As a SharePoint consultant I’m typically brought into a deployment at the later stages when the project team have hit a brick wall. Picture the scene – the majority of the project resources have been expended; weeks, months (or sometimes years) have been spent to no avail; meetings descend into chaos with obscenities, insults and anger becoming the lingua franca and the project looks likely to fail.
We typically find that the deployment is a disaster! – Scared? You should be.
But don’t worry help is at hand, it doesn’t have to end up like this, Solutions Developed can help guide you to SharePoint bliss. I’m going to pass on to you some tips, hints and pointers to help you gain control of your SharePoint deployment.
If you fail to plan you plan to fail
There is a very old and very wise saying which goes something like (well actually it’s exactly like this) If you fail to plan you plan to fail, a SharePoint project is no different. The most important factor in any SharePoint deployment is the rationale behind choosing the technology. Everyone involved in the development must fully understand why the product was chosen, what problems it will solve, what problems it won’t solve and how it will fit into their day to day working life. If you don’t have this clear from the start of the project it will fail.
SharePoint is a specific technology which has both good points and bad points, it won’t work for everyone but for those that do leverage it correctly it can change their lives. Any technological choice should be based on it being the best choice for purpose. The decision makers need to be aware of the WIFIM (what’s in it for me) if you are not aware of the advantages of a technology how are you going to be able to leverage the benefits and maximise the ROI (return on investment) (are you judging the writer as being addicted to TLA’s?).
The decision to use a specific technology has to be more about the “I” (information) and less about the “T” (technology). It should be a decision based on company’s needs not a fashion based choice, which it all too often is. No one likes to be the last one to join the cause, especially when it comes to technology. For example how many people do you know bought a High Definition television when the first came out, even though the vast majority of programmes are not even in HD?
Microsoft has done a fantastic job in marketing SharePoint – seemingly it is the collaborative answer to everything. Implement SharePoint in your organisation and it will promote good working practice, help companies foster better relationships with their staff and, if you believe the hype, will eventually be responsible for curing cancers, bringing about world peace, and it will even do the washing up at the end of the day. Don’t always believe the hype, yes SharePoint can be that good but the organisation has to be ready for it.
Just to digress for a second – one of my favourite films is A Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner. In the film Kevin Costner’s character owns a farm and has the usual money troubles. He starts to see ghosts and they tell him to build a full sized baseball diamond in the middle of nowhere (I know what you are all thinking, but stay with me). This being movie land no one tries to stop him so he commits all his remaining resources – and then some – into building the baseball park. His mantra throughout this project is “build it and they will come”. The idea behind the film is that if you have a strong belief in what you’re doing it will all work out – you’ll make a million, your children will love you and your wife will be gorgeous.
So what has this got to do with SharePoint I hear you cry, well this same attitude exists with SharePoint – build a SharePoint site and they will come. The people involved in decision-making process believe that all they need to do is create a SharePoint site and it will solve all their business problems, and everyone in the organisation will use it. But unlike Kevin Costner and his ghosts this doesn’t happen.
Although I’ve tried to be upbeat about this very important issue it’s actually the breaking point in 90% of SharePoint deployments. The decision to choose SharePoint has been made by the wrong people for the wrong reasons (usually after they have attended a fully licensed networking event and have been converted by a middle-aged man in a shiny suit, who drives a Jag and calls himself an “Architect”).
Get to the point…
In non-techie parlance SharePoint gives us a website where we can share documents, keep lists, etc. But we’ve have always been able to do that, the technology to make this happen has been around for over a decade. Companies have built software, or to be more precise web based solutions, for years and it didn’t always work – quite often it failed. If we have failed in other technologies what’s to stop us failing in this one? – read on McDuff and I’ll tell yee!
The key behind the successful use of SharePoint is simple:
• Identifying what its good at and leveraging those features to the maximum.
• Identify what its bad at and negate those features from your deployment.
If you keep these two points in the back of your mind when you’re planning your deployment you are already on the way to success.
Excuse me, is this your SharePoint site?
Ok, so now you’ve had countless meetings to discuss your deployment, your coffee intake is now up to 10 cups a day and you’ve gained half a stone from all the cakes and biscuits on offer, so what’s next (apart from detoxing and hitting the gym)? Well hopefully you’ve identified your business problems, mapped them to SharePoint and decided it is the right product for your needs. Before you go ahead with the deployment you need to decide one crucial factor – who is going to own the SharePoint instance. I cannot stress how important this decision is; your decision at this point in the deployment can make or break SharePoint.
The most common decision when it comes to ownership is to pass it to IT, because SharePoint is perceived as a technical solution, most businesses analysts and decision makers think, “this is a technical product, I won’t know what to do with it, I might mess it up but IT will know what to do” But this is the wrong decision; SharePoint is not a technical solution as we are used to. SharePoint is an application (like the Office suite, in fact Office is included in the name MOSS -Microsoft Office SharePoint Server) and is a way of working, but most of all it is a business solution. Technical interference with SharePoint is a problem – yes you can fiddle with the innards – but it was not designed for this.
If we think of Microsoft Word for example, IT install the programme on your computer and register it then they leave it alone. The Word User then sets the dictionary to English (United Kingdom), sets the default font to their favourite, adds Auto Correct short cuts and does whatever else they need to do to make Word work that little bit better for them. You wouldn’t expect IT do this, you also wouldn’t expect them to spend months developing tools to customise Word then you know how to do it in 30 seconds using the menu options. In short, everyone involved sees Word for what it is, they know their place and they stick to it. SharePoint is the same; IT should deploy it and then leave it alone leaving the users to make their own tweaks and customisations.
So if IT don’t own SharePoint then who should? Well the simple answer is – the users. SharePoint works best when it solves business problems, and who understands business problems better than the people who actually do all the work (not that IT don’t work hard – getting to level 87 on Command and Conquer takes hard work, time and a level of dedication most people don’t understand).
The person who will take control over a site in SharePoint is called a Super User, and they need to be able to identify business problems and match this to the capabilities of SharePoint, they also need to have an in-depth knowledge of SharePoint to make this happen. If you can find someone like this in your organisation then make them the Super User, and if you can’t find someone that meets these requirements train the person you think that can best match this. We usually find that the most successful SharePoint sites are owned by Business Analysts.
But he had a Jag, he couldn’t possible lie to me. Could he?
So what I’m telling you is don’t let IT own SharePoint, don’t bother customising it and hand over responsibility to a non-technical member of staff. At this point, I usually get asked the following question:
“I don’t understand Mike, you’re saying leave it alone but we need to customise it to fit our business. I thought SharePoint was easily customisable; I met an architect at a networking meeting and over a few beers he told me that SharePoint was easy to customise and that it would solve all my problems. He had a jag.”
Here we have it, the small, but oh so important, misuse of one word that creates the majority of SharePoint disasters – customise. In his sales pitch Shiny Suit Man has sold you on one major point – customisation, yes you can customise SharePoint but you can also configure SharePoint. Without defining and explain these terms carefully from the beginning SharePoint will fail. But then the architect has more important things to think of like ‘My ponytail looks amazing’ and ‘I hope my Jag is safe in the car park’, in other words he’s not thinking about SharePoint or you.
First lets tackle configuration – configuration is taking what is already in SharePoint and tweaking it to fit your business needs. If we look at Word again, you configure the dictionary to become English (United Kingdom) the option was already in existence you simply had to select it and it was applied.
In SharePoint you can configure, tweak, the functions already included to meet your needs. You might add version control to a document library to record changes; this is done by selecting the versioning option which already exists on the site. It is simple and relatively risk free to configure a SharePoint site to meet the needs of an organisation – this is what it’s designed for.
All SharePoint configuration is carried out through the Site Actions button, Microsoft have analysed typical company processes and requirements and stated that business can configure SharePoint to meet 70% of their needs. Configuration is carried out by the Super User and the site users, it should NOT be carried out by IT. With 70% of configuration taken care of by the Super Users this can mean up to 70% less visits to IT, reducing their workload and allowing them to focus on other tasks, like getting to level 88 of Command and Conquer.
The second phrase we have to deconstruct is customisation, customisation is the next step after all the configuration options have been exhausted. Customisation is the creation or manipulation of something in SharePoint that can’t be done through the site actions button. This is the point where IT can step in and the developers can get working on the ‘widget’
This can be written like any other piece of software but due to the complexities of SharePoint it will take 3 times as long – and that’s a conservative estimate. It’s not 3 times as long because of a learning curve (the learning curve will make it 20 times as long the first time) it will always take three times as long because it’s tricky. Customisation should only account for about 10% of the overall needs of the business, if you require customisation for more than 10% of your overall business needs then you need to ask is SharePoint the right product for you and are you using it in the right way. So Jag boy was sort of right; yes SharePoint is easy to configure and will support 70% of your business bespoke needs.
Contrary to some advertising material SharePoint is not easy to customise, it can be customised, and it can be customised deeply but this takes time and expensive resources. Due to the technical nature of SharePoint deep customisation has some risks attached therefore needs full testing, which again is time and resource consuming.
Making SharePoint Work for You
So there you have it, if you want to make your SharePoint role out a success set the system up to leverage configuration and not customisation. Despite the negative aspects to parts of this article SharePoint is a fantastic tool – when leveraged correctly. When SharePoint works it is brilliant and when it fails it is a disaster, but if you follow these golden rules then you are well on the way to having a successful SharePoint deployment.
1) Plan, plan and plan again – make sure SharePoint is the best product for your businesses needs, if it’s not don’t use it!
2) Don’t let IT own SharePoint – Most people struggle with this one but it is the most important rule for a successful SharePoint deployment. Sure the techie guys will love it, hey it’s new its bright it’s shiny but, the next thing you know even the simplest of configurations become major developments with training – can you see your money burning?
3) Appoint a SharePoint Super User, preferably a business analyst – The best person to do the configuration is a team member who has a combination of analysis skills, SharePoint skills and knows the business. It is the person’s prime objective to deliver SharePoint solutions by configuration
4) Make using the development team a last resort – Developers are an expensive resource – not just financially but time wise as well. When they are asked onto the park it needs to be something heavy, it needs to be to for something significant and of real benefit to the business, and most importantly something that can’t be achieved thought configuration.
5) Focus on creating solutions that our configurations not customisations – The reason that Shiny Suit Man was able to convince you that SharePoint was the tool for you was because he sold it as an easy tool to configure (although he probably used the word customise – remember he has to keep his brain for facts about Jags). As we read earlier he was actually correct, SharePoint is easy to remodel to match your business needs but you have to leverage that. There is no point in buying a small family car if you keep trying to get super car performance. You will be disappointed and spend a fortune putting into garages for upgrade after upgrade, you should bought a Ferrari in the first place. If SharePoint is going to require masses of customisation it’s probably the wrong tool for you.
6) Focus on I (information) and not on the T (technology) – The fact you’re using SharePoint should be arbitrary – concentrate on the business problems that have been solved, time saved and increased efficiency, not on the fact you’re using the newest technology fashion.
So where do I go from here?
SharePoint is a fantastic tool – it can enable organisations to work differently, to work better and most of all work in a way that allows workers to spend less time filing and looking for information and more time thinking about the business and a better way of doing it. SharePoint is not a technological solution it’s a new way of working NOW. If you plan for and implement SharePoint using these rules and guidelines I can promise you that you will be delighted with your choices and amazed at the benefits of systems that work well. Your co-workers will worship you like a God, your boss will finally give you the pay rise you deserve and you’ll always get first dibs on the biscuits.
The only sad thing from our perspective is that in a few years when you meet Shiny Suit Man at another networking event and you tell him how great SharePoint is he’ll say “I told you so…”