Microsoft Lists – An Evolution of SharePoint Lists

Hero Approved Microsoft Lists - 2

Welcome to SharePoint Lists! – At least that’s how Microsoft likely worded their introduction back in 2001 (Wow!). The purpose of this post is to give a little background on what a SharePoint List is, the evolution over the years to the newer ‘Modern List’ in mid-to-late 2016, and the announcement of the new Microsoft 365 App, Microsoft Lists, at Microsoft’s developer Build conference in May of 2020. The core driving factor that Microsoft set out in designing and developing Microsoft Lists was to produce a new front-end interface that was simple, elegant, functional, and easily accessible to appeal to a larger base of users. It looks like they succeeded!

If you know even the basic fundamentals of what the SharePoint platform has offered from the very beginning in terms of productivity tools, you can essentially boil it down to document libraries and lists. Document libraries house, well, documents. Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PDF files, pictures, almost anything really. Even your very favorite recipes of ‘tots.’ 🙂 But, ahem, we’re talking about Lists.

A SharePoint list is a collection of data that gives you and your co-workers a flexible way to organize information. The data is stored in a SharePoint Team Site in rows and columns. The column names and types define the type of list. Examples include text, currency, multiple-choice, dates, etc. Each item you add to a list makes up a row. You then create views to display data effectively. Highlight important information by sorting, grouping, and filtering.

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sharepoint 2016 list view css

The first major ‘upgrade’ of SharePoint Lists was released in August of 2016 to ‘First Release’ tenants in SharePoint Online, the hosted service for SharePoint in Office 365. Modern SharePoint Lists provide a powerful way for people to collaborate on structured data directly from their team site to help teams organize content. These include field service requests, itinerary trackers, and investment account onboarding details, to name a few examples. They delivered a modern list experience that looks great and is responsive, accessible, and easy to use on any device.

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Some productivity-enhancing improvements included:

  • Empowering users to add columns to lists and sort, filter, and group data in place.
  • Elevate data quality by viewing and editing all item details in the info panel without leaving the list.
  • Improve productivity by bulk editing list items with Quick Edit.
  • Enrich static information with rich data types including people, images, and managed metadata tags.

And now, we fast forward to May of 2020. At their Build conference, Microsoft announced Microsoft Lists, the second major upgrade to the ‘List platform’ in SharePoint, if you will. The development team, project managers, and marketing teams inside Microsoft listened to customer feedback when designing this new evolution. Here’s a taste of their Microsoft 365 marketing at play:

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SharePoint Server was still being described as difficult due to its learning curve, its somewhat cumbersome interface, and relative difficulty in maintaining and administering the platform.  So, they built the infrastructure from the ground up by creating a new Microsoft 365 application. The beauty of Microsoft Lists is that you don’t need a SharePoint team site to create one. You can go to your Microsoft 365 App Launcher and start Lists.

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You can also create a new List in Teams by adding it as an app on a new tab.

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Let me first show you the Microsoft Lists website.

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Lists Homepage

Here you have the options to create a ‘New list’, or, open an existing list. Before I go through creating a new list, let’s go over the rest of the interface. Down below, there’s a toggle between Recent lists and My lists. ‘Recent lists’ shows what you would expect: an aggregated list (<cough>) of lists you’ve opened recently. This includes your own lists stored in OneDrive and other SharePoint lists or SharePoint -> turned Microsoft Lists. I’ll explain a bit more on that later. If you choose My lists, it will filter the view down to only the lists you have explicitly created, to make it easier to find what you’re looking for. As you hover over an existing list, you’ll see a star icon in the upper right corner of the list icon. Click it, and it will become a Favorite for you at the top of the Lists website.

Alright, let’s create a new list. Click the ‘+ New list’ button and you’ll see a variation of this screen.

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You have 4 basic options:

  1. Click ‘Blank list’ to create a completely blank list. You’ll be designing the column names, types, design, etc. from scratch. This gives you the most complete control over the design and function of your list.
  2. Click ‘From Excel’ to create a list from an existing Excel spreadsheet.
  3. Click ‘From existing list’ to allow you to grab the ‘template’ of an existing list to save you time having to design and create your column designs, names, etc.
  4. Choose a Template pre-made from Microsoft to save time getting your list going. Based on your organization type and type of customer with Office 365 will dictate what templates are available. There are undoubtedly more templates being created by Microsoft all the time, so this list will be dynamic of sorts.

Let’s start with a blank list.

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New List

Enter the list Name, a Description, a color, an icon, and where you want to save it. My lists will save it in your OneDrive account. The other locations you can choose from the dropdown are other SharePoint team sites you’re a member of. Click Create!

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Reinders Party List

And there we go. Aligning with recent SharePoint enhancements, there is a central search bar at the top and a rich toolbar. Before we create our first item, it would behoove us to define our list by adding columns. We’ll add 3 columns here to plan for our party: The overall cost of the item, where we can obtain it, and when we need this item by (date). Let’s start!

I’ll click ‘+ Add column’ and choose Currency as the data type.

Now, we can enter the information requested.

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Click Save and we have our first column. You can then continue to add columns based on your needs. I’ve completed my list design and already entered my first item!

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Lava Lampo

Now, let me add a few more items, standby…Internet Magic at hand…

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Full List

There are so many features here to get different perspectives on the list we have created in only a short amount of time. Click the Item Cost column dropdown to let you sort by the amount and even group them categorically.

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Item Cost group by

Cool, huh?  I added a ‘Sum’ to the Item cost column by clicking the dropdown, clicking Totals, then Sum. I then sorted the ‘Deadline for Item Pickup’ by clicking the last column, and choosing Older to newer. Now, it shows the items that need to be taken care of and picked up first.

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Final Blank List

As you can see, from start to a very working and actionable list (and shareable by the way…one moment…) took mere minutes.

Back on the toolbar, there is a Share button. Click it and you’ll see this.

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Share list

You can enter colleague’s names/email addresses, choose what sharing permissions you want to grant them, and then click Grant access.

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Grant Access

The Microsoft-supplied templates can be very helpful for you and your users; you should definitely check them out. Please leave a comment if you are interested in additional posts on Microsoft Lists – possibly a ‘Part II’-type post to go over some of the templates, other areas in the Microsoft 365 ecosystem Lists can be accessed, and more on how Lists can keep your productivity in an ever-growing state!

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