Solution provider takeaway: Consultants can deliver the best SharePoint training by customizing modules according to user roles.
SharePoint Server has gained a lot of popularity with the release of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. With the inclusion of document management and enterprise search capabilities, as well as Records Center and Excel Services modules, more and more companies are turning to SharePoint in search of solutions to their business problems. With this growth comes good prospects for consultants, but those who don't have the right SharePoint training approach jeopardize customer satisfaction and business opportunities.
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Because a SharePoint implementation can be very complex, involving many types of roles at a business, you'll need to plan carefully to ensure that everyone involved understands how the system works and what their responsibilities are. Some of these roles are often mistaken as being IT-related. In most common SharePoint implementations, at least three roles exist: platform administrator and developer, help desk support person and information worker/end user.
Each of these roles is equally important and requires some type of training. In most cases, staff will take on multiple roles. The key is to ensure every person involved has the right skills and knowledge to make the SharePoint environment a solid mechanism that leverages productivity within the company. To get your customer's staff to that point, SharePoint training really needs to be handled by role; forget about a one-size-fits-all approach. You need to tailor training courses to specific groups of users. Here are the standard groups, along with tips for how to approach their training.
SharePoint training by role
- Administrators and developers: SharePoint administrators and developers require in-depth knowledge of the SharePoint platform structure and available tools. If SharePoint is a new addition to your environment, don't presume that because it's based on the .NET technology any .NET developer will easily transition into a SharePoint developer role. Before training these individuals on the tools that can aid them in further customization and development of the environment, make sure they're familiar with SharePoint's key concepts and technologies and that they are meeting training prerequisite requirements. If you forge ahead without heeding this advice, the end result will be less than satisfactory and will severely undermine the integrity and overall structure of the environment.
- Help desk staff: Depending on the size of your organization, you might consider training your help desk support group to provide end-user support for SharePoint. If your organization is midsized to large, in addition to basic SharePoint training, the help desk department needs to be trained on all custom solutions that are available in your SharePoint environment. Don't expect that your customers' developers will support existing solutions and successfully deliver new functionality.
- Information workers/end users: These employees are the active consumers of SharePoint solutions -- creators and contributors of content to SharePoint sites. People falling into the information worker/end user category are business professionals and can include anyone from the CEO to data entry operators. It's critical that this group is competent enough to take advantage of its functionality. Even if your portal solutions are state of the art, if end users don't use them, the implementation will be a waste of money.
Rather than simply walking staff members through the SharePoint interface, it's important to let them work in a "sandbox" environment, where they can start applying and further developing their newly acquired skills. They're much more likely to retain what you've taught them and walk out of the class actually able to put SharePoint into use in the production environment. When you set up the sandbox, make it as close as possible to the production environment, so users can practice and explore the business solution, but reserve some areas where people are granted elevated permissions for them to create their own sites, lists and libraries.
There are many online SharePoint training classes where people can take advantage of self-paced learning, but instructor-led classes usually produce more desirable results. Providing in-house training by developing custom courses will significantly cut the cost of end-user education and will increase overall satisfaction with SharePoint.
About the author
Natalya Voskresenskaya, MCTS, is a SharePoint architect at Conchango, a consultancy and systems integration company. She has been working in the IT field for 10 years. With experience in design, architecture, development and deployment of Web-based applications, Natalya has been developing and implementing portal solutions since 2000 and working with SharePoint since version 2003. For more information, check out Natalya's SharePoint blog.