my world of work and user experiences

October 31, 2016

Office 365 groups now have real SharePoint site

Filed under: Office365,SharePoint — Tags: — frederique @ 23:55

An Office 365 Group or a SharePoint Team Site? Now we mostly get an Office 365 AND a SharePoint Team Site: the integration between Groups and SharePoint gives us a full SharePoint Site when we create Group. At a later stage, we will also get a Group when we create a site from SharePoint.

When I talked about Office 365 Groups a year ago, I was not particularly pleased with them. They had potential, but also a lot of drawbacks. But these Groups are really getting somewhere now. Earlier this year I felt that these Groups were making serious progress. Then I enthused about external access. Now the integration with SharePoint sites is starting to make me a happy Groupie…

A SharePoint site for my Groups…

It took a while for the integration between Groups and SharePoint arrived at my Dutch first release tenants, but now all of my Office 365 Groups have a SharePoint site associated to it. Not just newly created Groups, also existing Groups.

When I am in the Conversations section of the Group, I even see an explicit link to the Site.

Link to the SharePoint site from the Conversations section of the Group

Link to the SharePoint site from the Conversations section of the Group

Clicking on that link opens the homepage of the SharePoint site associated to this Group. On the left hand side, we get the Quick Launch menu which we recognize from SharePoint.

The homepage is less recognizable, because it is the homepage of a Modern Team site, which looks quite different from an old-fashioned Team Site. This is actually the first Modern Team Site that I can play with, but that is a different story.

My Group has a full blow Modern Team Site, with a site home page.

My Group now has a full blow Modern Team Site, with a site home page.

I am very happy that I have a SharePoint site with my Group, because now I can:

  • Add lists for anything from the who-brings-what for the team barbecue to inventories of special solutions with their owners and statuses.
  • Use a page where I can bring information together. Not just the home page; I can create new pages if I want

… But I do not see a full SharePoint site

When I dug a little deeper in the site settng of my new “Group Site”, I saw that some options are missing:

  • Users and Permissions, with the site permissions
  • Look & feel: Title, description and logo, plus the Top Link Bar
  • Site actions: Save the site as template, and Delete this site
  • Most of the Web Designer Galleries
  • Site administration: Site closure and deletion, popularity trends
  • Site collection administration: Enterprise Content Management tools like audit log reports, content type policy templates and site policies,. Also popularity and search reports. And the sharepoint designer settings
Site settings in a site associated with  Group versus the settings of a native SharePoint site

The settings of a native SharePoint site versus the settings in a site associated with Group versus

So did these settings drop out of the site? No. According to Mark Kashman in the Q&A of his keynote at the Collab365 Global Conference, nothing has been taken out of the sites. However, some things have been hidden…

The options that are hidden in a site associated with a Group are the options that you are supposed to manage in the Group (in Outlook) instead of in the site, like its membership. You are also not supposed the delete the site but the Group as a whole. And he said that they had hidden the options that would confuse non-SharePoint experts, so that may be why we don’t get the policy stuff.


When I need full blown Enterprise Content Management functionality in a site, with Audit log reports and policies, I still create a native SharePoint site. But for “normal” collaboration, Office 365 are becoming the go-to option…

September 30, 2016

External access to Office 365 Groups

Filed under: Office365 — Tags: — frederique @ 19:31

This is what I have been waiting for: External access to Groups. I can now invite people from outside our organization to join me in Office 365 Groups. This is great, because I do not only collaborate with my colleagues, but also with my clients.

Recently, I started to work on a small project with my client. We used Skype for Business to talk and show each other what we were working on, and that was just fine. But then they wanted to give me some input documents. And I wanted to share some drafts with them. We did not have a shared team site, so these documents were sent back and forth by e-mail as classic attachments. Really annoying, because:

  • it was hard to get an overview of what we had shared,
  • a new version had to be sent again, which clutters our inboxes
  • and are we sure we have the latest version before us?

I was on the brink of requesting an official project site, when external access to Office 365 Groups was announced. It was not available immediately in our tenant, but after a few days of increasingly eager attempts, it suddenly was there! The option to invite people from outside our organisations.

As an Owner of an Office 365 Group, I can now invite people by entering their mail address.

Add a guest to the Office 365 Group. The Group does warn you that this is an external user: a guest.

Add a guest to the Office 365 Group. The Group does warn you that this is an external user: a guest.

The guest (in this case, Garth) then gets an invitation e-mail, from which he can start an e-mail conversation and open the shared files.

Invitation to join a Group as a guest.

Invitation to join a Group as a guest.

And to open the shared files, his e-mail address does have to be connected to a Microsoft account. If it isn’t, the recipient of the invitation is prompted to create a Microsoft account and connect it to this mail address. My guests (now Garth,  in real life my clients) fortunately have a Microsoft account associated to their mail address. But they do have to sign in.

The guest needs to sign in to get the files shared in the Group.

The guest needs to sign in to get the files shared in the Group.


What the guest can do in the Group is limited:

  • He cannot view the Conversations in the context of the Group. Only in Outlook.
  • He cannot see the Calendar in the Group.
  • He cannot use the Planner.
  • He does not see the “external group” listed with the groups of his own organization.
    So he needs to keep the e-mail with the link at hand or bookmark the external group in his browser.
  • He does not get the full list of all members and cannot see the details of the people.
    This is undoubtedly a security / privacy feature: it is none of Garth’s business who we report to and what else we do.

    People details visible for colleagues

    People details visible for colleagues

    People details hidden from guests.

    People details hidden from guests.

But for my purpose, it was sufficient, because the guest can collaborate on documents and notes:

  • He can read, edit and upload documents.
  • He can use the OneNote notebook.
Sharing files with guests.

Sharing files with guests.


So I am definitely a happy camper, or rather: a happy collaborator.  I was able to share files and share notes with my clients in a quick & easy way, and that is exactly what we wanted…

August 31, 2016

All users are equal…

Filed under: Adoption — frederique @ 20:28

But some are more equal than others. Lately, I have been working in a Functional Management team that supports users, mostly content owners and site owners, in the new intranet. We have a lot to do and never quite enough time to give all of them our full attention. So we have to prioritize.

But is it OK to “play favourites”? Spend time with some users, while others are pointed to a standard help page and told that if they want personal attention, they will have to wait?

Yes, I think that is OK. If we pick our favourites for the right reasons.
Not the people who smile most prettily at us.
Not the people who yell most loudly.
Not automatically the biggest bosses.

We give priority people who are trying to achieve something that will help many end-users a lot.
The content owners publishing key information.
The site owners managing solutions that support important business processes.
The early adoptor users who inspire many colleagues to take advantage of the new options.

I was very pleased to hear Richard Harbridge emphasize this as well in his very interesting webinar titled How to improve Office 365 & SharePoint adoption in the real world: The perception is that we need to support and invest in our users equally. But some users are more impactful than others: 20% of the people are responsible for 80% of the activity on the intranet.

We are not being undemocratic. We are just aiming to get the biggest bang for our buck. And to mix my metaphors: we pick the low hanging fruit, by helping users who only need a small boost to get back on track to rich pickings for the entire community. We don’t have an official champions programma at that organisation (yet…). But unofficially, we know who the champions are. Who makes an impact, who spends a lot of time and energy on the intranet to make such an impact. These people do a lot to make the intranet matter. So we do a lot to help these people.

We are not being undemocratic, we are not being unfriendly, we are just being practical. Because after all, some users are more equal than others.

July 31, 2016

Life imitating art? Recognizing my work in holiday sightseeing

Filed under: Digital Workplace — frederique @ 22:58

I have just spent my holidays touring France. No, I did not think about work, Office 365, SharePoint, user adoption, governance or anything like that. But now that I am back, I do notice that often the principles that governed what we saw and did during our holidays are quite similar to the ones that govern my work.

Take advantage of what is availble, with tweaks where needed

In the Dordogne, people have been living under stone shelters since prehistoric times: natural rock overhangs, which protect you from the rain (if did still work for us, on our walk). The Cro-Magnon lived there, and may already made them more comfortable and practical by . Later, people built houses under such shelters, which already had a back wall and part of a roof.

Abri de Cro-Magnon in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, with recontructed "tent walls"

Prehistoric abri de Cro-Magnon in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, with recontructed “tent walls”

Modern house built under the shelter near the Grotte de Combarelles

Modern house built under the shelter near the Grotte de Combarelles

On the SharePoint platform and in Office 365 we do the same thing: we take advantage of what Microsoft (instead of mother nature) has already created for us, and we tweak a bit or develop more extensively to make it fit our needs better. We actually do that more and more. While a decade ago we started by building a new house from scratch, now we immediately head for the nearest standard feature and use that with as little customization as possible.

The environment changes and we have to go with the flow

As we went to the south of France, we assumed that the weather would be quite nice and that we would be just fine camping in our little tent. Well, not everywhere and not every day. It seems like that the climate change is acting up: there had been torrential rains, flooding many rivers and swamping the countryside in many areas.  And there were frequent thunderstorms, with hail.

So we chose carefully where to pitch our tent and where to go hiking. We changed our plans to steer clear of the worst inundations. And when the weather forecast threatened with a hailstorm, we took shelter in a hotel room.

Le Parc naturel régional de la Brenne : better be careful where you walk

Le Parc naturel régional de la Brenne : better be careful where you walk

But the local wildlife, in particular the water birds and waders, where quite happy that there was water everywhere…

Ducks taking advantage of the rains in the Le Parc naturel régional de la Brenne : this was supposed to be dry land.

Ducks taking advantage of the rains in the Le Parc naturel régional de la Brenne : this was supposed to be dry land.

In Office 365 cloud burst are usually less destructive. But the environment does change all the time. As users and administrators, we have to go with the flow. Change our plans if they don’t mesh with the evolution of the environment, and take advantage of the new opportunities.

Old and broken? It is still useful for somebody

The statues outside the cathedral of Sens have all been broken: their heads were cut off during the revolution. But the statues (and art lovers’) loss is the birds (and nature lovers’) gain. A lot of swallows built their nests amongst the statues.

Swallows nesting in the west portal

Swallows nesting in the west portal

In Sarlat-la-Canéda it weren’t the birds but people who recycled an old church; now they use it as a covered market.

Sarlat-la-Canéda: The second life of the church of Sainte-Marie

Sarlat-la-Canéda: The second life of the church of Sainte-Marie

I recently saw the same thing with an old SharePoint environment. People had circumvented the old, dilapidated templates to create very useful solutions. Don’t underestimate the creativity of your fellow man – or bird – in reusing old sites.

You don’t always need an expensive, high tech solution

In the city centre of Cahors, the inhabitants of one of the main pedestrian streets wanted to have some flowers to go with the official garden festival. They did not have gardens, space or money. But they had some basic materials and a good idea. So they created some very funny and colourful flower pots from old plastic soap bottles and hung them on the drain pipes.

Flower pots made from old soap bottles in Cahors

Flower pots made from old soap bottles in Cahors

This is often my approach in projects, especially small-scale projects for teams that don’t have much money. Do they really need some expensive product, or can we just tweak some standard stuff to meet their needs?

Blocking the main entry with fun stuff: Check the priorities and navigation

There is a main road running through Saint-Gilles (Gard). But not on the day of their festival. On that they, that main route is blocked, so you cannot enter the town or go through it to other villages and towns connected by that road. Fortunately, we were on the right side of the barriers, staying at the town camp site and enjoying the festivities.
For that day, the priorities of the people of Saint-Gilles were clearly with their fête. They did provide some sign posts to guide people around the town centre, but these did not suffice: we saw plenty of drivers who got stuck and lost. Maybe they tried regardless of the signs, but the barriers were quite solid…

Saint-Gilles, Fête de la Musique. The barriers went up plenty of time before the festival started.

Saint-Gilles, Fête de la Musique. The barriers went up plenty of time before the festival started.

I sometimes see something similar happen on the homepage of an intranet: the entire page or at least the visible part of the page, is taken over by ‘fun stuff’: a campaign, something interesting that Communication wants to tell the world. But what about the users who are looking for their tools, their collaboration sites, support, or other useful things? You have to be pretty sure that all of these users share your priorities and want to see your ‘fun stuff’, or you have to offer them sufficiently clear pointers to the place where they do want to go.


So no, I am not a workaholic: while I was on holiday, I did not think about work. But now that I am back at the office and looking at my holiday pictures over the weekend, I do see similarities. Maybe I am just trying to find my holiday in my work….

June 4, 2016

Surprises from sites and owners in the migration

Filed under: Governance — Tags: — frederique @ 9:13

In our recent project to migrate all active collaboration sites of an organization, we interacted with a lot of site owners. We had anticipated several questions that the site owners would have and challenges that they would meet. But there were some moments when I got reactions that I had not expected at all.

We mailed about 700 site owners about 750 site collections. And it is a rather heterogeneous bunch: they come from all departments in the organisation. Some are very SharePoint savvy, while others turned out to have no clue. Some are incredibly proactive, while other could not be coaxed into any action. I have already told about the lessons learned in the migration as a whole in a previous post. Now let me elaborate on some of the surprises the owners and the sites had in store for us.

People listed as Main Site Owner who had no owner permissions

We had a migration list, detailing all collaboration site collections with two Main Site Owners who we would contact several times over the course of the migration project. We asked these people to confirm if they really were the site owners we should contact.

Interestingly enough, I got quite a few responses when I sent out the new URLs of the migrated sites, of Main Site Owners who could not access the migrated sites. At first I feared something had gone wrong with the security settings in the migration. But then it turned out that none of the people who complained about access had actually had permissions on the original site. So the migration was perfect: no permissions to no permissions. But the question is, why did these people confirm that they were Site Owners of a site where they were no kind of owner at all?

The people who gave me more details all thought that we were talking about some other site. The apparently had not clicked the prominent link visible in the migration list. They had seen the site name, and sometimes the name of their co-Main Site Owner (most sites had a deputy) and assumed they knew what site it was. They were mistaken.

Bottom line: people are only human, and very busy. So take into account that the response is not always accurate.

Mix-up between different kinds of SharePoint sites

I’ve talked several people who turned out to be confused about the different kinds of SharePoint sites we have in this organisation. There are different sites from the Local organisation: collaboration sites, intranet portal, sites with special applications (at a separate address). And there are also sites from the Global organisation. I have to admit, the environment also confused me when I got here, but that was mostly because I did not know how to get from one part to the other. But I can see the difference between the Local sites and the sites managed by the Global organisation: they not only have a different address but also a different colour.

We emphasized in our communication that we would only migrate Local sites from the collaboration address, which were branded as Group Sites. Nevertheless, I have had several questions about people asking about the migration of sites that turned out to be one managed by Global or subsites in the Portal.

Bottom line: for some users, all of those SharePoint environments are the same. Don’t assume that everybody understands the difference between intranet and extranet sites, portal sites and collaboration sites, regular sites and secure sites…

Some site owners voluntarily indicate that their sites does not have to be migrated

In previous migration projects we saw that Site Owners always said that everything had to be migrated. Unless they found out that they were the ones who had to migrate their own sites. In this project we told the people that the IT team would migrate their sites, but still 26% of the sites could be deleted, according to the Site Owners. We did tell them that they would have to take some actions along the course of the migration. Maybe that was enough to avoid unnecessary migrations. Or maybe these people are just very orderly and like to clean up, at least when prompted to do so…

Bottom line: Ask explicitly if sites should be migrated, because that may result in an unexpected clean-up.

Some site owners have set up exotic configurations

The site owners are in charge of their own sites. And some of them took the opportunity to rebuild their standard site into something exotic. And these exotics don’t always survive a migration. There were some spiffy calendar overlays ,workflows with manual links, strange things in Infopath forms, pages with weird styling, browsable reference guides in htm, non-Sharepoint pages in mht format,… Some of it we knew about, but some of it surprised us when we saw it. And most of it migrated smoothly, but some things broke.

Bottom line: Keep an eye on sites as part of your regular governance. Otherwise you may run into unexpected issues when you migrate or update, and when the unusual sites break down.

A migration is a nice occasion to meet your site owners and sites. Let’s not wait for the next migration to do it again, but keep in touch with the owners and keep an eye on their sites.

May 31, 2016

10 lessons learned in a Team Site migration

Filed under: Governance,SharePoint — Tags: — frederique @ 23:10

Recently I was in the lead in a migration project, in which we upgraded collaboration sites from SharePoint 2010 to 2013 and moved them to another location. Let me share with you some lessons I learned in that project. Some from friendly feedback, others from hitting snags head on. Some related to SharePoint, and others that don’t have anything to do with technology but are all about people: communication and process.


1.The content database attach upgrade method is quite handy

We had hundreds of sites to upgrade and migrate in a short time. There was no time and manpower to do it manually or to write a custom code solution to do the migration. We did have a migration tool at our disposal but that was not suited for bulk migrations, and the other tools we looked at we too expensive. So we decided to use the content database attach upgrade method.

We were quite pleased with the result: we did manage to migrate 551 site collections in one weekend, even though some were quite large. The content and settings moved along nicely, including timestamps and the names of the authors, even if they had left the company.

2.Ask a SharePoint developer to script clean-up in Powershell: automate repetitive tasks

Unfortunately, the old collaboration sites were chock-full of weird customizations. They had even customized the permission mechanism, for Pete’s sake… So we did not want to upgrade the sites completely as-is. We could have tried to reconfigure the sites manually, but that would be a lot of work.

So a SharePoint developer wrote Powershell scripts, to clean out the unwanted customizations and transform the sites. We could not get rid of everything, but after the clean-up, the migrated sites are a lot more future-proof…

  • SharePoint developer. We talked to other developers, but we found out that they could not write these scripts sufficiently quickly and accurately. The scripts had to tie into SharePoint functionality, so the developer needed a good grasp of the way SharePoint works.
  • Automate as much as possible before the migration weekend. We had a non-stop process over the weekend for the production migration, where people had to perform tasks in the middle of the night. That can be a recipe for disaster. So the developer automated as much as possible, so that he hardly had to type in any commands and took little risk of making mistakes.

3.Align the settings between the old and the new SharePoint

We found out the hard way that the settings in our new SharePoint 2013 environment differed from the settings in our old SharePoint 2010 environment. These differences pertained to exotic exceptions in our collection of collaboration sites, so we had not included them in our regular test cases. For example:

  • The threshold for the maximum number of items in a list has been increased in the old environment to 13.000, while in the new environment the lists complained after 5.000 items.
  • HTM and MHT files were opened in the browser in the old environment. In the migrated sites, users are prompted to save such files.

So next time, we will make sure to compare the settings and align them beforehand.

The team’s process

4.Test the functionality

We started testing at an early stage, from different perspectives.

  • Content: Is the content intact, including things like the number of items, the timestamps and author names, and versions?
  • Settings: Are the settings intact, including for example views, web part pages, permissions and site settings?
  • SharePoint functionality: did the we somehow break the regular SharePoint functionality or does it all still work properly?

We needed to know what the Site Owners and other users would get after the upgrade. Firstly, because the developer was able to fix some issues before the real migration, in his clean-up and upgrade scripting. And secondly, because this allowed us to warn the Site Owners which elements would not transfer well. Fortunately, this pertained only to functionality that very few sites used. For example, the Term Store is not part of the content databases. We left it behind, because nobody really used Managed Metadata.

5.Test the infrastructure

In addition to the functional test of the environment, we also tested how the migration would run on the infrastructure:

  • Disk space. Given the size of the content databases, how much space do we need on the servers? Do we have that space? We didn’t, so we requested additional space.
  • Time. How much time does the migration take on the servers we have? What if we add a server for parallel processing with our clean-up scripts?
  • Snags. What snags do we hit? For example, we found out that we had to install a feature that was no longer used but still referred to from within SharePoint. And we found out that some servers would pause in the middle of the night, if we didn’t take special precautions.

I am very glad we did several test runs, because in our first runs we got nowhere near the finish line  within the planned timeframe of one weekend. And after these tests and subsequent changes, we did manage to finish the migration of the production environment by Sunday afternoon.

6.Create a cookbook and timetable for the team

Especially during our migration weekend, the pressure was on and we worked round the clock to perform our tasks. Some tasks and some transitions between tasks could not be automated easily. So we made them foolproof in our process:

  • Cookbook: We could blindly follow the clear and explicit steps we had written down in our cookbook beforehand, based on our thorough tests.
  • Timetable: The SharePoint developer/architect who devised the technical migration method created an excel sheet with all tasks, with calculated fields indicating when they had to be started. The calculations for the planned times were based on the durations found in our tests, and the calculations for the actual/expected times were based on our progress during the migration weekend. This way, we all knew when we could expect it to be our turn.
Migration timetable

Migration timetable (thank you Macaw colleague Peter Heibrink!)

7.Keep the lines open

Part of our team was in The Netherlands and the others were in India. So we could not get together in a real-life “war room”. So we worked from our homes during that migration weekend, and we kept in touch via digital means:

  • Conversations in Skype for Business. This was our main channel for informal chats and voice calls, to check progress, ask questions, get answers, put forward suggestions and generally encourage each other.
  • An e-mail thread to keep all stakeholders informed when we moved to the next step. They could read the e-mail on their mobile devices – not everybody had to stay glued to their laptops for the entire weekend.
  • A list of emergency phone numbers, so that we knew how to call and wake up key people if anything got stuck.

The most important thing is actually not the digital communication channel, but the willingness of the team members to share their thoughts, to express any doubts or questions they had, and to answer questions. This way, we could really work as one team.

Communication with Site Owners and Users

8.“Beautiful” emails are ignored as spam. Make it functional and personal

We started with an email to all Site Owners. It looked like a newsletter, styled to fit the corporate look & feel. We regretted that decision, when at a later stage we heard that some Site Owners had completely missed the communication. They literally said: “nobody reads those emails in newsletter format.” Oops.

What worked best, were emails that:

  • Have a functional look. No fancy styling, just mail to a colleague.
  • Have a clearly visible key message, in the subject and in the first lines: what is the point, what do we need from you. For example: “Group Sites migration starts Friday May 20 18:00h: Check in the final documents and inform the users”
  • Make it clearly relevant for them personally as much as possible. For example, in the subject of an individual mail we put: “Can we delete the Group Site XYZ?”, when the owner of a big site hadn’t told us if he wanted us to migrate it. This take a lot of time, but did allow us to take some unwieldly sites out of the migration. And when we mailed the new URLs after the migration, we used a mail merge to send every owner a mail with their own name and specific link, highlighted in a clear but ugly yellow.

9.A self-service migration list helps, but you still need to process email replies

We set up a migration site (already in SharePoint 2013), with information about the migration, a discussion list for questions and remarks, and a self-service migration list:

  • Information about each collaboration site collection: In that migration list we put an item for every collaboration site collection, with key information: the main site owners as far as we knew them, the URL, some metadata carried over from the site request list.
  • Fields that we wanted input on: We asked the owners to check the Main Site Owner fields and change the names if needed. We also asked them to switch the status field, to indicate if the site should be migrated or could be deleted.
  • Dynamic views helped the owners and users find the sites relevant for them: filtered by Main Site Owner = [Me], grouped by department, grouped by status.

Within a few days after our initial mail to all site owners, about half of the items in the list had actually been updated by the site owners themselves. That saved us a lot of time and effort! But then again, about a quarter replied by email so that we had to administer their wishes. It was more important to us that we actually get an answer than that this answer was given via our preferred channel, so we thanked them anyway. And the rest had to be chased to elicit any answer at all. Fortunately, we had decided that if we got no response from the owners, we would simply migrate the site to avoid getting into time-consuming fights..

10.Asking the Site Owners if they want to migrate their sites is worth the effort

We contacted the site owners, because we wanted them to take a small part in the migration: make sure their site was ready for migration and inform their users. So we asked them to confirm they were the main site owners we should contact.

Because we were mailing them anyway, we also asked them to tell us if they wanted to migrate their sites. We fully expected everyone to blindly respond that of course their sites had to be migrated, especially because 6 months earlier we had sent out a regular request to delete inactive sites. But lo and behold, it turned out that the site owners said that a full 26% of all collaboration sites could be deleted! That saved us a lot of time during the migration weekend.

April 30, 2016

Office 365 Groups – They make serious progress

Filed under: Office365 — Tags: — frederique @ 20:32

Six months ago, I looked at Office 365 groups in my discussion of the collaboration tools of Office 365 and what to use when. At that time, I was disappointed with the Groups. Since then, Groups have improved a lot. They still leave a lot to be desired. But I am optimistic, because of the speedy progress that Microsoft has made. So what do I think is new & hot since my previous blog post?

Configuration of the library in Files

For me, the biggest improvement at this time is in Files. Maybe I am too much of a SharePoint addict or a control freak, but I love the fact that the Library Settings are back in the Files section. For some reason it used to be impossible to change or even see the library settings. Maybe to make sure the Group Owner does not have to do any advanced SharePoint stuff? Well, you don’t have to change the library settings, but at least now you are able to do so, if you want. For example, now you can add helpful views based on your own metadata. And you can invite Visitors to read your files.

Office 365 Group: Manage views in the Document Library of the Files section.

Office 365 Group: Manage views in the Document Library of the Files section.

Note that the interface for the Document Library is the new one, which has also appeared in OneDrive for Business and for which you can switch on a preview in SharePoint Team Sites (at least, if you are on an early bird tenant). In that new interface we’ve lost the good old ribbon with the Library tab; you’ll find the Library Settings under the gear icon. I still have some doubts about the usability of this new interface, but that may also be a work in progress.

Also, I am happy that the Files section of the Group no longer advertises itself als OneDrive: in the suite bar you now see the label Sites. That makes sense, because the address bar indicates that we are in sites as well. The OneDrive label was just confusing.


Another big improvement is not full available yet: the addition of a tool to manage your team’s tasks. The new Office 365 Planner is available in preview. For each group, there is a Plan in that Planner, which allows you to assign tasks, track their status and organize them into buckets. You can reach the rest of the Group from there. Unfortunately, you cannot access the plan from the rest of the Group yet. When that becomes available for all Group users, we’ll have a way to manage our tasks processes and be able to do basic project management in our Office 365 Group.

Office 365 Planner: a plan in the context of its group.

Office 365 Planner: a plan in the context of its group.

Integration in Office 2016

I’ve received Outlook 2016 since my previous post. Outlook devotees, who prefer to do everything with Outlook, should have that version, because it works seamlessly with the Office 365 Groups. In Outlook 2016, you not only see the Outlook-parts of the Group (the Conversation and the Calendar), but you also have access to the Files, Notebook, option to create new Groups etc via the ribbon.

Office 365 Groups have a strong presence in Outlook 2015, where all Group options are available via the ribbon. Files and Notebook will open in the browser.

Office 365 Groups have a strong presence in Outlook 2015, where all Group options are available via the ribbon. Files and Notebook will open in the browser.

According to the Office 365 Roadmap, Microsoft is continuing to work hard on Office 365 Groups. For example, the roadmap says they are rolling out the ability to update the privacy type. That’s a relief, because I’ve seen users regret their choice for private or public, and seen groups evolve from private to should-be-public. Soon we will be able to change that setting. And Microsoft is developing functionality that allows for more serious governance, like policies, expiry for groups, the option to delete groups that were accidentally deleted.

So the Office 365 have improved a lot since they were launched as a rather Minimum Viable Product, and they are evolving into a Useful Product. And if Microsoft keeps up the good work, they may yet grow to be a Great Product.

March 31, 2016

Office 365 Video Portal – It is really getting there

Filed under: Office365 — Tags: — frederique @ 23:51

The standard Video portal offered by Office 365 has grown a lot over the last year. It still has some limitations, but the worst problems have been solved. By now, I can recommend it for real.

A year ago, I discussed the Office 365 Video Portal in a previous blog post. At that time, I concluded that it was interesting and somewhat usable, but I could not really recommend it to innocent users yet. The Minimum Viable Product was too minimal for that. But now we are getting somewhere! See also What’s new – Office 365 video.

The Office 365 Video portal as it looks today.

The Office 365 Video portal as it looks today.

Easier to add videos as a contributor

Is was never difficult to upload a video, if you had permission. But now we can do a lot more than just upload a video.

  • Central upload button
    you no longer have to go to a specific channel first, before you can click Upload. You can use the central Upload button and then specify where the video should go.

    Click the central Upload button and then select the channel.

    Click the central Upload button and then select the channel.

  • Upload multiple videos and follow their progress
    When you drag & drop multiple videos into the upload area, the system give you a progress indicator per video. While you wait for the video files to be uploaded, you can add descriptions and edit the titles.

    Follow the progress of multiple video files that are uploaded, and tweak the titles and descriptions while you wait.

    Follow the progress of multiple video files that are uploaded, and tweak the titles and descriptions while you wait.

  • Select a custom thumbnail
    Progress in the domain of the thumbnail is huge for me. At first, the Lync/Skype for Business recordings I uploaded all had a blank screen as a thumbnail. Terrible. Then the tool automatically selected an image from further down the recording, so that I least we saw something. And now we can either choose form a set of proposed screen captures, or even upload our own image as a thumbnail.

    Choose a screen capture as a thumbnail or upload your own image.

    Choose a screen capture as a thumbnail or upload your own image.

  • Add closed captioning
    Ok, it is not easy to create closed captioning or subtitles for a video. But if you are an advanced video maker and you have created a .vtt file for that, it is easy to upload it with the video.

    Manage menu for a video, including the option to add subtitles

    Manage menu for a video, including the option to add subtitles

Easier to handle videos as a consumer

Of course it is still easy to watch a video. But now you can also tell your colleagues and discuss it directly from the video:

  • E-mail a link to a colleague.
    You could e-mail the link to anyone; you have to make sure yourself that the person to whom you are sending the e-mail can actually view the video.

    The e-mail generated from the E-mail button.

    The e-mail generated from the E-mail button.

  • Comment on the video in Yammer.
    The channel owner can specify the Yammer Group where the conversation will take place, if there is a one-on-one mapping between the channel and a Yammer Group. Or the channel owner can leave it up to the user to select the most appropriate Yammer Group. It is a pity you have to click to open the comments and you do not immediately see them below the video (like in YouTube), but it is nice to have the option to see and give comments anyway.

    Yammer comment on a video

    Yammer comment on a video

  • Download
    The channel owner can determine in the channel settings who can download the video: only owners, owners and editors, or viewers as well. Then you can download the video and watch it while you are on a train or a plane without an internet connection.

Easier to manage my video channel as an owner

I still do not have many options as an owner of a channel in the Video portal. But some crucial options have become available.

  • Permissions for contributors: Editors
    It came as a huge relief when I could give people permission to upload videos, without giving them permissions to change the entire channel as owners. We now have ‘Editors’.

    We can now distinguish between Owners, Editors and Viewers, seperately determining which of these groups can download a video.

    We can now distinguish between Owners, Editors and Viewers, seperately determining which of these groups can download a video.

  • Statistics
    Channel owners often ask us for statistics. But video contributors also ask sometimes if they can see how often their video has been viewed. And now they can! Everybody who can view a video can also see the statistics: the total number of views near the title, and below the description a graph of the daily number of views and visitors over the last 14 days and the monthly views and visitors over the last 36 months.
    The bar chart indicates how many people have watches the subsequent portions of the video. Typically, many people view the first part and then they stop watching so that less people view the later parts. Note: this chart only displays the views starting 19 February 2016, so it will not reflect reality for older videos.

    The number of views of the video daily and monthly, as well as an indication of which parts of the video were viewed.

    The number of views of the video daily and monthly, as well as an indication of which parts of the video were viewed.

Easier to add to your team site, as a site owner

You already could add thumbnails of videos stored in the Office 365 Video portal to your SharePoint Online team site in that environment. But now it has become even easier.

  • Button insert > Office 365 video
    There is an explicit button to upload an Office 365 video. This amounts to the same result as clicking Embed at the video, inserting a Script editor web parts on the page and then pasting the code as a snippet. But using the Office 365 video button, you can search for a relevant video directly from the page where you are working. In this way, you display one specific video on your team site page, where the users can play it.

    Insert an Office 365 video into your team site page.

    Insert an Office 365 video into your team site page.

  • Search-driven content
    You can also automatically display the latest videos from a specified channel, or display videos that meet any other search criteria, using Search-driven content web parts. The most obvious one is the one called Video.

It is not perfect yet

The Video Portal is still in development, and I hope that some things will be added and improved at a later stage.

For example, I still have to select each spotlighted video manually. It would be a lot easier if I could simply tag key videos as ‘spotlight’ and have the channel start page display the latest spotlights automatically.

In a broader sense, it is metadata that I am still missing. The only way to structure the collection of videos is by using channels. We only have the title and description to indicate what the video is about. The system also uses data that the contributor has no control over, like the publication date and the number of views, to bubble up the latest and trending videos. But not spotlighted videos, videos about a specific topic or of a specific type within a channel etc.

But even if the Video portal in Office 365 is not perfect, you can use it and get a lot of benefits from it in your digital workplace.


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.

January 31, 2016

How do I create a document in SharePoint?

Filed under: SharePoint — Tags: — frederique @ 23:27

We often see users creating documents in MS Office and then uploading them into SharePoint. But you can also create your document directly in SharePoint. A client recently wanted to know the details, because they feared that their newbie users would otherwise never put their documents in SharePoint.

So how do you create documents in SharePoint, particulary in SharePoint Online?

Use the button ‘New’

To create a new document in SharePoint, you navigate to the site where you want to create your document. And in the Document Library you click the obvious button: New. Then you select the type of document you want to create, Word for example.

'New' button in a Document Library, to create a new document.

‘New’ button in a Document Library, to create a new document.

Create a basic document in Office Online

By default, this opens Word Online (or another Office Online, if you have selected another document type). Here, you can just start typing your document…

Write your document in Word Online

Write your document in Word Online

The system has not asked what you want to call your document. By default, it is called Document, which is not very helpful. So remember to change the filename: just click on the filename at the top of the screen, in the screenshot click Document, and type your own name.

And when you are finished, you do not have to click Save; the document is saved automatically. The actually is no Save button. When you click on the name of the site (in my example Operations), you go back to the Document Library where you started, and the document is saved automatically, by the filename you have entered at the top.

Please note: if you have not entered your own filename, the document is still called Document or Document1 or something similarly unhelpful. Edit the document again in Word Online, to change the filename.

Edit your document in Word Online.

Edit your document in Word Online.

Create an advanced document in Office

In some situations, we want more than to just type up a document. We may want to use a template, and add metadata to make it easier to find the document. In that case, the Site Owner should set up the Document Library differently.

Use a template for a Content Type

If there are templates for, for example, reports, then it is helpful if the Site Owner or the overall Administrator creates a Content Type for them and associates the template with it. For an overview of the steps, see Microsoft’s Create or customize a site content type.

The relevant part for the template is in the Content Type’s Advanced Settings:

In the Advanced settings of the Content Type, the Site Owner can upload a template.

In the Advanced settings of the Content Type, the Site Owner can upload a template.

When the Site Owner associates this Content Type with the Document Library, the user can select it under the New button:

Add a report from a custom content type.

Add an Opeations report, based on the custom content type.

Now, the problem is that such templates do not always work well in Office Online: images may float to the wrong place, dynamic fields are not filled properly. You may want to test this with your own template. But be prepared for the fact that the Site Owner may have to change the settings, to use Office on the desktop instead of Office Online. We will get to that in a minute.

Use metadata to structure the document collection and find documents

If you have a lot of documents, it is helpful to group them by category, for example. Or filter them by status. Sort them by End date. In order to do that, the contributor who creates the document needs to fill in these metadata.

In Office Online, this is a bit tricky.

When you upload a document, you are prompted to fill in its metadata. However, if you create your document directly in Word Online, you are not prompted to fill in anything but the text of the document.

So if you just write your document and let it be saved automatically the metadata won’t be filled in. And if some of the metadata are required (like a Report category) then the document will remain checked out. That means that it is a draft version of the document, which only the uploader can see and nobody else.

The required field Reportcategory has not been filled in, so the document is left checked out and invisible to other users.

The required field ReportCategory has not been filled in, so the document is left checked out and invisible to other users.

The contributor then has to be aware of the situation, edit the properties, fill in the metadata and check in the document. The problem is that many contributors will forget that, and this will play havoc with the usefulness of the SharePoint sites.

This works a lot better if SharePoint opens the document in MS Word on your desktop, instead of opening Word Online. You are still working directly from SharePoint, but just in a different version from Office.

Opening documents on the desktop instead of in the browser

The Site Owner can determine where documents are opened, when you click on the title to read them or when you want to edit them. This is in the Advanced settings of the Document Library: in the section ‘Opening Documents in the Browser’ select Open in the client application instead of the default value ‘Use the server default (Open in the browser)’.

In the Advanced settings of the Document Library, the Sit Owner can select to open files in the client instead of in the browser.

In the Advanced settings of the Document Library, the Sit Owner can select to open files in the client instead of in the browser.

The document then opens in Word, where you have all functionality at your disposal, including fully functional templates.

And part of that full functionality is the Document Information Panel: a panel at the top of the .document with fields for the metadata. Please note: this Document Information Panel (DIP) appears in Word 2013, but not in Word 2016.

The document opened in the client, MS Word, with at the top the Document Information Panel.

The document opened in the client, MS Word, with at the top the Document Information Panel.

The Site Owner who manages the Content Type can configure it to “Always show Document Information Panel on document open and initial save for this content type”.

Content Type settings for the Document Information Panel

Content Type settings for the Document Information Panel

The Document Information Panel settings

The Document Information Panel settings


So users can create documents directly in SharePoint, so that you do not have to worry about documents getting stuck on personal drives or local computers. How the Site Owner should configure the site to make things easy for the users, depends on the situation.

  • For basic documents, without templating or metadata, working in Office Online meets the needs. In particular for users who do not have Office on their computers. Do not forget to tell users that they can change the filename at the top of the screen.
  • For advanced documents, with templates and/or metadata, working in the Office client (MS Word on the desktop) is easier. For that purpose, the Site Owner should configure content types and change the advanced settings of the Document Library, to open files in the client.
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