Contract Tracking Part I

A few months back, a general counsel of a non-profit organization wanted to see examples of how their legal and contracts team could use SharePoint.  Our team built this proof of concept to show how SharePoint forms and workflows can be used to build a system that tracks contracts and invoices against those contract.  This is part one of the video series.  Part two of the video can be found here.

 

The transcript for the video is below…

Welcome to Part one of a two-part video series on Using SharePoint for Contract Tracking. Hi, I’m Dean, a SharePoint expert at Xgility, and in this video I’m going to demonstrate how to use a document library in SharePoint to store contracts and to capture information about each contract. I am also going to demonstrate how to track changes within a contract and how to track different versions of a contract. Finally, I am going to demonstrate how views can be used to gain insights as to the status of the contracts. Let’s begin.

As you can see here, I already have a document library set up and named “Contracts.” In it, I have created several columns for collecting information about each contract. I’m collecting the name of the vendor, the contract status, the contract start and end date, the initial value of the contract, the available balance remaining on the contract, and the percentage of the value remaining on the contract. The balance remaining and percentage remaining are calculated after invoices are processed against a contract. That will be the subject of Part two of this video series.

Adding a new contract to the library is very easy. Simply click “Upload,” choose a file, and click “Okay.” You will then be prompted to add some more information about the contract. This is a very important step, as this additional information is needed when processing invoices against the contract. In this case, I copy the name of the contract and paste it into the title field, then select a vendor from the drop-down and change the contract status if I need to. However, in this case, I am not going to. I enter the contract start and end dates, then enter the initial value of the contract and the available balance, which is the same as the initial value, as no invoices have been processed against this contract as of yet. Then I click “Save” to complete the contract upload process.

Now, lets take a look at how track changes works in Microsoft Word 2013. In reviewing the contract, I see that there are a few changes that the vendor needs to make before I accept it. There’s a line about where the services were rendered that needs to be removed and I also want the vendor to add a title next to Contract 1 at the top of the page. The vendor is going to make the changes and email them to me. At this point, the vendor has made the changes and sent me the updated document, which I have now downloaded onto my computer. I can update the contract by re-uploading it into the library, replacing the existing file. Notice how the name of the updated contract is the same as the original version. There is no need to manually change the name of a contract to reflect different versioning. SharePoint takes care of version control automatically in the background, again, so there is no need to change the name of the file manually. I do have to re-enter the information about the contract and click “Save” to complete the upload process.

Lets open the file in Microsoft Word 2013 and see that the changes have been tracked… Everything looks good. I’m going to accept all the changes and save the document to complete the process. To view the version history of the contract, click in the white space between the two columns to select that contract line item. Then click the Files tab, and click version history. As you can see, there are two versions of the file. The original one the vendor sent and the one that I just uploaded. You can use Version History to use or restore previous versions. In our case, we’re okay. I’m going to go ahead and close the dialogue box.

Right now there are just 5 contracts in the library, so it’s fairly easy to analyze what we have. However, in a few weeks, we’re expecting to have hundreds of contracts, and it will be much more difficult to analyze their status. That’s where list views come in. Views let you non-destructively reorganize what contracts are displayed.  This is similar to a sort in Microsoft Excel. In the library, I have three different views that I’ve created. All Documents, which is the default view created automatically, which shows all of the contracts. The second view is called “Below 20% Remaining,” which shows all of the contracts whose percent remaining is less than or equal to 20%. In this case, there are no results because all of the contracts are above 20% remaining. The third view is called “expiring within 30 days.” That shows you all the contracts whose end date is within 30 days. As you can see, views allow you to look at your information in different ways.

SharePoint libraries are a perfect solution for storing and tracking your contracts. In Part 2 of the series, I will demonstrate how to process invoices against a contract and automatically update its available balance and its percent remaining. Thank you for reading.

If you have addition questions are would like help automating your workflow in SharePoint, Office 365, or SharePoint Online please contact us.

 

Author: Dean Virag

Editor: Alex Finkel

Creating Excel Surveys in Office 365

Are you looking for a way to take a survey of people in your office, customers, or partners?  While there are many ways to accomplish this with SharePoint and other SaaS technologies, this is a simple way to get survey results if you are not a SharePoint power user.

The image below is what a survey would like from your browser.  We have used Excel surveys to collect user stories from large organizations where we could not collect all of them in person.

Creating Excel Surveys Office 365 SharePoint

 

The transcript from this video is below…

Hello again, it’s the SharePoint Experts from Xgility here to give you another tip to help you achieve transformational results in your business. Today I will be talking to you about a feature known as Excel Surveys in Office 365. Frequently the folks at Xgility design forms for our customers for use in SharePoint. Many customers are coming to us with questions about InfoPath and also asking us for ways for them to develop simple forms without the use of SharePoint Designer or other more complex tools.

This example is how you can create an easy survey using the Excel Survey feature in Office 365 or your OneDrive. You’ll start out by browsing to your OneDrive, clicking on new document, and then clicking on Excel Survey. You’ll be asked to give your file a name.

The next step is to add your questions. You simply go in and click on, “Add your first question,” and you can answer a question yes or no. You can provide choices, text, or a paragraph of text. Then simply go through and add questions you think are important to your survey. At the end you’ll be asked to share your survey.

If you’d like a link for what a completed survey is going to look like to the user getting the link, you can contact us and we can give you a quick example of an Excel Survey.

In the last step you’ll be able to open your Excel workbook and see the results of your survey and in this case, you can see a sample survey that we created. Questions related to requirements for SharePoint, and yes this does work on any browser including an iPhone, iPad, PC, or Mac. You can use this Excel file either to show the results in a beautiful graph to the folks in your department or you can see this data in real-time. This Microsoft Excel file is like any other file in your OneDrive and you can choose to share it or give it permissions, just like any other document in your OneDrive, SharePoint online, or in Office 365.

I want to thank you for your time today. This has been the SharePoint experts from Xgility here to give you another tip to help you achieve transformational results in your business. If you have questions about Excel Surveys or need help with Office 365 or SharePoint, feel free to contact us.

 

Author: Kurt Greening

Editor: Alex Finkel

How To Use Agile Email To Manage Customer Expectations

The Agile Development Methodology is a fairly well known, proven method for taking a large deliverable and breaking it down into smaller pieces (Sprints).  Then, using an iterative, incremental approach, each Sprint is completed in a relatively short period of time.  This allows the goal to be reached in tiny, flexible, responsive steps instead of one long, protracted assembly-line effort that typically takes longer and doesn’t allow for changes in requirements along the way.

That is an embarrassing oversimplification, but it lays the groundwork for a situation I found myself in recently.  Our teams use Agile when managing large development projects and our SharePoint teams use a modified agile approach in their SharePoint Center of Excellence Methodology.

In this case, I needed to interact with a particularly challenging customer.  I’ll call her “Gina” – not her real name.  None of my previous encounters with Gina resulted in a satisfactory result.  Miscommunications, misunderstandings, and misaligned expectations made encounters with her very stressful and always left me wishing I could find a way to successfully meet her requirements without things spiraling out of control.

I’m fairly skilled when it comes to communication.  I listen, I’m patient, I pay attention, I ask questions, and I try to make sure I understand the goal as well as the reasoning behind it.  But Gina somehow manages to push my buttons.  None of those things seem to work on my previous interactions with this customer.

Gina’s “requests” usually follow a pattern.  She stomps into my office (yes, she actually stomps) and comes to an abrupt halt at my desk.  With a stern frown, she demands that I deliver a specific result to her, immediately.  Usually, she does this about 3 minutes after having sent me an email with the exact same requirement spelled out in conflicting detail.

I realized what I really needed was a new communication tool.  I decided to create my own, which I call “Agile Email.”

I was actually reading Gina’s email when she made her customary appearance at my desk.  After she announced that she had just sent me an email, but before she could begin making any demands, I immediately thanked her, informed her that I was reviewing that email right now, and that I would respond as soon as I had a chance to finish looking it over.

It took more than that to get her to go away and give me time to read her email, but once she left I decided it was time to change the way I handle her requests.

My approach was very simple, and surprisingly effective.

I began by assigning a number to each and every request, demand, or requirement that she listed in her email.  She actually had started doing this herself, but was inconsistent in breaking out each item, some items didn’t have any numbers, and some of the numbers were out of order.  I corrected those things and began my reply.

This is where the simple magic came in.  All I did, over and over, for the next few days while we each hit Reply and Send, was to only provide status updates on the numbered items.  No other comments.  No additional information.

I always copied the numbered items to the top of my reply then responded directly to those things.

I gave her status, I asked questions, I provided clarification.  But most importantly, once I indicated that I had completed a numbered item I asked her to confirm.  Once she confirmed I NEVER referred to that item again for the remainder of our email conversation.  NEVER.

All subsequent replies that I made only referenced the remaining (open) items on the list.  I continued to give her status, ask questions and provide clarification, but only on the tasks that I had not yet completed.

This had a very interesting series of effects.

  1. I was able to focus on just what needed to be done
  2. My questions would often uncover a need to adjust the requirement and the deliverable
  3. She was getting what she asked for and was agreeing (in writing!) that I had given it to her
  4. The list kept getting smaller

At one point she latched on to two items that could not be resolved.  Both were due to scope creep.  One due to her misunderstanding, the other due to her wanting more than I could give.

Due to the extraordinary detail in our email thread I was very easily able to route her remaining concerns to my manager.  He promptly informed her that we had fulfilled (and actually surpassed) her original request, and that her supervisor was welcome to contact him directly regarding any additional concerns.

I realize this approach isn’t really all that amazing.  It’s not even a complete Agile method.  But it sure was effective!

  • Break down the request into small, Sprint-sized bites
  • Focus on just what needs to be done
  • Provide frequent status updates
  • Keep asking questions
  • Adjust your approach to meet any changes that come up
  • Get confirmation when you’ve completed something
  • Let completed items “fall off” the list
  • Bring the open items to the top and keep working on them
  • Don’t let scope creep prevent you from fulfilling the original request
  • Let upper management cover your back

 

If you would like more information, please contact us.

 

Author: Jeff Hepner

Editor: Alex Finkel and Kurt Greening