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Better Sharing is Better Caring

Mike Homol

Mike Homol

Principal Consultant @ ThreeWill

As the PnP Weekly adage goes, "Sharing is Caring". So I posit the following: does this imply that "Better Sharing is Better Caring?" You be the judge. 😜

Current state of knowledge sharing - it's great!

The state of sharing in the development world, particularly thanks to the gains of open source over the years, has never been stronger. We can push code to GitHub almost instantaneously. We have lots of ways of describing our code to others using markdown files, typically at the root of our solution. Maybe we've even gone the distance and built out a set of GitHub pages. In it we have real writeups on specific features with example snippets of code or showing how to use our product.

But can it be better?

Have you ever felt like there's almost too much to learn and to unpack? Developers are expected to move faster than ever and know more than ever. How do you move quickly when you're jumping into a new technology or project without feeling overwhelmed? Is there more that we can add to our tool belt to assist with knowledge sharing, documentation or investigation? Allow me to throw at you 2 new technologies to assist in this endeavor: Jupyter Labs and CodeTour.

Jupyter Labs

Jupyter Labs comes from the Python world of data science. But it has moved far beyond just that. Essentially, it leverages Python to allow for different languages to have a runnable kernel against a jupyter notebook. What this gives you is something quite powerful and cool. It's a web application that allows you to create and share documents that contain live code, equations, visualizations and narrative text.

I once described it to my team as this: imagine having a wiki with runnable code snippets directly in the wiki. One of my teammates, upon seeing a demo for the first time, described it in a somewhat opposite way: it's like code with way better commenting. Either way you look at it, it's certainly more powerful that just code or just documentation.

Getting Jupyter Labs set up

Jupyter's site has instructions to install here. But just doing that isn't going to be as powerful, especially if you're a Microsoft developer. Jupyter's base install is a Python notebook that can run in the Kernel, We want to deal in things like C# and PowerShell. So lets add that to kernel using .Net Interactive. Personally, I think Scott Hanselman's instructions here may be your best bet, especially if you're on Windows. This means you'll need Anaconda installed first (remember all this is based on Python).

PowerShell Core

As you've probably already caught on, this is Python and cross-platform. This means we Microsoft folks need to stick with all things Core. .Net interactive's notebooks give us C#, F# and PowerShell Core though, so we have some fun things we can do. This does mean that the PnP PoSH folks are on the outside looking in, until it supports PowerShell Core. But hopefully that's coming very soon. So check out what we can do using PowerShell Core, in the examples below, and hopefully that will get your mind spinning about other things you could do, including when PnP gets added to PS Core.

Azure CLI example

So keeping in mind that we are sticking to PowerShell Core, I whipped up a few examples of utilizing other CLI's with PowerShell to do some computing. Let's start with Azure CLI. Below is something simple. I just copied the MS documentation for getting started with the CLI into a notebook.

It's a totally different way to imagine documentation. Allow readers to instantly see the results, in the context of their own data!

Office 365 CLI example

Let's look at another aspect of using these notebooks: helping your team get something done. In this example, I've crafted some instructions to give to someone to create a site with the same theme that I made inside my tenant. Check it out.

Code Tour

Let's end with a bang. I have absolutely fallen in love with this next one: CodeTour. It's pretty new extension for VS Code and allows for providing a tour of your solution. As someone who has a passion for learning and teaching, I can't think of a better way to handle the onboarding experience for coders than a guided tour. And there are many other applications too. Recently, the PnP team used Code Tour to assist with the SPFx Project Upgrade. I'm sure once you play around with it, you will also think of new applications for it.

Install the CodeTour VS Code extension

Get the extension here. I'm assuming that you already have VS Code. 😜 Also, a shout out to Jonathan Carter, the brains behind this. He's very receptive to feedback too so hit him up.

CodeTour example

I'll stay on point here and keep within the realm of PowerShell. Here's something I did recently for a PnP Provisioning Script for a client.

As you can see, it's a wonderful and powerful way to onboard or to simply amp up your documentation for a piece of code or for a script like this one.


Hopefully I've provided you some new thought-starters for better ways to share information. These technologies and others should become part of our best practices tool bag. They allow for easier explanation of code, faster results in collaboration, simpler paths to onboarding and so much more. Please take the time to consider how you might use these solutions on your next project.

The trick to migrating list parts on a page with custom views with PnP

Mike Homol

Mike Homol

Principal Consultant @ ThreeWill

Adventures in PnP PowerShell provisioning templates

Has this ever happened to you? I had built a custom list with a custom view. To be more precise, I had basically lifted Chris Kent's sample here for a custom FAQ and dropped this on the page and the client was thrilled with it just as it is. Thanks Chris! Here's what the FAQ page looked like on the template site:

The way an FAQ should look
Not a bad looking FAQ list, right?

But this is just the beginning! This was my template. I need lots of sites to have this same FAQ page as a starting point, and it needs to look this good too.

So, onto provisioning with Powershell and PnP! At first I was running this:

Get-PnPProvisioningTemplate -Out $templateFull -Verbose -PersistBrandingFiles `
-PersistPublishingFiles -IncludeAllClientSidePages -Force
Apply-PnPProvisioningTemplate -Path $templateFull

Looks familiar right? Well pretty much everything was working great except for this:

No bueno FAQ
Not so good. Also don't focus on the color difference lol

What the heck was going on here? The view and the list were migrating just fine, but that view was not getting applied! Or, was it? I noticed this in the List part properties:

FAQ Properties
Something is amiss

See anything off? Nothing is selected in the view drop down, even though it is selected in the my template site.

Acting on a Hunch

So here was my hunch. Perhaps, the pages are getting deployed before the custom list and custom view, sooo when the page gets made, there's no view to select, which is why it looks like the above. I acted on this hunch, by doing the following:

I split out just the FAQ list portion from the full Get-PnPProvisioningTemplate - essentially doing 2 Gets: one for the list only and one for everything else. Here's what that looked like:

Get-PnPProvisioningTemplate -Out $templateFull -Verbose -PersistBrandingFiles `
-PersistPublishingFiles -IncludeAllClientSidePages -Force
Get-PnPProvisioningTemplate -Out $templateListOnly -Verbose -Handlers Lists `
-ListsToExtract "FAQ" -Force

Now you have 2 files. But there's 1 trick to this, if you want it to work in your favor. You need to open up the XML file for everything, and delete just the ListInstance node for the list (in my case, FAQ) from the XML file. So you can't easily do this all in one full script. You'd have to keep your pulls separate from your applies because of this manual intervention.

Then I applied my 2 files separately as well, starting with the lists first:

Apply-PnPProvisioningTemplate -Path $templateListOnly
Apply-PnPProvisioningTemplate -Path $templateFull

And, viola! My FAQ list was displaying as expected on the page, because the view was already found for the web part property because it already existed.

Thoughts on Customer-Centric Nav

Mike Homol

Mike Homol

Principal Consultant @ ThreeWill


Recently, I was tasked with discovering the needs of a customer in order to assess their current state in SharePoint Online and needs for the future. This was for a collection of technology groups that performed a wide array of services for other employees within the company. Early on, we knew that much of what we were evaluating was a lack of access to these services via SharePoint, so much would be created for the first time. Additionally, for the content that did exist, there was a lack of understanding in where the items could be found. Another interesting issue was the lack of understanding of the functions of these groups. Basically, a number of interesting problems, but largely centering around the employees being serviced, or their customers, if you will.

To the Hub!

Based on the feedback, particularly around wanting consistency and knowing that there would be a hurdle with getting folks to know where to go, we decided early on to use a Hub for the job. It solves so many issues out of the box: consistent look-and-feel, consistent navigation, the ability to roll up content from spoke sites and search scoped at the hub level, among other benefits. But just because we now have a spot for folks to come and a place where maybe things look better and more consistent, it doesn't mean that they will suddenly know what to do. Part of the art of helping folks with SharePoint intranets or portals has very little to do with the tooling that is or isn't available in the 365 platform. Much of it is a User Experience and an Information Architecture problem. This may be my heavy marketing background at play, but it felt critical to me to deal with the hub needing to be customer-centric from the get-go, particularly the navigation.

Ways to Solve Navigation

There were many thoughts on the navigation, both from stakeholders and discovery. The default thinking around the Hub navigation was to break it up by the various domains or spheres of teams that were solving problems or serving customers. One of my first thoughts on navigation was to look into taking it towards a task-based navigation, as it seemed like customers may only know what thing they may need to do. In my UX research, I encounter the following 2 articles that I wanted to highlight:

Object-focused vs Task-focused Design

Audience-Based Navigation: 5 Reasons to Avoid It

These are great resources for gaining insights into user habits and trends. So what is actually the best way to have a navigation that keeps the customer at the forefront?

Topic-based = Customer-centric

The bottom-line is that typically task-based navigation can be very confusing to most users. So that was a wash. What becomes clear from UX research is that there isn't always a silver bullet. But UX is an iterative process. So let's find a solid starting point. Based on those articles and knowing that we still needed information to be somewhat grouped by communications site spokes - we still need to be thinking about the authoring challenges too - it seemed like our best starting point would be to go with topic-based navigation. This would allow the sub-options to still be domain or sphere-based, but should provide a customer with the terminology that they can relate to. The customer needs to see words that represent the things that have brought them out to the hub.


Let's look at a quick example of one of these domains: a group that we will call PMG. They were responsible for presenting resources pertinent to PMs and the PMI certifications including in-house governance resources. Originally, we had a top-level navigation called "PMG" with sub-options. But instead we landed here:

As you can see, the topic of "Project Support" aims to be a topic that should gravitate these PM users' eyes to the item that matters most to them. Is it fool-proof? No. But it's a solid start.

Final thoughts

IA and UX is 2 parts science and 1 part art, in my humble opinion. I have worked on countless websites (namely at Brown Bag Marketing) over the past 10 years with Creative and UX resources. I've seen the sheer amount of different opinions mixed with a bevy of different facts, which also tend to change. But some things have remained true: the customer needs to be at the forefront and the calls to action need to be clear and take precedence. These are just some random thoughts in that arena. Hope you found it useful.