"You’re not ready" – SharePoint kung fu

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A while back I tried to make records and collaborative document management an interesting blog topic by using death metal music to get my point across. Today I have another SharePoint related bone to pick with the world. Hmm, how to make it interesting?

Aha! … Kung fu baby!

(Apologies to all you people who’s work access blocks youtube – read this article at home).

(Back in the late eighties and early nineties, I used to go to the only Chinese movie theatre in town. Jet Li and Jackie Chan left me in awe, and I couldn’t understand why the western world didn’t get it. Such a pity that it took crap movies like Rush Hour and Lethal Weapon 4  to show the world what they were missing).

But, where was I? That’s right – SharePoint and company readiness.


Now, SharePoint as a product is pretty easy to sell, despite the price for the enterprise version. It has enough features that have the ‘wow’ factor and if the client wants to dig deeper, there is some substance behind those slick marketing brochures. Forms services, excel services, windows workflow foundation, document and list versioning, combined with tight SQL report server and Office 2007 integration can be made to radically improve efficiencies and reduce costs. (More detailed material on cost/justification scenarios can be found in my ‘learn to talk to your CFO series‘).

When working in a pre-sales capacity, all I have to do is get clients to talk about their frustrations with their current crap file system, their annoyance at some other department that does not follow business process, the lack of audit trail when something screws up, no reporting visibility, etc, and then SharePoint pretty much sells itself.

By comparison, Jackie Chan is also pretty easy to sell.. especially when he is drunk as the clip from one of his greatest movies shows…

Now selling SharePoint to the client is the easy bit, but sometimes it becomes quickly apparent that any future work is going to turn into a train wreck and will go way over time and budget. I have a name for this feeling that I sometimes get when talking to clients and potential clients.. I call it my “bad kung fu movie spider sense”.

What is this? Why is this? And, what can we do about it?

Train wrecks for dummies

Jackie Chan’s First Strike is a bad movie. Worse than bad actually, it’s a bucket of urine. Yet, it is still full of wicked, inventive fight scenes like this one. (I love the broom and ladder bit).

(link if broken)

So, we have a good scene yet a crap movie. Despite Jackie’s obvious talent, his skill alone does not maketh the movie. So despite his great fight scenes, they are all let down by a nonsensical plot (even by kung fu movie standards), poor acting, bad Australian accents and shocking editing. This all combines to reduce the entertainment value of the overall package to slightly above going to the dentist.

Now, I am sure that I am the only person in the world who would attempt to compare Jackie Chan to SharePoint features but stay with me…

So, a typical candidate company for SharePoint is one that is frustrated with, or struggling with internal process. This isn’t exactly earth shattering information, or is it uncommon :-). Companies have been struggling with this for years and it afflicts all companies large and small. From within a department or team and across the entire division.

It is human nature that when you see a product such as SharePoint demonstrated, you immediately see it as a panacea to solve some of these persistent issues. It has all of the building blocks to automate, improve and streamline business process. Savvy business development managers are quick to pick up on this, and combined with the ‘wow’ factor, it is little wonder that Microsoft are selling a lot of SharePoint licenses.

“You’re not ready”

So in keeping with the theme, for the rest of this article I am SharePoint kung-fu school sifu, and you are my eager kung-fu students.

At this point I think of all of those seventies kung fu movies with the same plot. You know the one… the hero’s master is killed by a bad guy and the hero gets his arse kicked also. So after eating his humble pie and being told “you’re not ready” he goes back and spends the next 5 years training at the shaolin temple so he can get his revenge in a climactic finale fight.

Similarly, if you bring in SharePoint as your weapon to solve your business process issues, without the right sort of kung fu training to properly wield it, you are going to get your arse well and truly kicked! Perhaps terminally… but by whom?

Your adversary is a particularly powerful and skilled enemy, skilled in various kung fu styles, with powerful friends in the right places. He has many faces, and sometimes you do not know if he is friend or foe. He may appear to be on your side until the last minute when he is revealed as your enemy!

He is called “the corporate immune mechanism”! He is the living embodiment of human nature’s resistance to change.

So a weapon alone is not enough to defeat the dreaded “corporate immune mechanism”. What other kung fu skills must we master before taking on such a powerful enemy then? What we need is to master aspects of the disciplines of “Organisational Change Management and Business Process Improvement“)

A wise kung fu master once said, “Know thyself. Only through self-examination can you truly accomplish that. By understanding yourself, you can begin to understand others – including your opponent. And perhaps you will be able to dispose of the fears along the way. That will allow you to focus only on the process of engagement, not the fear of the results”.

By its very nature, SharePoint is a tool that requires organisational change. Processes change as they become more automated, more visible and auditable. Although staff will complain till the cows come home about how other departments or their colleagues make their work life hard by not following procedures, they all are affected in some way when there is change. Some will accept and accommodate it, but many people will struggle against it – at least at first. As the “organisational change management” link above says, “Many people will hide their negative feelings. Some people will not even be aware of their own resistance which, nevertheless, affects their behaviour sub-consciously”.

In addition, here’s the big issue. Processes are very often not aligned to business goals in the first place. Thus implementing them in SharePoint simply makes an automated or streamlined process that is still not aligned with business goals. So what do we achieve when taking a misaligned non-SharePoint process and turning it into a misaligned SharePoint process? A lot of un-scoped, over budgeted future re-engineering, that’s what. Sorry my kung-fu wannabes but the corporate immune mechanism has beaten you once again.

SharePoint kung fu skills – OCM and BPI

SharePoint is a large, complex product. No doubt about it. It requires meticulous technical planning, across pretty much all facets of IT infrastructure. Yet, this only half of the picture.

I believe that a significant part of the SharePoint engagement is advisory. Before jumping into the technology, and before you even capture requirements, how do you know if the requirements really reflect the business goals?

By the very definition of business process improvement, all processes, people and resources should be aligned to business goals. Business goals are in turn aligned to the organisational goal.

I am not going to cover Business Process Improvement in this post in any detail, except to point out that one of its key philosophical themes is the same as COBiT and ISO27001. That is accountability. “Specific people, the process owners, must be placed in charge of a business process, be responsible for the performance and changes in the process, and be responsible for the success or failure of a process. Without personal responsibility, the process may fail”.

I’ve written about COBiT and ISO27001 before, and noted that a culture of accountability is a critical step in implementing any sort of best practice framework.

So, who in an organisation has the sort of corporate visibility required to look at an organisation’s process holistically? Does the client have a QA department? If they do, get them involved. ISO9001 – it’s all about business improvement, process improvement, performance measurement. SharePoint drives process improvement and review. These guys need to be on board in the planning stages to see what existing business management issues can be answered with SharePoint. They also have the methodology and compliance background to ensure that a targeted process is ‘ready’ to be given the SharePoint treatment.

If there is no QA department then care has to be taken to ensure that all stakeholders are properly represented in this project. Not just one particular department and definitely not just IT. (Much of SharePoint’s uptake comes from IT departments as they are the first to know, but they are typically not that well placed to make decisions on business process matters). Sorry fellas, you just aren’t.

I just realised I’ve written quite a bit of content there without another clip to break up the mood. Here’s Tony Jaa – what’s cool about this one is it’s one continuous take – no edits 🙂


Ying and Yang

I have just spent a section talking about how important it is to get your business processes sorted out before jumping into SharePoint, and now I am going to caution you against taking it too far!

Whether you are undertaking business process improvement, ITIL implementation, COBiT compliance or any other best practice framework for that matter, it is easy to allow it to get out of hand. One minute you started with a SharePoint sample site with an idea to improve some inward facing departmental process and the next thing you are setting in long, boring strategy meetings with more and more people with little discernable outcome except more meetings. This is known as analysis paralysis and tends to end up where the original intent has been ‘lost’ in the steadily expanding scope.

So, your sifu’s advice for tackling SharePoint and the business process issues that arise is this:

  • Start small with SharePoint, start focused. Find a simple business requirement/process which can be completed in a short time frame resulting in an immediate positive impact. (If you have read my CFO series, you should be able to see the techniques you can use to quantify business impact).
  • Use a good project manager, who is prepared to say “no” to stakeholders who won’t be pinned down on scope.
  • Document the scope and be detailed, especially on assumptions, constraints and risks.
  • Engage with management, the project sponsor and ALL primary stakeholders. Buy-in MUST happen, and none of this ‘ceremonial’ sponsor/stakeholder stuff. If there isn’t *real* buy-in and engagement from this audience, even a limited implementation will fail.

Of course, those basic recommendations I did not make up. They are the key to ISO, COBiT, SEI CMM, and all of the best practice frameworks, as well as basic project management theory.

“You’re not ready” (but don’t worry, neither are we)

Now IT pros, don’t for a second think that you can get off the hook here either! Just because this is a Microsoft product, does not mean it is automatically something that with a few whitepapers, you can pop in the CD and run setup and be humming along. I know the way IT consultancies work and so many times I have been on the other side of the fence (as a client) and been frustrated when my technology partner presents us with an engineer that is only 1 whitepaper ahead of us.

Many system integrators have bitten off more than they can chew with SharePoint. Yeah, SharePoint is popular, but if you think that gaining SharePoint competencies is as easy as say, Microsoft Exchange, then I have news for you. It is more on a par with Oracle than other Microsoft applications and you too need to learn new kung-fu skills.

For you technical architectural types, you suddenly have to grasp an appreciation of business process improvement, organisational change management, project management, and be handy at application development. You have to take governance seriously and believe in it. Application developers have a similar learning curve with the addition of having to confront a much more rigid governance regime in terms of what you can and can’t do and have to learn a lot more about infrastructure than previously. Project Managers need to definitely be product-aware and ideally have a QA or Business Analysis background.

Business Development people… (I can make jokes at their expense because they won’t have read this far :-)… please, please, please! Listen to your colleagues. SharePoint is NOT like selling say, Exchange, Cisco or Citrix. It is more like selling Oracle. Don’t throw an engineer at it just because he’s ‘technical’ and is pretty handy with Windows and SQL server. It’s not enough. You need a wide variety of skills and disciplines at your disposal.

Conclusion

It can be a hard thing to do, to tell a client that they are “not ready”, that they are not asking the right questions, especially when they tell you that they want a product and want you to supply it to them. (Ideally you find a gentler way to let them know this). It can be even harder, if you are a systems integrator or business advisor, to convince your own colleagues, that the wisest course of action is to not take the action that the client wants you to take.

So always remember the kung fu movie plots. You can’t take on the corporate immune mechanism without additional kung fu skills over and above the product itself. I’ll leave you with one last clip. Once again, the amazing Tony Jaa, who in this scene is definitely taking on the “corporate immune mechanism” because they are all wearing the same suit :-). As you will see he obviously followed sifu’s advice!

link if broken

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9 Responses to "You’re not ready" – SharePoint kung fu

  1. mattV says:

    EXCELLENT POST! I’m a new fan of CleverWorkArounds!!

  2. mikes says:

    Excellent Enlightenment, MOSS Master. I’ll leave

    Don’t know about marital arts, but I’ve seen a few remakes of the train wreck disaster movie!

    Outside of kung-fu films, things get in the way of nice business processes, making them complex and messy, just to sell a few movie tickets! That’s the price of being a responsive and competitive business. However clean and BPRed it is today, it will get worse tomorrow. Although it’s a start, it can’t be a one-off job – it’s a continuous task – the ‘chi’ of a company.

    As technologists we have to cope with that complexity, flexibility and change. We’ve got to parry those organisational karate chops aimed at the underlying technology, and use the opponent’s strength to our advantage. Be ready.

    Whether you are automating the current complexity, or implementing the re-engineered process to meet real-work challenges, we have to have a dialogue – not a fight scene: Some business processes will have to change to match the capabilities of the technology, and some parts of the technology will have to be customised to match the processes. Ying and Yang.

    Find out how to talk to you CFO, and work out which will cost more in each case. To do this the business analysts and technologist have to understand each other and work together. Sometimes we’ll be getting down and dirty in the bowls of Sharepoint to bend it to our needs or provide the features we need, but conversely there are times when we are 90% of the way there out of the box, and it’s less impact for the business process to be altered to avoid costly customisation, support, upgrade nightmares etc.

    …because the sequel is often a lot worse than the original!

  3. admin says:

    mikes will end up running his own shaolin school I’m sure 🙂

  4. Wellick says:

    Clearly one of the best SharePoint posts I’ve read this year! Keep it up, please!

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  8. i gotta say this i came for the videos but stayed for the post,i have a moderate tech interest bit the way you have included some of the most kick but kunf fu scenes rox .. great idea and very informative thank you

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