Rediscovering my curiosity at Creative Melbourne

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As I write this I am somewhere over the middle of Australia, flying back to Perth after participating in a 3 day event that was fun, challenging and highly insightful. The conference was Creative Melbourne, and I am proud to say I was one of the inaugural speakers. If they want me back again, I will do it in a heartbeat, and I hope a lot of you come along for the ride.

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The premise: practical co-creation…

First the background… I have known the conference organiser, Arthur Shelley, for a few years. We first met at a Knowledge Management conference in Canberra and though I have no recollection of how we got talking, I do recall we clicked fairly quickly. At the time I was starting to explore the ideas around ambiguity, which eventually formed my second book. Back then I had a chip on my shoulder about how topics like complexity, Design Thinking and collaboration were being taught to students. I felt that the creative and fun parts glossed over the true stress and cognitive overload of wicked problems. This would produce highly idealistic students who would fall flat on their face once they hit a situation that was truly wicked. I therefore questioned whether anything was being built into students mental armory for the inevitable pain to come.

Now for some people who operate and teach in this space, making such a statement immediately and understandably gets their defenses up. But not Arthur – he listened to everything I had to say, and showed me examples of how he structured his courses and teachings to deal with this challenge. It was impressive stuff: every time his students thought they had a handle on things, Arthur would introduce a curveball or a change they were not anticipating. In other words, while teaching the techniques, he was building their capacity for handling ambiguous situations. Little did I know his conference was about to do the same to me…

One thing about Arthur that blows me away constantly is his incredible network of practitioners in this space. Arthur has long had a vision for bringing a constellation of such practitioners together and he hand-picked a bunch of us from all over the world. The premise, was to create an event that had a highly practical focus. He wanted practitioners to help attendees “Discover creative techniques to enhance performance and engage your team back at the office to increase productivity.”

Now where did I leave my curiosity?

While I am a sensemaking practitioner, I’ll admit straight up that I get irritated at the “fluffiness” and rampant idealism in this space. A good example is Design Thinking in this respect. While I like it and apply ideas from it to my practice, I dislike it when Design Thinking proponents claim it to be suited to wicked problems. The reality is the examples and case studies often cited are rarely wicked at all (at least in the way the term was originally conceived). When I see this sort of thing happening, it leaves me wondering if proponents have truly been in a complex, contingent situation and had the chance to stress test their ideas.

Now I don’t apologise for critically examining the claims made by anyone, but I do apologise for the unfortunate side effect – becoming overly contrarian. In my case, after all these years of research, reading and practice in this field, I am at the point where I see most new ideas as not actually new and are rediscoveries of past truths. Accordingly, it has been a long time since I felt that sense of exhilaration from having my mental molecules rearranged from a new idea. It makes sense right? I mean, the more you learn about something, the more your mental canvas has been painted on. In my case I already have a powerful arsenal of useful tools and approaches that I call upon when needed and more importantly, I was never on a spiritual quest for the one perfect answer to the mysteries of organsiational life anyway.

In short, I have what I need to do what I do. The only problem is somewhere along the line I lost the very sense of curiosity that started me along the path in the first place. It took Arthur, fellow presenters like Stuart French, Jamie Bartie, Jean-Charles Cailliez, Meredith Lewis, Brad Adriaanse, Vadim Shiryaev and a diverse group of participants to help me rediscover it…

Disrupting the disruptor…

Imagine someone like me participating in day 1, where we did things like build structures out of straws, put on silly hats, used the metaphor of zoo animals to understand behaviors, arm-wrestled to make a point about implicit assumptions and looked at how artists activate physical space and what we could learn from it when designing collaborative spaces. There was some hippie stuff going on here and my contrarian brain would sometimes trigger a reflexive reaction. I would suddenly realise I was tense and have to tell myself to relax. Sometimes my mind would instinctively retort with something like “Yeah right… try that in a politicised billion dollar construction project…” More than once I suppressed that instinct, telling myself “shut up brain – you are making assumptions and are biased. Just be quiet, listen, be present and you might learn something.”

That evening I confided to a couple of people that I felt out of place. Perhaps I was better suited to a “Making decisions in situations of high uncertainty and high cognitive overload” conference instead. I was a little fearful that I would kill the positive vibe of day 1 once I got to my session. No-one wants to be the party pooper…

Day 2 rolled around and when it was my turn to present. I held back a little on the “world according to Paul” stuff. I wanted to challenge people but was unsure of their tolerance for it – especially around my claims of rampant idealism that I mentioned earlier. I needn’t have worried though, as the speaker after me, Karuna Ramanathan from Singapore, ended up saying a lot of what I wanted to say and did a much better job. My talk was the appetizer to his “reality check” main course. He brilliantly articulated common organsiational archetypes and why some of the day 1 rhetoric often hits a brick wall. It was this talk that validated I did belong in this community after all. Arthur had indeed done his homework with his choice of speakers.

That same afternoon, we went on a walking tour of Melbourne with Jamie Bartie, who showed us all sorts of examples of cultural gems in Melbourne that were hiding in plain sight. The moral of the story was similar to day 1… that we often look past things and have challenge ourselves to look deeper. This time around my day 1 concerns had evaporated and I was able to be in the moment and enjoy it for what it was. I spoke to Jamie at length that evening and we bonded over a common childhood love of cult shows like Monkey Magic. I also discovered another kung-fu movie fan in Meredith Lewis, who showed me a whole new way to frame conversations to get people to reveal more about themselves, and develop richer personal relationships along the way.

Petcha Kucha – Getting to a point…

Day 3 was a bit of a watershed moment for me for two reasons. Months prior, I had accepted an invitation from Stuart French to participate in his Petcha Kucha session. At the time I said “yes” without really looking into what it entailed. The gist is you do a presentation of 20 slides, with 20 seconds per slide, all timed so they change whether you are ready or not. This forces you to be incredibly disciplined with delivering your talk, which I found very hard because I was so used to “winging it” in presentations. Despite keynoting conferences with hundreds of people in the room, doing a Petcha Kucha to a smaller, more intimate group was much more nerve-racking. I had to forcibly switch off my tangential brain because as soon as I had a thought bubble, the slides would advance and I would fall behind and lose my momentum. It took a lot of focus for me to suppress my thought bubbles but it was worth it. In short, a Petcha Kucha is a fantastic tool to test one’s mental muscles and enforce discipline. I highly recommend that everyone give it a go – especially creative types who tend to be a bit “all over the place”. It was a master-stoke from Stuart to introduce the technique to this audience and I think it needs to be expanded next time.

I presented the first Petcha Kucha, followed by Stuart and then Brad Adriaanse, who described the OODA Loop philosophy. OODA stands for observe, orient, decide, and act, providing a way to break out of one’s existing dogma and reformulate paradigms, allowing you to better adapt to changing circumstances. Dilbert cartoons aptly shows us that we all have incomplete (and often inconsistent) world views which should be continually refined and adapted in the face of new observations. Brad put it nicely when he said OODA was about maintaining a fluid cognitive state and that assumptions can be a straightjacket and dogma can blind us. This really hit home for me, based on how I reacted at times on day 1. Brad also said that the OODA loop can be internalised by adopting a lifelong learning mindset, being curious and become more and more comfortable with ambiguity.

It was at this exact moment where I rediscovered my latent curiosity and understood why I felt the way I did on day 1 and 2. It was also at this moment that I realised Arthur Shelley’s genius in why he made this event happen, who he brought together and what he has created in this event. All attendees need to be disrupted. Some need their idealism challenged, and some, like me, need a reminder of what started us on this path in the first place.

I have returned a better practitioner for it… Thankyou Arthur

 

Paul Culmsee

p.s Arthur Shelley is still a giant hippie

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High school students showing us SharePoint consultants how it’s done

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Hi all

Once in a while, you can come across a case study that not only showcases innovative and brilliant solutions, but tells a much deeper story that both inspires and teaches. I am writing this post to tell you such a story – a story about genuine collaboration and what it can enable when the right conditions exist to foster it.

To explain this story, I first need to talk about the work of an academic named Richard Hackman. Here is a guy who spent most of his working life examining the factors that make teams work really well. Over the years he studied hundreds of high performing teams, trying to distil the magical ingredients that would lead to success for other teams. He would come up with theories, then create models that looked great on a whiteboard, but when applied to real teams in the real world, reality never fitted the models.

From causes to conditions…

After years of doing this, Hackman started to wonder whether he was leaning the ladder against the wrong wall. In other words, he wondered if trying to determine the causes of team efficacy by looking at successful teams retrospectively was the wrong approach. In the end, he changed his focus and asked himself a different question. What are the enabling conditions that need to exist that give rise to great teams?

He came up with six conditions arguing that irrespective of what else you did or what methodology you used, usually led to better results. I will give you a super brief summary below:

  1. A real team: Interdependence among members, clear boundaries distinguishing members from non-members and moderate stability of membership over time
  2. A compelling purpose: A purpose that is clear, challenging, and consequential. It energizes team members  and fully engages their talents
  3. Right people: People who had task expertise, self organised and skill in working collaboratively with others
  4. Clear norms of conduct: Team understands clearly what behaviours are, and are not, acceptable
  5. A supportive organisational context: The team has the resources it needs and the reward system provides recognition and positive consequences for excellent team performance
  6. Appropriate coaching: The right sort of coaching for the team was provided at the right time

Now my interest in Hackman and his conditions stemmed from reviewing the published “models” for SharePoint governance. Whether it is the 7 “pillars”, the 5 “steps”, or the 6 “focus areas”, all are developed in a retrospective way – by looking at a mythically perfect SharePoint solution and then breaking it down into all the things that need to be done to enable it. You see, for a long time now, I have deliberately not started with one of the models up front and Hackman offered me a reason why. Instead I first strive to create the conditions that Hackman lists above and develop governance as it is needed, rather than follow a fixed model.

Meet Louis Zulli Jr and his students

Earlier this year, I met Louis Zulli Jnr – a teacher out of Florida who is part of a program called the Centre of Advanced Technologies. We were co-keynoting at a conference and he came on after I had droned on about common SharePoint governance mistakes. Louis then gave a talk that blew me away, and at the same time proved Hackman completely right. The majority of Lou’s presentation showcased a whole bunch of SharePoint powered solutions that his students had written. The solutions themselves were very impressive, as this was not just regular old SharePoint customisation in terms of a pretty looking site with a few clever web parts. Instead, we were treated to examples like:

  • IOS, Android and Windows Phone  apps that leveraged SharePoint to display teacher’s assignments, school events and class times;
  • Silverlight based application providing a virtual tour of the campus;
  • Integration of SharePoint with Moodle;
  • An Academic Planner web application allowing students to plan their classes, submit a schedule, have them reviewed, track of the credits of the classes selected and whether a student’s selections meet graduation requirements;
  • An innovative campus Hall Pass system that leveraged jQuery, HTML5, CSS3, XML, JSON, REST, List Data Web Services and features integration with IOS, Windows 8 and swipe card hardware.

All of this and more was developed by 16 to 18 year olds and all at a level of quality that I know most SharePoint consultancies would be jealous of. To any of Lou’s students who read this – and I have consulted and delivered SharePoint since 2006, as well as speaking to people around the world on SharePoint – the work quality that I saw is world-class and you all have lucrative careers ahead of you in the SharePoint space and beyond.

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So the demos themselves were impressive enough, but that is actually not what impressed me the most. In fact, what had me hooked was not on the slide deck. It was the anecdotes that Lou told about the dedication of his students to the task and how they went about getting things done. He spoke of students working during their various school breaks to get projects completed and how they leveraged each other’s various skills and other strengths. Lou’s final slide summed his talk up brilliantly, and really spoke to Hackman’s six conditions. The slide made the following points:

  • Students want to make a difference! Give them the right project and they do incredible things.
  • Make the project meaningful. Let it serve a purpose for the campus community.
  • Learn to listen. If your students have a better way, do it. If they have an idea, let them explore it.
  • Invest in success early. Make sure you have the infrastructure to guarantee uptime and have a development farm.
  • Every situation is different but there is no harm in failure. “I have not failed. I’ve found 10,000 ways that won’t work” – Thomas A. Edison

If you look at the above 5 points and think about Hackman’s conditions of compelling direction, supportive context, real team and coaching in particular, you can see that Lou ensured those conditions were present. The results of course spoke for themselves.

About halfway through Lou’s talk, I decided that whether he liked it or not, he was coming out to Australia to tell this story. So we sat down together and talked for a long while and I asked him all sorts of questions about his students, the projects, how he coached his students and how his own teaching style developed. I ended up showing him Hackman’s six conditions for great teams performance and he said “that’s what we do”.

The real lesson…

So as I write this, Lou is on his long journey home after similarly blowing away the attendees of the Australian SharePoint conference with his story about what he and his students have done. His talk was the hit of the conference and I hope that the staff and students of Lakewood High School read this post because it’s important for them to know that their story and examples were the topic of much conversation amongst attendees and highly inspiring. I also hope that people in the SharePoint community read this because CAT shows precisely why SharePoint can be such an amazing enabler within organisations when the right conditions are in place for it. Governance models are great and all, but without these enabling conditions in place, cannot deliver great outcomes on their own.

This leads me onto one final cautionary point – directed at Lou’s students, but applicable to all readers who aspire to improve collaboration in their organisations and their projects.

There are plenty of clever people in this world – in fact most IT people from my experience are intellectually very clever (IQ), but some have all the emotional maturity (EQ) of a baseball bat. IQ is what you are born with, but EQ is caught and lived. What makes great SharePoint practitioners (and in fact great leaders) is EQ, not just IQ and the CAT program shows what happens when clever people are given discretionary freedom with supportive conditions in place. My advice is to never forget that it is the conditions in which a team or organisation finds itself that a strong predictor of outcome. Take the same clever people and change the conditions (for example, from a supportive educational institution to an organisation with a blame culture and silo based fiefdoms) and you will get very different outcomes indeed.

What students may not realise is that what the CAT program is really teaching them is the experience of living those enabling conditions and therefore teaching them EQ. These students will eventually move into organisations that do not necessarily have the same enabling conditions as what exists for them now. So look past the cool API’s, the development tools, technical whitepapers, the certifications, endless debates as to whether X vs Y is the best practice, and understand the conditions like Hackman did. Strive to (re)create those conditions in all your future work and you will go further than a SharePoint laden CV ever will.

This of course, took me around 18 years of working in IT before I figured it out and have been making amends ever since. So whatever you do, wise up earlier than I did!

 

Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee

www.cleverworkarounds.com

www.hereticsguidebooks.com

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Introduction to Dialogue Mapping class in Melbourne June 13-14

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Hi all

We have all felt the pain of a meeting or workshop where no-one is engaged, the conversation is being dominated by the loudest or everyone is mired in a tangle of complexity and there is no sense of progress. Not only is it incredibly frustrating for participants, but it is really inefficient in terms of time and effort, reduced collaboration and can lead to really poor project outcomes.

The big idea behind the technique of Dialogue Mapping is to address this problem. Dialogue Mapping is an approach where a project manager or business analyst acts as a facilitator while visually mapping the conversation of a group onto a projected display. This approach reduces repetition by acknowledging contributions, unpacks implicit assumptions and leads to much better alignment and understanding among a group.

For SharePoint projects, this is a must and I have been using the technique for years now. Other SharePoint luminaries like Michal Pisarek, Ruven Gotz and Andrew Woodward also use the approach, and Ruven even dedicated a chapter to Dialogue Mapping in his brilliant Information Architecture book.

In Melbourne, I am going to be running a 2 day Introduction to Dialogue Mapping class to teach this technique. There are only 10 places available and this is one of the few public classes I will be running this year. So if you are attending the Australian SharePoint conference, or live near Melbourne and deal with collaborative problem solving, stakeholder engagement or business analysis, this is a great opportunity to come and learn this excellent problem solving technique.

Hope to see you there!

Paul

   

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An Organisational Psychologist is keynoting a SharePoint conference? What the…

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Collaborate

Yup you heard right. I am particularly excited for the Melbourne SharePoint conference in June because I get to unleash “Dr Neil” onto the SharePoint world. Neil (who’s full name is Neil Preston) is an Organisational Psychologist who I have been working with for several years now in all sorts of novel and innovative projects. He’s not a SharePoint guy at  all – but that doesn’t matter for reasons that will soon become clear…

I spent January 2013 on holiday in New Zealand and caught up with Debbie Ireland in her home town of Tauranga. We talked about the state of SharePoint conferences around the world and mused about what we could do to raise the bar, particularly with the Melbourne SharePoint conference in June 2013. Both of us felt that over the last few years, the key SharePoint message of “It’s all about business outcomes” was now:

  1. well understood by the SharePoint community; and
  2. getting a little stale

So the challenge for Debbie and I – and for that matter, all of us in the SharePoint community – is how to go beyond the paradigm of “It’s not about SharePoint, it’s about the business”, and ask ourselves the new questions that might lead to new SharePoint powered innovations.

The theme that emerged from our conversation was collaboration. After all, one of the most common justifications for making an investment in SharePoint is improved collaboration within organisations. Of course, collaboration, like SharePoint itself, means different things to different people and is conflated in many different ways. So we thought that it is about time that we unpacked this phenomena of collaboration that everyone seeks but can’t define. This led to a conversation about what a SharePoint conference would look like if it had the theme of collaboration at its core. Who would ideal to speak at it and what should the topics be?

As Debbie and I started to think more about this theme, I realised that there was one person who absolutely had to speak at this event. Dr Neil Preston. Neil is a world expert on collaboration, and his many insights that have had a huge influence on me personally and shaped my approach to SharePoint delivery. If you like what you read on this blog, or in my book, then chances are that those ideas came from conversations with Neil.

Debbie then suggested that we get Neil to keynote the conference to which he graciously accepted. So I am absolutely stoked that attendees of the Melbourne SharePoint conference will have the opportunity to learn from Neil. I can guarantee you that no SharePoint conference in the world has ever had a keynote speaker with his particular set of skills. Thus, I urge anyone with more than a passing interest in developing a more collaborative culture in their organisations should come to the conference to learn from him.

Then, in one of those serendipitous moments, a few weeks later I was in the US and met an amazing schoolteacher named Louis Zulli Jnr who presented a case study on how he enabled 16-19 year old students to develop SharePoint solutions that would be the envy of many consultancies. As I listened to him speak, I realised that he was the living embodiment of the collaborative maturity stuff that Neil Preston preaches and I asked Debbie about bringing him to Melbourne to speak as well.

So there you have it. On June 11, you get to hear from one of the most brilliant people I have ever met who’s understanding of collaboration and collaborative maturity is second to none. You also get to hear an inspiring case study of what how the incredible potential of enthusiastic and engaged students can enable SharePoint to do amazing things.

That is not all either – we have Craig Brown (of betterprojects.net and LAST conference fame) introducing Innovation Games and we also have John Denegate from collaborative governance specialists Twyfords, speaking on the curse of the expert.

So don’t miss this event – I think it will be amazing. In the next blog post I will write about the 2 day post-conference workshops

 

Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee

SPC MEL 2013 Im speaking        SPC MEL 2013 connect with us

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Share Conference April 2013 in Atlanta: Why you should go…

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Hi there…

In a couple of weeks from now, I will be heading to the US for the only time this year – to participate in the Share conference in Atlanta. This will be my first US SharePoint conference since early 2011 and I’ll be delivering one of the keynote talks as well as a 1 day workshop.

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The Share conference is always a great event, for both its focus (business users and key decision makers) and its execution (via the highly experienced eventful group). There is always a great line-up of speakers and this year, the key topic areas include user adoption, governance, envisioning and developing roadmaps, business process automation, information architecture, training, change management and upgrade planning.

My keynote is on Friday morning and is called SharePoint Governance Home Truths. The synopsis for the talk is:

You might think that after a decade of SharePoint deployments there would be a yellow brick road of best practices that we could follow that would lead to success. Yet for many organizations, SharePoint governance does not exist, or is enshrined in 100-page monster manuals that weigh as much as a door stop, and that no-one will ever read, let alone understand.

While we persist in methods that deliver sub-optimal results, we will continue to deliver those results! You can have all the documentation and process in the world, but will your users adopt your solution? If Information Architecture for SharePoint was as easy as putting together SharePoint building blocks the right way, then why doesn’t Microsoft publish the obvious best practices? Why is success so difficult to achieve, even if your system is rock-solid, stable, well-documented, and processes-defined?

The secret sauce to a successful SharePoint project is an area that governance documentation barely touches. In fact, documentation is rarely the answer, because SharePoint projects typically have certain characteristics that are different than most other IT projects. Therefore, to understand SharePoint governance, one has to understand the nature of the problems SharePoint is deployed to solve, why traditional delivery approaches often fail, and what to do about it.

Lessons:

  • The top five reasons SharePoint governance efforts fail
  • The reality of how we actually solve new or novel problems
  • The one best practice you need before you consider any other SharePoint best practice

I am also really excited to be able to facilitate a pre conference workshop called Aligning SharePoint to Business Goals: Don’t Just Say It, Do It!. I have had a lot of requests to bring more classes to the US, but living in far flung Australia, makes this difficult. So this is your one chance to participate in one of my workshops in the US this year. The synopsis for this workshop is:

It is common to hear consultants wax lyrical about how we have to align SharePoint to business goals. While this and other popular cliches like ‘obtain executive support or ‘obtain user buy-in’ are easy to say, in practice they are much harder to do. After all, if this was not the case, then business goal alignment would not be near the top of the list of SharePoint challenges.

In this workshop, Paul will offer practical guidance, tools, and methods for taming this complex problem. This in-depth workshop will build upon the presentation on ‘SharePoint Governance Home Truths’ and provide a deeper, more detailed focus. Paul will demonstrate how to guarantee that all aspects of SharePoint delivery clearly align to organizational aspirations, ensuring all stakeholder needs are considered and at the same time, creating the understanding and commitment via an inclusive, collaborative approach.

  • Why SharePoint belongs to a class of problems that are inherently hard to solve 
  • Why aligning organizational goals is hard 
  • What to do when organizational goals are unclear 
  • How to avoid chasing platitudes 
  • Tapping into the wisdom of crowds 
  • Structuring and running a great goal alignment workshop 
  • Creating a walking deck 
  • Building on foundations – next steps

Now if that wasn’t enough to whet your appetite, then how about a discount! If you register for the conference online and use discount code DELEGATE10 to save $300!

Hope to see you there…

Paul

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Warts and all SharePoint caveats in Melbourne and Auckland

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Hi all

There are a couple of conferences happening this month that you should seriously consider attending. The New Zealand and Australian SharePoint Community Conferences. This year things have changed. There are over 50 Sessions designed to cater to a wide audience of the SharePoint landscape and the most varied range of international speakers I have seen so far. What is all the more pleasing this year is that aside from 20 sessions of technical content, the business side of SharePoint focus has been given greater coverage and there are over 20 customer case studies, which give great insight into how organisations large and small are making the most of their SharePoint deployments. This stuff is gold because it is what happens in the trenches of reality, rather than the nuanced, airbrushed one you tend to get when people are trying to sell you something.

My involvement will include some piano accompaniment while Christian Buckley hits the high notes Smile, and in terms of talks, I will be “keeping it real“ by presenting a talk called “Aligning Business Objectives with SharePoint“. I will also be running a 1 day class on one of the hardest aspects of SharePoint delivery: Business goal alignment. This is workshop is the “how” of goal alignment (plenty of people can tell you the “what”). If you are a BA, PM or recovering tech dude, do not miss this session. It draws a lot of inspiration from my facilitation and sensemaking work and has been very well received wherever I have run it.

The other session I am really looking forward to is a talk called SharePoint 2010 Caveats: Don’t get caught out! Now anybody in SharePoint for long enough has learnt the hard way to test all assumptions. This is because SharePoint is a complex beast with lots of moving parts. Unfortunately these moving parts don’t always integrate the way they one would assume. Usually the result of such an untested assumption is a lot of teeth gnashing and heavily adjusted project plans.

I mentioned airburshed reality before – this is something that occasionally frustrates me, especially when you see SharePoint demonstrations full of gushing praise, via a use case that glosses over inconvenient facts. Michal Pisarek of SharePointAnlystHQ fame, is a SharePoint practitioner who shares my view and a while back, we both decided to present a talk about some of the most common, dangerous and some downright strange caveats that SharePoint has to offer. The session outline is below.

"Yes but…" is a common answer given by experienced SharePoint consultants when asked if a particular solution design "will work". One of the key reasons for this is that SharePoint’s greatest strength is one of its weaknesses. The sheer number of components or features jam packed into the product, means that there are many complex interactions between them – often with small gotchas or large caveats that were not immediately apparent while the sales guy was dutifully taking you through the SharePoint pie diagram.

Unfortunately, some organizations trip up on such untested assumptions at times, and in turn it can render the logical edifice of their solution design invalid. This is costly in terms of lost time to change approaches, but increased complexity since sometimes workarounds are worse than the caveats. In this fun, lively and interactive session, Michal Pisarek will put his MVP (not really) on the line, and with a little help from Paul Culmsee, examine some of SharePoint’s common caveats. Make no mistake, understanding these caveats and the approaches for mitigating them will save you considerable time, money and heartache.

Don’t miss this informative and eye opening session

Now let me state up front that our aim is not to walk into a session and just spent all of the time bitching about all the ills of SharePoint. In fact the aim and intent of this session was from the point of view of “knowing this will save you money”. To that end, if there is a workaround for an issue, we will outline it for you.

Now just about every person who I have mentioned this talk to, have said something along the lines of “Oh I could give you some good ones”. So to that end, we want to hear any of the weird and wacky things that have stopped you in your tracks. If you have any rippers, then leave a comment below or submit them to Michal (michalpisarek@sharepointanlysthq.com)

We will also make this session casual and interactive. So expect some audience participation!

Thanks for reading

 

Paul Culmsee

www.sevensigma.com.au

www.hereticsguidebooks.com

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Why SharePoint training sometimes doesn’t deliver (and what to do about it)

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I was surprised to see the recent SharePoint Fatigue Syndrome post got some traction in the interweb. As it happened, that particular post was kicking around in an unfinished state for months. The thing is, its not the only “home truth” type of post that I have sitting in my “drafts” folder. I also have one on the state of the SharePoint training market. Given that I have a training announcement to make, I thought that I would combine them.

A day in the life…

We recently worked on a SharePoint upgrade project, where the previous developers did an excellent job overall. That is…if you judge them on the SharePoint governance metrics of writing clean and maintainable code, packaging it up properly, not hacking away at system files and actually writing documentation.

Unfortunately, although they did an excellent job through that lens, the actual solution, when judged on whether users found that it made their life easier, it was an epic fail. Users hated it with passion and like many solution that users hate, the system was soon relegated to being a little-used legacy platform where the maintenance costs now outweighed the benefits. The organisation had invested a couple-hundred thousand dollars on this solution and saw very little value for that money. Accordingly, they took their business elsewhere…to us. After a workshop, the client had one of those inverse “aha” moments when they realised that if they had taken a little more time to understand SharePoint, the custom solution would have never been developed in the first place.

This sort of example, to me, highlights where SharePoint governance goes so wrong. The care and diligence the developers exercised was necessary, but clearly not sufficient. No matter what the quality of the code, the unit testing regime and its packaging, at the end of the day a blueberry pie was baked and the client wanted an apple pie. The problem was not in the ingredients or the baking. The problem was that by the time they delivered the pie, it was clear that the wrong recipe was used. In the above case, the developer had omitted a whole raft of critical considerations in creating the solution – none of which were covered in developer training.

Necessary but not sufficient…

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When you think about it, the current approach to SharePoint training seems not to be about recipes, but all about ingredients. Trainees get shipped off to “boot camps” for an indoctrination of all of the ingredients in the cupboard (and SharePoint is a bloody big cupboard!). SharePoint features and components are examined in individual detail, usually with an accompanying exercise or lab to demonstrate competency in that particular component. Graduates then return with a huge list of ingredients, but still no skills in how to develop the right recipes.

What exacerbates this problem is that training is siloed across disciplines. As an example: An “IT Pro” bootcamp will go into meticulous detail about performance, scalability and design aspects. Any considerations around development, information architecture and user engagement are seen through the lens of the infrastructure nerd. (Ah – who am I kidding… user engagement in an IT pro bootcamp has never happened. Smile)

Now consider for a second, how we design SharePoint sites. These days, it is common for people to actively discourage designing SharePoint solutions based on organisational departmental boundaries. (By organisational departmental boundaries I mean Marketing, HR, IT etc.) Why is this design approach frowned upon? Proponents claim that it tends to perpetuate  the problem of information silos and doesn’t stand the test of time, given that organisations tend to restructure just when your information architecture masterpiece is ready for prime time. In fact, the research organisation Jackob Neilsen did a study and found that task based structures (characterised by “My…” and “I need to…”) endured better than organisational based structures. Quoting from them:

In our study, task-based structures often endured better than intranets organized departmentally. In our user testing of intranets, we’ve also found that task-based navigation tends to facilitate ease-of-learning. Thus, the benefits for IA durability are just one more argument in favor of adopting a task-based structure for your intranet.

So what I find ironically funny is the second sentence of the Jackob Neilsen quote: “Ease-of-learning.” I wonder what sort of learning they are talking about? Presumably something other than delivering a failed solution with some really nice programming governance behind it! Yet the way SharePoint training is designed and marketed actually compartmentalises SharePoint training into similar silos. The result? Students get a rose coloured view of the SharePoint world, based on their discipline. This is because, as Ackoff brilliantly put it,  “complexity is in the eye of the beholder – the other persons job always looks simple”.

By the way, what I am highlighting is not the fault of the trainers because at the end of the day, they respond to what they think the market wants. Sadly, what the market thinks it wants is often not what it needs.

I feel that the missing link – and most critical aspect of SharePoint training for practitioners – is not about how many ingredients you know, but how you go about creating those recipes. Yet SharePoint training overly focuses on what each ingredient does in isolation – whether a job discipline or a particular component. Whilst I fully accept that knowing the ingredients is a necessity, it is clearly not sufficient. This is an airbrushed version of reality, without due consideration of how ingredients combine in unique scenarios. Accordingly, this training does nothing to teach how to achieve shared understanding between practitioner and the eventual users who have to live with the legacy of what is delivered.

When you think about it, shared understanding is what makes or breaks SharePoint success because it is the pre-requisite to shared commitment to a solution. As demonstrated by the example of great code underpinning a crap solution, lack of shared understanding and commitment will always trump any other good work performed.

What to do about it…

SharePoint is a product that often requires adaptive change on the part of users. Learning the capabilities of the product is one thing – changing entrenched collaborative practice is another altogether. In case you haven’t noticed before, users tend not to be charmed by new, shiny features if they cannot see how it will make their jobs easier. (Nerdy knowledge workers like you and me easily get seduced by shiny things but our world view is seriously skewed compared to those who live on the coal face of organisations). Thus, the skills required to facilitate change and align various roles, require a different type of training course: one that integrates rather than compartmentalises. One that teaches how to synthesise the whole, rather than reductionise into the parts.

For such a course, no virtual machines are needed because there are no labs to demonstrate competence in some SharePoint component that will be out of date by SharePoint vNext. Instead, such a course needs to focus on the concepts, patterns and practices that are typically not seen in the IT practitioners toolkit (and for that matter, not seen in many complex mainstream IT/PM methodologies). The added bonus for such a course is that the skills and learning’s it provides are applicable beyond SharePoint and even beyond IT itself. While a typical SharePoint might give you mileage for the current version, a course like what I describe will give you tools that you can use anywhere, irrespective of the technology and project.

Does such a class exist? (Is that the longest post you have ever read to get to such a rhetorical question? Smile )

Of course it exists – I’ve been running it around the world for a couple of years now. It’s called the SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture Class (#SPGovIA) and it was a year in the making and comes with lots of goodies, such as a CD with a sample performance framework, governance plan, SharePoint ROI calculator (spreadsheet) and sample mind maps of Information Architecture. The class was originally designed for Microsoft New Zealand, on behalf of 3Grow for the Elite program that used to certify gold partners for serious SharePoint competence. Since then its been run in the UK, Netherlands, US, Australia and New Zealand. Next month I will run classes in Singapore and Hong Kong.

For my US readers, early next year I will be taking the course on the road, specifically Canada and the USA in Feb 2012. This course is not run often, because for me the US is a damn long way to travel and my time is tight these days! So I sincerely hope that if this sort of class sounds interesting to you, then you will consider being part of it. Michal Pisarek has already made an announcement for classes in Vancouver, and more details will be forthcoming for one or two US cities. I only have time for 2 classes in North America, so which city should it be?

For more detail on the class, head on over to www.spgovia.com. While there, click the Media link and watch the first half hour of the class. I look forward to seeing you there.

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Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee

www.sevensigma.com.au

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Praise for SharePoint Governance and IA Masterclass

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I received this today and I had to post it. In New Zealand recently, Paul McTaggart of Gen-i stopped me and complimented the governance and information architecture course that some of his staff have attended. I am truly humbled by the feedback that he just sent through…

Practical, relevant and seriously funny: These attributes are seldom seen together in a training session.

However, Paul Culmsee has practical, real world experience having worked on complex (wicked) projects which provides him with the background and understanding of what works and why.

Discover the immutable f-laws of SharePoint projects. Cry and laugh when you identify the reality of you own organizational platitudes, but breathe a sigh of relief when you see that there is a way out and that SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture can be achieved with everyone sharing the same understanding of where you are now and where you are trying to get to.

Paul also supports you new found realization of what needs to be done by providing you with the guidance, tools and methods that you can take from the classroom and apply to your complex (wicked) problem projects to make them work.

Basically it is all about people (gaining shared understanding), process (knowing how to get from here to there) and then the technology (SharePoint).

My team now uses the concept of shared understanding and the tools that the Governance and Information Architecture Class has provided to get customers “on page” before we design and code in SharePoint land.

Paul McTaggart

ECM Business Manager

Gen-i a division of Telecom New Zealand

Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee

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A call for help Canada – SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture Class in Toronto

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Hi all

For those of you that enjoy reading this blog, I really need your help. I am running my SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture master classes in North America and Canada in May 2011. This is a bit of a “one night only” thing, because it is a damn long way for me to travel, so I rarely visit the USA and I have never been to Canada. It’s unlikely that I will be back here for some time.

My SharePoint governance class has been run in London, Dublin, Sydney, Perth and Wellington. It is also about to be run in the Netherlands in May by 21apps. Responses have been terrific from attendees thus far. In May, I will be in the US/Canada, in the following locations:

I’ll also be running a class in Brisbane in June too.

Seattle is looking good at this stage, but Toronto is not. If any Canadians reading this blog would like to see this class happen in your shores, then please help us by spreading the word. Without your help, we may not be able to commit to Toronto at all.

If you want to see what you are in for, then why not watch the video below from the New Zealand SharePoint conference where I cover the first half an hour of the course. Imagine two days of such fun and frivolity!!

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Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee

www.sevensigma.com.au

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