One of the broad subjects that was suggested for us to write about was “what keeps you up at night?” Well, truth be told, nothing keeps me up at night; I tend to sleep like a baby. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t have concerns about our SharePoint deployment. One of those concerns has to do with our customers and business partners who work off of our Internet facing server. How do I teach these people about SharePoint and how do I keep them up to date?
I read all the time about how popular SharePoint is, how many gazillion copies have been sold and how everyone from exotic car manufacturers to brain surgeons are using SharePoint in their businesses. On the other hand, I have spoken to every one of our partners as I have set up their sites, and very few have said they are familiar with SharePoint. That tells me that I cannot rely on them to do the right thing at the right time; I have to make the site intuitive. I have to tell you, I’m not sure SharePoint was designed to be intuitive. I know that I can customize SharePoint to look like anything I want, but I do not want to spend that much time customizing a product that I purchased for its awesome out-of-the-box capabilities.
SharePoint works because it is consistent, not because it’s sexy or particularly easy to use. In fact, as we have rolled it out, the biggest complaint that I get from my in-house users is that it’s not intuitive. Usually, what lies under the hood of that complaint is the fact that navigation is not intuitive. After we upgraded to SharePoint 2007, we began a concerted effort to improve navigation through better use of well-placed links, and better organized sites. We also worked to make better use of the top and side navigation aids and to use them consistently; and we educated people about the curious two-tied breadcrumb trail. Meanwhile, a groundswell effort was competing with me as employees were telling their coworkers to simply use My Links. Fellow blogger Michael Doyle has already blogged here about My Links, so I will just add that I will be following his suggestions, but I wish Microsoft had just left them in. The addition of the Ribbon in SharePoint 2010 will make sites easier to use, once people find them, but I think we will still be looking for “easy to use” when they start hyping the next version of SharePoint.
For our remote users, we are planning to milk what we can from consistency. We are rebuilding our policyholder sites this year, and we are removing rather than adding design options; every site will have the same simple structure. We are using a model that works well for large customers, and also works for smaller ones. While this might mean that no one gets an optimized site, everyone can read the same User Guide, follow the same directions and get help from the same Help page.
#sharepoint #training #navigation #SharePoint