Maturing Your Company’s SharePoint Now

Posted on Posted in Theory and Thoughts

I have wanted to post this for some time now. I am going to start this post with a joke I heard from an acquaintance I knew a long time ago.  You and your decision makers will probably appreciate the punch line.

“A tractor salesman walks up to a house with a farmer and old dog sitting on the front porch.  The farmer nods to the salesman and quietly listens to the sales pitch.  About quarter way through, the dog lifts his head and howls.  The salesman thinks its odd, but continues with his talk with the farmer.  A short time later the dog lifts his head and howls yet again.  The salesman stops to look at the dog and then the farmer.  The farmer nods letting him know to continue. Just before the salesman finishes what he has to talk about, the dog lifts his head for a third time letting out a howl.  Unsure of what was going on, the salesman finally asked the farmer, “What is wrong with your dog?”  The farmer never looking at the dog replied, “He is laying on an exposed nail.  Poking him in the ribs I recon.”  Perplexed, the sales man asked, “Well why doesn’t he move?”  The farmer rocked back and forth a few times, looked at his dog then the salesman.  “It’s because he is not uncomfortable enough to move.” “

Your company may be this way with their SharePoint implementation.  SharePoint causes some discomfort, you know what to do, but it is not enough to act upon it.  I have been working with SharePoint for over 11 years now.  Companies, such as yours may have had SharePoint in house for nearly as long or even longer.  I think SharePoint has become the software people love to rage on, yet would not release it even from “their cold dead hands.”  Why are we comfortable despite the pain we are feeling? What has caused this? You can get an idea from my last blog post entitled: Reading the Tea Leaves from Microsoft Ignite. The bottom line is, we are in the Era of SharePoint Maturity and we are going to need to embrace change.

Observations

Being a consultant for a wide variety of clients and an active member of the SharePoint community, I have had some interesting conversations around the highs and lows of SharePoint.  Complaints having deep roots in the lack of governance, search not working as sold, both real and perceived short comings of the software, the lack of fully utilizing the potential of the software, and more have been offered up and talked about in reference to SharePoint.  The questions, when everything is boiled down can be these question.  How / why did our company get to this point?  How are we going to move on from here?  Will we be able to move forward with little effort?

Let me answer the last question first.  No, you will not use the same or less effort.  The reason why you are where you are currently with your SharePoint environment is because there was little effort in the initial phases of your farms existence.  The place you are sitting at is common across the boards.  When SharePoint was released…  a good portion of the SharePoint Expansion Era was spent building the SharePoint community as it is known today.  We grew with the software.  Best practices? What best practices?  There was very little in the way of resources in the beginning.  All of this came around over time, with heavy reliance on the community that sprang up around this unique software.  A majority of the SharePoint environments grew organically before we even knew better.  Single site collections in SharePoint Portal Server 2003 that were so large, the only way to have it work was to use a fix that would lose your support from Microsoft.  Struggles with the SSP in MOSS 2007 (Microsoft Office SharePoint Server).  You get the idea.

Bleeding into answering the first question I posed in the first paragraph of this section, the rapid changing of the software combined with its increased complexity between versions and the constant drive from Microsoft for you to start using SharePoint is why you are where you are.  You were told to use SharePoint, and in some cases felt forced.  When Exchange 2007 was initially going to be released, public folders were no longer going to exist.  SharePoint was supposed to take over that role.  Only one problem.  Most companies didn’t have SharePoint at that time and cried foul.  Microsoft added the binaries back into Exchange 2007 two weeks before its release.  Yet this increased the sense of urgency to get SharePoint installed.

Many companies felt the pressure in other ways as well and installed SharePoint.  Microsoft with its understanding of the market, priced SharePoint extremely attractively comparatively to other systems out there.  If you had an EA (Enterprise Agreement) with Microsoft, they could say, “You already own it!”  SharePoint boutique companies around the world popped up and helped install your SharePoint environments.  Best practices were identified by the pain of the developing community, consultants, and IT personnel world wide.  The stability of the product over time with these best practice installs allowed your company to work with SharePoint quickly and efficiently.  The price tag plus the ease of getting started allowed your company and others to forego the need of governance and information science planning.

Following the snowballing effect, the cost of starting up SharePoint is one of the driving factors to the lack of formal governance documents and committees in many companies world wide.  Governances are boundaries that are put in place to protect a companies investment in the area being governed.  The cost may have been low with the installation of SharePoint, but the unrecognized value in the content that it would house was monumental.  SharePoint has penetrated and become a part of company cultures just like yours.  When this occurs even at the most fundamental level, collaboration, the value of the software multiplies greatly.

Information architecture has been around for quite some time.  I remember (yes I am old) going to the public/school library and finding the book I wanted to read with use of the Dewey Decimal System.  With technology, the perceived notion that well defined systems of IA would be less needed.  I don’t think it was intentional, just things have changed and moved so fast this mindset has taken place over time.  No one person ever said, you know IA is so passé, its archaic.  Technology was fast enough for a time that the pain was relieved.  Just like every other fad out there, it just took time to prove this mindset was wrong.  The rate at which data is expanding is frightening.  One document library in SharePoint can contain more documents than books in a public library.

Search is one of my favorite topics during the many conversations I have had.  SharePoint search for many companies was to be the answer to enterprise search problems.  SharePoint enterprise search was bolstered by the purchase of FAST search company back in 2008.  SharePoint search was the legendary silver bullet to solve all search problems, but it was tarnished before it could even leave the barrel.  Why?  Companies were expecting the same search experience out of box from the very start that would mirror the Bing/Google experience.  I am not sure where this misunderstanding came from, but does anyone truly think about the fleet of programmers, analysts, etc. working tirelessly behind the scenes at Google/Bing to continue to update and improve those search engines?  How much time and resources has your company put into the different areas that fuel your search experience in SharePoint?  It is a rhetorical question, but I am sure you know the answer.  Understand, if you answered “We have not,”  is like 90% of the other companies with SharePoint out there.

Bringing it all Together

Let’s forge forward and talk about why you need to increase your SharePoint maturity now.

Fixing Our Past Mistakes

This is probably one of the most obvious and yet overlooked reasons for increasing our maturity models.  We have issues that we wish we could go back in time to change about our environments.  Whether it is to use site collections vs. sub sites with broken security inheritances or introducing content types and metadata, we all have that nagging feeling in the back of the head something could have been done better.  Capture those thoughts into a custom list, on a voice memo, notebook, or spread sheet.  We need to learn from our past mistakes in order to build a better solution.  This is also the first step on our journey to increase our company’s maturity.

Here is a bucket list of potential mistakes you should put resources in the next year to rectify:

  • No governance document or committee
  • Fragmented security schema (numerous security inheritance breaks)
  • Sprawled or difficult navigation
  • No planned information architecture
  • Not utilizing content types
  • Using deep folder structures
  • No taxonomy
  • No work is being done with the search engine

Creating a Target Goal

It has been proven time and time again, that setting goals makes people more productive.  The same can be said about a company.  What is the goal your company has set for SharePoint as a tool?  If you don’t remember, you should look at your governance document.  Your vision statement of what SharePoint is to your company should clearly point out what that target is.  If you have “arrived” to where that vision statement was pointing, its time for your company to come up with a new vision statement that will point to the next level of maturity that will benefit your company.  If your vision statement is nebulous or impossible to reach, rewrite it.  You will not be able to mature if you don’t have anyway to get to that vision.  On the reverse end of the spectrum, if you do not have a vision statement or a governance document, your first step to a new maturity level is to establish a governance committee armed with a well thought out governance document.  You need to protect your investment and the future state of your SharePoint implementation.

A Firm Foundation

Whether you are building a house or a skyscraper, the first thing you need to do is build a firm foundation.  With a technology that will support your company, that technology will need a firm foundation.  A foundation strong enough to support not only the here and now, but the future of your company as you continue to grow.  Through the boundaries put in place by your governance, SharePoint should be able to grow freely without exponentially growing more difficult to maintain.  Clear understanding and design around security schema, site allocation, and content management is a requirement.  Without these clearly defined concepts, things could get out of hand very quickly.  An example would be an extremely complex security schemas could cost the IT hours to decipher where add new hires to allow them to do their job effectively.

Understand the Required Timing

To reach the next level of maturity, you are going to have to look at timing from different perspectives.  A list of important timing could look as the following.

  • Fact gathering from stakeholders during non-crucial time frames
  • Implementation of maturity plan
  • Introduction and training to end users

Fact Gathering

To increase the percentage of adoption and buy in, all stakeholders effected by the targeted areas for maturing should be interviewed and heard.  Communication is key to your success.  When it comes to timing, the fact gathering phase will need to be in a non-crucial moment of your companies calendar/fiscal year might present.  For example, the last month of the fiscal year, everyone is extremely busy closing the books and cannot take on an additional workload.  I understand there is no perfect timing and most of your stakeholders work with multiple hats.  Just be cognizant of the schedules of those stakeholders during this time.

Implementation

Timing around an implementation is extremely important.  It could very well mean the projects success or failure.  Through my experience, I have noted the best time for large changes or redesign happen during a migration between versions of SharePoint.  Of all  the companies who state, “Migration is not the correct time to make these major changes and should be done.  They should do it after.” zero percent of those companies have gone back to make those changes in my experience.  If  your company does not yet have SharePoint and want to move quickly, try to refrain and learn from numerous companies who implemented SharePoint before you.  Take the needed time to think through, design, and build a solution with a firm foundation that will allow your company to grow and mature.

Introduction and Training

Timing as to when you introduce new things and when you start training can be heavily influenced by your corporate culture.  You have to understand your end users work patterns and when they are most accepting to new things.  Past experience has indicated a better time to introduce governance is prior to the release of SharePoint, new solutions built on the SharePoint platform, or major changes to the taxonomy and information architecture.  Training the trainer could fall in the UAT period before production release.  Scheduling end user training would be already set in place prior to the release of the production environment.  Again, be sure to take in account your corporate culture when planning the timing for introduction and training.

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