It’s that time of year, the week where our Annual Report goes through a few quick iterations before being released to the printer. This process starts out in SharePoint, but it ends in a flurry of paper and red ink. A friend of mine walked past my office while I was in mid shuffle and said “forget SharePoint, you are now the collaboration engine” – sadly, he was right. How did a process that was born digital in SharePoint go off the rails? Simple – by request.
Preparing this report is truly a collaborative exercise; it starts with a vision, which is turned into a series of writing assignments that generate the precursor to the first draft. During this phase, the content is in SharePoint, under version control, but most of it was sent to me as an attachment to an email. I used to try and force people to use SharePoint, but lately, I don’t care. As I’ve written here before, we use Harmon.ie, and frankly, an email attachment is as good as a document created in SharePoint because I can simply drag the attachment into the library. In this case, the library is on our Internet-facing server, so the designer can have access to the files, but Harmon.ie spans farms with ease.
My job at this point is to make all of the documents that I’ve received sound as though they were written by one person. Since I prefer to do some of that work offline, away from the office, I have this library synchronized in SharePoint Workspace. As the bits and pieces of text reach first draft status, I start releasing them to the designer. In addition to the text content, we use SharePoint to provide graphics, financial exhibits and supporting material to the designer as well. He downloads everything from SharePoint to begin working his magic. This step ends when he has a PDF of the first draft for us. Although the designer and his assistant are comfortable with SharePoint, the draft PDF arrives via email – again, I don’t care – Harmon.ie lets me keep everything in the library.
From this point forward, the process remains outside of SharePoint for everybody but me. I print the PDF, duplexed and stapled so it looks like the report, and I distribute it to all the authors and reviewers. This step needs to be performed in analog form, for one key reason – context. Seeing the portions I wrote, sitting next to the stuff someone else wrote is important. These bits of text need to reinforce each other, they need to not duplicate each other and they need to avoid using the same word over and over. This is also when the fun starts. You might think people would tend to stick to their areas of expertise, but since there are two ways to get your text and my text to sound alike – I will probably opt for changing what you wrote.
All of these changes are compared and weighed against each other to help us achieve our collective voice. That involves further revolutions of the collaboration engine in the form of sitting with each author and discussing the changes they or others have made. When finished, I make those changes in Word, with Track Changes enabled, and I email the Word document to the designer. Wait a minute. I, the SharePoint guy, email the document… Yes, that’s how the designer wants to receive changes. They want them in Word, highlighted by Track Changes and they want them in an email. At this point, I am part of their process, a process I am paying for, and it isn’t my place to dictate, or request changes to that process. The changes are still in SharePoint (you were wondering where I got the title) along with version comments to explain them. Whether I opened the document on the server or in my Workspace, they end up in the library. When I sent the email, I opened the Harmon.ie Sidebar and dragged the Word document into my email.
Sometimes SharePoint has center stage and the spotlight; sometimes, SharePoint is a tool of the stage crew. I have learned that while SharePoint might always be the location for important documents, it shouldn’t always be the conduit. We have other tools, better tools, that support collaboration; and we have to recognize that collaboration is a human endeavor. My goal was to capture the process, (the versions, the changes and the reasons) not just the end result. SharePoint Workspace and Harmon.ie helped me to do that. Those two products helped me let our people work the way they want to work and let me accommodate the way our designer wants to work. At the end of the week, we had an excellent product, everybody was happy, and everything was in SharePoint.