Helping End Users Help Themselves

We’ve all been there, our end users are queued up at our door or cubical entrance, waiting in line as though they’re waiting to buy a lottery ticket or get a haircut. And yet in this case it’s something much less interesting… perhaps it’s “how do I create a column within a SharePoint document library” or “how do I upload multiple files”? To most seasoned IT Pros that have been using the SharePoint platform for a while, these seem to be easy areas to dive into. For those that are business users or end users that are just trying to store documents somewhere, it’s maybe not that easy.  Each and everyone of these instances could be done in just 10 minutes… 

If you’ve been implementing the SharePoint on-premises platform for a while, you find yourself somewhat perplexed that users aren’t able to perform simple tasks – though in many cases they weren’t that simple. Consider uploading a document into a document library – most users are used to the experience of something like File Explorer or Windows Explorer where they merely drag and drop a file from one folder to another (aren’t GUI’s grand?). In the case of SharePoint through 2010, dragging and dropping files onto the canvas of the browser, typically just meant that you were opening up the file by dropping it into the browser and having it fire a MIME type when it detected a particular file type.

With SharePoint 2013, things began to change as the UI became more intelligent. With SharePoint Online, dragging and dropping onto the canvas of the page effectively meant that you were interacting with a library – easier yet the ability to select multiple files within the library and drag and drop them to a new location.

The user experience is becoming a bit more refined and modern as some might say, helping the end user to be more productive without necessarily requiring them to reach out and interrupt their favorite IT Pro (caveat, IT Pros still like donuts, so please feel free to stop by and bring one by to us and not forget who we are).

As an IT Pro, we hope that the queue of individuals with 10 minute questions continues to decrease, however what we find is that the number of individuals still seems to be there, waiting with their trouble tickets in hand waiting for assistance.  This isn’t due to the platform though, but rather the individuals still not knowing how to interact with the platform. Call it an issue of change fatigue on the behalf of the users but also the lack of time or training to become acclimated with the tools that they have at their disposal. In days past, an organization could pick up a copy of MindSharp’s training modules which provided the ability to embed videos and how to’s within a SharePoint site or portal to make use of out of the box capabilities. Or alternatively if you were looking for something more modern that gave expert examples of advanced topics you might look at VisualSP or perhaps Content Panda.

For the basics though, the areas that end users still struggle with before they can even step into the MindSharp / VisualSP / Content Panda arena, there’s a gap that needs to be leapt over. How do we get there you ask? Why not just the out of the box information that Microsoft has started providing yonder at office.com in their Quick Starts for Business and Education

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These resources provide not only the basics of the Office clients for the end users desktop but capabilities like OneDrive for Business, Microsoft Teams, Delve, Groups and SharePoint to help users get up and running quickly. Additionally, for organizations that are big on having slick sheets for each of their applications for end users to have available, printed off next to their computing workstation, there are downloadable guides in PDF and Sway format for core applications.

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All in all, the basics for helping to get moving forward with getting team members up and running with Office and Office 365 capabilities.

What's new on MVA?

If you’ve been in the Microsoft technology community, hopefully you’ve stumbled across the Microsoft Virtual Academy. If not, head on over and start diving into some great free content from Microsoft and some of its partners to learn more about the technologies you operate, maintain and extend.

As an aside for folks familiar with MVA but looking for a quick recap of new modules that have been added – check this out – https://borntolearn.mslearn.net/b/weblog/archive/2015/01/23/ace-newsbyte-whats-new-on-microsoft-virtual-academy

Ahhh yes… E=MCt

After much chagrin and fun, I finally went ahead and completed the process to attain the title of “Microsoft Certified Trainer.” I can’t say that I feel all that different, but my students were ecstatic as can be seen here Winking smile.

If there’s anything to be said in attaining the professional certification, I’d definitely say that it’s the opportunities it opens up, the networking that it provides as well as the formalization of knowledge. Further, from what I’ve seen the MCT family is a fun one with some very smart and knowledgeable folks like Shannon Bray, Enrique Lima, and Becky Isserman to name a few.

So what does this mean? A few opportunities open up to participate in more events as well as to take on some new adventures through differing roles that hopefully allow me to do more technically inclined training that without the certification, well I’ll be honest, seems a little awkward without the professional credential. I won’t deny that there are trainers out there that are fantastic trainers that haven’t gone through the MCT process (conversely I can also argue that I’m sure that there are MCTs with room to improve). Bottom line, trainers aren’t perfect, we all have room for improvement – remember those feedback forms in those sessions and classes you attend – fill them out, we want the feedback to help us to continually improve. Anyway, for me I look forward to the fun that this community has as a part of it and who knows, perhaps you’re reading this blog article in the back of my class right now Winking smile

Building your skills

Being somewhat of a technology addict that enjoys the stream of bits coursing through the air, inducing flux through the antennas embedded within electronics, I tend to also have a craving for knowledge. From a theological standpoint, some might refer to this as the theorist that enjoys staying in the balcony. For the IT Pro they might refer to this as the architect.  I suppose I’m a little different though in that I enjoy getting my hands dirty and understanding how the technology beneath the shiny shrink wrap works.

To some this might seem ridiculous – why would you care how something works if you’re able to develop solutions on top of it or just get it operational by clicking Next, Next, Next? I sometimes wonder that as well and it goes back probably to the fact that if you don’t understand things at the bit level, when you start scaling something out at the gigabyte level and you hit limitations you’re going to wonder, “What is it that is your LimFact?”  LimFact or limiting factors always tend to be those items that restrict us from proceeding or crossing the plateau of a success criteria.

Limiting Factor – A condition that acts as a control or constraint on some function or process

In the SharePoint world though the limiting factors aren’t just at the level of the technology – in many cases it’s at the level of the education.

What do I mean by this? Well, more times often than not, there’s a misunderstanding as to what someone with a Site Administrator skillset can do in comparison to say a Portal Administrator, Infrastructure Engineer, Solutions Developer, SharePoint .net Developer or UX/UI developer.

Probably Christian Buckley termed this best in a video he put together regarding how one becomes a Site Administrator.

As the video accurately portrays, more often than not someone with tertiary skills and knowledge of how basic list functionality and a copy of one of Wrox’s several SharePoint books is suddenly thrust forward into the roll of SharePoint Site Administrator.

Is it the Site Administrator’s role to ensure that lists and libraries are working properly with the views that their management want? I would argue that it depends on the organization but more than likely such items are more the role of an individual that is the solution developer for that organization.  There’s a good chance that management doesn’t quite get that and intermingles the two.

So what does a Site Administrator do then?  One might say that they’re the responsible party for ensuring that permissions are set properly for individuals and that views of information are accurate.  If they’re not, either they switch hats and take on the role of the solution developer or they delegate the task to the solution developer with a request date for completion.

What about the quotas for the site though and the search scopes? Can’t my site administrator do that?  Again, it comes down to a management team’s understanding of a SharePoint organization. More likely than not your SharePoint Site Admin is not also the Portal Administrator (though they probably do have them on speed dial for help troubleshooting issues in their site).

Welcome to the Portal Administrator tier, the individual that ensures the application framework itself is operational – keeping the system’s search indexes up to date, ensuring that services are running and that permissions and the authorization settings at the portal level are working. Is this individual’s responsibility also the health and welfare of the infrastructure that the SharePoint system is hosted on?  I surely hope not though this is a common position for dual hatted assignments.

The IT Pro / Infrastructure Engineer typically gets called on frequently to assist with troubleshooting issues with the portal but their daily job description is more to ensure that the authentication and authorization system (if using something than regular classic authentication) is operating normally with little latency, that disk backups are operating properly and that if restored will properly work.

So what about content management? Who’s in charge of that? Clearly I’ve left something out (and I have left out a lot of detail because I didn’t want this to become a highly respected TechNet article on governance)… Content Managers should be individuals appointed within an organization that know the organization and the content, data and information that is relevant to them.  If a management structure has the expectation that the individuals within their organization will monitor their information and ensure the care, feeding and nurturing of said information they’re in for a surprise when the system stops being used because individuals resort to just using e-mail – permissions on that are pretty easy, just make sure that they keep the authorization to that “To:” list and that they don’t forward it outside the circle of trust.

I digress.  Where’s that leave us with training?

Site Administrators – Definitely should take a class through Microsoft or a partner that is able to educate the individual on the basics of SharePoint site administrator, lists and document libraries (views, content types, columns, permissions, etc.) as well as the permissions model that SharePoint uses for a site.

Site Collection Administrator – Whatever an organization determines their Site Administrator needs to know, Site Collection Administrators should have the same training as well as a greater understanding of site permissions such that they don’t inadvertently remove permissions put in place by their Site Administrators that they shepherd. Further having an understanding of features and their effects on the site collection and underlying sites is a must.

Tenant Administrator – This is definitely something new in SharePoint 2010, but seems to be glossed over in some respects by most training programs. I’d recommend that these individuals be your top notch Site Collection Administrators or have served as a portal administrator at some point so as to ensure that they understand some of the additional benefits of having a multi-tenant dashboard presented to them and what power it gives them.

Web Application Administrator – Wait, what? This was never mentioned.  These individuals are typically individuals that either have full read or full control access to a web application.  More often than not these individuals are help desk individuals or content managers. With great power comes great responsibility. These individuals really do need to have a site collection administrator background at a minimum to ensure that they don’t inadvertently remove a permission that sabotages the work of another admin.

Portal Administrator – First I’d say that these individuals really do need to have the same training if not more than a Site Administrator.  I’d highly recommend these individuals take a course through one of many training organizations for their SharePoint Administrator Boot Camp class so that they have a distinct understanding of how their actions are applied throughout the system they’re in charge of.

SharePoint IT Pro / Infrastructure Engineer – These folks really need to be well versed in SharePoint, with the knowledge of the portal administrator but also with the know how of performing Windows Server administrator functions – trust me, I never thought I’d be setting up clustered servers with shared disks as a SharePoint guy – it’s something that comes with the territory. What’s more having an MCITP or MCSE background is extremely valuable when having to troubleshoot Active Directory issues, or perhaps a Juniper or Cisco background when working with Network and Firewall engineers.

So there seems to be several different levels of SharePoint skillsets without even getting into the solutions developer / application developer / sandboxed solutions developer / no code design developer / SharePoint Designer side of things.  How do I find the right training?

I’d recommend any of the following training organizations:

Architecting Connected Solutions

Critical Path Training

Mind Sharp

SharePoint Experts Bootcamps