Tuesday, 14 April 2009

SharePoint Designer Free To Good Home

It wasn’t an April Fool, but on the 1st April Microsoft decided to stop charging for SharePoint Designer 2007. It was never very expensive but still this was good news for many SharePoint Project Managers. Or was it? SharePoint Designer is an incredibly powerful package and in the wrong hands can prove disastrous for many SharePoint sites. Imagine letting your eighteen year old son drive your expensive car before he had had any lessons! Although, my Dad would say that I had had a number of lessons when I was eighteen and drove his new Austin Maestro car through the six foot high garden wall on Father’s Day in 1987. So for those who haven’t already experienced the joys (and annoying crashes) of SharePoint Designer what is it? It is a development of Front Page but is aimed mainly at SharePoint. With SharePoint Designer 2007 you can do any of the following; 1. Design sites, pages and Master Pages 2. Develop Custom Style Sheets 3. Combine multiple SharePoint lists into one 4. Work in Code or Design (WYSIWYG) view 5. Setup Complex Workflows 6. Backup and Restore SharePoint Sites 7. Improve Security 8. Add big buttons 9. Add Help Tips to SharePoint Sites 10. See how sites look in different browsers To download your free copy of SharePoint Designer 2007 please CLICK HERE Be careful though because an untrained person can easily get carried away with SharePoint Designer and make changes to your SharePoint Sites that are difficult to recover from. It really should come with a warning on the screen in big letters SHAREPOINT DESIGNER CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR SHAREPOINT SITES. I would strongly recommend that firstly whenever you use SharePoint you do not work on a live SharePoint Site. What I tend do is save a copy of the site as default1.aspx before I work on it in designer. Once you are happy with the changes AND HAVE TESTED THEM IN ALL BROWSERS you can copy it over the original default.aspx. The best way for anyone to start using SharePoint Designer 2007 is to attend a training course first. This way they can not only know about all the clever little extras, but also be aware of all the pitfalls. If you are in the UK Officetalk do offer short onsite SharePoint Designer Training courses. That’s my advertising bit done, but there is also some good one and a half hour free online training video from Microsoft that is a good starting point. So if you haven’t already tried SharePoint Designer have a look at it, but be very careful (especially now it is available as a free download) that nobody else is using a copy on your network. Also make sure you tie your SharePoint Sites down completely so you know who has ‘Design’ rights because these people armed with SharePoint Designer can cause havoc. I won’t name them in case they sue me, but a very well known company recently went live with their new website on SharePoint (very flash and a great advert for SharePoint). Out of interest (honest!) I opened their site in SharePoint Designer only to find that I was able to make changes and save them to their live site. I didn’t and they have now fixed this hole, but it shows how powerful SharePoint Designer can be. Now, if only the Premier League’s website was on SharePoint and as unsecure. I could then add a few more points to the Villa and then we might just catch Arsenal. Running a SharePoint Project is never easy and is often a kind of juggling act so I would like to end this week by highlighting the incredible skills of Billy Wingrove who entertained the Villa crowd on Sunday nearly as much as the six goal thriller did. Click here to see his skills

Friday, 3 April 2009

The Answers to Life, the Universe and SharePoint Projects

We had a phone call at the Officetalk Head Quarters this week that caused a lot of head scratching. The caller simply asked “How long does a SharePoint Project take for 250 users?”. Based on my own experience SharePoint Projects can vary considerably and in fact we have recently completed a project in just ten days, but have another project that has already exceeded six months and is still not ready to Go Live. Of course, a SharePoint Project is never complete as it keeps growing and changing, but for this blog I will take the Project Length as the number of days, weeks or months (hopefully not years) from the date of first Project Meeting until the ‘Go Live’ date. There isn’t a magical formula for calculating project length and it is never easy to work out how long certain people will take to do certain jobs. The only two ways to guarantee that SharePoint projects are completed on time is either to make sure Management ensure that everybody in the business puts SharePoint as top priority, or alternatively give a very generous ‘due by’ date on the Project then add another two months. This ‘how long question’ also got me thinking this week about how long we live. This weekend sees my 42nd birthday and I was thinking how far through my life I am. I mean is 42 middle age? I know people say that age doesn’t matter, but isn’t that just something old people say. If I was a SharePoint Project how far would I have got, perhaps I am just approaching the Pilot Stage. Of course, the great Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy book lists 42 as the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. So maybe after this weekend everything in life will make sense including those annoying questions like why the washing machine only ever eats one of a pair of socks, why women need so many shoes and why when there is a separate Scottish Parliament we have a Scotsman as Prime Minister of England. So back to the length of SharePoint Projects. The most important part is agreeing what exactly will be included in the SharePoint Project. A number of companies have successfully deployed SharePoint by having a ‘Phased’ approach. It is often a good idea to leave the tricky ‘MySites’ out of the first phase. In my experience only a handful of employees will ever use MySites and not always for business related reasons. So what are the stages you need to include in your SharePoint Project? This is a list that I try to work to; 1. Sponsor – Find a top level Management Sponsor for the Project ideally a Director. (1 week) 2. Project Team – Put together a Project Team. (2 weeks) 3. Resources – Find all available SharePoint resources. Officetalk Project Checklist is an ideal start. Also UK SharePoint User Group. (1 week) 4. Information - What have you got already? This should include list of all documents and systems that are currently used. (3 weeks) 5. New Requirements – What extra information would you like in SharePoint that you don’t already have. How about an IT Helpdesk System? (1 week) 6. Get Consultant – SharePoint Consultants should know all about SharePoint and the best add-ons for you. They’ll help you avoid some costly pitfalls. They know them because they have usually suffered them before. I am told Officetalk are pretty good. (1 week) 7. Scope – Agree the final Scope of the project of phase of the Project. Make it clear what is and more importantly isn’t part of the Scope. (1 week) 8. Design – With the help of your SharePoint Consultant create the basic Site structure and sites. (2 weeks) 9. Input – Now fill it with your documents and any other information you want adding. Linking to Active Directory can also have great benefit. (3 weeks) 10. Pilot – A Pilot Group is the best way to start the roll-out because you will find teething problems. Choose a department who will be big users of the system. Maybe HR or IT. (3 weeks) 11. Pilot Review – Allow at least two weeks to review comments from the Pilot Group and make appropriate changes. (2 weeks) 12. End User Training – Even if it is only one hour all End Users should receive some kind of training in the basics. This also helps you sell the system to them. (1 week) 13. Roll-out – Now we ready to go. (1 week) 14. Support – Support especially important after the first month of Roll-Out (4 weeks) So there we have it SPRING’S DIPPERS (the apostrophe emphases’ the importance of the Scope stage as well as getting my old English Teacher happy with my grammar). If you add up the weeks in brackets you will see that it comes to 26 weeks which is six months. This is purely an estimate and project length really depends on the workload of the Project Team as well as the amount of data involved. As with life expectancy the length of projects can vary considerably. Hopefully in my life I haven’t reached the second ‘S’ yet. Now, I am ready for a weekend of birthday celebrations that I hope won’t be dented by Manchester United scoring too many goals against the Villa on Sunday. It is a chance to remember when we beat them at Wembley in 1994 though, preventing them winning the domestic treble.