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MVP thoughts: Office 365 Groups vs SharePoint team sites

Between all the buzzwords and the hype, the Modern, or Digital Workplace is constantly evolving and bringing along many changes to the organization and IT. As new tools and app roll out in the day to day of employees, staying on top of everything gets harder by the day. It’s all a matter of embracing change rather than fighting it!

The Microsoft ecosystem is no exception. With SharePoint and Office 365, we now have a complete collaboration structure that can be scaled to about any desired size. I asked 4 of my SharePoint and Office 365 MVP friends what exactly they think Microsoft’s solutions bring to the Modern Workplace table.

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Benjamin: Okay. So, things are changing, right? There's Office 365, once again, portals, and all these things, but one thing has been popping up a lot recently, and I know we've been having this discussion quite a bit on CollabTalk. I think I even talked with you on Pulse.

Any panel that we arrive at, we're talking about the future of collaboration. That's a buzz word, it's fine. I understand it's a buzz word, or digital workplace, but the idea of us in SharePoint have been using team sites for the longest time to get people together to work on things. That's what we're used to, that's what we know.

Now, Office 365 is introducing, or has introduced, Groups for Office 365. For those of you that don't know what Groups for Office 365 is, quickly, because I know a lot of people get confused. Essentially, it's not a thing like SharePoint, or Word, or Excel, or a portal for videos. Groups for Office 365 is a logical way to group different products that already exist in the Microsoft space.

So, they take a little piece of SharePoint, a little piece of Exchange for, say, the calendars, a little piece of Power BI for the dashboards, a little piece of a new thing called Planner coming out for task management. And they say, "Look, if you create a new group, a new team that works together, we're going to give you all these little pieces, put them together, and that's your team." And you can use what you want, but, we know this, there's a lot of things, things are changing quickly.

So, I wanted to talk to you about, a little bit, of Groups versus team site. Working together, where do you see this going? Do you recommend people to use it? Do you like the vision, where it's all headed? Does it look like Microsoft is saying, "Go this way"?

Jennifer: I love Groups, love them. It's hard, though. Should I use team site? Should I use Groups? Should I use Yammer? Most of the time, it just straight up does not matter, y'all. Use what makes sense. It really doesn't. If you're a culture that is heavily into Yammer, should you introduce Groups and cause confusion? No.

Fabian: Speak to his point. I want to interject for a minute, but I want you to follow along this line. I believe Groups is too loosely coupled. And I believe that a lot of the reason why SharePoint projects failed in the past is because it lacked governance, and Groups doesn't help around the governance conversation. There should be more control around it. It's a great idea, but I believe there should be more control around it. What do I tell my customer who has that concern?

Jennifer: Right. Very, very valid concern. You tell them, "Don't use Groups, yet." So, the concept of MVP software, so minimally viable product, is how Groups were rolled out. So, they came out at first, and it was almost a laughing stock. I felt bad, because people were like, "I can't control names. I can't control quotas, and I can't go in and see everything. Where do I turn it off?"

So, a couple months later, these pieces started rolling out, and things started coming. And I think that, at Ignite, Groups was the sleeper. Nobody knew that Groups was going to come and blow up Ignite. I didn't go to a session, or have a conversation, at Ignite, where Groups wasn't huge. And now, the latest announcement that they have about Planner, they're just able to achieve so many great things.

We'll talk about Planet, right? So, I'm new at Planet, just been there for a little bit of time. I needed a group location, not a group. I needed a location to store some stuff so I could work with a small subset of users. I ask, "Where should I put this on the Intranet?" After the third person I asked, I created a group, and we are rocking along just fine.

Fabian: It solved your problem.

Jennifer: And it worked great. I love being able to get Groups on my iPhone. So, my Group app? Holy cats, is that a nice app! I like it. Who knew phones had apps? I'm a new iPhone user. So, it's beautiful.

But I think you need a place for everything, and you need to decide, but you also need to be loose enough to let things organically happen as well. I think even if you're not using Groups, the conversation we had about devs, and always having to be prepared, and know what's coming, you have to look and see what are they doing with Groups, and know there's probably a transition time for it.

I ask Microsoft all the time when I'm with them, "What about team sites versus Groups? Let's keep having this conversation." Now, I think there's pros and cons, and goods and bads, of each. There's a million different ways to do things. Might not be right, might not be wrong, just different.

Benjamin: Sometimes, the team site's overkill.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Corey: Exactly.

Jennifer: If I have to send a group of people...I'm thinking about HR, marketing, different people. If I have to send even a champion from each one of these groups, to go into SharePoint training to learn how to create lists, to learn how to create libraries, to learn how to put web parts on pages, all they want is a calendar, and a document library and a notebook.

Corey: And some notes.

Jennifer: Why not create them a group? Again, I don't think this is one of those that we can say...and I think it's based on the way that they've rolled it out. I don't think there's a definitive "use this, not that." It's understanding and culturally...

Corey: In a year from now, that might be different.

Jennifer: It changes all the time, so you just have to know and be flexible and kind of go with it. I think Groups has a huge future. I think the Planner pieces that are coming, I still think there's things missing in terms of custom lists and different things like that.

But instead of saying, "Should I use Groups instead of team sites?" I'm actually trying to encourage people to say, "When do I need a team site? And do I really need a team site if the content that I'm working on is ultimately going to end up on a marketing site, when the product is finished?"

Fabian: That sounds like a good blog post.

Jennifer: Yeah, so it's going to go in a group while we're working on it, getting feedback, doing all of this. And then the final product of whatever that is, is going to go into a system, get tagged, get classified, and get referenced. If I put this working information in there now, I'd confuse everybody.

So, I'm using a group as a way to do that. Now, can I easily go from a group to the team site? No, not yet. But that's my thinking in some of it. So, I'm sure many of you guys have opinions, too.

Corey: Oh, for sure. I think Groups are huge. And I think, yeah, you said the administration piece, the management, all that. With it being an MVP release, we're probably on the third or fourth one if you count them up now, like things they'd done. Before, you couldn't check in the file earlier, things like that, right?

Benjamin: That's true, yeah.

Corey: And you can now, right? So keep in mind, it released with nothing. It was a library that you could do nothing on. They're going to keep adding these things. We don't know exactly what the road map says. Ignite gave us some hints on when that stuff's coming. So, if you have compliance needs now. and you must be able to do e-discovery on it or something like that, what am I going to use?

All: Team site.

Corey: Team site, Document Center, whatever, right? Records Center, use that. If that's not your needs and you just want to collaborate, put in the group, right? I think we're going to see this kind of scenario, and she made me think of that. It's for your work in progress documents now.

Where, team sites, people are always confused. "Well, are these our work in progress documents? Are these our final, official documents?" Maybe team sites are going to become more structured official documents in this kind of interim.

Fabian: Your document life cycle changes.

Corey: Yeah, maybe it's an evolution to the document life cycle. We could think about ways to do that, because I think it makes sense to keep these work in progress documents in Groups.

Benjamin: Yeah, let's remember that people right now, most of the time, and I'll be honest, I'm the first one, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive. I've seen people even here today, working on their OneDrive and then putting the documents somewhere else. So, instead of having everyone...there was a company, a nonprofit, that did an investigation. They contacted Dropbox. They had 1,600 of their users on Dropbox with their working email. That means they were working there. So, the data's gone, right?

So, I think Groups, it's not perfect. It's on its way. We're talking about some other things. But I like that, like you said, you waited three days. And then you said, "Well, I'm just going to go and create a group, and I'm going to get the thing done." And those, is it easy to move them after to team sites? That's another story, of course.

But I think that's a good story, right?

Fabian: Yes, it's a good win. I see the value in the technology, and I see the empowerment that it gives to end users. For me, my main thing is, just how do you manage it? And I believe that that story needs to be addressed, because the challenge that Microsoft has at times, as well, is that they come up with something, it's good, but they don't put the structure around it well enough, and then when users don't use it properly, then they complain. And then Microsoft adjusts again, go left and go right.

Jennifer: Well, this is a little case of having our cake and eating it, too. We want Microsoft to release stuff...

Marc: Wait, there's cake?

Jennifer: Ooh, yeah. We want Microsoft to release stuff quickly. How often do they release stuff and it's exactly what we want? So, they release things. Now, they're going to UserVoice and listening and putting in a lot of those components. If they did it differently, would we have been happier to wait two years to get something, but it had the administrative controls? What if it had the wrong controls?

Yeah. So, I think this is getting to the cycle we have to look at. The other thing is, is I think we have to embrace the fact that we are in a little bit of an unknown world. Microsoft rocked my world a couple of years ago when they killed forms, right? InfoPath, we used that all the time. Workflows, we see what's coming. I have to be able to adjust and go.

And so to me, there's what's happening. There's best practices, and then there's the real world. And you just have to find that spot in the real world that makes sense, and it may be different for each company, and that's okay. If you're starting out new, I'd really push you. I don't know that there's many starting out new right now.

But what if you started out and did a team site implementation and it maybe wasn't successful, and you didn't get the adoption that you needed? What if you go back to your users now, start asking them questions? In doing that, you may discover that accessibility, or getting to the content easier, or getting it from apps, and stuff like that was one of the things that made it not work. Well, now, Groups could be a great alternative.

So, I think it's going to be a power player. I think we're going to keep hearing about it. It's the first time that an identity is an identity, a document is a document, an event is event. You know how in Outlook, right now, and then you have a SharePoint calendar, and a list item is...It was a calendar to the end user, but it's not a calendar item, and they're really not the same, and they don't work. So, this is fixing some of those issues. And so I think we're going to keep seeing integration and keep seeing pieces.

So, if you're responsible for collaboration in your organization, you need to be aware of it. You need to play with it. You need to get the Office 365 trials, and you need to get into both the Office 365 Yammer technical group, where you can go beat up on Christophe and tell him what you need in Groups, or UserVoice or something like that where you can go and say, "I'm not implementing groups because of x." Someone from the product team is probably going to answer your thread and say, "Could you tell me why x is important?" And then you're going to start dialogues and get those answers, yeah.

Marc: I think there's a couple of points that are important here, that we may be missing. One is, we're all freaks. We're way out in front of the adoption curve, right?

Jennifer: Speak for yourself.

Marc: We are all freaks. Now, we hang around with people like us, right? And we're always talking about the latest and the greatest. And we think, at least, that we can see somewhat where a collaboration is going, okay?

I work with some...I'm not picking on any particular clients here, but I know that there are people out there who are still struggling to even understand what collaboration means in an organization. There are people who are still not using team sites. There are people who still don't know how to do any of this stuff. So, the answer's very based on organizational culture, their technical capabilities, the business they're in, all sorts of other things.

So, Groups seem like they're going somewhere interesting. But for some people, they won't be interesting enough for years, right? There's no right or wrong answer. It's not a one-size-fits-all thing. So, team sites are great for some people. I think, Corey, you mentioned in a highly compliance-oriented place, Groups are not there, and they may never be there.

Corey: Never.

Marc: Never, never.

Jennifer: That N word again.

Marc: I don't think never is true.

Corey: I don't think that's true, either.

Marc: But it's not like everybody has to start using this new stuff all the time.

Benjamin: Of course.

Marc: In fact, most people would rather really not. Microsoft tends to do really well on version 3 of everything. That's been true way back since Windows 1. Windows 1 wasn't so great. Windows 3, they started to get somewhere. And that's the nature of software. It improves as you start to understand where it should go. So, I think Groups are great.

The thing that people really are struggling with, and we talked about this on CollabTalk last week or whenever it was, is that people see too many options. They see Yammer. They see Groups. They see team sites. They see all the other things that I can't even think of right now, and they don't know what to do.

And so having a decision tree of some sort, which you could easily write for us, right?

That would help a lot of people because they're really just trying to figure out...we do this all the time. We can just go, "Yup, you need a team site." But most people can't do that.

Benjamin: Yeah, because we're used to it.

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