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Dec 30 2012

Confessions of a (post) SharePoint architect: The dangers of dial tone governance…

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Hi all and welcome to the next exciting instalment of my confessions from my work as a SharePoint architect and beyond. This is the eighth post and my last for 2012, so I will get straight into it.

To recap, along the way we have examined 5 f-laws and learned that:

Now, as a preamble to today’s mini-rant, I need to ‘fess up. I know this might come as a shock, but there was once a time when I was not the sweet, kind hearted, gentle soul who pens these articles. In my younger days, I used to judge my self-worth on my level of technical knowledge. As a result of this, I knew my stuff, but was completely oblivious to how much of a pain in the ass I was to everyone but geeks who judged themselves similarly. Met anyone like that in IT? Smile

This brings me onto my next SharePoint governance f-law – one that highlights a common blind spot that many IT people have in their approach to SharePoint governance.

F-Law 6: Geeks are far less important than they think they are

All disciplines and organisational departments have a particular slant on reality that is based on them at the centre of that reality. If this was not true, then departments would not spend so much time bitching about other departments and I would have no Dialogue Mapping work. The IT department is no better or worse in this regard than any other department, except that the effects of their particular slant of reality can be more pronounced and far reaching on everyone else. Why? Because the IT slant of reality sometimes looks like a version of Neo from the Matrix. Many, if not most people in IT, have a little Neo inside of them.

image

We all know Neo – an uber hero. He is wise, blessed with super powers, can manipulate your very reality and is a master of all domains of knowledge. Neo is also your last hope because if he goes down, we all go down. Therefore, everything Neo does – no matter how over the top or what the consequences are – is necessary to save the world from evil.

All of the little Neos in IT have a few things in common with bullet stopping big Neo above. Firstly, little Neo has also been entrusted with ensuring that the environment is safe from the forces of evil. Secondly, Little Neo can manipulate the reality that everybody else experiences. And finally, little Neo is often the last hope when things go bad. But that is where the similarities end because big Neo has two massive advantages over little Neo. First, big Neo was a master of a lot of domains of knowledge because he had the convenience of being able to learn any new subject by downloading it into his brain. Little Neo does not have this convenience, yet many little Neos still think they are all-knowing and wise. Secondly, big Neo was never mentally scarred from a really bad tequila bender…

Bad tequila bender? What the…

Never again…

Years ago when I was young and dumb, I was at a party drinking some tequila using the lemon and salt method. My brother-in-law thought it would be hilarious to switch my tequila shots with vodka double shots. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t notice because the lemon and salt masked the taste. I downed a heap of vodkas and the net result for me was not pretty at all. Although I wasn’t quite as unfortunate as the guy in the picture below I wasn’t that far off. As a result, to this day I cannot bring myself to drink tequila or vodka and the smell of it makes me feel sick with painful memories best left supressed.

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I’m sure many readers can relate to a story like this. Most people have had a similar experience from an alcohol bender, eating a dodgy oyster or accidentally drinking tap water in a place like Bali. So take a moment to reflect on your absolute worst experience until you feel clammy and queasy. Feeling nauseous? Well guess what – there is something even worse…

Anyone who has ever worked in a system administrator role or any sort of infrastructure support will know the feeling of utter dread when the after hours pager goes off, alerting you some sort of problem with the IT infrastructure on which the business depends. Like many, I have lived through disaster recovery scenarios and let me tell you – they are not fun. Everyone turns to little Neo to save the day. It is high pressure and stressful trying to get things back on track, with your boss breathing down your neck, knowing that the entire company is severely degraded until you to get things back online.

Now while that is bad enough, the absolute nightmare scenario for every little Neo in IT is having to pick up the pieces of something not of their doing in the first place. In other words, somehow a non-production system morphed into production and nobody bothered to tell Little Neo. In this situation, not only is there the pressure to get things back as quickly as possible, but Little Neo has no background knowledge of the system being recovered, has no documentation on what to do, never backed it up properly and yet the business expects it back pronto.

So what do you expect will happen in the aftermath of a situation like the one I described above? Like my aversion to tequila, Little Neo will develop a pathological desire to avoid reliving that sort of pain and stress. It will be an all-consuming focus, overriding or trivialising other considerations. Governance for little Neo is all about avoiding risk and just like Big Neo, any actions – no matter how over the top or what the consequences are – will be deemed as necessary to ensure that risk is mitigated. Consequently, a common characteristic of lots of little Neos is the classic conservative IT department who defaults to “No” to pretty much any question that involves introducing something new. Accordingly, governance material will abound with service delivery aspects such as lovingly documented physical and logical architecture, performance testing regimes, defining universal site templates, defining security permissions/policies, allowed columns, content types and branding/styling standards.

Now all of this is nice and needs to be done. But there is a teeny problem. This quest to reduce risk has the opposite effect. It actually increases it because little Neo’s notion of governance is just one piece of the puzzle. It is the “dial tone” of SharePoint governance.

The thing about dial tone…

What is the first thing you hear when you pick up the phone to make a call? The answer of course is dial tone.

Years ago, Ruven Gotz asked me if I had ever picked up the phone, heard dial tone and thought “Ah, dial tone… Those engineers down at the phone company are doing a great job. I ought to bake them a  cake to thank them.” Of course, my answer was “No” and if anyone ever answered “Yes” then I suspect they have issues.

This highlights an oft-overlooked issue that afflicts all Neos. Being a hero is a thankless job. The reality is that the vast majority of the world could not care less that there is dial tone because it is expected to be there – a minimum condition of satisfaction that underpins everything else. In fact, the only time they notice dial tone is when it’s not there.

Yet, when you look at the vast majority of SharePoint governance material online, it could easily be described as “dial tone governance.” It places the majority of focus on the dial tone (service delivery) aspects of SharePoint and as a result, de-emphasises much more important factors of governance. Little Neo, unfortunately, has a governance bias that is skewed towards dial tone.

Keen eyed readers might be thinking that dial tone governance is more along the lines of what quality assurance is trying to do. I agree. Remember in part 2 of this series, I explained that the word ‘govern’ means to steer. We aim to steer the energy and resources available for the greatest benefit to all. Assurance, according to the ISO9000 family of standards for quality management, provides confidence in a product’s suitability for its intended purpose. It is a set of activities intended to ensure that requirements are satisfied in a systematic, reliable fashion. Dial tone governance is all about assurance, but the key word for me in the previous sentence is “intended purpose.”

Dial tone governance is silent on “intended purpose” which provides opportunities for platitudes to fetser and governance becoming a self fulfilling prophecy.

and finally for 2012…

So, all of this leads to a really important question. If most people do not care about dial tone governance, then what do they care about?

As it happens, I’m in a reasonable position to be able to answer that question as I’ve had around 200 people around the world do it for me. This is because in my SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture Class, the first question I ask participants is “What is the hardest thing about SharePoint delivery?”

The question makes a lot of sense when you consider that the hardest bits of SharePoint usually translate to the highest risk areas for SharePoint. Accordingly, governance efforts should be focused in those areas. So in the next post in this series, I will take you through all the answers I have received to this question. This is made easier because I dialogue mapped the discussions, so I have built up a nice corpus of knowledge that we can go through and unpack the key issues. What is interesting about the answers is that no matter where I go, or whatever the version of SharePoint, the answers I get have remained extremely consistent over the years I have run the class.

Thanks for reading…

 

Paul Culmsee

p.s I am on vacation for all of January 2013 so you will not be getting the next post till early Feb

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