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Meet Yammer, Your Answer to Project Collaboration!

Yammer has a full range of features to help you communicate openly and expedite decision making, open new collaboration channels and breakdown email silos. Let’s start looking at our current ways of communicating with our team. A typical project is slated to begin and end with a vision and goal. In order to achieve these, it’s essential to have transparent and effective communication. Throughout the project lifecycle, we engage in numerous communication channels whether they are phone calls, emails, video calls, messenger chats etc. We are so engaged in making the project a success that we end up overseeing the numerous hours spent communicating with internal team or external customers. This is where Yammer steps in. The idea is not to replace each and every channel but to reduce the time spent and make it more effective so you can reach maximum throughput.

Three main reasons why would you consider using Yammer for internal and external collaboration are ease of use, mobile app, and collaborating with external users. Yammer can move your team beyond the hierarchical and glacial-paced decision making that can hobble a project’s progress. You can set up a private Yammer group where your team can conduct online conversations around important project elements; this allows each team member to be part of the decision-making process. To keep things in perspective, I will share a use case from one of my recent customer engagements. Delivery success is measured by how well the deliverables and activities match the agreed upon vision and goal objectives. One of the first sessions in these engagements is the project kick off. This meeting involves all the stakeholders of the project and establishes a sense of common goals and allows us to start understanding each individual. This is where all communication channels are discussed and confirmed and ultimately where Yammer can be introduced.

Today, I’ll share my firsthand experience of using Yammer as a project collaboration platform and showcase its value with a real world use case.

One of the biggest frustrations I face at the start of every project is the ton of emails exchanged, many times with attachments and their different versions end up choking my inbox. This is where Yammer comes to rescue. Follow these three basic steps and you will never go back to traditional ways of project management.

  1. Create an Internal Yammer Group
  2. Create an External Network
  3. Invite Members and Start Sharing

 

1. Your Internal GroupInternalGroup1

This will enable daily communication within our team. Drafts of documents, questions, clarification everything can be posted in the internal group.

  • Tagging People – Helps notify the right individuals and keep the noise from others inbox. All our posts were targeted to the group and at least one team member. This generates a notification for the tagged individual.
  • Tagging Content – Helps to find information when needed most. You’ve got to love the subscription model, and this is where it is most powerful. Subscribe to any topic and you are then fed all conversations around that topic on your home screen.
  • Ask a Question – Every project has issues and gaps and Yammer is your best bet to get those straightened out quickly. We made sure any question that involved more than two individuals is posted in the internal group. You will be amazed at how quick and effective this approach can be.
  • Upload Deliverables for Review – I have yet to meet someone who enjoys receiving multiple versions of documents (and sometimes huge slide decks) in their inbox followed by performing a clean-up activity. We used Yammer to share all project related documents which helped us unclog our inbox and tag the content with topics and people for appropriate notification.

Now, when you are ready with your deliverables, move them over to the external group for sharing. This keeps separation between internal team and customer communications.

2. Create an External NetworkExternalNetwork1

Creating an external network will allow you to have an dedicated collaboration space with the customer.

  • Allows Yammer groups to collaborate on individual project and social needs.
  • Advantage of transparency and a quick communication channel.

 

 

 

ExternalGroup2

When you have an external network setup, go ahead and create a project group. This will enable you to focus all project related conversations inside a group. Add all team members to this group and mark it as “Public” or “Private” based on your needs.

 

3. Don’t forget to add team members and post your first message

Remember there might be few folks on your team who are not familiar or not comfortable with the concept of using Yammer for this purpose. Sharing documents, deliverables and posting questions will all act as an ice breaker. Start with some water cooler talk if nothing else (keep it relevant to your team or project though). Upload files directly to Yammer for sharing across the group. You can upload new versions of documents and let Yammer maintain control over previous versions.

Suggestions:

  • Mark your uploaded content as “official and read only” if you are working on projects in which documents are changed often. The “official and read only” designation is also an effective way to get team members past sticking to their own versions of project documents.
  • Equip your team members with one of Yammer’s mobile apps and they will have always-on channel to team discussions and files. Social collaboration does take a little extra convincing and showcasing but once you get people on board it’s a breeze. Reducing those chunky emails, not having to clear your inbox every now and then, quick response, level of engagement, and ability to search topics and documents makes it a sure shot winner.
  • Use groups to receive feedback and approval on project deliverables by including your stakeholders/sponsors in the “cc” while sharing the posts.

* If you are concerned about compliance and security when uploading documents, no need to worry, you can still use Yammer effectively. In circumstances like those, utilize SharePoint as the document repository and Yammer as the front end for all communications, post links to SharePoint document libraries and start a conversation. Even better, if you are on Office 365, all the group conversations are now integrated with the documents and sites.

Here at Perficient we have utilized Yammer in various scenarios.  Along with our certified customer success managers and admins, we continue to help our customers adopt and roll out  successful social networks. Please add your feedback and share your experience here if you have used this approach.

Why Agile is the only methodology for SharePoint Online (O365)

I was recently preparing a presentation for a Chicago SharePoint Saturday. As I built out my slides explaining some O365 DevOps best practice it struck me that an Agile methodology could be the only viable methodology to deliver and maintain SharePoint Online projects. Here’s why…

At Perficient we have embraced SCRUM for many SharePoint projects and it has proven to be very successful. I took the SCRUM Master Course and certification to solidify my understanding of SCRUM. I recall the tutor saying that the largest part of adopting Agile is to think in an agile way. Quite simply I have modified the way I think about projects and I think this has helped me lead projects in the cloud.

To contrast, I began to think about how hard it would be to deliver SharePoint Online projects using a more traditional waterfall methodology. When you consider the ‘Evergreen’ service and how quickly we are seeing new features appear it’s a paradigm shift in my field of work as a SharePoint Architect.

I have made it part of my weekly routine to check the Office 365 public roadmap to assess features being rolled out as well as those on the horizon. This helps me understand, from a feature perspective, what I need to keep a close eye on in coming weeks.

O365 Public Roadmap

O365 Public Roadmap

In conjunction I also ensure that our development and QA tenants are signed up for ‘First Release’ (under O365 Service Settings). This enables me to see the features being rolled out at least two weeks prior to general availability and the change hitting our production tenants. This gives first sight of potential issues as well as identifying new feature opportunities.

O365 First Release

O365 First Release

Whether it’s the desire to work with a new feature or the need to respond to a change you’ll have a minimum of two weeks to respond. There is no longer the option to hold off a service pack or ‘hang five’ on that security update as we may have done on-premises.

How would your project handle the need to change, test and deploy within a two week period? Most likely, if you are following a traditional waterfall approach, this will be very difficult. If the service changes during a Build phase, how would you change direction and redesign? If you are a consultant, how would this affect scope and budget? What about your release cycle? Is it frequent enough to keep pace?

Our SharePoint Online SCRUM projects are typically running on a 1-2 week Sprint cycle. We usually start out with a 2 week cycle but then accelerate to a 1 week during a stabilization phase, when we do less new development and enter early support and maintenance. This enables us to achieve 1-2 releases during this critical window and keep pace with the service.

Is your methodology agile enough to keep pace in the cloud?

SharePoint Online Retires Tags and Notes

As Microsoft continues to blend and expand Yammer capabilities across the platform, they have retired Tags and Notes in SharePoint Online.

Key factor to note is that users can no longer create create or access existing tags or notes. The only option is for SharePoint Online admins to export all existing tags and notes via an archived csv files, from the SharePoint admin center. Also, for those using this feature, the webparts will start showing up blank.

Tags-Notes

Tags and Note UX in SharePoint 2013

Below is the table of  how this will affect users :

Item
Change
Tags & Notes button on ribbonStill visible but disabled.
Note Board and Tag Cloud web parts in the web part galleryStill visible and enabled. The web parts will show up as blank when added to a page.
Note Board and Tag Cloud web parts embedded in a pagePage will display a blank space in the area previously occupied by the web parts. Edit the page to remove the web parts.
Social tagsSocial tags will no longer appear in the tags refiner. The refiner will still display hashtags.
Tags and notes listed on personal sitesThe area that previously listed tags and notes will be blank.

Delve Has Arrived

How long have you been patiently waiting for this amazing new search powered app called “Delve”? Days, weeks, months?
The wait is finally over with Microsoft announcing today that it is releasing Delve to office 365 subscribers!

What is Delve?
Delve is a new way to search and discover content with Office graph in the background doing all the heavy lifting.
I talk about it in detail here or Watch the video here.

Release ScheduleFinally Here
The Office blog says, “Delve will roll out to Office 365 customers in phases, first to customers that have elected to receive significant Office 365 service updates at first release, an opt-in program. Following that, Delve will roll out to all Office 365 customers over several months in standard release, the default option for Office 365 customers. We expect Delve to roll out to all eligible Office 365 customers by early 2015. For the Office 365 Business Essentials, Business Premium, Small Business, Small Business Premium, and Midsize Business customers, first release rollout will begin in January 2015.”

Admin Get Started
If you are wondering how to avail this feature, check out the Delve for Admins here.

SharePoint Online (O365) adds security and compliance services

In the past month, Microsoft has added two key new service capabilities to SharePoint Online and Rights Management that provide a more robust secure computing experience.  The first is the introduction of data loss prevention and the second is the improvements in protecting content across all platforms including OS X Support.

Data Loss Prevention

DLPSharePoint Online now provides the ability to perform a legal audit to determine the amount of risk posed by data stored on SharePoint sites and OneDrive, commonly known as data loss prevention or DLP. This capability provides the ability to identifying 51 built-in sensitive information types such as credit cards, passport numbers, and Social Security numbers. Once discovered there is the ability to perform an audit and export a report with suspect content.

There is future capabilities for policy creation that automatically detects sensitive content and applies protection, such as deletion or quarantine for review.

For more information about Using DLP in SharePoint Online, review this TechNet article
For more information about the Using 51 DLP Information Types, review this TechNet article.

Read the rest of this post »

Partner Spotlight – K2 Appit for SharePoint

Perficient has many great partners that support our development and deployment of the best of breed solutions we provide for our clients. This post is one of them in a series that will highlight some of the products available from our partners. Today, I’ll be presenting K2 and and their Workflow and Forms Apps for SharePoint in the Cloud.

SharePoint apps that bridge the cloud and your people k2_appit

K2 Appit for SharePoint is a cloud-based platform that allows you to easily deliver workflow and forms apps for SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online, without code. Use it to help your people get more work done, at any time and from anywhere, with real-time information that enables smarter, faster decisions.

K2 APPIT FOR SHAREPOINT DELIVERS:

  • NO INSTALLATION: The Appit cloud service doesn’t require any software installation and integrates with your SharePoint environment within minutes. You’ll be ready to focus on building great solutions before you know it.
  • EASY-TO-USE TOOLS: Intuitive, browser-based designers allow even non-technical users to quickly build workflows and forms directly in SharePoint.
  • SYSTEMS INTEGRATION: Appit apps can span line-of-business systems that reside on premises and in the cloud.
  • UNIVERSAL ACCESS: An enterprise-class workflow engine allows you to provide apps wherever your people work

A SMARTER WAY TO WORK WITH SHAREPOINT

With Appit, you can deliver SharePoint-based workflows and forms that link on-premises and cloud-based systems, to give your users the information they need. No code required.

Build workflow apps for SharePoint documents and lists.

  • Drag-and-drop design tools help you develop common workflow scenarios and allow you to easily share your designs for real-time collaboration with colleagues.
  • Flexible workflows integrate with SharePoint lists and libraries across multiple sites — even spanning SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online.
  • Mobile applications allow your team to take action, delegate, check status or find information, all from their phones or tablets.
  • A custom logic and rules engine gives you the power to build SharePoint workflow applications that fit your business needs precisely.

Build forms and workflows that combine SharePoint and line-of-business data.

  • Quickly create intuitive, easy-to-use forms from within a browser. Forms can be customized, and they are reusable to save time and ensure consistency.
  • Easily pull LOB data into SharePoint workflows and forms. Appit integrates with Microsoft CRM, Exchange, SQL Server and any other system that is available via Web services.
  • Provide a better user experience and help your team make smarter decisions with integrated forms, data and reporting.

 

To learn more about how K2 Appit for SharePoint can help you deliver workflow apps in all the places your people work, contact us. We’ll arrange a free demo.

Bing Your Way To Success – Tips Every Programmer Should Live By

When I was in school, I remember studying learning styles - “series of theories suggesting systematic differences in individuals’ natural or habitual pattern of acquiring and processing information in learning situations.” I was the always the Converger, very hands-on, figuring out things for myself, testing theories. For me, this started at an early age. I can remember being one of the first students in middle school to harness the power of the internet around 1992 – 1994. I remember discovering Lexus Nexis, Alta Vista, and later Yahoo to read academic papers and abstracts. Writings, facts, opinions, that just weren’t available in my school library, were now available on the computer. I learned how to draw information at my fingertips by using search engines. Even in the early days, this was way more informative than an old encyclopedia and way more fun!bing

Fast forward to my college years, my search engine skills continued to progress. As I learned C++, VB Script, and Java, I relied heavily on the internet for the most up to date information on techniques, theory, and examples. Books simply couldn’t keep up with the power of the internet and its ever growing database of information. It was a great way for me to learn and get through college; and it continues to be a very sharp tool in my tool belt today.

In this post, I’m going to show you a few search engine tricks so you can Bing your way to success!

1. Use Quotes to Find Exact Results

Read the rest of this post »

Webinar Recap: Migrating to SharePoint Online with @jasonbell

There’s a lot of interest around moving to the cloud, and specifically, SharePoint Online. Because of that, we’ve had several webinars over the summer that focus on SharePoint Online and SharePoint in a hybrid environment (you can view all our past Microsoft webinars here, beginning with the most recent). headache2

Despite that interest, migrations can be a bit of a headache (or in some cases, a debilitating migraine). But, if you do your research and plan properly, the process can be a fairly smooth one – possibly even your last, since once in the cloud, you shouldn’t need to do intensive upgrades or migrations in the future.

Last week, we held another session around SharePoint Online, this time focusing on Best Practices for a Successful SharePoint Migration or Upgrade to the Cloud.  My colleague, Jason Bell, a senior solution architect within our Microsoft practice, kicked off the webinar with the top reasons to move to SharePoint Online. Following this, he shared migration methodology, which includes your migration assessment, migration development, and the actual migration plan.

Next, Jason talked about the different migration approaches – manual, scripted, or the use of a third party tool like AvePoint, Metalogix, or Sharegate. He wrapped up with a discussion around secure cloud computing, including information rights management and the use of Office Web Apps.

For the full webinar replay, including an informative Q&A portion where Jason answered a ton of attendee questions, click here. You can also catch up with Jason on Twitter @jasonbell.

 

DevOps for SharePoint Online (Office 365)

With the rapidly evolving migration to the cloud SharePoint teams are faced with a new challenge: How do we develop and deploy for SharePoint Online?

If your feet have been firmly planted with on-premises development for SharePoint it can be a little daunting trying to move your process to the cloud. Where and how should we conduct development? How can we implement release through development, quality assurance and production?

This article aims to help you get started and is based upon the hands-on experience of working with SharePoint 2013 Online during the past 18 months.

Perficient Model

Development and Deployment for SharePoint Online

Develop for the Service

Above all recommendations it is highly advisable to build new features for the service using SharePoint Online. Whether you are writing CSOM, customizing a Master Page or building an App you should do this for the service and not in a local (on-premises) development environment. SharePoint Online offers a very rich API which is very extensible but it can be extremely sobering to realize the feature you just spent the last few weeks building relies upon a feature not available Online. If you are developing features for both Online and On-Premises you can always bring things back on-premises later.

With a MSDN subscription developers can provision their own Office 365 tenant and begin development within a few minutes. How many hours would this have taken for the developer to build their own VM for on-premises development? If the developer does not have an MSDN subscription they could always use a trial tenant on a temporary basis or pay for a single user tenant for indefinite use. When provisioning any new tenant for development ensure that it is under the same license as QA and production (e.g. E3).

Once a developer is ready to deploy and review new features they can do this on a separate Development (Integration) tenant accessible to the team. This Development Environment is typically used for demonstrations of new features, in SCRUM Review meetings for example.

Tenant Isolation

Consistent with any mature software development it is important to ensure that Development, QA and Production are properly isolated and permissions configured accordingly. Developers will most likely have full administrative access to Development but will only have read or less access to QA and Production. Keeping your developers out of Production is a key principle for stability and ensures good consistent deployment techniques are employed. It also ensures that we maintain healthy disagreements between developers and administrators which is as old as time and ensures the project is fun!

It helps to name tenants consistently. We usually use the convention:

  • https://<production tenant name>.sharepoint.com
  • https://<production tenant name>DEV.sharepoint.com
  • https://<production tenant name>QA.sharepoint.com

A key consideration with this isolation is how to maintain accounts across all three environments. Most likely the Production environment will have federated identities synchronized to the cloud with ADFS and DirSync or FIM. This allows us to work with corporate credentials in Production. However, a single domain can only be synchronized to one Office 365 tenant. So what should be configured for Development and QA? It is of course possible to build new domains (on-premises) and mirror the synchronization for Production. This is of course the most pure form of ensuring Development and QA are true representations of Production. However, this may be overkill for your development and testing needs.

It can be advantageous to use cloud accounts (onmicrosoft.com) in Development and QA, they are extremely lightweight and easy to manage as your team grows. Cloud accounts are particularly useful when working with professional services organizations as setup can usually avoid what might otherwise be a lengthy setup process. However, if your solution relies heavily on synchronized identities then it may be necessary to have Development and QA domains which mirror production.

Another key driver for isolating tenants in this way is that it ensures no global configuration changes during development can impact the production system. Consider the configuration of:

  • Content Types
  • Term Store Configuration
  • Tenant-level Search Managed Properties
  • Tenant-level Search Result Sources

One could argue that developing in a single Site Collection isolates development appropriately. However, the misconfiguration of these items alone could easily break a production system and take some time to recover from e.g. Search may need to re-crawl or the Content Type Hub will need to wait for a scheduled push.

Scripted Deployment

This article will not fully elaborate upon Scripted Deployment to SharePoint Online I will write another article shortly on this topic. However, it is an important principle of this model. Automating any task which is repeated can be a productivity benefit providing the time invested in developing the automation takes less time than repeating the task itself. Automation also significantly reduces chance of human error. It is less obvious how to automate deployments for SharePoint Online but the benefits are clear and have paid huge dividend for our teams working with the service.

What is Scripted Deployment? For SharePoint Online this means writing PowerShell with XML configuration and using the SharePoint Server 2013 Client Components SDK (currently v16). The PowerShell is run locally on the developer or administrator’s machine but connects to SharePoint Online using the Client Object Model. Through this script we can deploy most things required for SharePoint Online customization such as:

  • Master Pages
  • Page Layouts
  • Content Types
  • Display Templates
  • Term Store Terms

It has taken some investment in the development of PowerShell modules but these become highly reusable across projects.

As developers work with their own tenant they develop the deployment scripts required for their feature. Those familiar with SCRUM will relate to ‘Done Criteria’. Our Done Criteria includes development of a feature and its scripted deployment to the Development (Integration) tenant where it can be reviewed. There are some exceptions which cannot be achieved by this technique but the Client Object Model does support a very wide range of common needs for deployment and configuration. Where exceptions exist these are documented in a deployment document for manual execution by an administrator.

Replication of Production Data

It is desirable to have recent data available in QA to ensure good and valid testing. For this replication it is advisable to use a third-party migration tool like Metalogix Content Matrix. When selecting a tool for this purpose ensure that it can migrate the data faithfully to ensure good testing but also that it can transform data as required. For example, if Production data uses synchronized identities but QA uses Cloud Accounts it will be necessary to perform some transformation. E.g.

chris.hines@contoso.com could be mapped to chris.hines@contosoqa.onmicrosoft.com

Happy development and deployment!

New White Paper: A Guide to On-Premises SharePoint 2013 Upgrades

A lot of what we talk about here on the Perficient Microsoft blog focuses on the cloud, and that reflects market trends, and what we are seeing with our customers. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote earlier this month in his email to employees, and so many at Microsoft have said since, we now live in a cloud-first, mobile-first world. A Guide to On Premises SharePoint 2013 Upgrades

And there is no doubt, hosted SharePoint is a great option for many organizations (in fact, you can tune in to an on-demand webinar we had recently where one customer describes the reasons they chose SharePoint Online). So while Office 365 is an ideal fit for some, for other customers, on-premises deployments are still the way to go. There are a number of industries that mandate certain data types are kept on-premises. Or maybe you have a ton of custom applications that would need to be reworked should you move to the cloud.

Bottom line, each and every SharePoint ecosystem is different, and if you are on a previous version of SharePoint, you are probably taking a hard look at whether or not to migrate to SharePoint 2013.

If you’d like to learn more about your on-premises upgrade options, take a look at our new white paper, A Guide to On-Premises SharePoint 2013 Upgrades. Perficient’s Adetayo Adegoke and Suzanne George shared their knowledge and expertise from many, many SharePoint migrations to create this comprehensive guide describing the new features, capabilities, and your options.

To download the guide, click here.