SharePoint Is Half Full – Learn About SharePoint Lists

In the first blog of this series, Do You See SharePoint As Half Full Or Half Empty?, I suggested that most SharePoint users do not understand the full potential of the platform due to a lack of training.

Several areas that I mentioned being underutilized included:

  • Custom Lists
  • Notifications and Workflow
  • Security

In this post, I’d like to focus in on what I feel are some of the powerful features and benefits that can be experienced by creating and using Custom Lists in SharePoint.

What is a Custom List? A custom list is one to many columns of associated data. Each row in the list might represent a unique employee and each column in the row would capture different information about the employee including their name and other relevant data.

Think Excel Spreadsheet, but a web-based spreadsheet that is accessible by the whole organization.

For example, what if you needed to ensure that every new employee completed the appropriate paperwork (i.e. employee contract, benefits) and received the appropriate resources (i.e. desk, computer) to be able to function in their new job. To accomplish this task, you could create a custom list that consists of the following columns:

  • ID, number
  • Last Name, text
  • First Name, text
  • Middle Name, text
  • Hire Date, date
  • Signed Employee Contract Date, date
  • Completed Benefit Enrollment Package Date, date
  • Completed New Employee Orientation Date, date
  • Received Desk Assignment, yes/no
  • Received Computer, yes/no
  • Type of Computer, choice (desktop, laptop, tablet)
  • Reporting Manager, people picker

I’m sure you can think of other pieces of data that would be helpful or beneficial, but for our purpose here, this should suffice. In this simple example, we defined fields to store a number, text, date and yes/no. In addition, we included a choice field to capture the type of computer the new employee would need. You can imagine if this was a plain text field that you would get a number of different descriptions based on the person entering the date. Choice fields (where the choices that show up in the drop-down are defined as part of the column definition) and Lookup Fields (where the options in the drop-down list come from a column in another list) are great ways to provide a finite number of input options and to ensure consistency among people entering the data. Lastly, we included a People Picker column to capture the Manager of the new employee. People Picker columns provide a list of employees. This list can come from a custom SharePoint group or even from the Corporate Active Directory. The main takeaway is that People Picker columns allow the opportunity to specify a Person with the option to display different types of information about the person including their name, email and other information that is available.

Having created a custom list to store my Employee On-boarding data, I can begin to reap the benefits.

First of all, I get a data input screen that enforces fields that I configured as required when adding the columns. The screen shot below demonstrates a typical input/edit screen that you get for free with SharePoint. Required fields are denoted by a red asterisk.


Secondly, I can surface this data easily in the SharePoint site for others to see if they have the right permissions. Below is a typical view of SharePoint list data surfaced on the home page of a sample site.


I can also begin to filter down the data to meaningful view. For example, if I need to see what employees have laptops, I can filter the list using the “Type of Computer” column and specify laptop as the filter criteria. I can also add several filters at once to see what employees that report to Manager Bruce Harple have laptops or what Employees that report to Manager Bruce Harple have not completed their Orientation. The screen shot below demonstrates the view of data above but with filters applied to only show employees who report to Bruce Harple that have a Laptop Computer. Notice the funnel icons next to the “Type of Computer” and “Manager” column headings indicating that they are being filtered. Also note the “down arrow” icon next to the Last Name column indicating that the data is being sorted by the “Last Name” column.


In addition to sorting and filtering, custom list views can be easily configured to only display relevant list items and relevant columns of data. For example, I could create a “My Employee” view that only shows employees where I am listed as the Manager. And maybe I was only concerned with half of the columns in the list and not all of them. I could easily configure this as a custom view using the SharePoint user interface. If the list contained hundreds or thousands of rows of employees, the ability to quickly see “My Employees” by selecting the “My Employee” custom view would come in very handy. On any given list or document library, Private views or Public views can be created. Private views are only available to the user who created the view while Public views are available for all users who have access to the list.

Of course, most of us will not need an Employee On-boarding list to do our jobs. However, most of us participate in some business process that needs to track shared data among a group of individuals either within the same department or across departments.

Office Supply Inventory, Vacation Requests, Help Desk Requests, Purchase Approvals…the list is seemingly infinite of things that need to be tracked. Instead of creating this information in an Excel Spreadsheet on your local machine or on a file share, why not consider creating this as a custom list where data entry and tracking can be shared among the various people who need access to the information?

In the next post in this series, we will discuss how notifications and workflows can be added to this custom list so that the right people can be notified when new employees are hired and they can be brought into the on-boarding process at the right time.

If you have already started using custom lists, please share your experiences below in the comments section. If not, dive in and start enjoying the benefits.

Here’s a good resource to help you get started: SharePoint lists IV: Create a custom list – SharePoint Server –

Tim CoalsonSharePoint Is Half Full – Learn About SharePoint Lists

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