High disk I/O activity on SQL Server due to Timer Jobs

Our server team is indicating that on the SharePoint server there are severe spikes of activity. Every 3 minutes the IO jumps from 30mb/sec to 800mb/sec. From looking on the central admin site, there are in fact quite a few jobs running every minute or so. I’ve found the Microsoft list of the timer jobs and what they do, but cannot find much information on if these intervals can be tweaked to not run every few minutes.

Has anyone had any experience with this?

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I Woke Up A Farm Administrator

The other morning I received an email with a subject of “Welcome to the SharePoint group: Farm Administrators for site: Central Administration”. The rush of power flowing through my veins is indescribable. “With great power comes great responsibility” as Spiderman’s Uncle Ben said. So why was this being bestowed upon me?

I’ve been petitioning to get Central Admin access since we started looking at SharePoint last year. I have such access in the Domino environment, which is handy to try settings out, run down performance issues, resolve end user help desk tickets, and the likes. Initially the idea for that access was soundly rejected by the network team, and I had to agree. Technically, I’m a developer, the sworn enemy of the network admin. To give me access to the settings of SharePoint was like sharing ammunition with a soldier in an opposite bunker. They were not familiar enough with how to give granular access, and full-blown run of the house was not what I was after. But, seeing how I was asking for access to the development server, and the access would reduce the number of requests coming from me, I ended up getting limited access to Central Admin in Develop.

Now, 2 months later, I have the keys to the kingdom. I can name myself Site administrator, set policies, enable functionality… all kinds of cool stuff. But back to the why. It became apparent less than 20 minutes later when half a dozen help desk tickets were re-assigned to me. Many, ironically, were submitted by me, asking for setting changes or audit reports in SharePoint. The network team decided they are not in the SharePoint Admin business, and they are leaving the product to me and a few other people in the enterprise that have *some* knowledge on the subject.

Not a rousing vote of confidence, having the network team in effect throw up their hands and hand over the wheel while a brick still sits firmly on the gas pedal. They’ve realized they can’t be experts in every product on the network, and SP is one beast that has been eluding them ever since the one staffer who set up the environment moved on to another company earlier this year. The knowledge base moved with him.

Cracking my new WROX book, “Professional SharePoint 2010 Administration” and musing you can’t always pick your spot, but I’ll take the ability to move forward with the product any way I can get it.

Categories: General, Governance, SharePoint | Leave a comment

That Glazed Over Look from End Users

There’s no arguing the abilities of the SharePoint platform, and opportunities for uses pretty much limitless. Perhaps too much? I’ve trained users on a few different products over the years, and none have produced such confused looks as SharePoint.

We’re not doing super advanced things in our environment yet. Since rolling it out in January sites are populating with content, mostly lists and libraries. I’m amazed how often the basic concepts, like views of the data for example, are confusing. To me, grouping and filters are simple tools. Users prefer to think of everything in terms of folders – they like the physical feel of sorting content.

Aside from adding documents or list items, my content owners are confused by editing web parts. I understand their pain, it takes 4 clicks to edit a content editor wp. The real killer is then you click “Edit Web Part” in the web part drop menu, and it opens the properties box on the far right, which you may not see if you don’t have the browser opened all the way. It’s a bit easier in 2010 (we have a blended environment) but the two different ways to edit a web part in the different version is another pain point. (I know, the easy answer is get on a single platform. Convincing management to support that effort has been stupefyingly difficult).

Part of the problem is interest. The content owners have real work to do. Sure, SharePoint helps them and they like the central store of info but sometimes it’s EASIER to just email a copy of a document. Then users can’t find it in the library it should be in, and they get a copy from the other person and the system starts to break down.

A lot of the usability issues I run into usually have the same answer – “It won’t be like that when we go to the 2013 version.” In the meanwhile the challenge will be making SharePoint easy as possible. Or at least easier than the alternatives.

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Importing Spreadsheet into List Gotcha

Ran across this “Gotcha!” moment with Importing a Spreadsheet into a list.

The user imported the sheet fine, with one exception. Instead of just the 100 rows of their data, it brought in 25000 rows. It had included all the blank rows in the spreadsheet (below the data-filled rows) as well!

When I went into the list settings and tried to delete it to re-import, the process dumped to a nice generic error screen. Back in the List Settings page I saw there was a warning about the list having over 5000 row of data. It warned that all kinds of performance issues that can result from this. I guessed the inability to delete a view with a bazillion rows was one of them.

I went back to the view and switched to datasheet view so I could delete a few thousand rows at a time. That came from some trial and error – if I selected over 3000 at a time to delete the process would time out and fail, but this may have been due to network traffic timeouts or some other specific anomaly of our environment, not SharePoint.

Once I had the row count under 5000, the list deleted fine. I had the user edit the spreadsheet to eliminate the unwanted rows and the second import was peachy.

Not sure if this is just an issue with the SP environment as we have it currently implemented. We are 2010 on the server, but the master template design is still 2007 for some sites.

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San Fran SPTech Conference Notes

The start of every session I went to at the conference in San Francisco last week was the same.

“Who uses 2007? 2010? 2013?” and then after a moment, “2003???”

The hands going up and down were no scientific score, but the basic breakdown in the classes I was in were almost always in a split of 30/60/10. And this was even in a few sessions that were specific to the 2013 features. Only a few hands during the week ever went up on 2003, but they were out there.

The instructors/presenters often seemed surprised. I asked one during the “Ask the Experts” session what version they expect the average company to be on. She said 2010, but the large number of 2007 and small number of 2013 threw her off. She expected more early adopters, and fewer clinging to the feature-deprived 2007 platform. After all, the numbers don’t lie – SharePoint licenses are growing with leaps and bounds every quarter, and experts like Gartner are recognizing the platform as an industry leader.

So why then are companies slow to migrate to newer versions? I think this is one of Microsoft’s biggest challenges – wrapping their heads around just what their versions updates do to real companies. Upgrading to a new version of SharePoint is a complex processes, because it involves not just a software install, but multiple installs (SQL, etc) as well as hardware changes as well. You also need to make sure your MS Office version is on par with everything else in the environment to take advantage of the cool features. In a large enterprise, this adds more complexity to an upgrade scenario.

Another frustrating area of navigating conference sessions regards SharePoint Editions. You’ve got 3 to choose from, the free (mostly) Foundation version, Standard or Enterprise. When walking into a conference session, not only is the version you run a factor to the relevancy of the content, but the edition as well. Many features are edition-specific. We run Standard, and this is a major bummer if you are interesting in Business Intelligence. In the Enterprise Edition, you get all sorts of web parts and connectivity tools to get sexy graphs and dashboards that managers love. Two of the sessions I went to touted “out of the box” functionality that was not available for the edition we run.

Later today I have to discuss BI options with some managers who have read online about all that SharePoint can do in this area. Explaining that getting that functionality requires new licenses is not going to sit well, as the marketing material doesn’t make it clear next to the cool graphs  “only available in the Enterprise edition!” , leaving me to be the bearer of this version/edition fine print.

Perhaps I can convince them to just move everything to the cloud. Easy Button, right?

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SharePoint Tech Conference To-Do’s?

As a newbie to the SharePoint conference circuit  I’d be interested to hear of anyone has ideas for sessions/events offered at the upcoming Tech Conference in San Fran that a first-timer shouldn’t miss. 

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Using a Game or Contest during Implementation

How do you get people to actually use a site once it’s available? .

The best advice I heard regarding driving user acceptance and use was come up with a game or contest to coincide with the grand opening. There’s a few examples of “Olympic Style” games but I wasn’t sure if that would fly in our environment. It’s relatively small, and whatever game we came up with needed to have minimal impact on users time.

The result was a variation of the “Where’s Waldo” game, hiding a picture of my mascot “SharePoint Steve” .

It was called “Find SharePoint Steve”, and the premise was pretty simple – people would follow the daily clue to find the page on the new intranet where Steve was hiding, then submit an “entry” saying where they found him. Here’s an clip of the contest page:

The places where I “hid” Steve was varied, but for the most part it was in the “new” sections that users might not be familiar with. In the above example, he was in the new Café Menu page. Not hard to find, the point being they familiarize themselves with the navigation, the new content, and adding a list item. It had to be easy, and slightly goofy to make it accessible for the users to want to give it a try.

Then there’s the prize. Our Executive Stakeholder agreed to fund some movie tickets. We randomly drew winners at the end of each day from the submissions. The contest entry form was a list entry, and I exported the list to an excel spreadsheet and applied a random script to cell range to get the winners.

Did it work? The contest ran for 5 days, resulted in 800 contest submissions (of a user base of about 400), and 2569 overall page views. The submission numbers jumped from 50 the first day to almost 200 on the second, then grew a little every day after that. Based on feedback the team received, the word of mouth on the game was really strong, and people found it a fun way to explore the new sites.

Categories: SharePoint, Training | 1 Comment

Usability Testing and Moments of DOH!

[Aside: This is Part 3 in my recounting our move from Domino only to a combined Domino/Sharepoint environment.]

Being a huge fan of Steve Krug’s ‘Don’t Make Me Think’, I was ready for Usability Testing stage of the new SharePoint platform deployment. Implementing SP as the new Intranet platform meant we could re-deign, re-engineer and re-format our content areas and update many parts of the intranet that had gotten stale and ignored. Carte blanche!

Well, not exactly. Our parent company had a 2007 template we had to use for department sites, but for team sites / workspaces we could use the 2010 templates and web parts. I know what you’re thinking – a combined environment means training issues, audit issues, and overall look and feel headaches galore! This one item is going to be our biggest challenge going forward.

Why do Usability Testing? It’s the best tool to answer the big questions : Is the design right? Can users find stuff? What do they like/dislike? Susan Hanley makes a good case for it here.

My testing plan:
1) Locate Volunteers – this turned out to be pretty easy. An email to the Content Owners resulted in several names for users who would go for it. The majority of them even remarked “this is fun”.

2) A Test Script – I compiled a list of about 10 tasks and an instructions script which explains the test and opens the door for their feedback by making the point we’re testing the site, not them! That usually loosens the mood, once they realize they can’t do anything wrong.

3) My Stopwatch and notepad – I know “real” usability testing is conducted with cameras and software to capture where users look on the screen. I had to take a lower-tech version and relied on verbal responses from the user and watched where they went and looked.

Total test pool was only 12 people from all corners of the company. Seems like a small number, but you’d be surprised (as I was) that test results don’t drastically change after 9 users, and this showed this to be true.

A sample task was: “Locate Information on Tuition Assistance”. I’d start the timer and take notes as the user would talk aloud what they were thinking as they looked around the page and navigated to the location.

The most interesting result was only one user in 12 used the search to find the task objective! Three others indicated they thought about using the search, but thought it would be cheating. This highlighted a need to focus training on the search tool. Users didn’t have an enterprise -wide search in the previous Intranet, so it would be a mind-shift to start thinking of going there first.

Testing identified a few links and areas that needed tweaking to make it easier to find. Here’s a dramatic example:

After 3 test subjects I saw consistent problems with one task. I changed a label to a menu item and saw a dramatic decrease in time it took for users to locate the right page. Comments users made in the first three tests gave us insight on what change to make. It was a moment of “DOH!” But until you get other people using it, sometimes the obvious is not so apparent.

Finally, the testing was validation. After a year of research, multiple format trials and feedback from sources who felt strongly about certain design directions, the usability result bore out that the design was successful.

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Training on Zero Dollars a Day

User Training was high on our list of to-do’s when rolling out our new SharePoint Environment. Of all the items on that list, it continues to be the biggest challenge. Budgets don’t allow for an external training resource, so everything has been home-grown.

The Training Plan consisted of:
1) Several “How to…” sessions with Content Owners. These are two or three users from every department / area what had a site on the company Intranet, or wanted to have a site. The idea being we show them, and end users can go to them for instruction.
2) The Using SharePoint site, for the self-starters, a site that hosts a collection of documentation, links and home-made training videos.
3) Department training – more of a “here’s what you can do…
4) Company-wide information sessions
5) One on One (not many of these, mostly with power-user types)

So far, the one on one sessions have been the most effective method, targeted to “here’s how you do THIS”. But as you can imagine, it just isn’t practical to do that for more than a small group – unless I want to forget coding and just be a trainer.

The training for the content owners was too “conceptual” – even though they had a test environment to try things out in, people are too busy to just “go and play”, and I get that. So a large amount of time has been spent with one on one training since going live, in the trenches showing certain owners what they need to do to get things up on their site. I’m hoping the Content Owners will become the subject matter experts for SP in their area, and be the go-to person for the easier questions. That still has a way to go before it takes hold.

Ongoing, the plan is to do more sessions with the Content Owners, several “informational” classes for employees to show people how to use more of the features in SharePoint, as well as record additional video on specific tasks. I see more one on one training going on as well, and to keep user-acceptance on the upswing I’m dedicating time to that, but hopefully less and less as time goes on.

If anyone has other in-house training ideas, let me know!

Categories: SharePoint, Training | 4 Comments

Good Day, GuvNuh! (Friendly Governance)

My first reaction to the Governance discussion was adverse. We were trying to get the wheels spinning on the SharePoint environment and talk of governance is going to put the brakes on! There were so many more important tasks to tackle, so governance fell into the “when we get to it” bin.

A few months later I was at a conference in Chicago where 5 or 6 sessions were devoted to the topic. One fell into a “dead” zone for me, where there was nothing else more interesting so I went and was pleasantly surprised to find out what Governance really was. Instead of being a barricade to getting content posted or a set of rules to discourage collaboration, it’s a defense against bad design and content.

In our company, application and Intranet design is heavily influenced by stakeholders and executives who have strong opinions on how things should look. It’s not borne out of extensive end-user experience, web design background or even a good taste in color pallets. They just like to put “their stamp” on things. With the move to SharePoint, a complete re-design of the intranet was possible, and we used the opportunity to poll users on content/features they would like to see, as well as current things they use often. We scoured latest best practices in intranet design, and updated topologies to make content easier to find. Then we conducted Usability Testing to make sure the changes didn’t confuse and confound our audience. This didn’t prevent some people from injecting ideas at the last minute – everything from sweeping navigation changes to major style alterations.

The Governance plan served as the insurance plan to prevent these from torpedoing our efforts. It spells out how things work, why the design is as it is, what the style rules are, and what the responsibilities of the content owners are. People are less inclined to try and steamroll a PLAN as opposed to one or two techies!

I constructed our plan based on a template created by Richard Harbridge, and deployed it on a wiki format. After a first draft, I shared it with our Content Owner group, opening it up for ideas and discussions. Several very good additions resulted from those conversations. We also solidified the roles of everyone involved, including a Executive Sponsor. If nothing else, you need one of these! They can be your eyes and ears in upper level discussions, as well as speak on your behalf when questions come up as to what your platform can do. I spent time filling in our sponsor on our roll out plans and gave him a first look at the sites. He came through when we asked for goodies to use in a Roll Out Week contest (will discuss later) which resulted in a huge boost in out user-acceptance.

So don’t let the name scare you – the Governance document can be your best friend!

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