2017-Big Honkin’ Binder – Director’s Cut


Some organizations have mastered the art of documentation by applying discipline and technology to record their procedures.  Other organizations coast on their ‘oral traditions’ with perhaps some dusty binders as evidence of past efforts to write procedures.  If you are the later, how many “Big Honkin’ Binders” do you have?  When was the last time you opened it let alone updated it?  How can a SharePoint eProcedure help?

1994-12-08, DILBERT © 1994 Scott Adams. Used By permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK. All rights reserved.


Table of Contents

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What is SharePoint and How to Start?

Microsoft states that ‘organizations use SharePoint to create websites; a secure place to store, organize, share, and access information from almost any device.’  Most people know SharePoint as a place to upload documents but it can do much more such as create eProcedures.

If you are an experienced SharePoint user, you can jump right in with the elements discussed below.  If not, you will need some basic knowledge and training.  Once you have the basics, you can then utilize the eProcedure methodology the Ministry of Alberta Advanced Education’s (AE) adopted to document the recruitment IT contractors.  The AE experience is presented below as a case study complete with samples.  Because AE is responsible for the province’s adult learning, the eProcedure discussion starts with SharePoint 101 and then works its way up to SharePoint 401.  Your SharePoint eProcedure education is summarized as follows:

Course Pre-requisites Summary
101 – the Wiki
  • SharePoint 2010 or more recent version.
  • Knowledge of libraries.
  • Sufficient access privileges.
  • Wiki functionality.
Using templates to create standard pages for how-to do things, how were things done and infrastructure used to do the activities.
201 – Images
  • SharePoint 101.
  • An image library.
  • Comfort using basic computer graphics including inserting into pages.
Improve eProcedure pages by inserting graphics including procedure flow charts.
301 – FAQ Library
  • SharePoint 201.
  • Comfort creating or managing lists.
  • Knowledge of lookup columns in lists.
  • Knowledge of inserting web parts.
How to create a SharePoint list of common questions (the FAQ).  Embed the list into a wiki page using views.  Manage views through the use of lookup columns.
401 – Security
  • SharePoint 301.
  • Understanding of SharePoint Security and access management.
How to protect your site while encouraging contributions from readers/users.

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SharePoint 101 – the Wiki

Prerequisites, you have…

  • SharePoint 2010 (or a more recent version) available to you.
  • An understanding of the concepts of libraries and the administrator privileges to create a wiki-library on your site (or an administrator who can do this for you).
  • Familiarity with creating wiki-links between the pages using the [[page]] functionality.

At the heart of the SharePoint eProcedure is the wiki-library.  The following image shows the first page of AE’s IT Contracting site; the Seven Step Contracting process.  Clicking on any one of the boxes will lead to the detailed eProcedure wiki page.

Seven Step contracting process AE ITM – Splash Screen

This graphic is just like a table of contents in a binder but better because of the linking and cross-referencing available in a wiki.  Before you start creating these detailed procedures, it is important to learn about what type of pages to create (standards) and how to create consistent pages that have similar look and feel (templates).

Page Standards and Templates

Without standards, it is easy to create hundreds of pages of content that is no better than the “Big Honkin’ Binder”. When you create a new wiki page you are giving it a name that will show up in the address line, for example: \IT-Contracting\eProcedure\How-to-1NeedIdentification.aspx.

One of the powerful features of a wiki-library is this linking functionality.  Reserve the first few characters of your page name for a consistent standard, it is easier to find a page when creating new content.

Page Standards and Templates

The standards AE uses are:

  • “How-To”-[SUBJECT NAME]: are used to describe procedures or guidelines.
    • Describe how to do a particular function.  For AE, How-To pages come in two varieties.
    • Procedures describe the process: who does what, when they do it, and under what criteria.
    • Guidelines are general statements, recommendations, or administrative instructions.  As they are not mandatory, “guidelines” and “best practice” are interchangeable.
  • “Wisdom”-[SUBJECT NAME]: Describes one PAST event.
    • Are ‘How-Did’ pages describing how one unique event was carried out.
    • A wisdom page keeps historical event information out of your procedures and are a form of corporate memory for future reference.
  • Infra pages: Describes a piece of infrastructure such as a SharePoint List.
    • One of the challenges of managing a business processes is how do you describe the tools used in the process?
    • “Infra”-[SUBJECT NAME]: describes one asset such as a SharePoint.
    • “File”-[FILE NAME]: Defines a file, report, etc.or a document such as Excel.
  • “Template”-[SUBJECT NAME]: used as a starting point for a new page.
    • Keep the same look and feel across the eProcedure by being the starting point when creating new pages.  For example, AE has a standard ‘template-HowTo’, ‘template-Guidance’, ‘template-Infra’, etc.

Tips and Tricks

  • Avoid spaces in page names, use “-” or “_” instead (“ “ appear as “%20” in the URL).
  • 12 point font is the best compromise between online and printed text size.
  • Start with fewer pages built from standards and then add more as required.
  • Try to keep your pages to about 2 pages printed by using hints and summaries (see “Side Bar: Where Have All the Instruction Manuals Gone?” for more on less).
  • Bonus Marks: Add these custom columns to your wiki library: ‘Accountable’ (who owns this page and keeps it current) and ‘Review By’ (when is a mandatory review scheduled for the page).  These columns can be used to keep your eProcedure fresh and relevant.

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SharePoint 201 – Images

Prerequisites, you have…

  • Comfort building wiki-pages (SharePoint 101).
  • An image library to manage the images on the site.
  • Knowledge of how to insert an image into a page.
  • Very basic image management skills such as taking screen shots, using a graphic editing tool (e.g. Visio) and basic graphic editing such as re-sizing or cropping an image.
  • Basic flow charting knowledge.
  • The Side Bar: Where Have All the Instruction Manuals Gone? discusses the concept of minimalism and how images can help the user learn more from an eProcedure by reading fewer words.  Images include process maps, screen shots, etc.  For process flows, select a standard format and stick with it.  Document the look and feel of your ‘process-flows’ in an Infra wiki page.  Create a dedicated image library for the graphics which will make it is easier to find and update the images.  Turn on version history in the library and do not change the file name as this will break the link to the image.

Ideally the process flows should follow a hierarchy such as the Seven Step contracting model.  Each of the seven steps has more detailed process flow diagrams but they are all tied to the overarching model.  Thus under Step 1.0 Need Identification; there are subordinate steps such as “1.1 Identify Contracts Expiring and Requiring Renewal”.

Tips and Tricks

  • The PNG format displays best on the screen and in print.  Because they are larger they will take longer to load.
  • You can use graphic software but Microsoft Visio and Paint do most things.
  • Microsoft Visio is the champion of developing process documents.
  • Resize images to a maximum of 1000 pixels wide so they don’t truncate when printed.
  • Bonus Marks: Place a ‘version date: yyyy-mm-dd’ discreetly at the bottom of all images and update it to the current date each time the image changes.

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SharePoint 301 – The FAQ Library, Look Ups and Views

Prerequisites, you have…

  • Basic knowledge of creating wiki-pages (SharePoint 101 and 201).
  • A Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) library or the ability to create a library or custom list.
  • An understanding of the SharePoint Lookup Column.  A Lookup creates a relationship between two or more SharePoint lists and libraries.
  • Understanding and the ability to create views against a list.
  • Knowledge of how to insert a web part into a page (e.g. inserting a list into a library).

If you stopped at developing a wiki library, you would have an impressive resource to put the “Big Honkin’ Binder” to shame.  Embedding dynamic information into an eProcedure page, such as a list of FAQs, is what differentiates an eProcedure from a paper-based binder.  The FAQ library provides additional context and detail without having questions interrupting the writing flow.  While the FAQ list can be separate from the wiki, it is more powerful to integrate it into a wiki page via the web part function.  In one place, the reader can then see both general procedures and specific questions and answers to problems.

Each question should address one element of the procedure and phrased in such a manner that it has a Yes or No answer.  Break larger questions into smaller ones as required.  The FAQ can be a custom list or an announcement library.  The following is a fictional example of one question in our FAQ dealing with sole sourcing a contract:

Sample FAQ item from a MS SharePoint FAQ list

In the above example, a Look-Up Column with the SharePoint page name is inserted into the FAQ List. Thus all questions associated with the first step of the procurement process can be identified as pertaining to that procedure. A separate SharePoint-view can be created that filters on this column. Because you have a dedicated view with all the questions associated with ONE wiki-page, these FAQs can be inserted into that page as a web part.

FAQ to Procedure embedding.

The above diagram demonstrates this circular (but powerful) function.  The course-tutor (aka your SharePoint administrator) can help with this.  Also use this crib note to understand this circular relationship: eProcedure page > FAQ (via a Lookup Column) > eProcedure page (via a webpart/FAQ list view).

Tips and Tricks

  • Preface each FAQ with a Business Process label.  This helps the reader sort and scan a long list of questions in a list.  For example: ‘Contract Approval’ – [Question].
  • Use the questions as part of ongoing training.
  • Each question should automatically expire requiring a conscious effort to renew them periodically.
  • Bonus Marks: Add to the FAQ library other columns such as Status, Review By or Accountable (the person responsible to keep the question current and accurate).

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SharePoint 401 – Securing the Site and Upgrades

Prerequisites, you have…

  • A good system administrator or the skills to manage permissions, etc.
  • An Infrastructure eProcedure to document how to secure your site.

SharePoint has good security out of the box to control access to sites, lists/libraries or items.  In addition, alerts can be created to monitor for changes.  Nevertheless, few people will ever contribute or change your site.

Apathy is a much deadlier foe for your eProcedure than vandalism or misguided updates.  Another foe for SharePoint are upgrades.  Fortunately, everything described above is ‘vanilla’ or uses native SharePoint functionality.

Tips and Tricks

  • Turn on version history on your lists and libraries.
  • Use alerts to email you when someone has made a change to an eProcedure, changed/added a question to a FAQ library or uploaded a new document to a library.
  • Encourage users to correct minor errors (e.g. spelling, grammar or clarity).
  • Contributor security access is the sweet spot for most of your users.
  • Periodically (e.g. once a year) print everything to pdf to provide a point in time archive.
  • Bonus Marks: Provide incentives for those who have contributed such as a monthly coffee card or lunch with the boss (… unless this is a disincentive).

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The Life and After Life of an eProcedure

Technology will not gain senior management support for developing procedures or prevent rogue employees from ignoring them.  However, technology, such as a SharePoint, can help your organization create something better than the “Big Honkin’ Binder”.

The wiki page allows for multiple people to edit an eProcedure, record each of these changes and have a single source of procedure truth.  An image library allows you to update an image once and all pages are automatically updated immediately because they link to the library.  The FAQ library provides a dynamic way to deal with specific issues without bogging down your procedures.  Finally, alerts, access and security protect your documentation efforts helping to keep the eProcedures current and relevant.

Ideally, procedures should be seen as an asset that can be leveraged and reused.  Incorporate the procedure in new employee orientations, periodic staff certifications or even games during meetings.

If you want to learn more, visit my website: www.myorgbio.org for additional details and to download templates and other material discussed in this article.  I would like to thank AE for their support and permission to use this content.