Over the last 8 plus years I have been to many clients and worked for several companies that utilized SharePoint. I have guided many of my clients to utilize best practices that the SharePoint community has come to recognize as standard. Interestingly enough, the cliché about the cobblers kids held true with most of the companies I worked for that used SharePoint. I digress. When working with clients, the core business problems they want to solve are similar in nature. What makes these companies different are things like company culture, average employee age, industry vertical they fall under, and other factors. There have been many successful SharePoint deployments, average deployments, and deployments that fell into time that has been forgotten. Throughout all of these I have come to the understanding that SharePoint can be viewed as a mirror that is the perfect reflection of your business.
Welcome to the Funhouse
The picture of the funhouse mirrors that you see to the right is a still shot from the Disney cartoon of Phineas and Ferb. (Great show, I am sure you will all enjoy it) Businesses are quite similar to the way they view the way they look and operate as the kids in the image are seeing themselves. Why is this? One of the primary reasons, people like funhouse mirrors is they distort reality. Some mirrors even over enhance how good you look such as Buford (kid in black t-shirt). Time and lack of perspective can do the same thing to companies image of themselves. Companies tend to look at themselves in the funhouse mirrors that enhance how they look. Lets face it, we as individuals tend to do that as well, I know I wouldn’t mind having Buford’s mirror installed in my house.
Hypothesis: SharePoint Reflects Your Companies True Image
My whole life, I have been a people watcher. Until I performed at Universal Studios Florida, I was a wall flower, so people watching was more than enough for me. Those skills have helped me in understanding consultation and how to do what is right by the client. Also consider the vast range of peers and mentors I have within the SharePoint community, I have been able to glean priceless data from them as well. (I have to say this article is thanks to all the different avenues of information I have come by. So to all my clients, peers and mentors; Thanks!) Over the years I have gone into clients and have heard certain desires repeatedly of what was expect of SharePoint. SharePoint is an application (arguably a platform) that is created by the software corporation Microsoft. It is as good as the programing teams that have labored over the code at Microsoft could make it. As with any other program or application, home grown or purchased, SharePoint is as good as what is put into it. If your planning for it’s installation is starting up the wizard and hitting next it will get you so far. If you take three months to come up with a governance, plan a path you will more likely get SharePoint to a higher level. I could continue, but I think you get the idea. This being said, SharePoint is not a silver bullet, the end all be all, the Swiss Army Knife that will do away with every other application your company currently has. Let me explain.
Not a Silver Bullet: SharePoint is not a silver bullet to all business problems. SharePoint can assist you in coming to a solution for those issues, but more often than not can’t fix every problem your company has.
The End all be All: Some companies (even myself in my early days) see SharePoint absorbing and becoming every software need over time. As much as I like SharePoint this is not the case. Like other systems out there, SharePoint has strengths and weaknesses. Yes, it is built on .NET. and yes if you get a large enough force of developers behind you, you can make SharePoint do many things. The point here is why would you want to do that to begin with? Utilize SharePoint for its strengths.
Swiss Army Knife: SharePoint is like a Swiss Army Knife with 1000 blades. It looks cool, but you are going to look odd walking down the street with it in your pocket. This is very similar to my previous point, with one exception. How many of you have used every single ‘blade’ on your Swiss Army Knife? I remember mine. I used maybe 7 or 8 of the items on the 20 item blade I had. Just because they are there does NOT mean you have to use them. Same with SharePoint. There are a lot of ‘blades’ and over time you may indeed use them all. That will happen when your company matures in its usage of the product and has business processes and governance that dictate the ‘blades’ that are going being used.
I have stated all I have so far to come to this one statement. “SharePoint is just a tool your company can use to assist in solving/streamlining business problems/solutions. It’s success or failure is completely dependent on the leadership, culture and direction of your company. The remaining part of this post will show you why your final SharePoint solution will mirror your companies true image.” This is a very strong statement, but important to be spoken. I will give examples of what I mean. Some will be very SharePoint specific, but others will be more of the big picture approach. (read 50,000 ft. fly over)
Clear Images Made by SharePoint
AD (Active Directory) Mirror:
I think the most clear cut case to make my point is the User Profile Synchronization Service. This service will very quickly… Ok immediately show how good or how bad your AD is being kept up. Has your IT been able to maintain the information it can hold well enough? Has the decision from the executive team been made as to what should be held in AD? SharePoint’s reflection of your AD can be quite brutal. If you don’t put in people’s managers and someone clicks on the Organizational Chart tab. They will see just themselves. They are the organization, an island unto themselves. What happens if you had a lateral move in your company. You completely changed departments and see on your profile you belong to the old department you left 2 years ago? I was at a client site and the ultimate scenario came up after running the AD Synchronization. They did a search on a name, scrolled down and stopped on someone who they identified had passed away a good amount of time before SharePoint even introduced into their environment. Yikes!
Throughout my consulting years, I have done numerous envisioning sessions with clients of different verticals and sizes. One of the most common desires companies have when they bring SharePoint into their tool set is for communication to improve. Communication… communication is one of the most needed skills when it comes to business and yet it is one of the most dysfunctional skills out there. I have a lot of theories and maybe will post my thoughts on this in a different post. Businesses most common goal under the line of communication is to open lines of communication between departments. Departments work as silo’s. If a business process crosses departments, many times, the business process breaks down under the guise of poor communication. Cross departmental communication is important without a doubt. Companies place their hopes in SharePoint (amongst other products) to break down the barriers of communication.
With my passion for SharePoint and for communication with people, I have set out on this noble quest to help these companies plagued by the evil miss-communication monster. Everything SharePoint has had to offer all the way back since MOSS 2007 was used to slay the beast. Discussion boards were put together with it configured to be email enabled to allow those ever traveling executives and sales representatives participate even from afar. Blogs are required by all employee’s as a part of their profile. Those who actually pull through are rewarded with more space on their MySite. Wiki’s pop up, with a wild west ideals with everyone as an administrator. Micro blogs are thrown on every site for as far as the eye can see… Yet. Yet the expected communication is not there. I sit in amazement as all the pieces are in place, all the communication avenues in SharePoint are turned on. What happened?
Instantly fingers of the communication failure is pointed at SharePoint! Its SharePoint’s fault, its not doing what we were expecting it to do. What is happening in this case is SharePoint is reflecting a perfect image back to the company that is pointing their fingers. The issue is a company issue; more over a culture and people issue. Its not a bad thing, please understand I am not saying this to make you feel bad. Your company has grown to the level it is at because of your people and your culture. This is a very good thing! What is happening is SharePoint has shown some flaws, some weaknesses that the culture and people have come to live with. They understand how to work around these pain points and/or short comings. Its hard to have your company weaknesses made apparent to you. You have worked long hours, shed blood, sweat and tears to build it to the point it stands at today. In the end SharePoint is nothing more than anther tool that has the ability to assist in communication, however, it will require your employees to embrace this idea.
Is that OUR Business Process?:
Another case where SharePoint reflects a perfect image back to the company, is within the desire to automate a business process. When you try to come up with a solid workflow path, is it easy for the participants to explain? Is it clearly defined and easily understood? Is there a lot of exceptions to the rules? Is it point to point or state dependent? Most companies I have worked with never mapped out their business processes. These processes have been organically grown over time. If a situation arises, the participants usually are on their own to come up with a solution to move it forward. Time is lost, checks and balances may be skipped, an unduplicated solution may be utilized when these situations arise. More often, these pain points are felt when multiple departments are involved. Typically business processes held within a team or department are more often than not more grounded and easier to capture than the more complex cross-departmental processes.
Once again, when you as a company approach SharePoint to automate a business process, you will quickly see a reflection in the mirror on how clear cut and accurate your business process truly is. Don’t point fingers and saying SharePoint is at fault. Think of it as growing pains to bring your business to the next level. Once you take the time as a company to refine a business process, the potential of new growth will be well worth it!
Conclusion: Trust the reflection in the Mirror
SharePoint is a viable tool and product that has been released by Microsoft. Understandably, there are a lot of frustrations that are aimed at SharePoint. This being said, you as a company need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of SharePoint and what it can do for your company. If you do not have the bandwidth to understand that information, hire a consultant or company that you trust to advise you after they learn your needs, pain points and goals. Everyone who has worked with SharePoint has war stories and fishing stories. As time progresses realize some of these stories tend to get embellished (otherwise why would it be a good story… Right?) Learn when you are actually see the reflection of your company. Use SharePoint as a way to understanding your companies strengths and weaknesses even better. Grow, become more streamlined, become more efficient from what you learn when you look in the mirror.
If the mirror shows your AD is a mess. Don’t fear, start an AD remediation project. If your IT is too busy, hire a consultant/company who specializes in it. Let them take your AD to a much better place. If you are looking for a solution to increasing/improving your communication within set goals. There are great third party products out there such as NewsGator that will help ‘gameify’ communication to help encourage your end users. Hire motivational speakers, or bring in team building coaches who make it a career to help people to connect. Strive to change the culture of your company to encourage communication. Lastly, understand your business processes. Not from silo perspectives, but as a whole. Bring all the participants into a room, give them a stack of yellow sticky notes and have them build out on the wall yellow sticky by yellow sticky what the process currently is. Allow and afford them the grace to show where the ‘exceptions’ are and objectively see how the process can be streamlined, remove the bottlenecks, optimize areas where decisions need to be made. Yes it will be a heavy investment up front, but if you make a business process that your company’s bread and butter comes from streamlined. The return investment will be able to prove the ROI you were hoping for and more. Now you will hear words like ‘duplicate able’, ‘efficient’, and ‘streamlined’. Once these changes are made and you look into the mirror known as SharePoint, the results will be much more rewarding and the tool you were hoping would help you will indeed do just that.