August 31st, 2010
Welcome to our SharePoint workflow development page. This is where the T-SPARC team will be recording progress of work with our Corporate ICT department whilst developing the automated course approval workflows. Information will include regular blog-style posts, links to documentation that we are developing, workflow diagrams and posts on general progress. If you have any questions please get in contact with the team via email by clicking here.
Friday November 11th 2011
Following a meeting yesterday with BCU’s Head of Project Management in Corporate ICT, several updates have been agreed that will move the system development process forward in the coming months whilst piloting the new workflows:
- The project will have made available the services of our in-house SharePoint 2010 developer over the next couple of weeks to finish all minor tweaks and adjustments to ensure the beta version that is made available to the pilot programme teams is fit for purpose (design informed from initial piloting phase of SharePoint 2007).
- Corporate ICT have agreed that in true ‘Agile’ fashion, our developer will work alongside me (Oliver) in the same physical space whilst I act in a ‘Business Analyst’ capacity. This will allow us to define and solve issues in real time and help to ensure that the developers time is spent 100% on the project during these development sessions.
- Once the software is ready for the piloting phase to begin (we envisage this being in the next couple of weeks) we have agreed that there will be a number of development windows during the process. These will be set at approximately 6 week intervals so that new requirements can be defined (with input and feedback from pilot teams) and technical solutions prepared so that once a development window is reached, the developer will have a set of definitive business requirements to work from.
- As a caveat to the above development window structure, we have also agreed that if an issue becomes obstructive or starts to impede the programme development process in any way (due to unforeseen circumstances or usability issues, for example) , we will have the resources made available immediately to develop emergency solutions.
- The services of one of BCU’s Senior Project Managers for the Corporate ICT Project Office who has extensive knowledge and experience as a software tester has been made available to the project to assist with final testing and run-throughs of test scripts.
- Corporate ICT have another project that is in progress at the moment, the DAM project, (the Digital Asset Management system) which will deliver a single, University-wide repository system for the Universities video, audio, document and image files. It was suggested that T-SPARC project members have successfully gained buy-in to the project from a wide range of stakeholders (both internally, and externally) and have valuable experiences to share that could assist with the effective implementation and embedding of other CICT projects within the institution in the future. Conversations around this topic will continue.
Again, positive momentum in the right direction and further evidence of the deep institutional buy-in that the project continues to develop as we transition into the piloting phase.
Thursday 5th May 2011
As previously reported, under the guidance of our Corporate ICT department, the project team have been developing the automated SharePoint workflow architecture using Scrum development. This is an agile technique used in software development. This development approach allows for an iterative design of the product where functionality and specification can emerge from stakeholder consultation and user testing. We are finding that it fits in extremely well with our stakeholder focussed approach and are already reaping the benefits of the flexible framework.
The T-SPARC team, joined by our three SharePoint developers from BCU, Vinay Patel, Mo Ilyas and Steven Rollason conducted a Skype video call with Dr Michael Sankey (Director of Leaning and Teaching Support Unit) & Peter Dobson (Head SharePoint Developer) from the University of Southern Queensland, Australia on Wednesday 4th May 2011. Topics discussed included:
- Initial problems with set up, could USQ give us any tips.
- Usability, user interactions with the system, was there any initial resistance to using SharePoint? How was this managed?
- User perceptions. How did /do staff receive the system?
- Top things that they like
- Top things that they do not like
- Single point of entry for data, Could USQ give any examples, eg at BCU, module/course descriptor, prospectus, handbook etc, all use identical data in different documents that will need to be drawn from a single source. How was this addressed?
- Should forms be web based, or infopath? We have initially decided to go with web based initially but could USQ tell us about their experiences?
- What have you done to implement adding modules from other courses, if a module runs across two different programmes, how are these two identical modules managed?
- How do ensure that you are not duplicating provision? Is there a search facility that users can browse, if so, can go into detail, how do you ensure metadata is coherent across different courses and faculties?
- How do other courses get notified when changes are being made to the original, how is change initiated to other courses, do they demerge the versions when a duplicate, or link is produced?
- Should all module documentation be kept in a central repository that can be searched by individuals designing a course? Is this something that USQ have experience of? How is this searched and how is the documentation tagged etc? To what extent does the system prevent duplication of modules? How do staff search modules before pre initiating course design process? Do USQ have a set system for defining course meta data?
Members of the project team are aware that it is essential to make the user interface as simple and user friendly as possible. Forms and web pages need to be easily navigable and workflows integrated seamlessly behind the scenes. A view shared by Michael Sankey and colleagues during the Skype call.
We were initially going to get course teams to upload documentation, such as module descriptors saved as Word documents into a ‘documents for discussion‘ folder. Once discussions had taken place around the individual files (using discussion forums automatically generated for each new document uploaded) and collaboration on the production of documentation between members of the course team and the appointed ‘Lead Academic Assessor’ had taken place, the files would then be approved by a programme director to be moved into the ‘definitive documentation’ folder which would be the finalised version that would be officially approved.
USQ suggested that breaking large documents down into smaller chunks, and using infopath forms (or web forms in our case) to collect bits of information and then compile them into a finalised document behind the scenes may be a better way to engage with academic staff.
Following a debrief session after the meeting with USQ, the development team decided to act in an agile manner and change the focus of development away from using rigid document libraries, to a web form system that will bring several benefits.
- The ability to bring (for example) module descriptor forms up as a web form template using MS SilverLight. We were concerned that using a web form instead of a document might mean that information could be lost more easily if not saved at regular intervals. Silverlight prompts users if they try and close down windows without saving, a better and safer solution we feel to using document libraries.
- The module descriptors can be broken down into smaller sections that will be used as tabs across the top of the form. The tab that is being worked on will be editable, any additional tabs opened would appear as pop-ups that were read-only. This will allow staff to work on an area of the module descriptor, whilst referencing other parts of the document, without having to scroll down through a multi page document.
- Underneath each field on the document will be a discussion forum where members of the course team and Lead Academic Assessors can communicate on the documentation being developed. We felt that using the forms in this way to facilitate discussion was a better idea than having an associated discussion forum attached to each document. When we looked at how staff currently communicate on documentation during the process currently we realised that they liked to use ‘track changes’ so that comments could be associated with specific parts of the document, and discussions could take place within the document. We feel that using the forms is the best way of replicating current user practices.
- KIS (Key Information Set) data will also be collated on the module descriptor forms at relevant points.
- Once the module descriptor forms have been completed (along with the associated KIS data), the programme director or staff member with relevant permissions will click a button to finalise the document. This will trigger SharePoint to collect data from appropriate fields within the form and produce two documents:
- The finalised module descriptor which will be converted into a .PDF and stored in a ‘definitive documentation’ folder ready for the final stage of the automated workflow where approval is conveyed.
- The KIS document that will be stored in another document library, downloadable to students supplied with a URL.
The form templates are being designed and work on the development of the web forms will commence after the next end of sprint meeting (Fri 6th May 2011). Initial testing of workflows, interface, and forms should commence by the project team at the end of the next sprint (D) which finishes Fri 13th May 2011.
More information to follow.
Thursday 14th April
- Funding for CICT contractor has been confirmed and has been employed on a 6 month fixed term contract
- Document life-cycle process mapping completed
- Business functionality workflows completed for first half of stages that are currently being worked on
- User matrix completed (for permission levels)
- Stages of design and approval identified, these have been used to define the project scrums
- Stage matrix completed to augment business functionality process maps with required additional detail
- Scrum development methodology has been adopted by the team for this phase of the T-SPARC project
- Project development team has been bolstered by an additional member of CICT staff. SP contractor is now working with 2 BCU staff in the configuration of SP2010 and development of T-SPARC workflows
- New process mapping exercise completed that ties in macro business level process mapping, business functionality stage worflows, document life cycle, stage matrix and user matrix
- T-SPARC development team are now using Skype to facilitate daily conversations via chat messages, and the ‘share-screen’ functionality to discuss progress and any issues that may arise. This is leading to a very agile and responsive development process
- Work on prototype continues and the team are confident that a delivery date of May 27th for the beta version is still achievable
Wednesday 16th March 2011
Initial progress is good. The 27th May 2011 has been set as the delivery date of the first iteration of our automated workflow for course design (new courses only initially). CICT are confident they can deliver to this date. An additional member of staff has been appointed on a 6 month fixed term contract to oversee the work with SharePoint at BCU. Initially he will be configuring the servers to run SP 2010 on them. This work is now almost completed and he will turn his attention to the work with T-SPARC. It has been proposed that he will be funded 50% by T-SPARC, and 50% by CICT although this is still to be confirmed. It is also envisaged that the contractor will train members of CICT to take over the role of administrators for the workflows [and SharePoint servers] after his 6 month contract finishes. This training aspect of the contractors post will ensure and embed sustainability for the project post JISC funding.
After an initial meeting with Oliver, members of CICT have taken away the workflow diagrams and also ‘form templates’ to begin work on some initial dummy template screens (using Visual Studio) to allow members of pilot teams to get a feel for and give early feedback on the system being designed. The form templates document the information that will be required to be inputted on each screen. Hyper-links within screens will be active to give a feel of the final product. It is hoped that some work on the basic layouts of the form templates will have been completed by Friday 18th March when we have our next meeting arranged. Update to follow.