Back in the early days of SharePoint, one of the most pressing issues for the steady growth of SharePoint environments (lovingly referred to as “sprawl”) was the difficulty in navigating these sites. And it wasn’t just that new Team Sites being created, but that you had to wade through the many SharePoint Team Site ghost towns to find what you needed. I can almost still see the tumbleweeds moving across my screen. Your team going through a reorg? Create a new site, grab what you need from the old site, and leave the rest. Back in the day, it was painful to merge and consolidate sites as the company grew and business needs changed. The result was a navigation nightmare.
Thank goodness we’ve learned from the mistakes of the past, and are much more thoughtful in how we build the latest collaborative solutions, right?
I knew there would be problems the first time I saw Office 365 Groups. Conceptually, it makes perfect sense: creating a Group provisions a shared space for a project or team, giving you a place for shared storage, a shared calendar, a shared OneNote notebook, a shared Exchange mailbox, and the ability to create permissions and policies across that Group. And then almost immediately, everyone was creating Groups without considering naming conventions, whether or not there were other Groups with duplicate goals and members, and without any structure for navigation. To paraphrase a quote from the Cold War era, our ability to create had outstripped our ability to control.
We experienced a flood of new Groups, many of which had one or two members — and which made collaboration more difficult. Because Groups can be created from within SharePoint, Outlook, Planner, Power BI, Yammer, and now within Microsoft Teams, many of our customers have expressed concerns that we have gone right back to the wild west of the early SharePoint era. Not to mention the fact that permissions and policies (and features) may be different depending on where the Group was created, which only makes things more confusing.
I love the way Benjamin Niaulin (@bniaulin) summarized Groups over on the Sharegate blog, and specifically his Groups definition: “Office 365 Groups are about centralizing membership and policies in one place, while providing the best possible user experience for its members.” Unfortunately, a confusing navigation experience is not the best possible user experience.
One of the things I really like about Office 365 is the app launcher. I know it’s been panned by some within the community, but the ability to add my own apps and sites to the app launcher is rather appealing. And then there’s the concept of “pinning” your apps or content to the navigation bar in Windows. My friends with Windows phones say it is one of their favorite features — the ability to pin what they access most frequently right to the start page.
With such great functionality in Windows and in Office 365, why is the Groups navigation so chaotic? With respect, did the product team forget about the almost two decades of experiences with SharePoint and Intranets, where the failures of global navigation were so prevalent? Are we supposed to rely on Delve to find everything?
What do you think? Where do you see Microsoft going with Groups navigation? Am I blowing this out of proportion, or is this problem also impacting your organization? I’d love to hear your feedback on the topic.
And please, take our survey on the organizational impact of Groups.