Monday, April 22, 2013

SharePoint is Complex. That's not a compliment.

SharePoint is complex. I've heard and repeated this many times. The reason users don't just jump on it and love it is because change is hard and as awesome as SharePoint is, users are not willing to put in the time to learn this complex thing and use it to it's fullest potential. I mean, SharePoint is a box of Legos, you can build something amazing or something awful, up to you, right?

Not sure I buy this anymore. I'm starting to think all of SharePoint's complexity is just bad design. I was reading this blogpost by @dhh and suddenly had an epiphany.

A) I very much agree with this article
B) SharePoint is a fantastic example where this problem occurs over and over again.

Why is it that no one has to teach the majority of the population how to use Facebook? Why is it that I use Dropbox exclusively for my document storage, even though I have a free Office 365 environment? Why are iPads flying off the shelves? Let's answer these questions and extrapolate to SharePoint.

First, Facebook is all about human communication. Granted, most of it is stupid, but the product works. You sign up, find some friends, and start typing messages to them. Maybe add a picture, or a video. Easy. Intuitive. (Yes, it is getting cluttered as of late, but that can be it's undoing in the future. We'll see.)

Dropbox just works. I can't think of a simpler argument. To elaborate is that regardless of where I am, my documents are really just a click away. I can view most of them on almost all my devices, and I can edit them in most OSs. Actually this is more of an OS limitation than Dropbox. I don't have to do anything for this to work, other than install Dropbox and sign in. I use good old folders to organize my stuff, and I don't have to even think about what Dropbox does, since I get all the benefit without having to put much thought into it. It just works. Mom uses it.

I'm currently typing this on my iPad. Second one I've owned, first one went to Mom. Love this device, probably more than any other single computing device I have ever owned. It takes a while to get the apps that tweak each person's individual iPad to their liking, but once that happens, the productivity on this device is phenomenal. Yes I know I can't run Visual Studio, but the majority of computer users don't even know what that is. It is the combination of strict rules with the free market system within those rules that has allowed an incredible number of apps to be created for the iPad that all follow certainty standards. Learn to type in one program, you've got them all. Flexibility within constraints.

So what does all this have to do with SharePoint?

SharePoint is meant for sharing information and communicating  It is however far from easy or intuitive. The average user is bombarded with terms like collaboration, metadata, list vs libraries, MySite, etc., and usually get handed a team site. You can build whatever you want, the possibilities are endless! But possibilities is not what a user wants. They want easy, intuitive, just works and quick ROI.

SharePoint doesn't just work. From an organizational perspective, Microsoft sells it to a business, and they then need to start a SharePoint journey that is expensive and difficult. Then best part is that people like myself usually tell them they are not doing enough and need to spend even more € to get any ROI.  Once it's deployed it also rarely 'just works' for the end user. See the paragraph above.

The biggest issue in my opinion is the flexibility that SharePoint allows. Microsoft has been selling SharePoint as a platform. This means it's possible to do a million and one things with SharePoint. Ok, that doesn't sound that bad right? Well the flip side of that coin is that it's impossible to say what SharePoint does. The cognitive overhead of SharePoint is incredibly high. Especially for end users. There is so much flexibility and not enough limitation that every SharePoint so-called solution to a business problem works differently form others. The standardization found in iOS apps due to limitations is nowhere to be found in the SharePoint world. Every customer I have seen has struggled to tame SharePoint and found one or another unique way to make it work for them. This process costs a lot of time, money and produces sub par results.

I am very happy to see SharePoint 2013 introduce the app store, and Microsoft finally pushing customizations outside of SharePoint from a technical perspective. A great step forward, for techies at least. The end user will still be confused with library vs list, what is a view?, how do my tasks integrate with outlook?, why are there major and minor versions?, what is publishing a document?, etc etc etc.

I apologize to all SharePoint enthusiasts out there, and there are many of you (us). It is time however that we really look at what we are peddling and consider what we need to do to hear the words EASY, INTUITIVE, SIMPLE, VALUABLE, LOVE IT, and such.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

SharePoint CoE vs SharePoint Server CoE

Disclosure: I was recently hired and then quickly fired from a SharePoint Center of Excellence, and the experience gave me some insight I’d like to share.

Borrowed from:
When I was interviewing for this position, I was mainly asked questions involving ROI and Value proposition regarding SharePoint. The client has a huge SharePoint environment and felt there wasn’t as much value being reaped from the investment as could be. It seemed like a great opportunity to sink my teeth into the more human side of SharePoint and I was excited to do it. The recruiter said the client was extremely picky, and when I got an offer after a few grueling interviews, she was thrilled.

On day one of my assignment, I show up at the client’s SharePoint CoE. Strange day, as I am put through a rigorous technical interview that seems like a Microsoft certification exam but much more vague. I do very poorly.  Coming back from a 3 month break with my newborn daughter, and having expected a business role, I can’t remember the nitty gritty details off the top of my head. The people at the table are all looking at me with an expression of surprise and disgust, what is this guy doing here and how did he even make it this far? A few days pass and I am told by the business unit manager that they need someone who is technically excellent at architecture and can sit down with the end client and be just as smart as their architects. I am not that guy, and I can’t help them deliver more value from SharePoint.

At first I was really confused by what happened, but I think I now understand. This particular SharePoint CoE is actually a SharePoint Server CoE. The only focus is on the health and performance of the SharePoint server, and this is done by bringing in the best technical people money can buy.

I think this is just awful. I wish people involved would understand the difference between a well-oiled SharePoint farm and a valuable one. An army of technical experts will never be enough to create a true SharePoint CoE that derives value for the end user. Technical experts are fantastic at the WHAT, but often fail to think about the HOW and rarely acknowledge the WHY. (See this video

A great example of this was a discussion during my technical grill session regarding JavaScript. I mentioned that I could create a Sandboxed solution with a piece of JavaScript such that it would crash everyone’s browser when they opened that page, thus rendering the site useless. The response I got was: “Not our problem, the server will run according to SLA”.

Don’t make the same mistake as this CoE in question. SharePoint is far more than a healthy farm. Understand the value it is bringing to your business, and understand WHY it is in place at all. Only when looking from that perspective can you have a SharePoint CoE vs a SharePoint Server CoE.