Tuesday, January 22, 2013

€50 SharePoint Expert or 'Why SharePoint Projects Fail'

A few years ago SharePoint exploded. No, I don't mean your particular SharePoint server (although that may have happened), but rather the number of businesses that wanted to implement SharePoint and started some form of a SharePoint project. This was great for Microsoft and for those of us who had been working with SharePoint and had invested a significant part of our career into this product. We were needed as employees for consultancy firms or as independent consultants. SharePoint customers were billed hourly rates that were significantly higher than what they were used to paying for .NET developers or project managers. Quickly SharePoint became an instant +30% modifier on the rate. A great example of supply and demand economics at play, and how opportunity favours the prepared. Those of us who knew SharePoint enjoyed the undersupply in the market.

Markets don't sit still however. More than a few .NET developers decided to become SharePoint developers. How hard can it be? Web Parts, Workflows and a quick MCPD in SharePoint was all it took to get in on the good life. Increasing supply of SharePoint developers is a good thing for the market. Customers get a better price and there are enough SharePoint professionals to ensure all the necessary work gets done. Those of us who were in on the game have to live with the fact that our gravy train has ended and we have to adapt to market conditions and charge a 'fair' price. Sure, that seems reasonable. The problem lies in the quality of a 'converted' .NET developer. SharePoint is a complex animal and is much more than Web Parts and Workflows. There are exceptions to the rule as I personally know 'converts' who are great SharePoint experts, but these folks don't charge €50 an hour.

The €50 an hour SharePoint expert is one of the most dangerous creatures in the SharePoint ecosystem. They have enough knowledge to convince a customer (and often themselves) that they can do the job, but not enough experience to do the job properly. The customer is not an expert in technology and too often shops on price and resume alone. Worst yet, there is the recruiter creature in this ecosystem whose primary job is to create as large a difference in billable rate between the 'expert' and the customer in order to maximise its own profit. This creature loves the €50 'expert' since there is lots of margin that can be padded on with some evil sales skills.

SharePoint has earned a bad reputation in the last few years. Somehow many projects that seem great on paper and promise a fantastic future turn into something marginally average at best, or just go into the trash. Why? There are many reasons, but one of these is lack of experience. The 'experts' whom the customer entrusts are really no experts at all, and they are being paid to learn on the job. 'Trial and Horror' is what a friend called this process.

SharePoint projects are hard. Given a large bucket of money, great people and lots of time, you still have to work very hard to get value and success out of your SharePoint project. What do you think the chance of success is with a small bag of coins, average people with no or wrong experience and tight deadlines? As someone else whom I respect greatly once said: "Don't ask for a Mercedes when all you can afford is a Kia". Or in other words, why use Dr. Nick?