Selling MOSS – A Choose Your Own Adventure Story

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(start the working week with a laugh)

I was writing a post and adding my usual dose of sarcasm and piss taking of IT department stereotypes. As I wrote it, the piss taking became larger than the topic itself (which was about the risks of IT departments trying to sell SharePoint to the rest of the business). So I’ve now largely abandoned my original topic and am just writing this post for the fun of it.

Any child of the 70’s and 80’s will have read the “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories, where you are presented with a choice and according to the decision made you then turn to the directed page.

Here I present the world’s first SharePoint Choose Your Own Adventure story. The premise of this story is that our trusty IT department has been bitten by the SharePoint bug and thinks it would be great for the organisation. The book is entitled:

“I.T Knows Best (Resistance is Futile)”

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(ya like my 3L1T3 PH070SH0P SK1LLZ ? 🙂





Page 1 – The Junket

You escape work for a few hours by accepting an invitation to one of those corporate junkets that Microsoft or one of their partners do. You get a lunch, with the obligatory show-bag containing a branded pen, brochures and some pointless device that plugs into a USB port. There is a guest speaker or two from out of town, showing off an impressive demo of Microsoft’s Office 2007 server and client tools. One or two local Microsoft gold partners co-sponsor the event and have a booth to convince you they are the people to help you with it all. (And it’s me who is made to stand at those booths, dammit!)

  • If you are a CIO or have control over a large budget, turn to page 2,
  • If you are the rest of us (a lowly IT worker), turn to page 3


Page 2 – The Executive Junket

As CIO or GM of IT and in control of a big budget, your junket will be more exclusive and swanky than the packed out, hotel function rooms your lowly IT department grunts get. You might see the presentation during a river cruise or in a penthouse suite of an up market hotel. You probably get some nice wine, top catering, and get to do what you like to do best… hob-knob with other high ranking peers while your secretary sends spurious messages to your blackberry to make you seem more important 🙂 Additionally, you don’t get a plastic show-bag, instead you get a branded laptop carry case and a bottle of wine.

So you stagger back to work, after a few too many glasses of wine, thinking to yourself that the food was great, and you vaguely remember that ‘SharePoint stuff’ seemed pretty good at the time. You sort through the new business cards swapped from partners and high ranking peers. You rummage through your laptop carry case, and there is a Microsoft DVD with a demonstration SharePoint Virtual Machine.

  • If you are a luddite IT Manager, who talks the talk, but has no actual understanding of technology beyond answering your phone, turn to page 4
  • If you are a frustrated manager who still likes to ‘fiddle’ with technology instead of doing what you are supposed to do, turn to page 5
  • If you are a wussy IT manager where actually making a decision strikes the fear of god into you, turn to page 8.


Page 3 – The Pleb Junket

As an IT professional who doesn’t sign the cheques, you are relegated to being jammed in with the rest of the sardines in a large function room with questionable air conditioning. Pagers and mobile phones chirp regularly for those who are on call for 30 hours a day, 9 days a week. You, however ,are willing to ignore the cheap catering and facilities because you are getting the ‘deep dive’ version of the presentation, (which incidentally, is a clever marketing word to make you feel important). You chat with peers, making Microsoft reliability jokes, discussing your favourite linux distro, dumping on users, dumping on your managers and comparing disaster recovery stories.

So you arrive back at the office with your plastic show-bag. You immediately throw out all of the brochures and keep only a demonstration SharePoint DVD and the pointless USB device. (The USB device taking pride of place on your desk, just in front of your Tux mug.)

  • If you are a technical genius with no fashion sense or people skills turn to page 6.
  • If you are a metrosexual web designer/developer who drinks those girly vodka mixes, turn to page 7


Page 4 – Back To Solitaire

As a luddite IT manager who’s skill background has no bearing on your current position, you stare at the DVD for some time, before calling your favourite IT staff member (who happens to hate you with passion) to drop the much more important work they are doing to come and explain to you what to do with it. Within seconds into their opening sentence they use a word with two syllables and you are lost. You hand them the DVD, asking them to work their magic and “show  me what it’s all about”. As they walk out the door, you remind them once again that Token-Ring was a much better network technology than Ethernet. This in your opinion, reminds them that you know your stuff…

Your staff member leaves scowling, and within around 10 seconds (about the same time as a goldfish), you have forgotten the request completely and go back to playing Spider Solitaire.

A couple of days blur by and your Solitaire is interrupted by one of your staff who announces that the SharePoint VM is ready and loaded. Alarmed by the technobabble mumbo-jumbo you say thanks and then call your teenage child, asking if they know what this is all about. Unfortunately, because it’s not about playing MP3’s on your laptop, they are of little help.Then something triggers your memory that it had something to do with that recent conference where you received a free bottle of wine.

Co-incidentally, you receive another invitation in the mail to attend a ‘CIO event’ from a different Microsoft gold partner about a new and exciting product from Microsoft called ‘SharePoint”. You decide to register to see what it is all about.


Page 5 – Scratching the Itch

Despite being the IT Manager, you still really dig the technology side of things, especially new stuff. Therefore you micro-manage your staff like crazy and don’t trust in their abilities. For this reason, you install the demo SharePoint VM onto your own laptop and tell no-one. The laptop is easily able to handle the added load (after all, as a former tech, now that you control the IT budget, your laptop has 32GB of RAM, 20 terabytes of disk storage and those stupid neon lights!).

You load up the VM and spend the next 3 days ‘fiddling’ with it until you get your head around things. Being adept with uncle google, you come across a really useful blog site called ‘cleverworkarounds’ ( 😀 ) and it helps you gain a good technical understanding of the product. (Although you ignore all the management/governance oriented articles).

Fast forward two weeks. You’ve set up a bunch of sites and sub-sites based on built in templates. You have created additional custom lists that have a few lookups to each-other, created some document libraries and maybe even trotted out a basic infopath form / workflow simulating a helpdesk request. Therefore, you believe that you have single-handedly solved all of the organisation’s collaborative needs.  By this time however, you are starting to lose interest – you know enough of the product to be cool and anyway, a new Ubuntu distro has been released.

So you feel now it’s time to introduce SharePoint to the rest of your department. You feel that if your IT department can demonstrate how useful SharePoint is to them, then it will be easy sell to the rest of the organisation. So what to do next?

  • If you dump it to your best tech dude to use it for IT information management, turn to page 6
  • If you dump it to your metrosexual web developer to jazz up your work, turn to page 7.


Page 6 – Legend in your own mind

Technical geek. Poor misunderstood soul. Willing to put up with truly terrible work conditions in return for playing with software,operating systems and wearing an un-ironed t-shirt. Your work area tends to be a basement or computer room, so you are quite used to the hum of cooling fans and the flicker of fluorescent lights. Armed with the Microsoft demo DVD, your course of action depends on both your particular platform dogma.

  • If linux is your thing, and slashdot has all of the news you need, turn to page 9
  • If Microsoft products rock your world, and linux scares the crap out of you, turn to page 10
  • If say that you like both platforms, then you are really a Microsoft weenie – so turn to page 10


Page 7 – The web developer

As a web developer, you are the living embodiment of Derek Zoolander. Programming and design work takes a distant second place to regular preening. Work attire is designer label, and you constantly make sure that your anime inspired hairdo is still in place with that expensive UK imported hair gel. Beer tastes foul to you, but you will happily drink those sweet fluorescent coloured mixer drinks that are basically a combination or cordial and vodka. You are completely oblivious to how much of a tosser you appear to all around you except your fellow metrosexuals. Your doof-doof music phone-ringtone annoys your co-workers to no end.

You pop in the SharePoint DVD motivated more for how you can make it look cool that what it actually does. For the next two weeks, you try and take its default branding and jazz it up with your favourite dreamweaver look. During this time, you go through a whole range of emotions, ranging from joy to denial, disbelief, anger and uncontrolled sobbing.

You do manage to end up making things look pretty – not quite what you were after, but slick nonetheless. However you do not document these changes, nor make any attempt to see if your changes are good practice, maintainable or even supported.

You now proudly show your results to your IT Manager for approval.

  • If your IT Manager is a luddite, nothing happens as he is at a conference – Turn to page 1
  • If your IT Manager hates decision making, then you end up in a series of meetings that make no progress for 6 months. Turn to page 8.

Otherwise, the IT manager, satisfied with your branding work, now hands the next stage onto other IT staff (the tech nerds), to further develop the IT portal.

(If you have looped between page 10 and page 7 fifteen times, you can now proceed to Page 11)


Page 8 –  The Middle Manager

One inevitable fact of life of a middle manager is that you still actually believe that your combover isn’t noticeable. Unfortunately, it is, by others and your mannerisms are imitated by departmental staff when they go to the pub on Fridays. (Oddly, you are not invited very often).

You like what you see, and decide that it warrants further investigation. You call an all day meeting involving *every* IT departmental staff member to discuss such important SharePoint topics as: Have we ever had to innovate our functionality? Is it better to recontextualize strategically than to synergize efficiently? What does it really mean to engineer “virtually”? What does it really mean to engage “proactively”? Do we have a plan of action to become out-of-the-box? How can company maximize faithfully a functionality strategy will (someday) be able to deploy faithfully? How can we deploy without social-network-based, sexy social-network-based Total Quality Management?

After a dozen meetings on these vitally important issues, as well as dozens of ad-hoc discussions with uninterested colleagues, you decide you had better get a second opinion from an outside consulting company. You engage in the same series of meetings with the consultants, except this time you pay $15000 for a “strategic whitepaper” that took a month to write and is based around no actual concrete requirements and therefore completely ambiguous.

Therefore you decide you had better get a third opinion, just in case the second opinion is not clear enough. As it happens, the consultant you pick for the third opinion happens to be running another SharePoint demonstration session and invite you to attend.


Page 9 – The Linux Geek

As you are a linux geek, the Microsoft DVD immediately starts burning your hand as soon as you hold it (rather like sunlight and vampires), so you quickly drop it into your trash. You write a long, technical email to your IT Manager (using pine/gentoo if you are seriously hardcore otherwise evolution/ubuntu describing that the product is obviously insecure, unstable, expensive and controlled by a convicted monopolist. Instead you put forward a recommendation that you should use [insert free LAMP based CMS here].

At this point the story ends for you, the battle is won, but the war goes on as another junket is coming up.

Turn to page 1


Page 10 – The Microsoft Weenie

As a Microsoft weenie, you get a sense of anticipation and excitement not only when Microsoft releases a product version, but each time you have to apply a new patch via WSUS. You joyously take the DVD and load up the demo SharePoint VM and spend the next 3 days playing. Even when you get home from work, you VPN back in and keep playing late into the night.

You meticulously investigate every template, list type, document library type and start adding data in. Fast forward 2 weeks and you now have your IT portal masterpiece, complete with so many detailed sub sites, templates, lists, libraries and complicated lookup arrangements that you feel that your masterpiece is not only a technical marvel, but now you have the framework to properly solve all of your IT department’s process and documentation issues (The fact that no documentation exists doesn’t dampen your enthusiasm for working out a storage and version control regime for it).

Next you decide to install SharePoint yourself as the demo VM is running out of time. At this point you find it a little tougher than your regular Microsoft install. Running the initial setup is easy enough, but you are not sure about all these web applications and this shared service provider stuff. The Microsoft white-papers are big, so you compensate by running the entire installation using one service account with domain administrator access and manage to get it ‘sort of’ going. You promise yourself to go back and fix that some time later.

As with all technical geeks, you document nothing. The very notion of writing documentation doesn’t enter your mind when you’re playing with new toys. But you finally have a shiny new installation. Thus, you now proudly show your results to your IT Manager for approval.

  • If your IT Manager is a luddite, nothing happens as he is at a conference – Turn to page 1
  • If your IT Manager hates decision making, then you end up in a series of meetings that make no progress for 6 months. Turn to page 8.

Otherwise, the IT manager, satisfied with your beta version of the IT Portal, now hands the next stage onto other IT staff (those branding/design wusses), to further develop the IT portal’s ‘look’.


Page 11 – A Portal is born?

By jove, you have a portal! A bastion of IT excellence and ready for you as IT Manager to unveil to the organisation that shows why SharePoint will solve it’s problems.

Two weeks later and it has not been adopted by your IT staff. No new documents have been uploaded, no new data has been entered, no discussion forums have been used. The only staff enthusiastic about the portal is those involved in its install and branding.

Hmm – why not?

When you start digging to find out, the reasons are varied.

  • The portal uses so many sub-sites and templates and that no-one is quite sure where things should be going since there is now a zillion lists and libraries. (And how is this different to a messy file-system?)
  • The non windows guys refuse to use it on principle anyway, preferring their documentation to remain on their boxes
  • The paranoid ones don’t want to collaborate /disseminate knowledge because it means a dilution of their ability to have know it all power trips.
  • The nerdy ones are unhappy with the columns chosen and want ridiculous levels of metadata detail to be added to libraries/lists despite the fact they have no written documents to contribute to.
  • The helpdesk guys are not used to thinking for themselves and there is no work instruction for them to follow.
  • The lazy ones complain they have no yet been on the training/bootcamp.

It is at this point where you realise that perhaps selling MOSS to the organisation via IT is not necessarily a great idea as IT seems to have a few issues to solve. In a moment of clarify, you decide that it is therefore time for some outside advice.

For some strange reason, one solitary name bubbles  out of your mind from the deep recesses of your subconscious. It is called “CleverWorkarounds”, and you pick up the phone…

The end … for now 🙂

 

Epilogue

This post,of course , is having fun at the expense of IT departmental stereotypes. However, under this bizarre story filled with pent up sarcasm and in-jokes there are some serious themes buried. My next post will be the serious version of this post, where I will talk about some of the considerations, risk and constraints trying to find a solution for a tool, and not letting this turn into a ‘wicked project‘.

Hope you found it an entertaining read…

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17 Responses to Selling MOSS – A Choose Your Own Adventure Story

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  3. mikegil says:

    Brilliant. Full of vitriol, containing some good nuggets, and clearly based on trials and tribulations.

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  9. John says:

    Typo on page 11: they have no* yet been on the training

  10. Paul,

    That’s absolutely brilliant,laugh-out-loud stuff! Nice work.

    Regards,

    Kailash.

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  12. craig brown says:

    ha ha
    you work at my current client, don’t you.

  13. admin says:

    Thanks Craig – your blog is superb mate…

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  15. you know, you can’t beat those old card games… give digsolitaire a look for spider solitaire games with high-scores, i’m an addict 🙂

  16. martin russ says:

    Great web-site name, great article, and a great sense of humour! And underneath it all, some very smart thinking – the sort of thinking that you remember later when you need it. Congratulations on a very effective blog – you are now top of my list for when that wicked problem comes up!

  17. Well done. I respect and fear the experience in implementation/adpotion this demonstrates

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