Get 'em ready: Tips for planning a SharePoint 2013 training program

Brien Posey

Anytime an organization rolls out a new application, end-user training must be a primary consideration. After all, the application won't do the company much good if the intended users can't figure out how to use the software. Many applications are relatively straightforward, and so are the training requirements for them. But SharePoint isn't one of those applications.

It's not just that SharePoint is a complex technology, with a variety of collaboration and enterprise content management capabilities. Another complicating factor is that organizations use it in different ways, taking advantage of unique combinations of all those capabilities based on their business needs. As a result, providing business users with the SharePoint training they need typically requires quite a bit more planning than is likely to be necessary for more pedestrian applications.

The advent of SharePoint 2013 brings training issues to the forefront again for IT managers and SharePoint administrators whose organizations are planning or weighing upgrades to the new version. Ultimately, there's no right or wrong way to manage the SharePoint 2013 training process. But in mapping out plans, there are some important considerations to take into account so you can ensure that the training program will truly be effective and beneficial.

Training demands dictated by SharePoint use

If your organization is currently running SharePoint 2010 or a previous release, your users might require only a minimal amount of training on SharePoint 2013. With a SharePoint deployment in place, you no doubt already have established site collections, document libraries, information lists and so on. The level of training you'll need to deliver depends on what users do with SharePoint. If they merely access SharePoint sites, use document libraries and perform other basic tasks, you might not have to do much (if any) additional training before upgrading. When you migrate to SharePoint 2013, the end-user experience will be very similar to what it is now.

On the other hand, some organizations give end users the freedom to perform more advanced functions in SharePoint. If you allow users to build team sites or to perform administrative actions such as modifying their own SharePoint profiles, some basic training on how to do such tasks in SharePoint 2013 could be necessary.

Site creation and profile modification is no more difficult than it was in SharePoint 2010, but Microsoft has made some changes to the user interface. In addition, SharePoint 2013 includes a new feature that lets site owners install lightweight apps to expand the functionality of their sites; that could also spur a need for new training.

If your organization does make use of SharePoint document libraries, a big question is whether you also plan to upgrade to Microsoft Office 2013. In previous versions of SharePoint, a Web interface is used to check documents into and out of a document library. Although that concept still exists in SharePoint 2013, the Web interface is much less important than it once was if you're running Office 2013 as well. Users can fully interact with document libraries without ever having to leave Office. For example, a worker might save a new Excel spreadsheet directly to a SharePoint library or check out a document from within Word 2013. Office 2013 even works with SharePoint's version controls for tracking changes to documents and files and saving different versions of them.

Mix it up on Office and SharePoint 2013 training

For a mixed environment of SharePoint 2013 and Office 2013, it likely will be useful to invest in some Office training, with an emphasis on integration between those applications and SharePoint. And it goes beyond needing to know how to use the SharePoint functionality that is baked into Office 2013: Some of Microsoft's terminology can be confusing to the uninitiated. For example, Microsoft's consumer-grade cloud storage service is called SkyDrive. But in Office 2013 (and the Office 365 suite of online applications), that term is sometimes used to refer to storage for SharePoint document libraries. Technically, the SharePoint-based technology is known as SkyDrive Pro, but Microsoft uses that and the unadorned SkyDrive inconsistently.

More on SharePoint 2013 upgrades:

Get tips on how to facilitate deployment to SharePoint 2013

Learn about SharePoint 2013's new search and collaboration features

Prepare for a SharePoint upgrade in your organization

If you're considering a migration to Office 365 along with the online version of SharePoint 2013, your training efforts initially should focus on how to navigate the online environment. The Office 365 interface takes some getting used to because it isn't dedicated solely to SharePoint. When users log into the Office 365 portal, they're presented with a dizzying array of options related to SharePoint as well as their Office 365 accounts and applications such as Exchange, Project and Microsoft's Lync unified communications platform. Once users navigate to SharePoint sites, things become normal again and using SharePoint Online is no different than working with the on-premises software -- but the startup can be a little jarring.

Of course, if your organization has never used SharePoint before and plans to start by deploying the new release, you're going to need to provide business users with a comprehensive SharePoint 2013 training program to acclimate them to the collaboration and content management system. Time to get going!

About the author: 
Brien Posey is a Microsoft MVP with two decades of IT experience. Before becoming a freelance technical writer, Posey was chief information officer for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities and a network administrator for insurance companies and the Department of Defense. Email him at Brien@posey.onmicrosoft.com.

Email us at editor@searchcontentmanagement.comand follow us on Twitter: @sContentMgmt.

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