Every project team keeps lists. Marketing keeps lists of products and events, IT creates lists of servers and computers, Sales keeps lists of new product SKUs and prices, software developers keep lists of bugs. Very often, these lists are in Microsoft Excel or are a file on someone's computer. If you need to share this list with your team, and maybe even let the team edit the list, you should consider using a SharePoint list.
What is a SharePoint list?
If you open Excel, add a few columns and track information on some rows, you are creating the equivalent of a SharePoint list. SharePoint allows you to create a table with columns and rows. You can create lists for nearly anything.
For example, if your SharePoint team site is for a new product launch, then you can create a SharePoint list that shares every event and their location.
Why not Excel?
When you create a list in Excel, it is a file that someone has to track down. While SharePoint now offers the ability for multiple people to edit documents, it is easy to step on someone else's toes when modifying a document. Also, if someone uses the checkout feature for an Excel file, then it is possible no one can edit the file.
In short, Excel is a great tool to create lists, but it becomes a lot less useful when you want to frequently share and collaborate on the data within the file.
SharePoint list benefits
Aside from lists being available in a site as its own standalone item, you receive some other benefits:
- The list can be a web part to display in multiple pages in a SharePoint team site.
- Anyone (with the appropriate security permissions) can view and modify the list without worry that it is out of date. Lists are always up to date because they are not a file someone can download and make changes on their hard drive.
- As you will see in another article, you can turn lists into apps that run on devices like phones and tablets.
- Since lists are in a database, you can use tools like PowerBI, Tableau, or QlikView to create dashboards and reports from the data.
Creating SharePoint lists
In SharePoint team sites, you can create any number of things. These things include lists, document libraries, blogs, wiki articles, and much (much) more. To create a list, you actually create an app. The app is called a Custom List. To create a custom list, follow these steps:
- Go to the SharePoint site where you want to create the list.
- Click the Gear icon at the top-right of the page.
- A menu appears. Select the Add an app item.
- Click the Custom List icon (there is a search bar at the top of the page if you cannot find it).
- Type a Name for the list (try to keep it short because there is limited space on the Quick Launch nav bar).
- The Site Contents page appears. Locate your list and Click the link.
Working with lists
By default, every list has a Title field. You cannot delete this field and SharePoint uses this Title field for a lot of things, so even if you want to give it another name or hide it, I recommend you just stick with it. You can add as many columns as you like. There are a few ways to add columns, but you get the most control by following these steps:
- Go to the list you are working with.
- Click the Gear icon at the top-right of the page.
- A menu appears. Select the List Settings item.
- Click the Create column link.
- Type the column name you see fit, select the type (like date and time, lookup, calculated, etc).
- Click the OK button.
Note: The video in this article steps you through the process of adding new columns to your list.
The List Settings page offers more options than I cover in this article. Over time, you will find it useful to familiarize yourself with these settings. For example, you can define security permissions for the list, enable version control, and change the order in which columns appear on the page.
You can edit lists just like they are Excel files. When you are at the main page for the list, click the Quick Edit and the list changes to a grid where you can quickly add, modify, and delete items. Be aware that this view is useful for some situations and not for others. For example, if you are working with a list that contains large pictures, the quick edit view will be awkward to work with.
The other method to edit a list is to click the Title link for the item you want to edit. A form opens, allowing you to make any changes you want. When done, click the Save button and the list is up to date.
You can also create new list items by using the New item at the top of the list.
Other list features
I do not cover everything you can do with lists in this article, but here are some important things you should know:
- You can convert your list into an app that people can see on their phones and tablets (see another article to learn more about PowerApps).
- If your list contains a lot of columns, they may cause the browser to scroll horizontally, making the list much less appealing. You can create views that display certain information. The view hides (does not delete) the columns you do not want on the page. People viewing the list can always click the Title item to see all the information in the list.
While Excel, Word, and OneNote are all great places to store lists, having a single location in SharePoint for everyone to visit that is always up to date can add a lot of value to your project team. Lists do have their limitations and are not always as user friendly as you like, so I recommend you use SharePoint lists for items that are 100 items or fewer and do not contain more than 15 columns. These recommendations are based on past experience, so you may find large lists with more columns to be no problem at all. Try it yourself and decide what you think.