my world of work and user experiences

February 29, 2016

The best intranets of 2016

Filed under: Usability — Tags: — frederique @ 21:50

The Intranet Design Annual written by the Nielsen Norman group is a yearly treat. The report takes us behind the scenes of the ten best intranets of this year. It not only shows and explains the intranets, which normally we do not have access to, but it also discusses the design process and the lessons learned. Good stuff! These are the things that struck me at first glance in the report.

Themes and trends

  • SharePoint rules!
    Of the 10 intranet winners of 2016, 7 are based on SharePoint 2013, 1 on SharePoint Online (Office 365), 1 on SharePoint 2013 mixed another system, and only 1 has nothing to do with SharePoint at all.
    I work for a Microsoft oriented company, so the intranets I am involved in always use one version of SharePoint or another. Sometimes we grumble at SharePoint, when it does not do what we want. But now nobody can claim that SharePoint is unsuited as a platform for great intranets.
  • Understanding employees
    It cannot be stressed enough: the only way to design a great intranet is to understand what the users need and then make it happen. The winners used different methods, but they all did something to involve the users in the design process. Even the team that had to create a new intranet in 60 days… The winners’ methods included analytics, interviews, surveys, “Listening Labs” to observe users at their desktop, early usability testing to define the Information Architecture and personas.
    This one struck me, because I recently heard – again – that we do not have time to involve users or to find out what they need. But if we don’t at least get some idea of what they users really need, how do we know we are not wasting our time on a useless intranet?
  • Content clean-up
    You won’t end up with a great new intranet if you migrate all old content that has gathered over the years ‘as is’. The redesign of your intranet is a good opportunity to clean up the content.  You need to analyse your content, determine what the helpful content is, design a structure to make that content easy to find., and plan the migration of the different types of useful information. One winner found that in their staged migration, the content that was planned for later stages was no longer relevant after all.
    This one resonates with me, because currently I am involved in a migration project. We are trying to avoid the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ approach. But because of time and technology constraints we unfortunately have to migrate a lot of sites ‘as is’. But fortunately, we have some governance in place that has already allowed us to remove obsolete sites earlier. And we plan on having even stronger governance in the new situation, to keep our environment clean. After all, you don’t have to wait for a migration to clean up your environment.
  • Helpful Help
    Over the years Help had become unfashionable, because it was unhelpful. But this year’s winners do offer help. Even though the intranets are clear enough to use intuitively without help, the teams realised that some users need some guidance to feel more confident and to make the most of the new intranet.
    I see the same need: not all users are confident enough to just go with the flow. They like to have something like a quick reference card, a short video tutorial or even an old fashioned user manual for advanced functionality.

Best practices

With 15 years of experience in ‘best intranets’, NN/g have come up with a nicely consolidated list of general best practices, that pertain to different aspects of the process of designing a great intranet.

Find out what your users need

  • Watch employees work, because then you see what they actually do in the intranet and how they do it. I even get surprised sometimes when I see users click around in their site during consultancy or training sessions.
  • Look at the available analytics. Do so before you start redesigning and afterwards, to see if you have made a difference. And keep it up while the intranet is being used.
  • Conduct usability research, even if it is just a quick test. It is better to get early feedback from wireframes or prototypes than to test a finished design when it is too late to make changes. The important thing is to watch users attempt a task and to discuss the findings with the entire team.
  • Use the social features to learn what interests or annoys the users about the intranet.

 Plan what should be done in which stage

  • Consider incremental feature additions. There are definite advantages to implementing the intranet a few features at a time rather than all at once, with a big bang. The project is easier to manage, and you show progress as you build it. However, you need to make sure that the users experience it as progress in a cohesive intranet and that you avoid the “Frankensteinian experience”, where the users do not know and do not understand what they get today.
  • Plan for mobile from the start. Mobile has become too important to be tacked on at the end. If you don’t plan, design and test the mobile experience explicitly, it will be disappointing.
  • Personalise after you create the infrastructure. Targeting content by role and sometimes location is very popular, because it reduces clutter for the users. However it can only work if the intranet knows what role and location each user has. If these data, which typically come from some HR system, are incomplete or incorrect, your personalisation will end in disaster. I have seen often enough that these data from HR were not good enough…

Don’t just build it and run, but keep the intranet alive and evolving

  • Support the launch of the intranet: involve key users at an early stage not only for their feedback but also for their contagious excitement, make sure people are available to answer users’ questions, promote new feature for some time
  • Plan to maintain and enhance the intranet, so that it says relevant and continues to meet the evolving user needs.
  • Help content contributors succeed. The intranet is not filled with content from the intranet team but with content from the business. But the intranet team can help these people.
  • Measure ROI. It is always difficult to quantify the return on investment of the intranet. But at least try to pinpoint what you hope to achieve with the new intranet and measure if you have succeeded: does usage increase? Is user satisfaction as measured in a survey improved? Do processes that are facilitated in the intranet take less time?

I have just dipped into the report. It has over 500 pages, so I still have lots of browsing among the top intranets to look forward to. In any case, I recommend it to anyone who is working with intranets or digital workplaces or whatever we call these environments these days. So see to get your own copy.

July 31, 2014

Invisible documents: a feature or a bug?

Filed under: ECM,Usability — frederique @ 23:56

I see this time and time again. Or actually, I do not see them: invisible documents in SharePoint. Confused users ask why nobody else can see the documents that they have uploaded. So why are their documents invisible to their colleagues, while they can see their own documents just fine?

Usually these documents are invisible for one of two reasons, which have been haunting SharePoint for many years and many versions: the documents have not been checked in, or they are secured more tightly than the contributor thought.

These are features that make documents invisible to keep SharePoint clean and clear. Except that they turn into bugs when the users don’t expect them and either miss important information or start littering SharePoint with redundant copies of invisible documents.

Documents that have not been checked in

It is becoming easier and easier to upload multiple documents at the same time: you can now drag and drop them into the library.

Drag and drop multiple documents into a SharePoint document library

Drag and drop multiple documents into a SharePoint document library

But doing so, you by-pass the required fields that you are forced to fill in before you can save a document that has been uploaded individually. And when the required metadata fields are empty, the document cannot be published. So it remains in a draft state: checked-out. This is of course a feature to protect the integrity of the document collection. But it is perceived as a bug by the users…

This document that has been uploaded and left checked-out is only visible to the user who has uploaded the document. Nobody else can see it in the library, not even the site owner and not even an administrator. The uploader can see that his document is still checked-out: it has a green arrow at the file icon. But that arrow is quite subtle and user do not see it, unless they know about this. In this case, it would be more user-friendly if the system shouted a bit louder that you are the only person who can see the document.

Documents that are checked out can be recognized by their green arrow icon

Documents that are checked out can be recognized by their green arrow icon

For me, a clue that this problem has arisen is when I see in the site content that there are more items in the library than the number I can actually see in the unfiltered views as a site owner or administrator.

Fortunately, the site owner can check in the library settings if there are any invisible documents that have not been checked in: In the ribbon go to Library > Library settings > Permissions and Management: Manage files which have no checked in version.

Here you can see which files have been left checked-out when by whom.
And as a site owner, you can take ownership of these files. For example, when the uploader cannot be contacted and a colleague needs this document, the site owner can check it in to make it visible.


Manage files which have no checked in version

But it is better minimize this invisibility problem, so:

  • Explain to your colleagues that they need to make sure their documents are checked in.
  • If this happens a lot, the site owner may have to change the fields so that they are no longer required. It is bad to have documents that are not tagged with the correct metadata. But it is often worse to have documents that are invisible. It is easier to reprimand contributors who have left fields visibly empty than people who have added invisible documents.

Documents that are not accessible

SharePoint has security trimming: you only see the names of files and other items that you are actually allowed to open and read. Of course this is a great feature, because it would be really unfriendly to let users click on a name only to find out that they are not allowed to open the item.

However, this is perceived as a bug when the users expect their colleagues to have permission to see the document and it turns out they don’t.

As a site owner, you can check if the invisibility users complain about is caused by security. For a specific document you (or the uploader himself) can check who the document is shared with:

Check who the document is shared with.

Check who the document is shared with.

To look at it in more detail, especially if the document is shared with many people: Click Share > Shared With > Advanced. There you can open the group to see who is in there, or click Check permissions to check if a particular user has access to this item.

Check in more detail if a particular user has access to a document is accessible to many people

Check in more detail if a particular user has access to a document is accessible to many people

But it is better minimize this invisibility problem, so keep the security structure as simple and as clear as possible:

  • Avoid using item-level security, because you cannot see easily from the outside who has permissions to do what with the document (you have to click into the item menu to find out) and that increases the risk of mistakes and unexpected invisibility
  • Add people to groups like Visitors and Members rather than giving them read or contribute permission individually. Then it is easy to remove an entire group from a document library called ‘confidential documents’, for example.
  • Give “secret” libraries and sites a name that clearly indicates that not everybody has access to it.

So they are features, but users may perceive them as bugs and the invisible documents as ghosts. But fortunately it is possible to do some ghostbusting and make the documents as visible as they should be.

January 31, 2014

Install it and they’ll come? Not if it doesn’t meet their needs

Filed under: Adoption,Governance,SharePoint,Usability — frederique @ 16:40

The other day, I talked to someone about their plans to set up SharePoint 2013 in their company. The reason they wanted SharePoint 2013, was that their SharePoint 2010 environment was not used. They had not investigated why it was a failure. But from what he told me, it sounded like the IT department just built SharePoint and assumed that the users would come. And they didn’t.

Ummm, and what makes you think that installing a new version of SharePoint would make any difference?

The only way your SharePoint implementation is going to be a success is if:

  • Firstly, it meets the users’ needs and
  • Secondly, it gets adopted by them.

These things do not happen by themselves; you have to address some serious questions before you start installing and implementing your SharePoint and before you introduce it to the users. Obvious? Apparently not, as this was a real life example of an IT guy who seemed to think he could build it and they would come…

In this article I focus on five big questions that need to be answered so that you end up with a SharePoint environment that can be useful. In the next article, I will address adoption: how you can then get employees to actually use it.

1. What are the goals?

What are you trying to achieve with your environment? Building and introducing a SharePoint environment is not a goal. It is a means to an end, such as enhancing productivity, innovation and employee satisfaction in your organization.

Go into detail. Don’t just state that your goal is “more productivity, period”. Think about the goals of your organization, and what a tool like SharePoint could do to help you achieve these strategic goals.

And keep your eye on the big picture. Don’t aim for a narrow goal like implementing a standard way of working through SharePoint. I have heard that as a goal, and it sounds like you are forcing a tool on people that is solely dedicated to force a way of working on them. A recipe for disaster. You are trying to enable the employees to collaborate effectively and efficiently? Taking advantage of the best practices and recognisability offered by standardization is a way, if done properly. And yes, SharePoint can help with that.

Try to quantify your goals, although this is usually quite difficult. How much do you think you can save by improving productivity? A percentage of time that is no longer wasted and can be spent on other tasks? How many mistakes were made last year, because employees did not follow the standard way of working, that could be avoided? By how much could the number of service requests be reduced, because the employees can now help themselves? If the goal is more employee engagement: are you going to measure it by means of an employee satisfaction survey before and after and the result should be so many points improvement?

2. For who is it?

This ties in with the goals: who will work with the environment to achieve those goals? And don’t answer “Duh, the employees of our organization”. There are different groups of people in your organization, and these people may find themselves in different situations.

  • Is it for the Information Workers who work on a computer in their daily work?
  • Operational workers, like factory workers, who don’t have a company computer?
  • Sales operatives who are on the road all day and use a mobile device?
  • For corporate and local? And do these people all understand the same language?
  • New employees and veterans? Are they newbies or computer savvy?
  • For all departments or specifically for some departments who will benefit the most?
  • Only employees or also external parties like suppliers and partners?

If it’s all of the above for the environment as a whole, the different groups may well use different parts of the environment to fulfill their different needs. For example, the Information Works work on documents together, the factory workers look up procedures and request a shift change during a break, sales operatives align their schedules and share their findings after meeting with a client, the external parties work with employees in very specific projects.

In any case, it is very important to keep in mind who the users will be. Usually, SharePoint is not just for IT-people and not just for corporate people.

3. So what do you implement?

What should you offer these people to allow them to achieve their goals? It’s not enough to answer “Well, we offer them SharePoint”.

Even if you have decided that you will use only standard, out-of-the box SharePoint and don’t want any custom development, you still need to think:

  • What functionality are you going to take out of that standard SharePoint box?
    A portal for company news and information to make sure people are up to speed on the latest developments and official policies? Team sites for collaborating in teams? Document management functionality? Project sites to manage projects? Workflows to streamline processes? Integration with Office? Discussion boards and feeds to share ideas? Incorporating Yammer? Commenting and liking to stimulate feedback? Dynamic, search-based overviews that pull information from different sites?
  • How are you going to configure it so that it is handy for the user?
    Do you need separate sections with special security? Do you tie it all together with shared navigation or do team sites, for example, stand alone? Which elements do you put on the pages? With what views to focus on the most relevant items? Based on which content types equipped with which templates and information policies? And using which metadata to allow for clear structure and pertinent search results?
  • What will it look like?
    If it looks awful, it is a lot more difficult to convince people to spend time in the environment. Do you style SharePoint in alignment with your organisation’s style? Or another style? Can every site owner pick his or her own theme or should it be consistent across the entire environment? Do you create a rich look & feel for communication pages and a clean one for pages where users do their heavy duty work without getting distracted?

4. And are you checking with the stakeholders?

If you are an IT guy or gel, you can try to answer these questions by yourself. But don’t. You are doing this for other people in the organisation, so involve them to increase your chances of ending up with something they’ll like:

  • Are the goals aligned?
    The goals for your SharePoint environment should follow from the goals of your organisation. Does management agree with the goals and audiences you formulated?
  • Did you ask the different groups of users what they think of the old system and what they need?
    What do they hate and love in the previous SharePoint implementation or the other systems that you think of replacing with SharePoint? Did you do a survey, a focus group, interviews? Or at least ask around informally, if it’s a small-scale operation? Did you check the available analytics, to see which pages are visited?
  • Are you asking the different stakeholders what they think of your ideas along the way?
    Do you solicit feedback from users about the functionality you propose? Do you test the usability of the configured site, even if it is just by asking an innocent user to click through a test site and see where they click and what confuses them?

5.How will it be governed after launch?

Ok, you are building a great SharePoint environment that should meet the users’ needs. But will it keep up with real life, or will it fall flat after a while so that the users abandon it? You’ll need a governance plan that answers questions about, for example, Content Lifecycle Management. Don’t postpone thinking about governance until after you’ve launched, because then you may find your configuration at odds with the desired content management strategy, for example:

  • How do you keep the content fresh?
    Who will get the initial content in there in the first place? Who will write new stuff, update information, and delete what is no longer relevant? Do they need a publishing process of drafts, approval and scheduled publishing? Automated information management and what would the rules then be? Analytics to find out what is visited and what is not? These questions will have different answers depending on the type of content: corporate departments manage the organisation-wide information and site owners manage their own team site? In a team site, all members can contribute information?
  • Who will manage the elements?
    Site owners can manage their apps: add things like lists and libraries to their sites, and web parts to their pages? Can anybody create their own site for their team or project, or should they request it? Then who will process the request and what will be their criteria? Who decides a new section should be added to the portal? Who can add terms to the taxonomy?
  • How do you make sure the right people have the right access?
    Site owners manage the users on their own site? Internal and external users? Do you have sections, like a portal, that should be visible to everyone in the organisation? Then who manages that ‘everyone’ group? If you are using Office 365, what kind of licenses do you have and who is managing them?
  • How do you avoid technical disaster and who will fix things when they are broken?
    Do you have planned maintenance on the back-end? Do you have disaster recovery scenarios and are you sure they work?
  • How can users get the help they need to use SharePoint optimally?
    Do you have a helpdesk? A network of local “champions” that stimulate the users and help them out? Do you arrange class-room training, training videos, e-learning modules? Do you have help content? A community site where people can discuss SharePoint best practices?

With this last point about governance, we move towards the other part of making your SharePoint a success: adoption. Once you have launched the tool and arranged for it to stay gleaming and fresh, how can you get people to start using the tool and keep using it? But that is the topic of another article.

November 30, 2013

Using SkyDrive Pro

Filed under: Information Architecture,Office365 — Tags: — frederique @ 21:46

With SharePoint Online and SharePoint 2013 we now have SkyDrive Pro at our disposal, as a part of the intranet environment. So what is it, what do I use it for, how does it work and what doesn’t work?

What is it?

SkyDrive Pro is a personal library intended for storing and organising your work documents.

Please note: you get to it by clicking on SkyDrive at the top of your SharePoint screen, but it is not the same thing as the product SkyDrive without the Pro: that is personal and does not have anything to do with your work. SkyDrive Pro it is part of SharePoint (Office 365’s SharePoint Online or SharePoint Server 2013), so you get into it using your work username and password and you can share a document with a colleague using his or her work account. Here’s Microsoft’s What is SkyDrive Pro.

SkyDrive Pro offers two main things:

  • Space to store your files: 25GB in SharePoint Online. This used to the Personal Documents and Shared Documents Libraries in MySite, in earlier versions of MySite. By default, your files are only visible to you; if you put them in the folder shared with everyone, you colleagues can also see it.
  • Synchronisation of files between SharePoint and your computers. In earlier versions, we had Groove and then SharePoint Workspace for this.

And the good thing is that the synchronisation to your computer not only works between your computer and your personal library explicitly labeled as SkyDrive Pro, but also with other Document Libraries, in team sites and project sites for example.

When I click in SkyDrive in the top bar, I get my personal library. The folder is shared, the rest is locked. I can synchronise by clicking Sync.

When I click in SkyDrive in the top bar, I get my personal library. The folder is shared, the rest is locked. I can synchronise by clicking Sync.

What do I use it for?

It is a good idea to use SkyDrive Pro for:

  • Storing documents in your personal site
    • Storing personal documents
      For example, I have an Excel file with my travel expenses there. Nobody else needs to see it, but I don’t want to lose it and I want to be able to access it from different computers, so I store it in my SkyDrive Pro instead of on the hard drive of my laptop.
    • Ad hoc sharing of documents
      For example, when I have found an interesting report that does not really belong to a particular team or project, I share it a colleague who is interested in it via my SkyDrive Pro.
  • Pulling documents offline and synchronizing when online
    • Working on team or project documents while I am offline
      For example, I commute by train and I work offline when I am on the train (the available wifi usually does not work well enough for me). I can be sure to have the latest version of a team site document with me, I can edit it, and when I arrive at the office and on the network, my changes are synchronised back to the team site.
    • Making my personal documents available on my different devices
      I don’t have to open my work laptop if I want to update, for example, my travel expenses overview. I have SkyDrive Pro folders that synchronise to my personal library on my home computer and my iPad as well. Please note: I have secured my computer and iPad with a password, because I don’t want anyone who picks it up to be able to see my stuff.

It is not a good idea to use SkyDrive Pro for:

  • Sharing team documents or project documents.
    These documents belong in the team site or project site where they get:

    • The appropriate security settings
      (e.g. the group of project members so that you don’t forget or include the wrong people accidentally when you share your document)
    • Metadata that allow people to find it more easily
      (if they search the intranet, they will find the document using its categorisation)
    • Visbility in the view of the latest team/project documents
      (the team / project members are already on the team / project site and they want to see your document there too)
  • Pulling confidential stuff offline to a non-secured device
    Don’t just assume that the technical people keep everything watertight, use your own common sense as well. Don’t pull important documents to your iPad and then let your 4-year old kid play with it. Don’t put it on an unsecured device and then leave it on the train. You know what I mean… it’s the same “don’t be stupid” rule that also applies to printed documents that you should not leave lying around.

How do I…

… start using the SkyDrive Pro I see in our SharePoint Online intranet?

Just Click on sync button where you want to synchronise to your computer:

  • In a Document Library of a team site
  • On the homepage of your team site
    Please note: this only works if a document library is displayed there in a web part and no more than one document library; otherwise the system does not know what you would want to synchronise so it does not offer the sync button.
  • On the SkyDrive page of your personal site

And then follow the few steps the wizard prompts you to take. See also Microsoft’s Sync SkyDrive Pro or SharePoint libraries to your computer.

… find the documents on my computer, after I have set this up?

When you set this up, the system creates a “folder” in your Windows Explorer, under Favorites. You get:

  • SkyDrive Pro or SkyDrive Pro @YourCompany for your personal library
  • SharePoint for Document Libraries in team sites.
    For each Document Library that you synchronise, you get a folder in this section that is labeled with [site name] – [library name].
    Please note: All document libraries from all team sites are displayed at the same level. There is no organisation by site.
Under Favorites in my Windows Explorer, I have SkyDrive Pro for my personal files and SharePoint for synchronized libraries from team sites

Under Favorites in my Windows Explorer, I have SkyDrive Pro for my personal files and SharePoint for synchronized libraries from team sites

Can’t find it? You can also get to your SkyDrive Pro folder via the central SkyDrive icon: in the Windows notification area (by clicking the triangle at the bottom of Windows) > right-click the SkyDrive Pro cloud icon > Open your SkyDrive Pro folder.

Open your Skydrive Pro folder from the windows notification area

Open your Skydrive Pro folder from the windows notification area

… add a document to my SkyDrive Pro?

You can add documents both in your library online (personal SkyDrive Pro library or a Document Library in a team site) and in the folders on your computer (SkyDrive Pro folder or a sub-folder in the SharePoint folder). When added to the one side, they will be synchronized to the other side.
Please note: OneNote files can only be added online or they won’t be synchronized.

… see if documents have been synchronised?

On your computer, you see in the synchronisation status in the file icon: a green check symbol if it has been synchronized to the online site, a blue refresh symbol if it is still working on it.

One file is still synchronizing from the site to my computer, the others are synchronized.

One file is still synchronizing from the site to my computer, the others are synchronized.

Please note: This depends on your Windows version, 8.1 assumes everything is synchronized unless it is not, so it does not confirm it with the green check icon.

The document library in the site does not show if your file has been copied to your computer yet, so check if it has arrived on your computer if you need to have those files offline after you unplug and run.

If you are working in the document on your computer and you have no connection to the online site, MS Office tells you that you are working in an offline copy:

When I am offline, I see that when I work on a document.

When I am offline, I see that when I work on a document.

and you can see more when you click on File in Word:

More info about the offline copy and where it will be online after synchronisation

More info about the offline copy and where it will be online after synchronisation

… sync other files than documents to my computer?

Put all files that you want to work on and synchronize using the SkyDrive Pro mechanism in the Document Library. Other library types (Pictures, Assets, Pages, Reports ) do not have the sync option (at least not now, November 2013).

… associate metadata like a category to my document?

You can add metadata to your document in the team site (like the category or status, owner) but not in the SharePoint folder on your computer.

When you edit a document on your computer, it will keep the metadata it has in the team site. But if your offline work has changed the status for example, you need to edit the status field in the team site. You can get to the library where you can make that change via a quick link in the folder on your computer:

… make sure that others can see my documents in the team site?

You can add a document to a Document Library on a team site by adding it to the appropriate folder in the SharePoint section on your computer. However, you cannot add information to the metadata fields in that folder.

So if the library has required fields, your document cannot be published. You need to go to the browser, fill in those required fields, and

Right-click on the file on your computer to open its online equivalent in the browser - if you are online.

Right-click on the file on your computer to open its online equivalent in the browser when you are online.

check in the document. Then your colleagues can see it too.

… get back a file that I accidentally deleted from the SharePoint folder on my computer?

You can delete a file from the SharePoint or Skydrive Pro folder on your computer just like you delete one from any other folder on your computer. This also deletes the online version of your file, from the team site or your personal library in SharePoint.

It actually deletes it in SharePoint. So if you want to get it back, you need to restore it from the recycle bin in your team site or personal library. The file cannot be found in the Recycle Bin of your computer.

… stop synchronizing a library?

When you are no longer interested in the latest versions of the documents of, for example, a project that has finished, you can stop synchronizing it to your computer and remove the documents from your computer. You cannot do that by deleting the folder in the SharePoint section directly. You need to open the Windows notification area (by clicking the triangle at the bottom of Windows) > right-click the SkyDrive Pro cloud icon > Stop syncing folder > select the folder. See Microsoft about Stop syncing a library with SkyDrive Pro.

Open the Windows notification area, right-click the SkyDrive Pro cloud icon and stop synchronizing folder.

Open the Windows notification area, right-click the SkyDrive Pro cloud icon and stop syncing folder.

The folder and its documents then still are available in the SharePoint section, but they are no longer connected to the online Document Library.

After syncing has been stopped, the folder has become a regular Windows folder

After syncing has been stopped, the folder has become a regular Windows folder

If you want to start synchronizing again, delete the old folder and click sync in the library again. If you leave the old folder, the sync action will create a second folder for that library…

Limitations: what won’t work?

SkyDrive Pro has some limitations, which make sense when you realize that it uses SharePoint Document Libraries.

You cannot synchronise files that have:

  • Symbols in the filename: \ / : * ? ” < > | # %
    (in SharePoint 2013 on-premises { } ~ and & are also forbidden. I usually try to avoid any kind of symbol),
    or if the filename begins with a period or has several periods halfway (.filename.docx and are forbidden)
  • Too many characters: A file name of more than 128 characters (including spaces) or a path of more than 256 characters.
    So you will hit trouble if you have a lot of nested folders with long folder names. Fortunately, the SharePoint site and the SkyDrive Pro folders on your computer will warn you if you create folders that already run over that limit by themselves.
  • Over 2 GB
  • Blocked file types .ashx, .asmx, .asp, .aspq, .axd, .cshtm, .chtml, .json, .rem, .shtm, .shtml, .soap, .stm, .svc, .vbhtm, .vbhtml, .xamlx,  (This is for SharePoint Online, SharePoint 2013 on-premises blocks a lot more; see Types of files that cannot be added to a list or library)

And you can only sync OneNote files one way: create them in SharePoint and then sync to your computer. It does not work if you create it on your computer and then try to sync it back online.

Looking at the libraries, you cannot synchronise:

  • Over 5000 items site Document Libraries, which includes folders and files. This corresponds to the limit Document Libraries have for displaying items in a single view.
    You can synchronize up to a maximum of 20,000 items in your personal SkyDrive Pro document library, which includes folders and files.
  • Over 25 GB in your personal SkyDrive Pro library

When SkyDrive Pro cannot synchronise what’s on your computer into SharePoint, it gives an error message.

When you are doing something in the folder structure that will result in a path that is too long:

SkyDrive Pro warns you if your folders would result in a path that is too long

SkyDrive Pro warns you if your folders would result in a path that is too long

When your file name is too long or has invalid characters, you see an error icon with the file. You can investigate, by right-clicking on the filename and selecting SkyDrive Pro > View sync problems.

Right-click the file name to find out why it does not synchronise

Right-click the file name to find out why it does not synchronise

The Upload center gives you an error message where applicable, and short cuts to places where you could resolve the problem

The Upload center gives you an error message where applicable, and short cuts to places where you could resolve the problem

Please note: the actual message does not always clearly pinpoint the real problem: I get the message “Invalid characters” for a file that has a filename of more than 128 characters, none of which is invalid in itself.

All in all, SkyDrive Pro is a nice tool for storing your personal documents and for synchronizing files between your sites and between your computers. You just need to think about what you put where.

May 31, 2013

Twenty-four hours of digital workplaces

Filed under: Digital Workplace,Usability — frederique @ 22:31

DW24, twenty-four hours immersed in the world of Digital Workplaces. Guided tours, discussions, inspiration, lessons learned. Granted, I had to sacrifice most of my night’s sleep, but it was worth it.

This used to be the IBF24 marathon about intranets. But intranets have expanded so far into platforms for collaboration and social interaction that it makes more sense to talk about digital workplaces.

These are the things that struck me most:

  • A lot of participants emphasized that is it about meeting the business needs rather than the technology
  • Gamification can stimulate, but be careful how you use it, or it will just be “pointification” (Accenture has years of experience with this kind of motivational design)
  • Story-telling can work to engage: user tell their stories
  • Complete, integrated digital workplace is much appreciated (Virgin has a Cisco based platform for internal collaboration that includes voice messages and everything)
  • Organisations with customers or departments in Asia or Africa go for a “light” homepage (e.g. IBM: search and three boxes with a couple of headlines)
  • Homepages can be unusual (big personal picture and important links; XL, AMP) or -well- ugly (Weston) but if you can get to key content and functionality from there, it works…
  • Homepages usually contain: links to my tools and sites, news, social/culture elements. Some directly on the page, some behind a button.

February 28, 2013

Nielsen Intranet Annual 2013 Trends in the intranet world

Filed under: Usability — Tags: — frederique @ 20:08

A new year, a new Nielsen Norman Group Intranet Annual. As always, they have looked at a lot of intranets and picked the ones that are most useable and user-friendly. And don’t think “we use SharePoint so it does not apply to us”, as 70% of this year’s winners are on SharePoint! These some of their lessons learned and trends that resonated with me.

  • It takes time and people to make a great intranet
    In these days of tools like SharePoint that we can use out-of-the-box, creating an intranet is no big deal, right? Wrong! “Just because a tool lets you do something doesn’t mean it’s a good design solution for your users. Across the years, our winning designs have tended to be from organizations that customized an existing technology solution to fit their needs, rather than simply doing an out-of-the-box implementation. That is, team members took the time to understand the tool inside and out, and worked with the tool to meet their organizations’ needs.” [p.363]. So development of the winning intranets took 2,3 years on average and the team consisted of 18 people, including consultants.
    “It’s not fair to ask a tiny team to take on an endeavor as great as designing and managing an intranet, even if you are “simply deploying” an out-of box solution.” [p.7] You don’t just need to build something nice. You also need to embed it in the organization, finding out what the employees need, asking feedback, testing with them what works best and communicating to them what they can do with it. “Even the busiest development teams, or those with the craziest deadlines, should take time to watch people attempt basic tasks using the design” [p.363]
  • Involve the content owners from the start
    One of the classic goals of an intranet is that the employees can find relevant information on it. In that context, we often talk about the ways to find it, via the search function and smart navigation options. But there also has to be a good, up-to-date, readable and fitting story when you have found the page. The winners have made sure of that by involving the authors from the start and helping them with their work. Not just writing new stories, but also determining what needs to be migrated from the old intranet: restart from scratch or clean up the content. But whatever you do, don’t just copy over the entire garbage heap – garbage in, garbage out.
  • Manage the content well
    That attention to the content is not just needed in the beginning, but continuously: “For the past few years, great intranet teams have been emphasizing regular content updates and creating processes and workflows that religiously keep content up-to-date.” [p.25] We – and they – see a lot of intranets that fall into the trap of content pollution. Users have a hard time picking the nuggets of golden info from the heaps of garbage.
  • Findable content: Filters gebaseerd op metadata
    To find that content, users can filter it via faceted search, which is really taking off by now. That makes sense, because “one of the greatest issues with today’s intranets is that they house too much content for users to deal with in an IA or even typical search results, [so] employees are willing to manipulate results to find exactly what they want.” [p.23]
    This kind of smart search only works if the information has been labelled properly with metadata. Social tagging is a catalyst here, and we see that SharePoint’s options for entering metadata and tagging help as well, such as the term store with type-ahead functionality that makes it easy to tag consistently. But it still takes time and effort. So according to Nielsen structure and navigation is still the number one challenge for struggling intranets, and there is still too much information in silos where it can hardly be found. But the winners say that it is definitely worth the time and effort.
  • Full on social integration
    In earlier editions of the report and some intranets in my experience, commenting en tagging are isolated in a separate section of the intranet or even a separate site. But then I see that users do not visit that section and hardly anybody participates. Now you can get social and interact on all content everywhere in more and more intranets. “There shouldn’t be a sense that there is one place for users to share information, and another for them to consume information.” [p.366] Companies that are still hesitant to get too social can at least make it easy to find people with particular expertise, so that you can contact them offline.
  • Take immediate action when you have found somebody
    Using the people search, it is easy to find people and then to contact them. If you have SharePoint and Lync, this is out-of-the-box functionality that is quite helpful. And it is not only available via the people search, but you get these contact options anywhere, like in the Members web part displayed on the homepage of your team site.
  • Pseudo-personalized homepages
    Personalization of the homepage based on your role has become very popular, but it can be very tricky to keep that up-to-date and working properly. Many companies therefore they take a step back: they let the users select for example their language and company code, or the type of home page they want, like a marketing home page or a customer home page. It needs to be very clear to the users why they should select anything and how they should do it. If you do automate personalization, check with HR regularly of the profiles still make sense.
  • Integration with enterprise applications
    The winning intranets make it easy for the employees to get into other applications – they talk about apps, very hot & happening …. The apps are often put on the home page and/or in the main navigation. And you see the apps that fit your role and/or the apps that you selected. Of course then you want to be able to access those apps without logging on separately – Single Sign On.
  • Feeds from the outside world
    Intranets already had inward facing social features, now they also display Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social sites from the outside: “offering these features as part of the intranet news serves as a frequent reminder, enables speedy access, and demonstrates support for the organizations’ representation on social sites. It also sends a message to employees that they should care about what customers are saying” [p.22] I’ve seen RSS feeds from the internet before, but I also see this outward facing view get emphasized now.
  • Mobile hardly there
    For years we’ve all been saying that mobile is hot or should be hot. Last year, we were disappointed of the mobile presence in great intranets. And this year is no better: the researchers have found only one instance of a mobile application for a winning intranet: an app for de iPad, for sales people. The others do something for mobile access, but haven’t optimized anything for it, for security reasons, because it is too difficult to choose a platform, because there is no money to develop or manage it, or because they don’t know how to tackle it.
  • Collect feedback and communicate
    Build your intranet and the users will come? Not necessarily… The winners were very serious about communicating its benefits and collecting feedback from the users to improve the intranet: users can send an e-mail easily and from everywhere, fill in feedback forms, respond to discussions about the new intranet. During launch, this gets additional attention by way of a banner on important pages. And they really do something with the feedback, so that the users know it is worth responding.

November 30, 2012

What happened to the Title?

Filed under: SharePoint,Usability — Tags: , — frederique @ 22:24

SharePoint document libraries have separate fields for the file name (Name) and for a Title. That makes perfect sense to me, because they have different requirements:

  • The Name needs to be a unique file name, so that you do not overwrite a previous document.
    So for libraries with many documents and especially libraries with many contributors, we recommend a naming convention such as including your initials and the date. This is the ‘system field’
  • The Title need to be clear for people who try to find the file and to determine if this is the file they want to open.
    So you should enter a clear and clean title that does not contain codes and additions that make it less readable. This is the ‘people field’.

In “old” SharePoint, the Title field was clickable
We used the Title field in all views. The reader could click on the Title to read the file, the contributor could open the item menu from the Title to edit it in MS Office. The unique but unwieldly Name was invisible to normal users.

In “new” SharePoint, it is the Name field that is clickable
You have no option but using the .Name field in all your view, because otherwise nobody can read or use the file in any way… The only use I see for the Title field, is for the search engine.
This is the case in SharePoint 2010 but also in SharePoint 2013. I do hope that it is a temporary mistake in the trial cloud that I am looking at.

The file Name and Title

The Title is visible, but it is the Name that is clickable

In the SharePoint 2010 Online version that we are working in now, the Title field often is mandatory, because it is important for the search. But users are getting rather annoyed, having to fill in a field that has no immediate use in the site itself.

I know that there are scripts and workarounds to get a clickable Title field. But I would rather stick with out-of-the-box functionality than risk inconsistency and unstability from some band-aid.
What I don’t know why it is now the Name rather than the Title that is the active field.

What happened to the title? Why did it lose its clickability and – basically – its usefulness?

August 31, 2012

Let’s not cut the tree in half to fix the swing

Filed under: Usability — frederique @ 20:01

I had a flashback to the tree swing the other day. I felt like we were about to cut the trunk of the tree to fix a problem in SharePoint Online… NOOOOOO!  Fortunately we didn’t actually go there. Instead of continuing on the path of complication, we doubled back and simplified.

Thank you ! By the way, there are a few interesting new options in the classic tree swing project cartoon I hadn’t seen before, including a butterfly effect for its performance under load and the iSwing. And here’s another nice and very extended series of cartoons of what different teams can do to that poor tree swing, including health & safety inspectors…

It’s a balancing act
Our starting point in the development of this SharePoint Online intranet was to use the platform as much as possible “as is”. No development in the sense of programming. No customizations; just deciding which elements of the product we should take out of the box and how we should configure them and put them to use. This starting point makes sense, given the fact that we are in the cloud and we want to float along with any updates and upgrades.But we have flown way beyond that starting point now.

The goal of the intranet is to help the employees do their jobs. And the standard out of the box functionality is just not good enough for an intranet of hundreds of team sites that help thousands of employees collaborate, share knowledge and follow their business processes efficiently. Fortunately, we can actually talk to the users down the hall, so we don’t have to guess as much as the cartoon projects working for the swing customer…

So we had to customize. And then deal with the complications caused by the customizations. It’s a balancing act, between functionality and usability on the one hand, and maintainabillty and feasibility on the other hand.

Oh well, we not only have a tree swing, but also a see-saw and a tightrope in our playground…

May 31, 2012

Just asking our users with a SharePoint Online survey

Filed under: SharePoint,Usability — Tags: , , — frederique @ 22:55

From time to time, we just need to ask the users what they think of our intranet. A survey is a nice tool to get some answers. We don’t aim for scientific accuracy, but for a sense of the intranet’s usability, what works for the users . In a previous post, I discussed a survey we set up when we started developing a new intranet. That survey was implemented in a standard survey list template of WSS2, the SharePoint version 2003.

Standard survey in SharePoint Online

Now we wanted to ask some follow-up questions. And by this time, we have entered the cloud. So we created a survey using a standard list template in SharePoint Online. And that is definitely better:

  • The survey questions open in a dialog box, so that the user concentrates on answering them, instead of getting distracted by the context and risking to lose their answers when they leave the form.
  • Branching depending on the answers the user gives, so that you get different follow-up questions when you answer that yes, you do us some section of the intranet
  • Better exports to spreadsheet of the results
Respond to survey

Respond to the survey, in a dialog box

Linking to the survey

Once we had set up the survey, we wanted to invite our users to respond to the survey and explain to them what it is about and why their feedback is important, in an invitation e-mail and an article on the intranet. With a link to start the survey right away. However, that was not as easy:

  • The direct link leading to the questionnaire form (/ResourceSurvey/NewForm.aspx) opens it in the context of the list

    O365-Survey in list context

    NewForm opens in the list context

  • Adding ?IsDlg=1to the url (/ResourceSurvey/NewForm.aspx?IsDlg=1) removes the background, but now the survey form looks lost and when the users has finished the survey he actually is lost: he ends up on a blank screen.

    O365-Survey no context


  • It does work if you put it in a script:
    <a href="javascript:var options=SP.UI.$create_DialogOptions();
    options.height = 400;void(SP.UI.ModalDialog.showModalDialog(options))">
    <strong>Start the survey</strong></a>

    However, if we put this on a news article page, SharePoint automatically strips out the code.

So we put the code inside a Content Editor Web Part on the news article page, so that the script remained intact and worked!

By the way, this method implies that we had to use a news article rather than a blog post, because we could not insert a web part in a standard SharePoint blog post.

April 30, 2012

Anywhere – SharePoint Online on my Windows Phone

Filed under: Interaction,Office365 — Tags: , — frederique @ 22:18

We are always on, always connected. And we expect to be able to do that on our mobile devices. But we’d better manage those expectations.

Nielsen, in his latest Intranet Design Annual, laments the fact that very few intranets have a mobile version. Recently, I looked into SharePoint Online on my iPad and I was only moderately enthusiastic. Now let me take a look on my smartphone – a Windows Phone, so it is Microsoft all around. Today, I focus on the interface in the mobile Internet Explorer.

Bottomline: Again, quite a lot actually works, but not everything…

What works:

  • Announcements, Links, Custom lists
  • Tasks, including views like My Tasks and functionality to update tasks.
  • Blogs: read the post, read the comments and add a comment
  • View pictures in a library, including their thumbnails and a screen-filling version

What works somewhat:

  • Adding a task worked, because I saw the new task appear on my computer. Unfortunately I did not see it appear on my phone…
  • Calendar is present but unpractical: no weekly or monthly overview.
  • Document libraries: I can read documents – though not in a very practical way on such a small screen. But I cannot add or edit them in the phone browser: there is no Upload document button. For that, I need to open the Office Hub.
  • Picture libraries offer a button to upload a picture, but that did not work for me – I could not activate the Browse option.
  • Movies (mp4) played from their library, but the media webpart to play it from the page does not work.
  • Publishing page libraries show the table of content, but the pages themselves do not open.

What is missing entirely: the more interactive features:

  • Discussion Boards: Missing from All Site Content and I cannot switch on the mobile view in the list settings
  • Surveys: Idem
  • Rating: I can see the rating stars but I cannot rate a document on the phone

Below, you will find some screenshots and other details…

‘Table of Contents’

The Windows Phone wisely does not attempt to display the site in its big screen view, but more like a table of content. The All Site Content overview is your friend, as other navigation options – like the tabs – are missing.


Homepage on my Windows Phone

All Site Content

All Site Content


I can read blog posts, read the comments and add a comment using my Windows Phone.

Read a blog post

Read blog comments

Add comment

Managing my tasks works

I can view the tasks that are assigned to me, update their status and other data, and switch to the view with all tasks. For the selection fields, this is the Windows Phone method.

My Tasks

My Tasks

Edit Task

Update my task

Edit Task - Selection list

Select a status

The reader can consult the information in document libraries and picture libraries. Talking back is more difficult in the windows phone browser: I cannot upload or edit the files.

Document Library

Document Library



Picture Library

Picture Library

By the way, I have made these screenshots using the Windows Phone Emulator of the SDK (Software Development Kit) . I am not planning any real development myself, but I have not found an app or any other tool to shoot the screen of my Windows Phone directly.

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