Document Sets in SharePoint Server: Finally an ECM feature for the masses!


In SharePoint, the Document Set is a powerful Enterprise Content Management Feature hidden in SharePoint Server that most power users don’t know about or haven’t implemented yet. This feature which bundles Office documents into a single malleable unit has a myriad of applications which can improve your process efficiency. 

Let’s take a look!

Applies to:

  • SharePoint Server 2010 Standard and Enterprise (Fpweb.net hosted, On-premises)
  • SharePoint Server 2013 Standard and Enterprise (Fpweb.net hosted, On-premises, or Office 365)

Document Sets may help in following scenarios:

  • New employee on-boarding
  • Employee training
  • Project initiation and management
  • Loan application and processing
  • Claims processing
  • MANY more possibilities

The Document Set Solution

Let’s start by analyzing a new-hire process. When a new employee is hired there will be a common set of documents that would need to be filled out, tracked, and filed. This collection of documents may include a W-4 form, insurance documents, equipment contracts, etc. Finding the latest versions of these documents, delivering them to the employee, and tracking the signed versions can introduce mistakes, lost documents, and a lot of time spent managing this process. If you are a large company these inefficiencies can add up and hurt productivity.

Enter the document set. Document sets can be thought of as a pre-defined electronic folder of documents and templates that are created when you initiate a process. Along with the ability to provision the pre-defined documents, document sets also have a unique customizable homepage, their own versioning functionality, and shared metadata columns. Once an instance of the set is created, you can modify (fill in) and version each individual document, upload additional files, or version the entire document set. If these documents must comply with a records management policy, you can associate a workflow to this document set to handle archiving or deletion as well.

You are probably thinking, “Wow we can use that here and here and this group would love this!”  Now let’s look at how to create and use a document set.

Configuring a Document Set

Document Sets completely rely on SharePoint content types. You will need to be familiar with these and have them enabled on a document library. I will not go through content types in detail in this article, but here is a series titled SharePoint Content Types and Metadata which we created on the subject. Document Set functionality is available by enabling the site collection feature named “Document Sets”. This is enabled on team sites by default.

SharePoint Document Sets

Document Sets site collection feature is active.

Next we’ll create a custom document set content type called “New Employee Packet”. We’ll give it a name and description. Be sure that this content type inherits from the “Document Set” content type so that yours will inherit the document set functionality.

SharePoint Site Content Types

Creating a new document set content type.

When the content type is created, you’ll notice a new hyperlink in its settings page named “Document Set Settings”.

SharePoint Document Set Settings

The newly visible Document Set Settings link.

Click on the “Document Set settings hyperlink to edit the settings of the New Employee Packet document set. On this page, you’ll be able to add content types, specify what documents and folders to include, and what shared columns the documents will utilize.

Configure SharePoint Document Set settings

Configure the Document Set settings.

You’ll also notice that you can lightly customize the welcome page that is generated for your document set instances.

Customize SharePoint Document set configuration

Document set configuration settings continued.

After you’ve configured the basic New Employee Packet document set settings, you’ll want to associate your content type to a document library so that you can create an instance of the document set. You do this in the document library settings page. You can optionally remove the default “document” content type here as well.

content types in SharePoint document library

The available content types in our document library.

Now let’s go to the document library and create a New Employee Packet. Notice that when we select the drop down next to “New Document” in the files tab, we see our New Employee Packet document set icon.

create an instance for new SharePoint Document set

Our new option to create an instance of the New Employee Packet document set.

Click the button to create the packet and give it a name. The packet is now created and you’ll find the welcome page along with all of the document templates!

New SharePoint document set home page

The new employee packet document set home page.

Notice the new “Manage” tab in the ribbon and the options you have here. From this tab you can secure this document set, email a link, capture a major version of the whole document set (which is really cool), view the version history, and see workflows that are associated to the “New Employee Packet” content type.

Manage Ribbon for SharePoint Document Set

The manage ribbon tab for extra document set functionality.

The great thing about the ability to associate workflows to document sets is that you can create custom archival and retention workflows to automate many of the monotonous records management activities associated with the life of these documents.

If we navigate back to the document library, you’ll see the unique icon which visually differentiates document sets from document library folders.

SharePoint Document Library All Items View

Our new employee packet in the document library all items view.

That’s a Wrap

As you can see it’s not completely straight-forward on how to create a document set, but once you create one it’s a pretty straight-forward operation. I believe these are very powerful and have many applications across the enterprise. I hope you learned a bit about this SharePoint ECM feature and, as always, stay tuned for more SharePoint goodness.








2014-04-02T08:30:20+00:00 April 2nd, 2014|

One Comment

  1. nobodyhere October 22, 2014 at 5:10 am - Reply

    “Document Set is a powerful Enterprise Content Management Feature”

    -> It’s not that powerfull, as most microsoft products, it’s a good start but never an entire solution

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