On another blog I am involved with, we just finished a series detailing the benefits of planning and rehearsing. That series was about improving live training presentations, but those techniques apply to SharePoint sites as well. We are about to begin moving a significant document store into SharePoint. In addition to making progress toward one of our ECM goals, we are also trying to reduce the work involved with the distribution and tracking of these documents. We also hope to collect some data regarding the business process surrounding these documents. Since many of the people involved with this process are new to SharePoint, we decided to build a working model on our test server before going live.
We have used our test server, and sometimes our own department (IT) site to demonstrate SharePoint features before. We have also built “fun sites” to demonstrate the capabilities of Lists and Workflows. This is the first time that we have gone to the trouble of building a fully functioning version of the planned site, but we have three good reasons. The first reason is that despite improvements from 2003 to 2007 to 2010, SharePoint remains easier to build than it is to modify.
Another important reason is the complexity of the site being planned. While we can diagram the site layout, describe the workflows, permissions and ties between Lists and Libraries, we would be asking a lot of people to “imagine how this is going to work“. While we have several examples of the components being used, we do not have an example of everything working in concert the way they have to in order for this site to function as designed. Simply put, it will be easier to show some of this stuff than it will be to explain it.
The final reason for building a test version of this site is inexperience. As I mentioned above, some of the people that will be responsible for maintaining this site are new to SharePoint. They are also new to ECM. While SharePoint practitioners do not normally stress the important of building a Pilot Office, AIIM includes that specific step in both their ECM and ERM training. As a systems developer, I have long known the benefit of piloting a program or technique, so AIIM’s advice sat comfortably with me. I know that the features we have planned are all possible and will all work with the anticipated volume of documents. I also know that if I put 10 items in the list and 25 documents in the Library, someone will ask “will this scale?” Since the test server is big enough, and SharePoint is fast enough, I might as well just put that issue to bed now.
Once we get the owners of this process happy with the test site, they can use the site for review and training with the other members of their department. Also, since we are fortunate to own MetaVis Architect for SharePoint, anything that we develop that is worth keeping can easily be moved into the production site. Sorry for the shameless plug, but I really like that product, and since my only affiliation with MetaVis is as a customer, I figure I can get away being a bit of a shill.