SharePoint as a Documentation Tool; Life Beyond the "Big Honkin' Binder"
Procedure writing often results in the "Big Honkin Binder" that is
not read, referenced or revised. Microsoft SharePoint offers an
alternative medium to create procedures through its wiki
functionality. Alberta's Ministry of Advanced Education, has
developed a wiki-based eProcedure Manual that documents how IT
contract resources are engaged by using 'out-of-the-box' Microsoft
SharePoint technologies. As a result, contract managers have access
to online procedures that include process flow graphics, detailed
steps, a database of frequently asked questions and more detailed
guidelines for specific activities. Access to the eProcedures can
be scaled from read only to full contribution in addition to a full
audit trail of all changes made. The eProcedure methodology can be
applied to most business applications. An online side bar discusses
Stephen Page's "18 Decisions to Make Before Starting to Write a
Procedure" and another discusses the impact that John (Jack) M.
Carroll's work has had on instruction manuals through the concept
of communication Minimalism.
The Problem of the "Big Honkin' Binder"
Some organizations have mastered
the art of documentation by applying discipline and technology to
record their procedures. Other organizations coast on their 'oral
traditions' to write procedures with perhaps some dusty binders as
evidence of past efforts. 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?
Figure 1: Dilbert (1994-12-08)
and the "Big Honkin' Binder".
DILBERT © 1994 Scott Adams. Used By
permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK. All rights reserved.
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 that Alberta's Ministry of
Advanced Education (AE) adopted to document the recruitment of 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:
SharePoint 101 - The Wiki
- SharePoint 2010 (or a more recent version if available to
- An understanding of the concepts of libraries and administrator
privileges to create a wiki library on your site (or engage an
administrator who can do this for you).
- Familiarity with creating wikilinks between pages using the
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.
Figure 2: 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
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. The standards AE
- "How-To"-[SUBJECT NAME]: Are used to
describe procedures or guidelines.
- "Wisdom"-[SUBJECT NAME]: Describes one
- "Infra"-[SUBJECT NAME]: Describes a
piece of infrastructure such as a SharePoint List.
- "File"-[FILE NAME]: Defines a file,
- "Template"-[SUBJECT NAME]: Used as a
starting point for a new page.
How-To and Wisdom
How-To pages 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 practices" are
Wisdom pages 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, File and
Infra and File pages describe
infrastructure and files. One of the challenges of managing a
business process is how do you describe the tools used? An infra
page may describe a SharePoint list or the look and feel of a
process flow diagram. File pages describe a document such as
Template pages 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.
- Avoid spaces in page names, use "-" or "_" instead (a "space"
appears as "%20" in the URL).
- 12 point font is the best compromise between online and printed
- Start with fewer pages built from standards and then add more
- By using hints and summaries, try to keep your pages to about 2
pages printed (see "Side Bar: Where Have All the Instruction
Manuals Gone?" for more on less).
- Bonus Marks: Add the following 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.
SharePoint 201 - Images
- Comfort building wiki pages (SharePoint 101).
- An image library to manage images on the site.
- Knowledge of how to insert an image into a page.
- Very basic image management skills such as capturing 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
- 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,
however PNG images are larger and will take longer to upload.
- You can use graphic software, but Microsoft Visio and Paint are
the most versatile.
- Microsoft Visio is the champion of developing process
- 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 to
the current date each time the image changes.
SharePoint 301 - The FAQ Library, Lookups and Views
Prerequisites, you have…
- Basic knowledge of creating wiki pages (SharePoint 101 and
- 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
- Understanding and the ability to create public views for
- Knowledge of how to insert a web part into a page (e.g.
inserting a list into a library).
By just 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.
Below is a fictional example of one question in AE's FAQ Library
dealing with sole sourcing a contract:
In the example above, a lookup
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
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.
The diagram adjacent demonstrates
this circular (but powerful) function. The course-tutor (aka your
SharePoint administrator) can help with this. Also use this crib
note to understand the circular relationship: eProcedure
page → FAQ (via a Lookup Column
→ eProcedure page (via a Webpart/FAQ list
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 all questions periodically.
- Bonus Marks: Add other columns to the FAQ
Library such as 'Status/Review by' or 'Accountable' (the person
responsible to keep the question current and accurate).
SharePoint 401 - Securing the Site and Upgrades
Prerequisites, you have…
- A good system administrator or the skills to manage
- An Infrastructure eProcedure to document how to secure your
SharePoint has good out-of-the-box
security 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 up grades.
Fortunately, everything described in this article is standard
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 an FAQ Library or uploaded
a new document to a library.
- Encourage users to correct minor errors (e.g. spelling, grammar
- 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).
The Life and After Life of an eProcedure
Technology for developing
procedures will not gain senior management support 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 while 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 the orientation of new employees, periodic staff
certifications or even amusing exercises during meetings.
If you would like to learn more, visit www.myorgbio.org.
Templates and other materials discussed in this article are
available to download. For their support and permission to share
this content, a grateful gratitude is extended to AE.
Side Bar: 18 Decisions to Make Before Starting to Write
How to write a procedure manual is
beyond the scope of this article. Such writing is a hard and
thankless task but resources are available to help you.
One such resource is Stephen B.
who has a series of books on the topic. Page recommends making the
following 18 decisions before starting to write. Certainly if you
have at least a partial answer to most of these questions your
procedure manual (in SharePoint or not) has a much higher chance of
B. Page's 18 Decisions to Make Before Writing the First
- What is your justification for writing policies and
- Who is the sponsor or manager that endorses/supports your role
as a policies and procedures writer?
- Who manages the policies and procedures department in your
- Who writes policies and procedures and why?
- Will you have printed manuals and/or online network manuals, or
- Will there be a separate policy manual and a separate procedure
- What is your numbering system for your policy and procedure
- Where will the content come from? Who will decide how to
research policies and procedures topics?
- What is the writing format for your policies and
- Are forms included, or referenced from, in your policies and
- Who reviews the policies and procedures?
- Who approves the policies and procedures?
- Who distributes the policies and procedures?
- Who communicates the published policies and procedures?
- Who trains the published policies and procedures?
- Who audits the published policies and procedures?
- Who monitors the published policies and procedures to ensure
they are reasonably up-to-date?
- Who recommends improvements to current policies and
The Evolution of the Manual.
Courtesy of Popular Science and
Design. Used with Permission, all rights
use with permission. All rights reserved.
Side Bar: Where Have All the Instruction Manuals Gone?
When you last bought an electronic
device did you notice something was missing, the instruction
manual? Sure, there was as 'get started' guide in about 15
languages but probably not an instruction booklet. What happened to
Ask John (Jack) M. Carroll who has
influenced packaging through his work evaluating computer manuals.
In an email interview, Carroll says: "The basic idea of
minimalist information is that people cannot effectively use
comprehensive manuals; they make all sorts of errors. But people
are outstanding at taking hints and reasoning. Once you have that
insight, the design of information is a totally different
For more on this (and its dark
side), read the February 2015 edition of Popular Science:
"Instructions Not Included; What does the disappearance of the
common manual say about us?". Author Mark Svenvold writes:
'Writing a manual from a minimalist point of view harnesses the
reader's active engagement. Short, succinct manuals allow the user
to quickly gain a sense of control and autonomy that inspires
further learning.' By extension, a minimalist procedure is the
exact opposite of the "Big Honkin' Binder".
So how does Minimalism impact a
SharePoint wiki? The wiki is highly searchable, a key element of
Minimalism. In addition, an FAQ database separates the detail from
the procedure. Jack Carroll may have taken your stereo manual - but
his ideas can also help you write a better procedure. Adapted from:
all rights reserved, accessed 2016-08-31. Alternatively read: Minimalism Beyond the Nurenberg
Funnel, 2003, edited by John M. Carroll.
About the Author
Frank Potter is a professional accountant (CMA) and holds a MBA
from the University of Athabasca. He is currently with the Ministry
of Alberta Advanced Education and is the Director of Strategic
Planning for Information Management and Technology. Previously he
held roles, typically at the Director level, within governmental
and consulting organizations. To contact Frank, visit www.myorgbio.org
or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
© FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT INSTITUTE OF CANADA 2017. ALL RIGHTS