The Future of Collaboration

SharePoint 2013 has features enabling a new level of collaboration for teams working on projects. Visibility into project tasks, multiple staff editing the one document at the same time, workflow emails sent as tasks are completed and version restoration in the event disaster strikes.

Read our fictional story below demonstrating these features in every day scenarios.

The fifty page sales brochure has to be ready by Friday! A $3 million deal is riding on it and the deadline can’t be moved!

When the CEO broke the news to me I could not believe my ears. None of the content was ready. We had no template or design concepts ready to go either. And the only tool I had for the job was MS Word. Seriously?

He was not joking. He never jokes. He simply sets impossible deadlines and expects them to be met while maintaining the highest quality standards. I was already formulating different ways to break the news to my partner. Life outside of the office had just been put on hold for the next five days. Chasing up content, coming up with design elements, coordinating content and design, getting content sections approved by Paul the product manager, getting design approval from Claire, the marketing manager, two probably three approval rounds with the CEO. A hundred last minute changes that will need to be jammed in. This was not going to be pretty.

After the team meeting Steve, our IT genius, caught my eye and must have seen the sheer shock and disbelief written all over my face. He came up to my desk, sat down next to me with a big encouraging smile on his face and said “Don’t worry! I think I have something that will make you smile again. What would you say if I just came across a tool that will let multiple people to work on one document at once? While you’re still designing it? Where people can lock and edit content sections simultaneously. So you can easily compare versions and revisions in the same document without cluttering your view with track changes? And where you can get Paul, Clair and the CEO to approve the final version in one go, skipping endless iterations and email ping pong? Obviously it sounded too good to be true.


Steve showed me what you can do with SharePoint Online and Word. We signed up for a trial account with Office 365 and uploaded our first Word document. That was pretty easy. I then broke down the document into multiple sections and added in-line who should fill in the missing content for each. I then added several pages to the document to position design elements and create some layouts while the others were adding content to their bits.


But how to let everyone know which document to work on? There is an option built into the platform to send a link to people. All I had to do next was add the team to the recipients list and ask them to do their bit on the document, making sure they only edit their section in the document.


At first the team did not understand what was going on. But after I explained the process to them and managed to get past their sheer disbelief they decided to give it a go. Needless to say there were teething issues to get through. But all in all we got the majority of the work done in a very short time. People would work on their section and add content. I’d get emails about ideas for charts and graphs and design elements that would fit in with the content which I collected in my inbox for now.

While the team was building the content for the brochure I’d abuse PowerPoint as a graphic design tool (what blasphemy!) and create design elements using the office clipart gallery, Word Art, Smart Art and basic drawing objects. These would then fit into the extra design pages I had placed into the document.


While we’re all busy working on the document I have already identified some sections I need feedback from outside of the team on. Instead of sending round a copy of the report I decide to give the collect feedback workflow a go. I add Claire and Steve as contributors to the list and ask them to have a look at the work in progress and give me some constructive feedback on what needs changing.


After receiving a bunch of comments, all of which were collected into a single email in workflow, it was time for me to wrap up the document. I used the check-out feature to check it out solely to me and made sure all the content and design elements aligned and fit together. That ensured I had full control over the document and no one could lock sections while I was wrapping up the design. A few hours later and endless nail biting and hair pulling in attempts to make Word do things you would only expect from a publishing package such as InDesign or Quark, the brochure reached its final stages. I released the lock on the document and sent out a final reminder that any changes needed to be in by EOB today.


Disaster strikes! Someone (won’t name names here) managed to mess up the whole design of the document overnight. Content sections were moved, graphics were resized incorrectly, pictures were cropped, page breaks were gone, and fonts were misapplied. God knows what they were thinking, but the document was in ruins! I was on the verge of tears when I showed what was bordering on sabotage to Steve. He didn’t seem too fussed though. He opened up the library in SharePoint and restored last night’s version back on top of the current disastrous one.

Then we opened up the compare feature on the review ribbon of Word. That allowed us to compare the version from last night with the messed up version and identify all the content changes that actually should have happened without all the design changes that should not have happened! Within half an hour the document was back in form including the required content changes from last night.

The final task was getting approval of the brochure. As I had asked for feedback early and everybody was working together on a live document this proved to be far easier than anticipated. I started the approval workflow on the document while still allowing people to make changes. I specified a serial approval flow starting with Claire the marketing manager and finishing with the CEO. That way Claire could make any needed ad-hoc changes before the CEO gets to see the final version.

Of course there were more changes to be made than one iteration would account for, but by late afternoon Claire and I had finished the brochure and the CEO was ready to give his final approval.


Took a long deserved break up on the Gold Coast with my partner over the weekend, forgetting all about the hectic but super productive week we just had left behind us.

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