Back to Back, Baby!

On Sunday, July 11th, Tim Wilkerson won the Northwest Nationals in the beautiful Seattle-Tacoma area of Washington. That makes back-to-back wins for Tim, which translates into two out of three weeks that this blog is dedicated to Team Wilkerson. Unfortunately, all the news in Seattle wasn’t good (see sidebar story) but the performance of Team Wilkerson was and Tim, handled the mix of tragedy and victory in the style I have come to admire over many years of following this great race team. While Tim was racking up two wins in two races, I was dealing with my own duality in SharePoint. A duality, by the way, is “a situation or nature that has two states or parts that are complementary or opposed to each other“. In my case, the two parts are complementary to each other, but both are opposed to me.

Several months ago, I started talking about how we are replacing some fat-client systems with SharePoint-based solutions. Shortly after that, I wrote about how we managed to replace an activity tracking system with a Custom List. Not everything has gone perfectly well with that project, so I thought I would share two important lessons, in case you decide to go down this road. The first lesson is one that I should never have to be writing about here. In fact, I have already written about it here. In fact, it was part of my presentation at AIIM 2010 – I just forgot to follow my own good advice…sigh. Do not allow SharePoint sites to go fallow! In my defense, I should modify that advice to say “do not allow any portion of a SharePoint site go fallow“. The Custom List I used to replace a production system had three columns that are “usually” related. Our accountants liked all three to have values in them. The people entering items in the list only wanted to enter data into one, since “they are all different ways of saying the same thing“. I suggested that we should either link these columns together, make individual entries mandatory or get rid of them. Unfortunately, the data conversion had been completed and I didn’t want to postpone going live. So, I put the list into production with two columns that the users did not want to maintain and did not have to maintain. Those columns now look like the vacant lot at the end of town.

My second mistake is one that could happen to anyone and demonstrates a need to plan SharePoint solution implementations in great detail. The Custom List had two columns that could be driven by two other Custom Lists on the users’ SharePoint site. I used a Lookup column to a) make it easy and familiar for the users, and b) simplify maintenance by having them only have to edit one list for each set of values. I gave the accountants access to the new Custom list, and the URL to get to that list. I then created a View of the list that matches the report the accountants need. I exported that view to Excel, gave it to the accountants and everyone was happy. I continued to do the export to Excel for a few months, but when I turned that task over to accounting, it went straight to Hell – I had not given the accountants Read permissions in the lists that were driving the Lookup columns.

These were easy problems to solve, I am now preparing to delete the abandoned columns and I have granted the accountants Read access to the lists that support the Lookup columns. Still, I should never have made these mistakes. When SharePoint lists start to look abandoned (no values in multiple columns), people get concerned that they are not being maintained and therefore are not accurate. When you tell someone something works, it should work. I took a shortcut through the step called Testing and, just like every time I have ever done that, I was bitten by that mistake. Testing in SharePoint requires logging in is as the user or someone equivalent to the intended user and performing every action that can be performed. Having the Administrator say “it works for me” is not a good answer. The second problem also illustrates the need for documentation. The fact that the accountants need read access to those lists has to be documented so a future Owner of those lists doesn’t remove that access.

At least I have an easier job than Tim. I can easily recover from back-to-back mistakes. He now has a streak of two wins going in the one of the most competitive sports in the world. Extending that streak to three will be a huge challenge. I think he’s up for it, and I wish him all the best tomorrow at the Fram Autolite NHRA Nationals in Sonoma, CA – Go Tim!