Too Many Tools?

clip_image002My first woodworking project involved cutting a beveled edge on a block of wood with a hand plane. I learned how to layout the bevels with a marking gauge, and how to cut the bevel. Later, I learned how to cut that same bevel on a jointer. Later still, I learned how to cut the bevel with a router. Today, if I have a lot of wood to bevel, I use a router. If I have a small piece to put a bevel on, I actually prefer the block plane shown at the right. It’s nice to have options, but sometimes it’s nice to have a simple solution that always works. Stepping out of the workshop and into my day job, I often find myself in the same situation.

One of the frequently asked questions we get from our end-users is whether one way of doing something in SharePoint is better than another. In fact, one of the complaints we hear from people who have to train new employees, is that “there are too many options in SharePoint.” I don’t like to limit the way people interact with SharePoint, but having more options is not always a good thing. There is a reason that my father started me out with a hand plane.

A simple area of confusion, especially to a new SharePoint user is viewing and adding content. We try to create the default view of libraries and lists with the truly useful information visible and organized in an intuitive order. Then we create the view we use if we are going to put the library / list in a web part. Then (sometimes) we build or edit the Datasheet view. Of course, all of these can be sorted and filtered and we can create custom views for specific situations. If users want to add items, they can use the link at the bottom of the view, the new item row in the datasheet, and, of course, the controls on the Ribbon. We have one application where none of the people involved ever see the list or add new items in the same way. That’s a good thing (customize, personalize, etc.), but it can become a problem when one of those people is introducing the list to a new employee. We try to remind people that they can switch views and that they (or we) can create new views as needed. However, people often forget that SharePoint is this grand mutable platform, because they are focused on a specific solution that they use every day. In other words, they begin to think of the SharePoint they see as the SharePoint that is.

Earlier this week, we had a pre-launch meeting with some of the senior members of our engineering department, and the head of administrative support for engineering. The purpose of the meeting was to show them what we were going to show the entire department during a training session later in the week. We discussed some of the optional ways of getting from A to B, trying to find the one(s) we were going to include in the demo. When I was asked: “how many different ways do we want to show?” I suggested zero, and the head of the department agreed.

We decided to train people using the most common and most reliable method for each activity. We told them that there are options, sooo many options, but we did not show them those options during the training session. I wanted to avoid people having to hold mental bookmarks in place during the session. Once the solution is running, and everyone has gone through the training, hand-holding, solo-flight and a night-landing, then we can start introducing options. For some of the experienced users, SharePoint has already started working its magic; they have transferred their experience from other sites to this site, and that is very good to see. For the users who are new to SharePoint, there is currently only one way to cut a bevel.