Why do SharePoint Projects Fail? Part 4

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Hi again

Welcome to part 4 of this series, which examines the factors that contribute to SharePoint projects causing much pain and suffering among project teams. Each post has started with some attempt at humour, before getting into some theory. We’ve had a drinking game, insulted project managers by painting them all with the same brush, and have had a mythical conversation with Bill Gates successfully selling MOSS to the good people at the company GOOSUNACLE.

On a serious side, we have looked at the Rittel definition of a wicked problem, looked at its relevance in IT projects and then considered some SharePoint specific factors, namely the “Microsoft Factor” and the “Panacea Factor”. Let’s continue down this road…

The New Product Factor… what does it do again?

This is a big problem area, certainly for the next couple of years. To properly explain it, I can draw a parallel to what happened in 1998-2002 when organisations moved from NT4 domains to Active Directory. Infrastructure people who have been involved in Active Directory projects will be nodding in agreement at this point.

In 2000 when Active Directory was released, it was a major advancement over Windows NT4 domains. It was not a simple incremental update, but essentially a whole new approach to how Microsoft networks were structured and managed. Microsoft released an absolute barrage of white papers, along with seminars and tutorials way in advance of release, explaining how it all worked. I have to admit though that as an infrastructure engineer at that time, it didn’t make much sense to me then, because a white paper is one thing, but actually using the product in the real world is another.

What was interesting about that time was that “Active Directory” became somewhat of a buzz word, and it was marketed as the be-all-and-end-all of life, the universe and everything. Just to demonstrate how nuts it was, I recall that Cisco and Microsoft made an announcement with big fanfare, trumpeting the fact that the management of all of your Cisco devices would be done via Active Directory!

WTF? “That never happened!”, I hear you AD and Cisco nerds exclaim.

Well here is the proof – god I love google sometimes 🙂

Choice quotes are always useful – Here is an article from 1998. http://www.cnn.com/TECH/computing/9811/19/cisconds.cdx.idg/

Microsoft and Cisco have been working for 20 months now on a project entitled Cisco Networking Services for Active Directory. The delivery date of that integrated product is tightly tied to the ship date of Windows 2000, which at the time of the Microsoft/Cisco partnership was supposed to be before the year’s-end. Microsoft is now saying that Windows 2000 will not ship until the middle of 1999.

So have you ever managed a Cisco network using Active Directory (apart from Radius authentication)?

So, fast forward 8 years and we now have a ton of collective real world experience, a set of mature best practices, and countless books on the subject. Active Directory projects are really not that complex at all. But back when it first came out, there was no collective expertise, and mistakes were made.

I have been involved with a few Active Directory revamp projects over the years, and every one of them was a project of consolidation, clean-up and simplification from the previous attempts at it. To this day I have never been called in to increase the complexity of an Active Directory to solve business issues.

Why am I telling you all this? Quite simple really, SharePoint is still in the hype stage, real world experience is still lacking, but more importantly, best practices are not mature. This is not helped by the way Microsoft and partners market the product. Right now, that is also very similar to Active Directory in 1999-2001. Let’s now look at that more closely.

(Mis)use of terms, ambiguous marketing and buzzword abuse

Okay, first up let’s take a closer look at a chart that pre-sales consultants will know well. Take a look at any of the terms in the outer ring and you basically have entire fields or disciplines where people spend their entire careers. So SharePoint can do all of that with one product, huh? Dang! It must be super-duper, finger-lickin’, umpa-lumpa good then!


Microsoft is in the business of selling licenses to use their software, and judging on their revenue and growth, SharePoint has been a rampaging success. I dislike their marketing material and will get into that in a minute, but at the end of the day it has worked for them. If I was developing a product to be used across many different organisational types and vertical markets, I’d probably end up doing exactly the same…

All of the disciplines above also happen to be buzzwords in their own right. When that happens, it is an irresistible target for savvy marketing campaigns to try and fit products into that space. Sometimes buzz-words come from odd sources too. Sarbanes Oxley is not a discipline, it is a legislative framework which has been widely used in marketing, especially by companies offering products in the security space – and judging by the current financial crisis in credit markets, have these products helped at all with the intent of SOX?

If I believed everything that was marketed to me, surely I would be throwing off gorgeous women in presales or strategy meetings? I mean, I use Lynx deodorant and it worked for the dentist…


(That ad is so wrong and I love it! – If you see a broken image here your company blocks youtube. Here is the link)

So let’s now focus on where SharePoint marketing has the potential to do more harm than good. My issue with this ‘chart’ is this: Explain to me what “Business Intelligence” actually is. Define “Content Management” or “Collaboration”. (Don’t cheat and go to wikipedia! – that is the place people go just before they have a meeting and want to sound like they know what they are talking about.)

The very fact that these areas are entire disciplines in themselves means that their meanings vary vastly to different people. Given that human beings like to categorise things into little boxes, the more generic a discipline, the more sub-definitions and branches within the discipline there are. Additionally, these sub-definitions and branches introduce their own terminology and acronyms.

I previously lamented the fact that the term “document management” is totally abused all the time and it leads to confusion and bad projects. What is funny, is that term is not even used in the above chart! So where does document management fall under? Content management or collaboration? It all depends on your definition of “document management”, doesn’t it?

Crap! It’s bad enough that we can’t agree on what the hell “document management” is and then I’m not sure where it fits anyway!

I have to say though, that “Business Intelligence” and “Collaboration” are even more misunderstood than document management. I was asked by a stakeholder of a million dollar SharePoint implementation if I could explain the difference between SharePoint and Skype! What the…! But his justification was quite simple. “I can collaborate with anyone cheaply with skype, as I can talk to them whenever and wherever I want. What does the added cost of SharePoint give me?”.

It is still a “what the…” moment, but really, you can’t fault why he asked such a question.


So to finish off part 4 section, let’s take a moment, pause and recap one of Rittel’s properties of a wicked problem. “Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good or bad. Judgements on the effectiveness of solutions are likely to differ widely based on the personal interests, value sets, and ideology of the participants.”

Do you think that Microsoft pie chart really helps customers? Hmm, I think not.

I just had a cartoon idea moment (Paul digs out photoshop). I think the image below says it all.



more to come… stay tuned!


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11 Responses to Why do SharePoint Projects Fail? Part 4

  1. Pingback: CleverWorkarounds » Why do SharePoint Projects Fail - Part 3

  2. Jeremy Thake says:

    I completely agree. Moving from a Microsoft Implementation Partner into an internal IS team has made me see the confusion internally over what SharePoint actually does. The biggest thing is because the Business Sponsors think it is Microsoft that it will be fully featured and completely “out of the box”, whereas anything that maps to a direct business requirement/process needs lots of customisation because the OOB just doesn’t cut it. Also, basic things like governance and deployment are not straight forward by any means! But I guess it just gives us all jobs, heh Paul 😉

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  10. Thanks for a post. For me it very much the helpful information

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