Leave form article 6 up at SharePointMagazine.net

Send to Kindle

Due to a sudden burst of motivation (that has since evaporated :-), I finished off part 6 and part 7 of the InfoPath "leave form tribute" series. Arno has just posted part 6 which you can read here:


Looking for part 7? Ask Arno nicely as I’m not sure when he plans to publish that one 🙂

 Digg  Facebook  StumbleUpon  Technorati  Deli.cio.us  Slashdot  Twitter  Sphinn  Mixx  Google  DZone 

No Tags

Send to Kindle

Book Review – "SharePoint for Project Management"

Send to Kindle

To review this book I need to tell you a true story first…

The very first MOSS 2007 project that I was involved in did not go well. I was the architect who had to design the SharePoint farm, perform some IA work, sort out governance and work with the stressed out project manager who was dealing with stakeholders who insisted we press ahead, despite the fact they all had wildly different interpretations of what problem they were trying to solve.

In fact, my first series on branding, ROI and disk planning were inspired from that particular project. Other articles such as my “document management for metalheads” and my “project failure” series were also inspired by it too (although in that case the actual articles came from more broad soul searching).

Now one thing that came out of that experience, is that the organisation had a string of problematic projects prior to that. Thus they had attempted to rectify the problem by doing what many medium to large organisations do. They put together a program management office (PMO). Highly paid consultants came in and trained up various staff on the rigour and process for a PMO based on a PMBOK foundation. I was very supportive of this initiative, because at that time I was hell bent on achieving the PMP certification, so I was studying PMBOK anyway.

PMBOK for those who don’t know stands for the Project Management Body of Knowledge. It is a set of project management best practice guidelines produced by the Project Management Institute (PMI). Since the word “institute” is in its name, they are obviously really, really smart.

But the very same highly paid PMBOK consultants had no SharePoint experience. So, they also put together a new Project management Information System (PMIS) based on a complex folder structure, a bunch of new MSWord based forms, strictly managed manual workflows in relation to managing and tracking various critical aspects of projects (Excel-based, of course).

So, here we were, implementing a large scale collaboration project with the aim of improving the management and tracking of knowledge within the organization, and the PMO was not actually using SharePoint. The irony was not lost on me, especially considering that this was a service based organisation that made its money by undertaking projects! Even better, the outcome for the SharePoint project was to create “project portals” for staff to better manage their own information!

I used to make the point that it sent a bad message when we were undertaking a project to bring SharePoint to the masses so they could better manage their projects, yet not using it to manage *this* project. What did that say about our confidence with the platform?

Of course, it was easy for me to criticise this perceived hypocrisy because I was the tech guy who had learned how the product worked. The others had not had that luxury and trying to learn PMBOK rigour, combined with a new tool was simply too much for them to handle.

Story over – fast forward two and a half years later, here we are and what do we have…?

When I first heard that this book was coming out I was very pleased because I noted that its author, Dux Raymond Sy was certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP). This means that Dux has passed an exam validating his knowledge of PMBOK, but more importantly, had the real world experience to even qualify (PMBOK has some tight eligibility requirements). Given my interest and knowledge of PMBOK and experience of working in a PMBOK based PMO, I was very keen to read this book indeed. Luckily for me, Dux was kind enough to give me this opportunity and supplied me a review copy.

Before you even start on this book, do not skip the preface. Dux is not setting out to write for low level geeks or developers. In this book, you will not find insights into how to create a custom site definition for a PMO, complete with stapled features, event handlers or Visual Studio based workflows. Instead this book is more akin to a more focused “Teach yourself SharePoint” type book, combined with a “Project Management 123” style book.

Dux states that he has written the book for the following groups, of which only the last one may have expectation issues.

  • Project Managers
  • Project team members
  • Program Managers
  • IT/IS Directors
  • SharePoint consultants

Aside from the last group, we are not exactly talking uber-tech geeks here. Additionally, Dux explicitly states that the book can help SharePoint consultants to “leverage your SharePoint technical skills by offering a focused approach to implementing SharePoint as a PMIS“. He also states in his assumptions that “I am not inclined to write yet another technical book about SharePoint … the level of technical detail I will cover is just enough to get your PMIS up and running“.

So this book is pitched squarely at the end-user as far as the complexity and accessibility of the material, and Dux has actually come up with something that I think is of value to people who do not have a project management background either.

End-user training books work best when there is a context to the lessons. So whether it is using SharePoint for project management or using SharePoint to help Americans to play the game of cricket, having that unifying theme underneath always makes for a more coherent book helping to explain the rationales for all your actions.

Dux has used PMBOK as the basis to introduce SharePoint features. Each chapter steps you through the project management life cycle from project kickoff at Chapter 1, to project closing at Chapter 9.

Chapter 1 outlines the essential project management activities that have to take place and borrows from PMBOK theory. The concept of a PMIS is introduced and SharePoint is introduced as a product. Thankfully for all of us, Dux has resisted the urge to waste excessive paper on the history of SharePoint; something that every other author seems to feel compelled to do. The chapter is finished off by introducing a fictitious company called “SharePoint Dojo Inc.” which is used throughout the rest of the book.

Chapter 2 is entitled “Setting Up the PMIS” and starts by explaining SharePoint basics such as top level sites and subsites and site templates. He then relates this back to how a PMO may be structured. Once again, rather than go into excess theory, several different ways to organise your PMO are suggested with some basic considerations and we are quickly creating a SharePoint site as a workshop. The key point here is that Dux has set the scene, explained what we are going to do and the outcome that we want. Readers therefore aren’t going through the motions without knowing why. Each workshop then has a debrief that summarises the actions performed.

Chapter 3 is called “Adding PMIS Components” and, once again, Dux sets the scene by explaining the functionality that a PMIS needs to provide. This premise is used to introduce lists and libraries, and this is where non project management readers will also get benefit. There are lists and libraries created for tracking project risks, tasks, resources, contacts and documents with some customizations. Therefore, readers get a subtle introduction to PMBOK as well as learning how to customize lists and libraries in SharePoint.

Chapter 4 deals with “Adding stakeholders to the PMIS”, which is essentially a subtle way to write a chapter on managing users, groups and permissions.

Chapter 5 is entitled “Supporting Team Based Collaboration” and builds on chapters 2-4 by introducing more advanced SharePoint features, such as versioning, check-in and content approval in the context of project team members, stakeholders and project sponsors wanting to review and track the evolution of project documentation. Dux then introduces Wikis, discussion boards and document workspaces on the premise that “collaborative project activities can be ad hoc, offline or remote in nature”, such as brainstorming, sharing lessons learned and continual process improvement.

Chapter 6 is back into the PMBOK discipline again and is called “Project tracking”. It expands on chapter 3 in particular and tracking project tasks and risks. The workshop updates the lists with chapter 3 and requires readers to make more advanced changes to the existing lists. Additional columns are added and the datasheet view is introduced. The second half of chapter 6 introduces workflows, and the out of the box three-state workflow concept is introduced and implemented as a change control system.

Chapter 7 builds on chapter 6, by talking about requirements for project reporting in a PMIS and covers the SharePoint features of custom views, specific web parts and alerts to achieve this. This chapter also covers the creation of web part pages for the purpose of management dashboards (publishing pages are not covered). Mind you, later in this chapter the MOSS only KPI web parts are covered as well as a 3rd party web part by Bamboo Software. Alerts are also covered off, as well as particular attention to meeting workspaces as a means to improve the quality of project meetings. Anyone in project management knows, that meetings are a fact of life and a constant source of frustration and wastage.

Chapter 8 deals with integration issues. Dux offers techniques for integrating MS Project with SharePoint and Excel for managing SharePoint lists. Out of the box integration with SharePoint and MS Project is not overly slick and some 3rd party options are suggested. The integration with Excel on the other hand was actually something that I did not know existed – bi-direction sync between Excel and SharePoint via a Microsoft add-in.

Chapter 9 is the final chapter and entitled “Project Closing”. By this time we have created a fully functional PMIS site and this chapter rounds off the book by taking our complete site, and saving it as a template for re-use for new projects. As a final note, Dux writes about the importance of buy-in from stakeholders when adopting SharePoint as a PMIS.

I think that the level of detail that this book went into was well pitched at Dux’s targeted audience. If I was to make one suggestion in relation to the coverage of SharePoint features, it would have been to include both filter web parts and the concept of web part connections in chapter 7. I think that web part connections add an extra dimension to dashboards without requiring application development expertise. This may have been a good fit for this book.

SQL Reporting services integration may have been worthwhile in chapter 8 as well. Whilst excessive detail is not required for reporting services, the sort of functionality that it provides is definitely worth covering, especially as MOSS specific functionality like KPI web parts were mentioned. That chapter also was fairly small compared to the other chapters and I think this would have rounded it off nicely.

In terms of people who have never been involved with project management disciplines, there is also something to offer here. This book is not a PMBOK study guide by any stretch, but it still provides an insight into the rigour and processes that should be followed when managing projects. For that reason, I think that this book is actually better than many of the “teach yourself…” style books that provide lessons without an underlying context. If I was to nit-pick in this area, there is probably scope for further fleshing out some of the head-space around project management practice. But in saying that I’ve already read PMBOK books so I may be biased in this regard.

If Dux felt really inclined, he could probably repeat this formula. I could easily see this style of book being applied to say, using SharePoint for Scrum methodology.

All in all, a great book for what it is and a “must read” for those involved in project management who want to know what SharePoint is all about.

Paul Culmsee


 Digg  Facebook  StumbleUpon  Technorati  Deli.cio.us  Slashdot  Twitter  Sphinn  Mixx  Google  DZone 

No Tags

Send to Kindle

Report on which web2.0 technologies work for the enterprise

Send to Kindle

I thought that this article was topical given that I am writing on how organisational culture and behavioural style impacts the sorts of collaborative tools that individuals and organisations gravitate to and find useful.

The reports cover 11 common Web 2.0 technologies that can potentially find value in the enterprise:

  • microblogs,
  • prediction markets,
  • social networking,
  • widgets,
  • blogs,
  • RSS feeds,
  • wikis,
  • forums,
  • podcasts, and
  • social bookmarks.


The short version for those who can’t be stuffed reading it?

  • Microblogs – too early to tell
  • Forums, Podcasts and Social Bookmarking are not seen as strategically valuable to enterprises.
  • Wikis are popular and well adopted, blogs also popular (but less than wikis)
  • Social networking tools are finding value in certain demographics but have not really taken off yet

Do readers agree with their conclusions?

I have to say that regarding forums, a lot of clients ask for them and many always seem to be blank 🙂

 Digg  Facebook  StumbleUpon  Technorati  Deli.cio.us  Slashdot  Twitter  Sphinn  Mixx  Google  DZone 

No Tags

Send to Kindle

Root Causes of Communication Fragmentation: Organisational Culture

Send to Kindle

This is the second article in a series of articles which examine factors causing the sort of organisational inefficiencies that lead people to use products like SharePoint. My first article in the series examined individual learning and behavioural styles and their impact on communication and how those same learning and behavioural styles still manifest themselves in collaborative tools and informational architecture.

We now turn our attention away from individuals and look at the collection of individuals known as the "organisation". In the first article, I lamented the fact that it seemed no empirical study had even been performed to determine the relationship between behaviour/learning styles and specific collaborative tools/techniques. Fortunately for me, in writing this second article, organisational culture has long been recognised as just about *the* most critical factor in organisational success. What that essentially translates to, is that there is an absolute *plethora* of research on the topic of the influence of organisational culture in knowledge management. In writing this article I had a severe case of information overload but fortunately found exactly what I was looking for.

Knowledge management in academia

Academic papers tend to be pretty dry reads. Researchers, surprise…surprise, write papers to be read by other researchers. Any time you delve into academia to look for answers you have a lot to read and digest, and need a strong jolt of caffeine to keep you going.

Combine that with the fact that the term "Knowledge Management" suffers from rampant buzzword abuse in the same way that the term "Governance" does. This abuse reflects itself in academia where authors are forced to spend pages and pages of their work on defining exactly what they are talking about, whilst making sure that they have demonstrated that they have checked their facts (evidenced by numerous references to other researches).

I ended up finding one particular paper to be very insightful contained within this book:


and in particular, this paper/chapter with an extremely long title…

*Paul takes a deep breath*

"An Empiric Study of Organizational Culture Types and their Relationship with the Success of a Knowledge Management System and the Flow of Knowledge in the U.S. Government and Nonprofit Sectors" by Juan Román-Velázquez, D.Sc.

What a mouthful that was!

Credit where credit is due though, this is a terrific paper and I am going to barely paraphrase it here. But I encourage anyone who wants to ensure that organisational culture issues have been given due consideration in their planing to read this paper. Despite being oriented to government and non-profit organisations, there is a lot of good conclusions to draw from.

Velázquez sets the scene by explaining that public, private, and nonprofit enterprises must survive and thrive in an environment of shrinking distance, complex interdependencies and increased uncertainty. Unsurprisingly, the use of knowledge management (KM) is rapidly growing and tools like SharePoint are commonly used in this area. Velázquez has a good definition for KM that

…provides the capability to engineer the enterprise structure, functions, and processes necessary for the enterprise to survive and prosper. KM leverages the existing human capital/intellectual assets to help generate, capture, organize, and share knowledge that is relevant to the mission of the enterprise. Furthermore, the implementation of a KM system (KMS) enables the effective application of management best practices and information technology tools to deliver the best available knowledge to the right person, at just the right time, to solve a problem, make a decision, capture expertise, and so forth, while performing their work. The KMS can comprise formal systems, processes, management directives, and others that, when combined, help generate, capture, organize, and share available knowledge that is relevant to the mission of the enterprise.

Velázquez than makes the key point that I have always believed. I tell clients that SharePoint is 90% head-space. Velázquez argues although motivations for KM may differ between the public and private sector, the *practice* of knowledge management is very similar. Velázquez also stresses the point that "tools" are a small part of the solution.

A successful KMS involves more than just implementing a new technology that can be acquired in a “box”; it requires understanding and integrating its human aspects and the culture in which it operates.

So SharePoint is not a Knowledge Management System – it is merely one of the tools that underpin a KMS.

Where does organisational culture come from?

A widely held view is that the importance of organisational cultural considerations emerged by the failure of many US and European companies to compete with Japanese firms. Case in point? Look at the history of Ford, General Motors and Toyota. In their book, Diagnosing and Changing Organisation Culture (see below), authors Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn make the point that successful companies with sustained profitability and above-average returns leverage their organisational culture as the key factor for competitive advantage.

Organisational culture can emerge in a number of ways:

  • It is sometimes created by its founder (e.g. Walt Disney).
  • It may emerge over time, as the organization faces challenges and obstacles (e.g. Coca-Cola)
  • It may be developed consciously by the management team (e.g. General Electric through Jack Welch).

How important is organisational culture? Consider this quote from Cameron and Quinn.

The point we are illustrating with these examples is that without another kind of fundamental change, namely, the change of the culture of an organisation, there is little hope of enduring improvement in organisational performance. A primary reason for the failure of so many efforts to improve organisational effectiveness is that, whereas the tools and techniques may be present and the change strategy implemented with vigor, failure occurs because the fundamental culture of the organisation remains the same. Consider the studies by Cameron and his colleagues (Cameron, Freeman, & Mishra, 1991; Cameron, 1992; Cameron, 1995) in which empirical studies were conducted in more than 100 organisations that had engaged in total quality management (TQM) and downsizing as strategies for enhancing effectiveness. The results of those studies were unequivocal. The successful implementation of TQM and downsizing programs, as well as the resulting effectiveness of the organisations’ performance, depended on having the improvement strategies embedded in a culture change. When TQM and downsizing were implemented independent of a culture change, they were unsuccessful. When the culture of these organisations was an explicit target of change, so that the TQM and/or downsizing initiatives were a part of an overall culture change effort, they were successful. Organisational effectiveness increased. Culture change was the key.

That quote, I think hits the nail on the head of why so many SharePoint projects fail. To implement SharePoint without any appreciation for organisational culture is simply not smart. If you are dumfounded by the fact that nobody in the organisation is embracing wikis, blogs and discussion forums, stop and think about it. Is this organisation conducive to such technologies?

Fortunately for SharePoint practitioners who have never considered the effect that an organisation’s culture has on the application of collaborative technology, I’m about to make your life easier… In short, the hard work has been done for you.

The CVF model

In the first article, I used the learning style theories of Honey and Mumford and Marston DISC to explain how our individual differences impacted on the means and methods by which we collaborate. They are not the only theories by any stretch. In fact, pretty much anytime anybody puts up a theory or methodology, you will invariably find someone else trashing it by questioning its validity. Likewise, when trying to quantify organisational culture factors, there are many different measurement methods with different theoretical underpinnings. Naturally, each believes that *theirs* is the right way to go.

I just had a sudden thought that maybe the learning and behavioural styles of an individual has an influence on which measurement methodology they might find to be the most useful.

One tool used to diagnose organisations and help executives change their culture is called the Competing Values Framework (CVF). The CVF consists of a framework, a sense-making tool, and a set of steps to analyze and change organisational culture. CVF is best explained with two charts that I have supplied below.



There are two dimensions used in this chart. From left to right, we are looking at "internal versus external" factors such as employee satisfaction, customer service, market share and profitability. From bottom to top, we are looking at the "control versus flexibility" factors such as the internal processes, policies and systems that maintain stability and consistency at one end, and adaptability at the other. Taken together, the two dimensions of the CVF produces four quadrants: Clan, Adhocracy, Hierarchy and Market culture.

Note that it is a very similar dimension based system like Marston DISC. (This is why I like it).

Below I have defined the characteristics of each culture type as defined by Velázquez:

The clan culture: Dominant in flexibility, discretion, dynamism, internal focus, integration and unity.

A very friendly place to work where people share a lot of themselves. It is like an extended family. The leaders, or the heads of the organization, are considered to be mentors and perhaps parent figures. The organization is held together by loyalty or tradition. Commitment is high. The organization emphasizes the long-term benefits of human resources development and attaches great importance to cohesion and morale. Success is defined in terms of sensitivity to customers and concern for people. The organization places a premium on teamwork, participation, and consensus.

The adhocracy culture: Dominant in flexibility, discretion, dynamism, external focus, differentiation and rivalry.

A dynamic, entrepreneurial, and creative place to work. People stick their necks out and take risks. The leaders are considered innovators and risk takers. The glue that holds the organisation together is commitment to experimentation and innovation. The emphasis is on being on the leading edge. The organisation’s long-term emphasis is on growth and acquiring new resources. Success means gaining unique and new products or services. Being a product or service leader is important. The organisation encourages individual initiative and freedom.

The market culture: Dominant in stability, order, control, external focus, differentiation and rivalry.

A results-oriented organisation whose major concern is with getting the job done. People are competitive and goal oriented. The leaders are hard drivers, producers, and competitors. They are tough and demanding. The glue that holds the organisation together is an emphasis on winning. Reputation and success are common concerns. The long-term focus is on competitive action and achievement of measurable goals and targets

The hierarchy culture: Dominant in stability, order, control, internal focus, integration and unity.

A very formalised and structured place to work. Procedures govern what people do. The leaders pride themselves on being good efficent-minded coordinators and organizers. Maintaining a smooth-running organisation is most critical. Formal rules and policies hold the organisation together. The long-term concern is on stability and performance with efficient smooth operations. Success is defined in terms of dependable delivery, smooth scheduling, and low cost. The management of employees is concerned with secure employment and predictability.

I’m sure that just like the previous article, most readers will readily identify the sort of organisational culture to which they belong. Microsoft themselves are a classic case study of an organisation that has attempted to change its culture on numerous occasions with varying degrees of success. Microsoft would like to think that their culture is that of a clan and adhocracy, but the reality is they are very much a market culture. These days they are beaten to the punch my smaller, more nimble competitors, but over the long term they are able to use their formidable market position and financial leverage to succeed. Netscape is a classic example of Microsoft’s market culture succeeding, but you can almost *hear* the rusty gears of the Microsoft culture machine slowly but surely turning as competitors like Google and Linux achieve tremendous success which has been built on very different philosophical foundations.

Having said that, I believe personally that Google is now invariably moving from a strong clan/adhocracy culture starting point to a dominant market culture as well. If you disagree with my assertion then we need to prove it either way. How? 

…Enter the OCAI.


The Organisational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI) is part of the CVF. It is a survey based instrument that allows an organisation to profile what quadrant they are strongest in and to decide if they would be better off by cultivating strengths in another quadrant. There are plenty of reasons why a company might want to do this. Microsoft both succeeded and failed in this regard. They managed to completely out-compete Netscape through Netscape’s own failed execution of strategy, yet they have been playing catch-up with Google for years and still really have not managed to make a dent. 

To determine the dominant culture type in an organization, survey questions are group into six "cultural components". The six components are: General Dominant Characteristics, Organizational Leadership, Management of Employees, Organizational Glue, Strategic Emphasis and Criteria of Success.

  • General Dominant Characteristics: In general, what does the organisation look like? What the overall organization is like.
  • Organizational Leadership: How leaders are perceived in their direction of the institution.
  • Management of Employees: The style that characterizes how employees are treated and what the working environment is like.
  • Organizational Glue: The bonding mechanisms that hold the organisation together.
  • Strategic Emphasis: Areas of emphasis or priority issues that guide the organisational strategies.
  • Criteria of Success: Evaluation criteria and procedures to determine level of achievements and outcomes. It is how victory is defined and what gets rewarded and celebrated.

Each question has four alternatives representing each CVF quadrant (A=Clan, B=Adhocracy, C=Market, D=Hierarchy). Individuals completing the OCAI are asked to assign a score to each alternative. A higher number of points are given to the alternative that is most similar to the organisation in question. Results of the OCAI survey are obtained by computing the average of the response scores for each alternative. This can then be plotted as per the example below.


Et Voila! Now we have a much clearer assessment of the culture of an organisation, based on the feedback from the members of the organisation.

Is it worth it?

Geeks who have made it this far through this article are at this point wondering what I am smoking, but rest assured – this stuff is critically important for anybody who is tasked with putting SharePoint into an organisation.

It actually turns out that research using the CVF quadrant has shown that large organisations able to balance their competing values by growing strength in each quadrant tend to outperform other organisations over the long-term. Therefore, the tools and technologies that are put in place to support knowledge management need to also take into account the culture of the organisation in order to extract maximum value from the investment.

Each of the four traits were also significant predicators of other effectiveness criteria such as quality, employee satisfaction, and overall performance. The results also showed that the four traits were strong predicators of subjectively-rated effectiveness criteria for the total sample of firms, but were strong predicators of objective criteria such as return on net-assets and sales growth only for larger firms.

In a following post from this series, I will present the findings of the Velázquez paper which undertook an empirical analysis of KM priorities and critical success factors of many organisations using OCAI.

How would SharePoint look?

In the first article I had a section where I theorised how a SharePoint installation would look like if behavioural types had been taken to extremes. In the interests of consistency, I think it’s good to repeat that experiment in poor stereotyping here:

The clan culture is social networking personified and therefore Facebook style applications are the answer to collaboration and knowledge management. Employees twitter away to each-other and share everything. SharePoint’s "My Sites" are the obvious candidate here, but to a mature clan culture, my-sites are pretty antiquated and almost laughable compared to some of the competing cloud based applications out there. Document libraries? Sheesh! What do you need documents for anyway?  Everyone uses blogs, wikis and Information architecture consists of tagging anything and everything. A mature clan culture would very likely utilise 3rd party add-ins like Newsgators Social Sites if they were to make a SharePoint investment.

I actually believe that anyone who considers themselves a clan culture and is putting in SharePoint is really a market culture with a case of rose coloured glasses 🙂 .

The adhocracy culture is essentially every startup company as well as any CEO who describes themselves as "dynamic". SharePoint, in this type of culture, does not have an information architecture to speak of (in the ‘classic’ meaning of that term). SharePoint features will be used as needed and grow over time. If it works, it will be used, if it does not, it will lie abandoned. Anything newly released will be eagerly tried, kept or discarded depending on relevance and usage. Some re-use from learning will take place, but ultimately SharePoint will perpetually be a work in progress with no central governance authority. Most power users will be administrators of their own sites and any attempts to impose centralised order or a governance regime that is based around centralisation and standards will likely fail. Decentralised control for this type of organisation is fine because there is a strong sense of ownership of the knowledge and information.

The market culture would start to utilise SharePoint in a manner that is most in keeping with the literature around features, deployment and governance. Dashboards and KPI’s would feature heavily, as well as workflows that contribute to the ease of collecting performance measurements. Reporting Services integration in particular will fare well here. In a market culture, very little sympathy may be given for SharePoint functionality that is not seen as contributing positively to the business. Additionally, users are unlikely to change for the sake of change or because it is something new and shiny. A market driven culture will implement SharePoint because they see a tangible, quantifiable reason to do so.

The hierarchy culture will implement SharePoint in its most ‘classical’ style. They will naturally make use of site collection, sites and subsites and enforce strict, often complex security boundaries with tight centralised control. Chances are that significant time will be invested into ‘classical’ governance such as forming a committee, standardising on structure and conventions and trying to create a solution that is repeatable with a minimum of rework. Workflows will be very popular, as well as form services as well as document centric collaboration. Facebook style social networking will most definitely not be a high priority, and what’s more, will probably be blocked by the corporate firewall anyway!

Another note: SharePoint out of the box in my opinion is most suited to the latter two organisational cultures. Is it any surprise that a market culture organisation such as Microsoft would produce a collaborative tool that happens to work with it’s own organisational culture? Therefore it begs the question whether an organisation founded on one culture can ever really write the perfect tool for another culture?

Culture based communication fragmentation

Just like the first article, I have painted a pretty stereotypical picture of the sort of SharePoint installation I’d likely see. Some readers (dare I risk suggesting younger readers?) may look at the market and hierarchy culture as old school, representing 20th century organisational thinking. Certainly Linux proves that the clan culture can be extremely successful against the old school guys. But there are many stories of organisations that have had massive initial success, only to get left in the dust once the slower market and hierarchical cultures get their act in gear. One thing hierarchical cultures can do exceptionally well is repeat process more consistently, with fewer defects which ultimately reduces cost. They may not be all that quick at first, but it’s not always about being first to market.

Once again I leave you on an Information Architecture note. Someone who only knows a clan culture will very likely put together a SharePoint solution vastly different to someone who has only known hierarchical culture. The prevailing culture will always win the technology battle, no matter how passionate the individuals are. Even organisational stakeholders in a SharePoint project often make this mistake with the "build it and they will come" approach and think that making the technology available will change the culture . This is both naive and dangerous and has the effect of setting yourself up for project failure.

So, you, as an information architect, need to acutely be aware of the prevailing culture. If your stakeholders give you mixed messages, then perhaps the CVF/OCIA analysis would be a very timely and smart thing to do.

Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee


 Digg  Facebook  StumbleUpon  Technorati  Deli.cio.us  Slashdot  Twitter  Sphinn  Mixx  Google  DZone 

No Tags

Send to Kindle

Root Causes of Communication Fragmentation: Learning styles and behavioural styles

Send to Kindle

This is the first article in a short series that will be looking at factors causing the sort of communication problems that underpin the motivation to implement a product like SharePoint. When you think about why you want to implement SharePoint, it tends to boil down to an improvement in efficiency brought about by improved collaboration between individuals or teams.

Improved or more effective collaboration is a great idea in theory but unfortunately SharePoint’s implementations have been hit or miss affairs. When a SharePoint project goes well, it tends to go very well. When it goes bad, it tends to be very bad. I’ve seen both extremes. On one of my projects I had the executive chairman so enamoured with a particular requirement being satisfied that he was out there evangelising to the user base for me. Once this happens, success is generally assured. But on the other hand, I have been called out to sites where they have completely lost control of it all, and to even mention the dreaded "S" word will result in you being ostracised.

I realised long ago that to put in SharePoint without considering and understanding the various root causes to "communication problems" is to be unconsciously incompetent. (By the way, if you have not read my "Thinking SharePoint" series, "unconsciously incompetent" is a term used in education/training disciplines to indicate that "you do not know what you do not know". In other words, how can you be trained on something when you do not even acknowledge that you have a deficiency in that area?

Training, therefore, is most effective when trainees are at the "consciously incompetent" stage of their learning. This means that they now realise and understand that they have deficiencies in a knowledge area and seek to improve their skill. Some might argue that to actually put SharePoint into an organisation is to be consciously incompetent, because you have recognised the inefficiency in existing communication and collaboration. I believe this is deluded because all you are doing is trying to deal with the visible effects of communication fragmentation. You still do not necessarily have a full understanding of the root causes of that fragmentation.


I’m sure that many of you have watched the TV series House. How many times do they just about kill the patient with a treatment for an incorrect diagnosis? Unlike Dr House, though, SharePoint consultants don’t often get that convenient epiphany at the 38 minute mark of an episode that nails the root cause, applying the correct treatment and saving the patient.

Therefore, I have decided to call this series "Root causes of communication fragmentation". This first article is essentially the same as one called Learning styles, behavioural styles and “collaboration” that I published it over at endusersharepoint.com.

Honey and Mumford Learning Styles

When I was taking my "Train the trainer" course at the Australian Institute of Management, we participated in an experiment. We answered a questionnaire and based on our answers were separated into four groups.

It turned out that these groups were separated based on our most dominant Honey and Mumford learning style.

For those of you who are not aware, according to this work, there are four types of learners. I have listed them below, and for your reference I was classed as a theorist/pragmatist with more of a pragmatic leaning. Funnily enough when I was younger I was definitely an activist learner but as I have aged I moved down the list!

Activitists (Do)

  • Immerse themselves fully in new experiences
  • Enjoy here and now
  • Open minded, enthusiastic, flexible
  • Act first, consider consequences later
  • Seek to centre activity around themselves

Reflectors (Review)

  • Stand back and observe
  • Cautious, take a back seat
  • Collect and analyze data about experience and events, slow to reach conclusions
  • Use information from past, present and immediate observations to maintain a big picture perspective.

Theorists (Conclude)

  • Think through problems in a logical manner, value rationality and objectivity
  • Assimilate disparate facts into coherent theories
  • Disciplined, aiming to fit things into rational order
  • Keen on basic assumptions, principles, theories, models and systems thinking

Pragmatists (Plan)

  • Keen to put ideas, theories and techniques into practice
  • Search new ideas and experiment
  • Act quickly and confidently on ideas, gets straight to the point
  • Are impatient with endless discussion

In this experiment, each of the four groups were given the same fictitious problem. We were asked to write a plan for how we would go about solving it. We spent then 30 minutes on this in groups before reassembling back in the same room where the groups compared notes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we all thought that the other groups were complete idiots. The reflectors in particular thought that the activists represented complete anarchy and chaos. My group – the pragmatists (who of course have it right), knew that their method was by far the best one and had no time at all for reflectors who perform all of that analysis-paralysis. Mind you, we did have some sympathy for the theorists 🙂 .

Why is communication, shared understanding, knowledge management and collaboration such a difficult thing to do?  This is one of the root causes. This experiment really hit home to me, just how incredibly different people are and how a collaborative tool by definition, needs to be designed or implemented in such a way that all participants use, believe and evangelise it. But since they all have different styles of learning, accommodating them all without alienating some is a pretty difficult task.


Then we have behavioural theory with Marston DISC. This test is used in recruitment and HR often to see how well a candidate will ‘fit’ into the cohesiveness of a group or organisation. DISC is an acronym that relates to four ‘dimensions’ of personality traits.

  • Dominance – relating to control, power and assertiveness
  • Influence – relating to social situations and communication
  • Steadiness – relating to patience, persistence, and thoughtfulness
  • Conscientiousness – relating to structure and organization

Below is the explanation of each trait from wikipedia. Is it any surprise that senior managers tend to be dominant in "D", sales and marketing people dominant "I" while engineers are dominant "C"?

  • Dominance: People who score high in the intensity of the ‘D’ styles factor are very active in dealing with problems and challenges, while low D scores are people who want to do more research before committing to a decision. High "D" people are described as demanding, forceful, egocentric, strong willed, driving, determined, ambitious, aggressive, and pioneering. Low D scores describe those who are conservative, low keyed, cooperative, calculating, undemanding, cautious, mild, agreeable, modest and peaceful.
  • Influence: People with High I scores influence others through talking and activity and tend to be emotional. They are described as convincing, magnetic, political, enthusiastic, persuasive, warm, demonstrative, trusting, and optimistic. Those with Low I scores influence more by data and facts, and not with feelings. They are described as reflective, factual, calculating, skeptical, logical, suspicious, matter of fact, pessimistic, and critical.
  • Steadiness: People with High S styles scores want a steady pace, security, and do not like sudden change. Low S intensity scores are those who like change and variety. High S persons are calm, relaxed, patient, possessive, predictable, deliberate, stable, consistent, and tend to be unemotional and poker faced. People with Low S scores are described as restless, demonstrative, impatient, eager, or even impulsive.
  • Conscientious: Persons with High C styles adhere to rules, regulations, and structure. They like to do quality work and do it right the first time. High C people are careful, cautious, exacting, neat, systematic, diplomatic, accurate, tactful. Those with Low C scores challenge the rules and want independence and are described as self-willed, stubborn, opinionated, unsystematic, arbitrary, and careless with details.

Don Bowlby has a nice post where he illustrates these different behavioural styles with examples of "Dominant Dave", "Influential Ingrid", "Steady Stan" and "Conscientious Catherine". Do take the time to read his post, and then see which of these people you relate to the most.

Note: You can have elements of more than one of the DISC dimensions but you tend to be dominate in one of them.

Dominant Dave questions the status quo, is quick to make decisions/solve problems. He has no problem with power and authority, loves autonomy and working on lots of stuff. He struggles to relate to some people and sometimes has trouble identifying with the group. People like Dave get things moving forward, but can overlook detail in the process.

Influential Ingrid always wants to make a good impression, loves people and prefers to talk about her ideas rather than present them in writing. She doesn’t like a lot of details and can appear disorganized. Being so emotionally oriented, she can have trouble making objective evaluations of people and situations. People like Ingrid foster open communication and strive for an enjoyable experience. But Ingrid needs people who enjoy routines and tasks because these things make her uncomfortable.

Steady Stan is patient, helpful and finishes everything he starts. Stan’s daily routine rarely changes and he does not react well if it suddenly does. Without people like Stan, things would never get finished, yet the rigidity of Stan’s routine can frustrate when quick decisions and action are needed.

Conscientious Catherine is even more anal-retentive than Steady Stan. She is very analytical, applies critical thinking and likes to know what the goals are and what is expected and is always happy to lend her expertise when required. Sometimes Catherine’s detail oriented nature can slow projects down and her application of critical thinking may seem negative at times. She has a knack for pointing out everything that can go wrong with a project, product or venture.

Hmm, I just read a book on analytics and wrote a series of posts on SharePoint project failure and ROI – but I am as messy as hell so which domain am I? 😉

How would SharePoint look?

Let’s try a little experiment. Below I theorise what a SharePoint portal would look like, based on the presumption that each of our 4 people above assumed full creative control over development and direction. Feel free to comment to the accuracy (or not) of my guesses.

Dominant Dave has seen SharePoint, liked it and thrown together a SharePoint site. He has set up sites, wiki’s, blogs, lists, libraries and on top of that, relentlessly downloaded every possible add-on, and tried it out, using some and giving up on others (but never uninstalled). His idea of a communications plan and training is to send out an email with the new URL and instruct people to start using it. The site is full of evidence of half-starts and unfinished ideas and no-one really knows exactly what the goal of it all is. But that’s okay, Dave has by now passed it onto Steady Stan to finish it off anyway.

Influential Ingrid on the other hand, engages a graphic design company to work on the look of the site. She will come up with a catchy acronym for the project, and organise t-shirts and mouse-mats to be printed and distributed to staff. The site is launched with great fanfare, yet practically devoid of content except for the social club site and the "about us" section. Document libraries and lists are unlikely to have much attention, because all the emphasis is on the static web content side of things. Despite the lack of use of many of the built-in collaborative tools, boy-oh-boy, does that home page look cool! Things will flash, sparkle and dazzle more than a drag queen singing at a cabaret.

Steady Stan will quickly see the potential for improving the way that content can be better organised, searched and managed. Thus he will spend his time coming up with a common structure for all aspects of the portal no matter which site is visited. The document libraries, list and other content areas will be consistent and identical and templated for re-use. Branding will be ignored, because it is not as important as consistency. He will roll it out, expecting people to naturally take it up, seeing the value created.

Conscientious Catherine will first undertake a 6 month feasibility study into the portal that costs more money than what Dominant Dave took for his entire SharePoint project. The outcome of this study would be to learn what people want out of the portal. She works out a methodology to gather requirements, but on execution it becomes obvious that both Dave and Ingrid haven’t got a clue as they can’t seem to offer a straight answer when she asks what they want. "How can I deliver you a portal when I don’t know your requirements?", Catherine asks in indignation. In the end, Dominant Dave looks at how much money has been spent for no obvious gain and kills the project.

The Honey DISC soup

The point of my little exercise with sweeping generalisation is that "collaboration" by definition is about working together to achieve a common goal or outcome. Unfortunately, it is clear that our 4 characters above have very different motivations and interpretations of what that outcome is.

In my consulting life, where I spend a lot of time doing requirements work, training or project management, I have gotten to the point where I can pick someone’s personality/learning style out. Also, once you start to get a feel for this, you realise that a lot of root causes in social fragmentation is simply a lack of awareness of how people speak to each other.

When you combine DISC and learning styles, it gives you a pretty good appreciation of social complexity. Given a complex problem, you will always get people who want to jump straight in (activists), those who want to consider all of the issues (reflectors), theorists who will be looking for best-practice guidelines and us pragmatists who say the rest are right so long as it is done *our* way.

But when you add the dimension of DISC, the forces of social fragmentation get even stronger. Consider the case of a "Dominant Activist". Here is someone who is forceful, strong willed, potentially intimidating yet wants to dive headlong into a solution. These guys are hazardous to your health because they usually have the power to do it their way regardless.

On the other extreme you have a "Conscientious Reflector". There is every dodgy middle manger that I have worked with right there!

Another classic example is the "Steady Theorist" who believe that rigidly following a methodology is the answer to the world’s problems, no matter what. I have met a few ITIL people who I would lump in this bucket 🙂 .

Communication Fragmentation

Meetings are the place where fragmentation strikes and miscommunication arises as a result. For example, in a strategy meeting, the reflector is the one who *always* challenges the frame of the meeting and annoys everybody else in the process. The activists are annoyed that they had to go to the meeting in the first place, and the theorists are trying to convince everyone that [insert methodology here] is the way to go.

A dominant "D" type personality often speaks in a very direct manner. To a low D type personality, this can be seen as intimidating, rude or arrogant. D and S type personalities can really struggle to get along, because at times, they are polar opposites in what motivates them and keeps them interested.

A heavy "D" personality who is a pragmatic learner is probably going to be a handful when it comes to, say, working on functional requirements with an "S" type application developer who happens to be a theorist learner.

Is it any wonder people consider meetings to be inefficient, a waste of time and not achieving much!

The point is that usually people forget that not everybody shares their behaviour and learning styles.

Collaboration Fragmentation and Information Architecture

So since meetings are inefficient and suck so much, we look to other methods to collaborate to achieve our goals. But that communication gap that can exist between people of differing learning styles and personality types reflects itself in collaborative tools as well. An IT Manager who, for example, is mainly a "S" type personality is going to put together a SharePoint solution with a very different emphasis than, say, someone who is mainly a Dominant Activist.

Of course, organisational type and culture, regional culture, geography, age, gender and other biases play large factors as well. Organisational considerations has gained some attention – one of the best examples I saw being the great paper by Michael Earl who in 2001 wrote "Knowledge Management Strategies – Toward a taxonomy". But unfortunately, no academic has ever performed an empirical study that looks at whether there is a correlation between behaviour/learning styles and the sort of collaborative tools/techniques that people gravitate to. I think if such a study was undertaken, it would offer some extremely valuable insights into how to go about delivering a collaborative solution for particular groups, individuals or organisations.

So, when you are designing your "work of art" Information Architecture that has taken weeks to work out, ask yourself this question: Is this a work of art for me or for the people who will be collaborating via it?

The great irony in all of this is that the only way to remove some of the barriers of social fragmentation is to collaborate. In the case of SharePoint, you need to collaborate, to put in a collaborative platform. Am I the only one who finds that perversely funny? 🙂

Paul Culmsee


 Digg  Facebook  StumbleUpon  Technorati  Deli.cio.us  Slashdot  Twitter  Sphinn  Mixx  Google  DZone 

No Tags

Send to Kindle

I’m a twit too

Send to Kindle

I’m always a little slow on the uptake with anything new (Nintendo Wii being my first games console in 10 years being a case in point). But what the hell – let’s have even more information flowing into my PC for my poor old grey matter to process  🙂

Therefore, for those of you into twitter – you can find me here.



 Digg  Facebook  StumbleUpon  Technorati  Deli.cio.us  Slashdot  Twitter  Sphinn  Mixx  Google  DZone 

No Tags

Send to Kindle