providing adequate SharePoint support – and that is not simply for ‘work-days’. As Christmas looms, there needs to be ample preparation done to ensure that those charged with providing SharePoint support over the period, have the necessary tools and processes in place. I penned an article for TechNet which is on the following link:


Happy Reading, and Happy Christmas and a wonderful new Year to all!

How much knowledge do you have to support SharePoint?

How much knowledge do you have to support SharePoint?

As anyone working with SharePoint and trying to get people to use solutions provided will know – you simply cannot guarantee any success concerning the usage of any SharePoint solution, if the relevant support provided is not ‘good’ enough in the eyes of those using the solution.


Oh SharePoint, What Gets Supported?

Oh SharePoint, What Gets Supported?

Time for another support article, and I’ll concentrate in this area for the next month or so since it is a key aspect of SharePoint Service Delivery, and crucial to sustaining SharePoint User Adoption. I put an article to the wonderful MS TechNet guys, and am so pleased they published it! The article is a ‘thought’ piece based on the importance of identifying exactly what in a SharePoint environment should be supported, and suggestions of some methods used to set those expectations back to those using the solutions provided (and therefore supported) in that SharePoint environment. To describe this, I’ve used a scenario common to many organisations using SharePoint. Anyway, best you read the article located here, and hope you find it useful!


What is SharePoint? Video from Microsoft!

What is SharePoint? Video from Microsoft!

Microsoft have provided a great video clip explaining what SharePoint is. I think it is a really good advert for SharePoint, but at the same time, helps you demonstrate the collaboration features that enables SharePoint to solve information and collaborative challenges.


SharePoint Site Security – A Best Practice Guide

SharePoint Site Security – A Best Practice Guide

No, security is not all about a Dalek yelling ‘Exterminate’ if you don’t follow rules concerning access to information 🙂 Access to information can be controlled at many different levels within Sharepoint. The question of where best to implement control of user access is answered only with an understanding of available options and requirements. As part of training those who need to manage security on the sites, even if they themselves do not set the security permissions, it is a very important that you communicate a policy concerning when and where to apply site security.


Creating a SharePoint Communication Message Framework

Creating a SharePoint Communication Message Framework

One of the most difficult areas of delivering a SharePoint solution is identifying not just who should be targetted for User Adoption, but, going forward, how to sustain that User Adoption through communication. Reasons include rapid changes in the business culture, direction, and changes in technology concerning the methods used to communicate (e.g. business process changes from manual to email notification to automation, etc.). Moreover, if you have developed a customer list for Service Delivery purposes (e.g. support, user adoption, training, governance, etc.) then you will need to keep tabs on customer culture, communication technology and apply communication tactics and strategies.


Microsoft Office Specialist – SharePoint Importance

Microsoft Office Specialist – SharePoint Importance

Sustained User Adoption is vital to ensure people using SharePoint remain productive and proactive. Pro-activity is key, since the reliance on SharePoint support will grow based – success breeds success; on solving user queries, meeting and solving business information and collaborative challenges using SharePoint, delivering solutions. A significant number of queries will come from the use of Microsoft Office with SharePoint. Particularly since virtually all interaction with content in SharePoint will come from the use of Microsoft Products such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and even moving beyond into the lands of Project, Visio, OneNote (the list continues).

If  you want sustainable User Adoption, amongst other techniques, focus on the information workers core toolset – Microsoft Office. For information workers to remain SharePoint productive, to make them more empowered, to give them a sense of achievement, you should consider informing and evangelizing to them the Microsoft Office Specialist certification, of which SharePoint is part.