Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Since 2008 we've been selling the SharePoint Shepherd's Guide for End Users – and the associated corporate license now known as the SharePoint Tutor. We've been blessed by numerous customers and have appreciated the partnership with them to be able to educate their users on how to use SharePoint better. Of course, since 2010 we've been selling a SharePoint 2010 version of the guide and of the tutor.
Over the last several months we've noticed that some customers are still stuck on 2007 and struggling to be effective, however, they know that they want to upgrade and so they're reluctant to purchase training materials for SharePoint 2007. We understand. So we made the decision a few weeks ago to make the 2007 version of the tutor available publicly from our site. Since the decision we had to take care of a few things.
First, we're proud to run the SharePoint Shepherd's site – and my Thor Projects blog – on SharePoint 2010. We believe that we're leveraging the product – just like you need to. Second, the 2007 edition of the guide was built for a 2007 version of SharePoint. So we wanted to convert the contents over to a 2010 version. We did this with the help of Metalogix Migration Manager for SharePoint. We quickly and easily took a Wiki site from 2007 into an Enterprise Wiki for 2010. (This is my hint that they have a good product if you missed that.)
Third, we had to link all the videos to the contents in the wiki. We used a different strategy than we did in 2007 – we used the ability in 2010 to embed video on the page. In fact, you'll find the video above the step-by-step instructions on each topic.
So here's your access to the SharePoint Tutor 2007. I expect that within weeks (with the help of your links) the content will be indexed by the major search engines and you'll be able to see the high quality content we're continuing to develop for SharePoint.
The 2010 version of the tutor will still be for sale for corporations that realize the value of having a comprehensive, consistent set of materials for their users. We believe that with each version of the tutor we drive the quality bar higher and our customers seem to agree.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
In SharePoint every content type can have three forms that you can define: New, Display, and Edit. These are the forms that are used to enter and view properties. This is great, except that document libraries don't display the new form. Document libraries are designed to launch the template associated with the content type. If you've got your letterhead in a .dot file that's associated with a content type, that is what SharePoint will launch when you try to create a new item. That's great when you're looking to create a new instance of a document – but what if you want the new instance of the document to be programmatically created?
The simple -- and should be obvious -- answer is to set the document template to the web part that will create your new item. When declaring the document template you'll need to remember to put a leading slash in the url in the DocumentTemplate node's TargetName attribute since for some unknown reason it's required.
Why would I do this? Well, I want to record approvals as XML documents with XML fields over it to allow SharePoint to use property promotion to extract information from the approval into properties that can be in a list view. Putting this together I can handle the details of the approval and just emit the XML I need at the end.
One issue is that this won't pop over the page like the new item form will over a list – but it's a good way to get a new form for a document – instead of a template.
P.S. If InfoPath supported password fields I probably wouldn't have to do this.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
My son's in the fourth grade. He's in an accelerated class that has as a part of the curriculum a independent study project where they're being taught good study skills. They're being taught the same techniques for keeping references that I was taught. There are index cards for each important quote or fact with the source on the back side so they can produce a bibliography at the end of the project. There are certainly some new teachings. They're being taught to be skeptical about what appears on the Internet including Wikipedia. (Perhaps they're being too skeptical.)
However, as I'm doing research and note taking alongside of him, I'm struck by how things are different in the way that I do research and the way he does it. I've got a few basic tools that he doesn't have: eBooks, Note Taking Software, and Search
I've been using the Kindle software on my PC and Phone for a while. It really got interesting when I got my Acer Iconia A500 Tablet and started being able to read large amounts of text like a book. Like a book isn't exactly correct, however. The software keeps my bookmarks synchronized across devices so I can start on the tablet, read a bit on my phone while waiting for an appointment, and then sit down at the PC to read and review the content. The ability to highlight text and to take notes seems like an obvious copy of regular book reading – but it's more than that. The ability to go to http://kindle.amazon.com and download my highlighted text and notes makes the process different – and more powerful.
It's more powerful because I have the text electronically which I can further manipulate. I can index a very small section of text through a highlight and click on a link to be returned to the quote in context. Something that was very difficult to do on paper.
Note Taking Software
I've previously written about my use of Microsoft OneNote. It's a great tool for note taking. It is, in fact, my primary note taking and organization software. It's quick to move, format, and organize notes. It's a perfect marriage from the Kindle web site. I copy the highlights and notes from the Kindle site and then format them slightly. Then I go back through my highlights and highlight them inside of One Note. In essence, I'm creating tiers of information. Some information is important – and other information is REALLY important. A bit of color coded highlighting allows me to further subdivide and categorize the content. For instance, book and article references get coded with a cyan colored highlight so I know where to go if I'm looking for more on a subject.
If I use a reference from the internet, I copy the text from the browser and paste it into OneNote. OneNote is smart enough to record the source URL for me. I don't have to remember to capture where the content came from.
There's one fairly major issue with OneNote – and it's the reason that I also use EverNote. The issue is that OneNote isn't available for other platforms. OneNote has an iPhone application but its brain dead. And there is no application for Android. So if I want to take notes on other devices I have to have another tool – or approach. For "static" notes – like book highlights I'll sometimes create a PDF to be used on my other devices but that still doesn't solve notetaking. That's where EverNote comes in. It makes it easy to take notes (as they say capture anything). The primary problem – from my way of working – with EverNote is that it doesn't allow for the flexible organization I want. It instead relies upon search.
Back to my point, having the ability to organize my notes electronically, quickly and easily, is invaluable. I don't keep doesn't of different colored pens and highlighters. I don't have a briefcase full of different folders. I've simply got everything I need in one space. All I need is one more tool.
OK, search is a "Duh." But here's the thing, I use it differently than you might expect. First, inside the notetaking tools I'll use it to find quotes that I partially remember. But I also use search outside of the note taking applications on my desktop to peer into my notes – and my non-note research. What is non-note research? Well, that's things like articles in PDF form that I've acquired a copy of. It may also be a presentation I did based on my research where I made a point that isn't a direct reflection of my note taking. My son sits sorting his note cards trying to find the next bit of information to convey. I type a few words in and get a list of results.
I'm doing research on how the explosion of information is overloading humans and making it more and more difficult to really process the information we need to process. I'm reflecting on the state of the human condition when we're run over each day by over 3,000 ads. While I certainly don't feel like we're resolving the problem of managing information. I don't think that we're winning the battle against the onslaught of information. However, I do find hope in the fact that we're building new tools and techniques to improve how we do research. I guess it's time to figure out how to help my son learn how to use these new tools.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Professional, Book Review
Steven Covey's book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is a classic. I probably read it 20 years ago when I was first entering the workforce and the book was the latest rage. I can probably count on one hand the number of books I've read more than once on one hand – actually I can't recall any other book that I've read more than once. However, when Amazon.com featured the book for $0.99 on Kindle I thought it was time for a reread.
The 7 Habits, for a quick reminder are:
- Be Proactive
- Begin with the End in Mind
- Put First Things First
- Think Win-Win
- Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
- Sharpen the Saw
These correspond to three "levels" – Independence, Interdependence, and Self-Renewal.
The Seven Habits is different than other books in the sense that it focuses on principles rather than techniques. While the connection is never made to Dale Garnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People the difference between the approaches is striking. Where one is teaching you the psychology of how people work – something I deeply enjoy as evidenced by my DVD – the Seven Habits talks about how to develop an inner strength of character. I believe both are needed as I've found people who are very character rich who still struggle with how to work with people, how to communicate their concern for others on a daily basis. One of the premises is that principle centered growth leads to more happiness than techniques for connecting with other humans. This is consistent with The Time Paradox and The Happiness Hypothesis. Both of these books speak of the way that character and purpose are more rewarding than the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure.
Much of reading the book was like watching an old home movie of me. Somehow I remember being there but I was seeing things from a new perspective, from a new lens. I was stirred by different words. I caught the difference between principles – natural laws and values – beliefs. I pride myself in having friends with different beliefs. While I personally have a deep faith in God, I have friends who have no such belief. I can have great conversations with them exploring because I know that my perspective on the situation isn't the only one.
Having been a consultant for most of the last 20 years of my professional career, I consider the information in The Seven Habits foundational for every good consultant. As Covey admits in the book his struggles to always live the seven habits, I too must say that I'm not always on track with the seven habits. I can, however, say that in many cases I know when I get off track with them. It generally means I get a healthy dose of retraining as to why they're important in the first place.
Even if you've read the book before, it's worth reading again.
Saturday, February 18, 2012
Over the past few months I've seen some well-intentioned, bright folks get pretty sideways because they were using "rules of thumb" without understanding the principles underneath them. To be clear, we all use rules of thumb every day. It's a part of our human existence. We are bombarded with information and crushed underneath our expectation to do more. The kids need transported to their two events each this weekend. There's a presentation on Monday that we're not quite prepared for. We're looking for any shortcuts and efficiency that we can get just to squeeze a few extra minutes in so that we might be able to check the sports scores or watch or favorite TV program.
Rules of Thumb allow us to simplify the problem, to make it easier. We know if we multiply a number by 10 we just move the decimal point one place to the right – even if that means adding a zero. We know that changing our oil every 3,000 miles is a good rule of thumb. Newer cars will tell us when we need to do this but without the internal monitoring every 3,000 miles is simple to remember. The problem isn't so much that we use rules of thumb – rather it's that we fail to recognize when those rules of thumb aren't going to serve us.
Pushing Things Too Far
One rule of thumb that builders use is to square an angle using the Pythagorean Theorem. It is the formula A2 + B2 = C2 that we learned in school. Builders use it to square off corners. Well, more precisely they measure three feet in one direction, four in the other, and then manipulate the angle until the diagonal is 5 feet. This is a rule of thumb – a shortcut. It works because 3 squared is nine and four squared is 16 and the square root of these two values (25) is 5. It's quick and simple, that is until you try to use this to square off walls – or the edge of a deck that are 20' x 40'. In my case the builder did this and created my deck which varies by 6" from one end to the other because it doesn't line up with my house.
It's not that the rule of thumb is wrong, it's just that it was used at a scale that it wasn't designed for. Small errors in measurement are amplified over distance. Moving from 4 feet to 40 makes a ½ error 6 inches on the other end. If you're thinking that your servers will be good enough because you've always just been OK by purchasing stock servers with standard hard drives and putting it together, you're using a rule of thumb. That is that what's in the general market will probably meet your needs. Detailed understanding would look at rotational speeds, RAID configuration, controller cache, and dozens of other factors, but you don't have time for that.
Your personal rule of thumb probably isn't the same, but what about more expensive = better? Have you ever bought an expensive product just to find out that it broke, or didn't work the way that you want it to? This happens to me all the time. While I've gotten better about evaluating items, trying to make sure that I'm not assuming that more expensive is better – I still use the rule of thumb sometimes.
I remember a story about the day that suspension bridge making changed. It was November 7th, 1940 when the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, "Galloping Gertie", collapsed under 40 mph winds. Before that point, aerodynamics weren't considered in bridge making. Engineers had been building bridges for hundreds of years but the introduction of new stronger and lighter materials had changed a non-influential factor, aerodynamics, into a critical one. I realize that engineering as a discipline rarely uses rules of thumb, instead relying on detailed mathematical models. The point here is that even when the details are known there are times when the factors under which the models are built change and that change makes the model ineffective – or perhaps more precisely incomplete. If detailed engineering equations can be influenced by unforeseen factors so too can our rules of thumb.
I see all the time where organizations use solutions. They say "but I followed the best practices." There should be a disclaimer on "best" practices like "your mileage may vary." Why do we need a disclaimer? We need a disclaimer because a practice is only "best" given a set of circumstances. What's the "best" car for me? Maybe it is a sedan or a SUV or a truck or a minivan? Until you know what I do in my driving there's really no way to define what best is. I buy a minivan and suddenly decide to start hunting as a hobby and I need to start hauling the meat home.
The One Best Practice
There's only one best practice, one universal rule of thumb. That is that you have to keep evaluating whether the rule of thumb that you're using is still serving you – or is it at risk of causing a catastrophic event. It's a good idea to reevaluate your rules of thumb every once in a while … and maybe call in some help to determine if your conditions and your rules of thumb are in sync.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Information architecture is a relatively new field.
Despite the creation of libraries in the 500 BC era, we've spent relatively little time focused on information architecture. Forty years ago, computers weren't even remotely popular.
Twenty years ago, we didn't have a global network which connected those computers so that they could share information.
Fifteen years ago, we got our first search engines to change information architecture from browsability (finding by navigation) to findability (finding by navigation or search.)
SharePoint brings its own transformation to the information architecture landscape. The following five tools make it easier to implement an information architecture in SharePoint and help us think about metadata differently.
Sunday, February 05, 2012
Book Review, Professional
You would think that with the great value I saw in John Kotter's Leading Change book I would have jumped to read The Heart of Change – but I didn't. Part of that may be the fact that I've had a pretty deep reading list for a while. Part of it may have been that I felt like I had extracted the most valuable piece from Kotter's work – the process. No matter what the reason, more time spent with the change model was well worth it.
More than any other of the books that I read lately, I found myself taking notes about The Heart of Change. I was writing in the virtual margins on my Acer Iconia A500 Tablet with the Kindle software. I kept reading and writing notes and parallels.
I wrote in one spot the classic (if not potentially insensitive) question: How do you eat an elephant? The answer is simple and surprising. One bite at a time. In another place I wrote "You can't boil the ocean." These clichés may be overused but they represent a fundamental awareness that Kotter and his co-author Dan Cohen grok.
Distilling the key message of the book into just this would be an over simplification, but core to the book is the idea that first people SEE the need to change, then they FEEL the need to change, and then, with luck, they CHANGE. This SEE-FEEL-CHANGE model is important. If I put this into the language of The Happiness Hypothesis and Switch it's about the elephant, the rider, and the path. The rider must become aware of the change that's needed (urgently), but it's the elephant, the emotional powerhouse of the arrangement, that must FEEL the need to change. With a bit of luck in shaping the path (removing barriers) change can occur.
It seems that the natural resistance to change – which is less about resistance and more about confusion – can be overcome by feelings. The elephant will start to move when he senses that standing still isn't working.
Another interesting thought that swept across me while reading The Heart of Change was the idea of a fish ladder. If you don't know what these are, they are specifically designed parts of a waterway that are designed to allow fish to traverse dams, locks, and other manmade structures that have disrupted their normal migration. What's remarkable about these fish ladders is that they aren't so much a set of distinct areas but rather a connected system. As the water flows across them they make each individual step – which are distinct in structure – seem like a part of a system. So there's a bit of overlap – or connectedness – between the steps. The Heart of Change speaks to this exact thing – that the steps aren't so distinct as they are a natural system where the lines blur and the next step starts before the previous one ends.
Sidebar: the whole idea of a fish on a ladder is funny if you think about it. How do the fish hold on to the rungs?
I was also struck by a story about how pictures were removed from the lobby of one organization – not because changing the décor is the solution to changing a company – rather – I was struck by how sometimes simple, stupid, unseen things are the sacred cows of the organization. They're the thing, process, or procedure with the unwritten "do not touch" rule. My note on the story was "find the sacred cows and slay them – with theatrical style." Why would I write such a thing? It's simple. There are far too many sacred cows, it's time to thin the herd. Make sure the sacred cows that remain are meaningful.
Image from Flicker - USFWS Pacific
A quote from the book is "You can't plan what you don't understand." The context is that it's difficult to plan for radical changes because you don't understand what a radical change will look like. However, it occurred to me that this extends beyond. The great project managers I've worked with always seek to understand. They want to know how things work – even if they don't understand the details, a foundational understanding makes them better at planning the project. It also occurred to me that far too often organizations try to move forward through a transformation without an understanding of what the other side looks like.
Even after all the books I've read on change, on thinking, or motivating, I still found new ways of connecting to this content. If you're trying to figure out how to do change, pick up The Heart of change
Friday, February 03, 2012
Information architecture shouldn't be a big scary thing: it's simply about creating the same elegance you see in the Golden Gate Bridge or the Eiffel Tower, only instead of being built with steel, it is built with information.
What is Information Architecture?
Information architecture is the process of creating a structure and tools for information such that it can be stored, retrieved, and managed efficiently and effectively. In other words, information architecture is about making information work for you.
Information architecture is different than physical architecture as there aren't physical materials to arrange. However, the struggle towards effective and simple elegance, which is at the heart of all architecture, has its place in information architecture as well.
When speaking of architecture, we should mention the architect, the person who is responsible. In Greek, the word architect means the chief builder. However, a building architect doesn't actually build the building. Carpenters and skilled tradesmen do that. An architect, then, is the person who creates the plans, strategies, and direction for the building.
Going back to our case of information, the primary tool the architect uses is "creating meaningful breakdowns". That is, the architect creates the ability to find information by categorizing it. The following five steps are a straightforward approach to generating your information architecture.