Next Stop – A Workgroup Printer

A recent mix-CD from my daughter reminds me that any song about a train is a good song. Rock, country, folk, blues, whatever genre you have, sing about a train and I’m liking that song. Unfortunately, SharePoint is a little more like a real railroad, it’s great for mainline operations but it sometimes has trouble with the last few miles. Lately, I’m discovering that despite being a great collaboration platform, having a process in SharePoint doesn’t necessarily mean the entire process can stay in SharePoint.

My job this past week has been to edit two documents: our Annual Report and a company Brochure. Both documents were the product of a collaborative effort, with sections being written by several people, but both documents have to coalesce around common themes and common language. We began in SharePoint, on an Internet facing site that our outside designer can access. Schedules, tasks, status, draft text and tons of images were all carefully placed on that site for easy access. Documents were version controlled during the initial draft stages and the process moved as if it were on rails. Then we got the first draft from the designer.

An interesting thing happens once component documents are assembled into a composite – they gain additional context. Suddenly, we see that two people included very similar text that just happens to be on facing pages. Or, we notice that, if we could remove about a paragraph’s worth of text from a page, the text would flow so much nicer around the images. This is the point where most people need to have hard copy and a red pen. You might think that this is where a wiki would be useful, but I disagree. In fact, uncharacteristically for me, I didn’t even make the attempt.

First, it’s difficult to review this type of content on a computer screen. Second, not everyone on this team provided new text; some of the comments I received were things like: “I think we say the same thing on page eight”, or “emphasize the stuff in paragraph two”, or “do we still need to be saying this?” Finally, this process isn’t exactly equal. Several people may suggest changes to a particular section, but only one may be offering the “expert” opinion. You might think it would be easy to delegate this up front, but, if you ever have to manage a process like this, you will quickly understand why that isn’t the case. The fact of the matter is, every subject matter expert is responsible for his or her section, but they really want to look at the whole deal. Of course, once this is done, my job was to make these documents sound like they were written by one person. That task involves other people as well, the phrase “what do you think of this?” became common.

So, was this a week without SharePoint for me? No, not really. This is a process, and even if I can’t use SharePoint to automate and control the process, I can use SharePoint to document the process. When I have to do this next year, or if someone else ever has to do this, there are many important items to remember. Trains are good, train wrecks are not, unless it’s “Casey Jones” by the Grateful Dead or “Runaway Train” by Rosanne Cash.