It’s going to be quiet around here (again)

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Just a quick note to say that it’s Best Practices Conference season again and this means I am a very busy boy. No doubt many other presenters are too because this is a conference that takes a disproportionally large amount of time to prepare and deliver compared to most conferences. As a result, blogging takes a back seat when preparing for such an event.

Why is this?

Well, for a start, we all don’t just get up there and rattle off a bunch of “oh, isn’t this cool” product features (that’s for Vegas ;-). On the contrary, the Best Practice Conferences are all about the real-life world of IT trying to empower business through tough, competitive and fast-moving times. To deliver at such a conference, you need to be at your best, and with top-notch, tried and tested solutions to what are often people as much as they are technical challenges.

Best Practices is about quality, resilience and adaptability in the face of constant change and competing priorities. The Best Practices Conference is where you’ll find great ideas, activities and techniques to apply in your organisation. You will come away with many new kung-fu skills, allowing you to:

  • Sort through the best solutions to any task
  • Reach consistent, confident decisions at every level
  • Break the cycle of avoidance, disagreement and subpar results
  • Eliminate design, deployment, organisational and administrative confusion
  • Enhance communication, collaboration and efficiency while lowering costs
  • Avoid technological errors, misconceptions and pitfalls
  • Leverage the hard-won experience of industry leaders
  • Gain early competitive advantages
  • Replace disorder with clarity, direction and confidence
  • Last time I was at a BPC, I met some brilliant people and we are now working together in a collaborative and commercial sense. We are all back again, and this time have decided to align all of our sessions and topics in such a way that we may offer a great end-to-end advice. If you attend this conference, look out for a group of related sessions by myself, Dux, Ruven and Andrew.

    My first topic, co-presenting with Ruven Gotz is called “Governance, the other 90%”. This, in a way, serves as an umbrella session for our other talks. In this particular session, Ruven and I have found a way to frame governance in a manner that seems to resonate with people and demystify the topic in a manner that we have not seen elsewhere. From the synopsis

    This session dissects the broader challenges of SharePoint governance, far beyond service delivery and assurance. It demystifies the grey fog of "people" issues and highlights the real factors that will make or break a SharePoint project.

    The next session in this series of talks is called “Wicked problems and SharePoint – The one best practice to rule them all”. Presumably regular readers of this blog will have a fair idea of what I am going to talk about 🙂

    Andrew Woodward is up next with his “Agile SharePoint Development – Is it Wicked?” session. This session continues the examination of why traditional approaches to SharePoint projects often result in failures or delivery of solutions that attain only a fraction of what is possible. This session looks at how adoption of agile development techniques helps deal with the wicked problems presented in SharePoint projects. We look at the thinking behind and trends in agile development and at the challenges companies face when adopting agile development.

    Next in the series is “7 Ways to Leverage SharePoint for Project Management Success” by Dux Sy. In this presentation, Dux provides a practical approach to using SharePoint to address the challenges of inefficient communication among stakeholders, poor document management practices and undefined project collaboration standards.

    Ruven then takes the stage with his “Content Types and Site Columns – Working with stakeholders to build the taxonomy” session. This session is centred around stakeholder understanding of the concepts of metadata, a process that is iterative in nature. Ruven will introduce various tools and methods that have proven to be successful for explaining these concepts and then organizing an information architecture.

    There are of course, a whole raft of brilliant speakers from all over the world converging for this talk and this promises to be the best BPC yet

    Hope to see you there!

    Thanks for reading


    Paul Culmsee

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    Notes from the New Zealand SharePoint Community Conference

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    Ah, lots of beers, staying out ‘til 3am, taking an aspirin at 7am, breaking my 3 week coffee embargo…

    Oh yeah – and there is this SharePoint conference on as well! 😉


    In case you have been living under a rock, a bunch of us have been at the New Zealand SharePoint Community Conference for the last two days. This has been a fantastic experience for me for several reasons:

    1. I come from Perth, an isolated city of around 1.8 million people. New Zealand cities are a bit smaller than this, but nevertheless, the sort of scale of what is “enterprise” versus small to medium is much closer here to my reality. When I talk to people, I have a real affinity for the challenges they face and the resources that they have available.
    2. Many of the speakers were locals, from local organisations that have put SharePoint in. They had the opportunity to present via the “voice of the customer” session track. This was terrific and important because this was SharePoint reality TV. While I pontificate about concepts like “Wicked problems”, you get to see detailed case studies on the challenges faced by organisations, successes, missteps and lessons learned. I absolutely love these sessions, because it’s wonderful to see the various methods used to drive buy-in and success and how varied they were. As I said in my recent governance post, provided you drive buy-in and help your organisation get from a present state to a desirable future state, you are “governing”.
    3. Being Australian, my laptop plugs into the power outlets with no adapters
    4. My travel time was much less than Joel (A leisurely 11 hour transit versus 25+).

    This event has been brilliantly organised and Chan, Mark and Debbie have put in a monumental effort and my heartfelt congratulations to them for its success. The turnout has been terrific as well. The mix of attendees was nice and varied too. Many, many business oriented people and many more who were technically inclined.

    My talk was on the concept of wicked problems, why SharePoint falls victim and the approaches that have worked for me to manage them. Feedback was great, hugely appreciated, and it was immensely gratifying to find people saying things like “You know, I had always felt this way and could never put my finger on it until your session”. That was exactly my intent and I’m glad that some attendees liked it.

    It was brilliant to find like minded people who had travelled a similar path too. Erica Toelle – remember her name. Her bright future in the SharePoint community is assured. Lulu Pachuau – reads the same sort of books as me and had a really engaging conversation at the speakers dinner. She was a revelation in her presentation and I hope that her angle on design methods and information architecture gains traction around the world. We need more like her.

    Joel was in excellent form with his keynote, and gets better and better. Brilliant slide deck, wonderful metaphors and expertly presented (and my project manager baby made an appearance! Wohoo!)

    I participated in an experts panel and dodged some smelly sea urchin juice that Joel spilled when they made him eat one. (Two seconds later and he would have dripped it all over me – ewwww). But the reality of the expert panel is that I’d rather have the people who presented the case-studies up there and me sit in the audience. As I said before, I sat in on almost all of the “voice of the customer” sessions. I love to listen to the real life, down in the trenches, grass-roots implementation strategies and I learnt a tremendous amount from them and find so many areas that I can do much better on. I was super impressed by Pete Sayers at the South Taranaki District Council tackle the minefield of collaboration and records management, and the standout was the “Key success factors for implementing MOSS2007 as an ECM – Telecom’s solution” by Helen Rayner, Ruth Miles and Nadine Burnett.

    The conference highlight for me was Erica’s session. “SharePoint User Adoption: Fostering Shared Understanding throughout your Company”. Comprehensive, yet simple. Full of practical steps and templates to use and above all, thought provoking, practical and very wise. Erica has identified a big gap in the SharePoint realm of competencies and has some great answers to fill it.

    On a more cultural note, the Te Papa Museum was great fun, and Wellington is a great city with a wonderful vibe about it. Tomorrow its a full-day “Lord of the Rings” tour and then I am homeward bound.

    Overall this was a brilliant event, and I look forward to coming back – potentially to some user group sessions if can be pulled off!

    Thanks for reading


    Paul Culmsee

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    The secret to understanding governance

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    I’m very tempted to start this post like a dodgy wealth-guru infomercial. You know the ones with lots of imagery of people living the dream of financial freedom. I am thinking a montage of a resort, a large yacht anchored in a topical bay, carving up the water with a jet-ski and then a shot of me standing next to my Ferrari, champagne in hand, with Megan Fox on my arm. My message would be that for a “small” fee of $10,000, you too could learn the secrets to your financial freedom in an intimate, exclusive but “intensive” weekend workshop. Just you and the 15,000 other people that pack into the convention hall 🙂

    Alas, we both know that this is never going to happen but this post may have a little of that feeling to it. I have titled it “The secret to understanding governance”, because I think there is a way to understand governance that will help you, your colleagues and your team members significantly. Like all good “wealth guru” infomercials, I’m going to give you some hints and I’m kind of hoping that you will then be interested in attending a workshop to find out the rest.

    The one difference between the wealth guru and me, though, is that I will never have Megan Fox hanging off my arm, and I am actually going to tell you something useful in this post.

    So, what is this big “secret”, anyway?

    Definitions definitions definitions

    One thing that we all tend to get suckered into doing at times is feeling the urge to define “stuff”. Academics do it all the time. I’ve read countless papers where the authors start out with a ten page examination of all the past definitions of their given topic, before proceeding to tell you why those definitions are inadequate in some way, followed by their own revised definitions. They spend the rest of their essays justifying why their definitions are more correct than their predecessors.

    Defining stuff is a time consuming and tiring exercise. Since we live in a world of constant change there will always be new influences which shape and frame perceptions. Therefore, the definition that you spent so much effort on coming up with is redefined by the next academic or blogger who follows the path that you took. Sometimes a whole new word is invented, or an existing word is suddenly used in a new context and the whole cycle starts all over again.

    I once explained the philosophical and process aspects of Agile/Scrum to a seriously experienced project manager. This was a fellow who was the PM when skyscrapers were erected. He listened carefully to my explanation, sat back and said “I’ve been doing that for 30 years. There’s nothing new there”. I also found a similar observation in “The Small Business Guerrilla Guide to Six Sigma” by Jay Arthur.

    Over the years, I’ve had a chance to learn and study just about every “brand name” systematic improvement methodology. Guess what…they are all pretty much the same. To appear different, consultants have changed:
    – the name to Six Sigma (from Total Quality Management)
    – the acronyms to confuse the unwary (PDCA to DMAIC)
    – the number of tools required for success
    – the number of steps in the process (5 to 14 steps)
    – the key tools are the same
    – the process for using the tools is the same
    – and the results are identical assuming you can figure out how to use the wide range of tools and processes

    In my opinion, defining things to the nth degree is a zero sum game. Often you confuse the issue more than you clarify it because in your attempts to explain something, you incorporate new words that you then have to explain.

    Some ROI Wisdom

    Several years ago I was attending a job interview for a promotion and the topic of return on investment came up. I had made the point that most things could be quantified and one of the interviewers fired back “Well tell me how you measure quality?”

    That was a curveball that I wasn’t expecting, and I didn’t have an answer (and never got the job either).

    Some time later, I read a terrific book by Douglas Hubbard on measurement and return on investment called “How To Measure Anything”. It armed me with some new kung-fu skills and also gave me the perfect comeback answer that I sorely needed during that interview. The question “How do you measure quality?” actually makes very little sense to ask. The reason is quite simple. “Quality is not what you measure. It is the effect it has on something that you measure”.

    It is very easy to illustrate the logic behind this important point. Undertaking a quality initiative costs time, money and resources. You are only spending that money and investing those resources because you believe that undertaking this quality initiative will make a positive difference in some way. Otherwise, why bother? If you do not believe that it will make a positive difference, why throw money away?

    So, if asked “How do you measure quality?”, you can answer by asking questions back, along the lines of:

    • “What does improved quality look like to you?”
    • “What is the effect of quality?”
    • “How do you know your quality initiative is working?”

    The answers to these questions tend to start with “increased this” or “decreased that”. It now should be abundantly clear why asking “How do you measure quality?” actually makes no sense. In fact it is completely the wrong question to ask. Instead, by re-framing the question slightly, you suddenly have answers that can be quantified using the techniques that I detailed in my “Learn to speak to your CFO” series and provided in my free SharePoint ROI modelling spreadsheet.

    This same logic applies to other words that are better understood by examining their effect, rather than trying to (re)define them. Examples:

    • Security
    • Flexibility
    • Collaboration
    • Resilience
    • Wellbeing

    All of these share the same characteristic as “governance” in that they are easily understood by the effect they have, but harder to define in a universal way.

    The secret to understanding governance

    The really silly thing about all this is that I did a talk on SharePoint ROI at the Best Practice Conference in Feb 09. In that talk, I explained the above chain of logic and made the point that the way to find measurable success factors with anything that seems “unquantifiable” is to ask the “what will it look like if we do this?” type question. I used this logic to come up with measurable key performance indicators that enabled me to simulate the future financial return (internal rate of return and net present value) of a large SharePoint investment for a mid sized organisation (slide deck and spreadsheet can be downloaded here).

    But despite writing several articles and speaking on this topic, the ROI stuff was one of several clouds of “stuff” that was floating around my brain. SharePoint governance was also floating in one of those clouds too, as well as broader governance in a planning and sustainability context. It took a casual comment from Bjørn Furuknap that suddenly gave me one of those wonderful bolts of inspiration and clarify, where these disparate clouds of thought suddenly coalesced and I made a significant breakthrough in my understanding.

    Define “governance” in any way you want. I really don’t care – so long as you understand the difference it makes *for you* and you ask the same question of your other stakeholders and participants. Put aside the need to define governance for a while, and instead view “governance” as a means to attain a desirable future state. Agree with each-other on what that state is going to look like. Now tell me the differences between where you are now and that desirable future state.

    By asking the question this way, you not only stimulate much more meaningful debate, you will have a much better understanding of everybody else’s frame of reference and the emphasis that they place on various aspects of that difference. The “definition” of governance that you are trying to find will start to suggest itself through those differences between the current and desired state. At the end of the day, that is what really matters.

    Instead of reading a methodology like COBiT or ITIL, or following what people like me, Joel, Robert Bogue, Andrew Woodward, Dux Sy and Ruven Gotz say, look at your own needs as an individual, a team and then an organisation. Determine where you want to be, include IT and non IT views and then start to think about what you need to do to get to your desired state.

    Congratulations, you’re now officially “governing”. Wasn’t that hard, was it? 🙂

    Best practices versus worst practices

    This same “secret” to understanding governance also provides the answer to why experts disagree on what is a “best practice”. I sometimes will read a “best practice” and think to myself “No way, that would never work”. Yet, although it doesn’t work for me, I rarely come away thinking the person making the recommendation is actually wrong. When you understand that the “best practice” made a positive difference, and it moved the organisation further along the road from the undesired present state toward the desired future state, then it is perfectly clear why one man’s best practice is another man’s worst practice. No matter what you did, you moved forward – and that is a good thing.

    Furthermore, if you agree with the notion that the “best” solution to a problem is the one that has the most shared commitment among participants to seeing it through, then I argue that a perceived “worst practice” with deep commitment and buy-in among stakeholders will deliver a better solution than a “best practice” with poor buy-in and commitment among stakeholders.

    Want to argue that point with me? (I’ve got more ammo than this!) Then you can spend 3 days doing that if you want!

    …for a small fee 🙂

    My intent with this post was to try and lift some of the fog and confusion that surrounds this nebulous thing called governance by suggesting that defining it to the nth degree is not the way forward. “Best and worst” practices? Both are commonly context and culture dependant. Instead, your (multidisciplinary) team needs to agree on and understand your desired future state and where you are now. By starting with the end in mind you will be able to collectively determine what processes, tools and methods to use to get to that place.

    The philosophical approaches that I have described in this article are just the tip of the iceberg in relation to the work that I have been doing with Andrew Woodward, Dux Sy and Ruven Gotz for the planned “Governance Mentoring Workshop”, to run for 3 days prior to the August Best Practices Conference. This workshop will be unlike any other SharePoint governance training that is currently in existence and much of the material is completely original and not borrowed from any of the traditional SharePoint governance material that exists today.

    Finally, to go back to infomercial mode…

    This offer is for a limited time only. Act now! If you’re not completely satisfied, we offer a full “return to base” warranty 🙂

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    Pick up the phone and take the first step toward the new life that is waiting for you!

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    Thanks for reading

    Paul Culmsee

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