This afternoon one of our managers in my department stopped by my desk with a simple request. She wanted to be notified when a new list item was created on a custom list I had built for her about a year ago. She had set up a twice-weekly reminder in Outlook to check the list so she could process new items, but she tended to dismiss the reminders and the list would go unchecked for several weeks.
This is where I think a lot of people tend to go wrong when it comes to requests like this. My sole responsibility is to develop process and technology (mostly web-based) solutions for my department (i.e. I’m not in the IT department and my salary comes out of my department’s budget, not IT’s). At this point we could have made a big fuss over-analyzing the process and finding a better way for her to check the status of the list, or I could have dismissed her request on the grounds that an Outlook reminder should be sufficient (and I wouldn’t necessarily have been wrong to suggest that). I could have even shown her how to create an alert herself (or created one for her) that would have notified her of new items.
However, this wasn’t a high-volume list, so spending any amount of time to find ways to improve the process wouldn’t have really paid off in the long run. Telling her to just use Outlook would have been a dick move (and I try not to be a dick). And the emails for OOTB alerts confuse me, let alone end-users.
Instead I simply dropped what I was doing and said “I can do that.” Just for fun I asked her to time me. Then I created a custom workflow in SharePoint Designer that emailed her an easy-to read message with a clear and concise subject line, a brief message stating a new item had been created, a link to the item, and a link to the default list view, all formatted nicely using a branded HTML email template that I have on hand for such occasions.
That took 11 minutes.
I initiated the workflow manually on an existing item. Several minutes later she sent me some feedback stating that she would never need the link to the item itself. She also preferred a link to a filtered view that we had already created when the list was built. I removed the link to the item in the email message and replaced the default list view link with a link to the filtered view and sent another test. Less than a minute later she responded and said it looked perfect.
She had a working solution within 24 minutes of asking for it. I built the workflow right on our production intranet site on the actual list and used live data to test it (gasp!). Nobody submitted a project request form. No formal requirements gathering took place. No servers crashed. I was able to build the solution in less time than it would probably take to fill out a freaking project request form. That is the power of SharePoint.