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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More classes planned and clearing the air…

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Hi all

I have a couple of important community service type announcements to make.

How do I know I’m attending a legitimate Seven Sigma Class?

Sometimes the training marketplace can be confusing with various organisations offering various courses. Ask any attendee of the SPGov+IA class and they will attest to the uniqueness of our course. Both myself, and some of my trusted local partners have been contacted by people about other SharePoint courses in the Information Architecture space, wondering if we endorse or are in any way associated with them. This has happened again recently, so it’s probably worth clearing the air here and now.

Ahem

Seven Sigma has a number of relationships with like-minded organisations around the world. In the UK, we have a terrific relationship with Andrew and Ant at 21apps. In New Zealand, we work with Chan at 3Grow and Debbie at EnvisionIT. In the US we work with Erica Toelle at FPWeb, as well as Ruven Gotz and in Brisbane recently we worked with Alpesh Nakar from Just SharePoint.

Aside from myself, Ant Clay of 21apps is the only authorised trainer of our courseware. Essentially if Ant or I are not running the class, then it’s not my class!. Visit the trainer section of www.spgovia.com for our details.

Furthermore outside of Australia, if the course organiser is not Andrew Woodward or Ant Clay (Europe), Erica Toelle or Ruven Gotz (US), Chan or Debbie Ireland (New Zealand), then it is not the SPGov+IA class.

www.spgovia.com is the official site for the SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture Master Class. Here you can find out about the class, feedback from past attendees, schedules and registration information. This is the authoritative source for all information related to all classes. Each of the above partners will publish location specific information about classes that they plan to run.

More SPGov+IA classes for 2011 (and Issue Mapping Class is a go…)

I am proud to report that the first ever Issue Mapping Master Class, co-developed with CogNexus and run by Seven Sigma happened in my home town of Perth last month. This has been a long time coming, and the feedback from the first attendees was immensely gratifying.

Definitely one of the best courses I have ever attended…I have already recommended to many people that they should get on the next course if possible. Jon Gorton

This course was brilliant. The technique itself is a valuable tool for any business with multiple applications. Leisha Velterop

So now on top of the SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture Class, we can offer a specialist course on the craft of Issue and Dialogue Mapping – something that regular readers of this blog may be familiar with. For all alumni of the SPGov+IA class who put their hand up for a dedicated IBIS class, you now have your wish. The Issue Mapping class will be taken onto the road for the first time too and the plan is to run both classes in each location.

To that end, we have classes locked in for Auckland and Wellington. But Melbourne and  the US East coast are also being earmarked in the latter part of 2011. Here are the planned classes so far.

We will publish more details of the new class as soon as we can.

Thanks for reading

 

Paul Culmsee

www.sevensigma.com.au

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More SharePoint Governance, Information Architecture and *Sensemaking* Classes Planned

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A big chunk of last year had me off under a metaphorical mushroom, putting together several days of courseware on the topic of SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture. My take on these topics are influenced from some odd places, and the course drew on a lot of the non IT work that I do, that involves collaboration on some very complex problems indeed.

In November and December of 2010, we took this “on the road”, so to speak, firstly in Dublin, then London and Sydney. The courses were sold out and feedback was terrific. Here are a few choice quotes (check out the hyperlinks for full reviews)


“Did it meet my expectations? Well I’d have to say that it far exceeded them. There had obviously been a large amount of effort in preparing the courseware and modules. They covered the important missing links currently absent from the Microsoft and traditional training courses” – Wes Hackett.

“I’ve just finished the second day of the SharePoint 2010 Governance and Information Architecture Master Class presented by Paul Culmsee with the support of Andrew Woodward . I can wholeheartedly say it was one of the best courses I’ve attended both in content and presentation style and they deserve a lot of credit for putting together a fantastic course. Paul in particular has put a huge amount of effort into the slidedeck, sample documents and enormous manual (almost 500 pages worth!) let alone all the great additional insight he could provide in person over both days” – Brendan Newell

“Finally …. after 12 years in the IT industry a course which covers some of the fundamental issues governing project success.   This course is a real eye opener and a must for any IT professional involved in project planning and delivery” -  Stephen McWilliams

“I just came back from the best technology training I have had in years: a world-first Microsoft SharePoint Elite Information Architecture course designed and delivered by Paul Culmsee. It has taught me a great deal across ALL facets of the day-to-day work that I do as a SharePoint architect” – Jess Kim

Based on this and similar feedback, we are going to do it again. Locations confirmed so far are London (#SPIAUK), Sydney (#SPIAAU) and Wellington (#SPIANZ) in February and March 2011 and in the pipeline is The Netherlands (#SPIANL) and at least a couple of US cities!

In addition to the unique content on these classes, I am honoured to announce that I am now authorised to teach the official Cognexus Issue Mapping courseware – the only non Cognexus Dialogue Mapping practitioner authorised to do so. As such, we will be running the inaugural Issue Mapping class in London in late February as well (wohoo!)

So, here are the details for each location:

  • (Register now) February 21, 2011, London   #SPIAUK SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture Master Class (Download Flyer)
  • (Register now) February 23, 2011, London #IBISUK Issue Mapping Master Class (Download Flyer)
  • (Register now) March 10, 2011, Sydney  #SPIAAU SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture Master Class (Download Flyer)
  • (Register now)March 14, 2011, Wellington #SPIANZ SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture Master Class (Download Flyer)
  • (Register soon) May 9, 2011, Utrecht, Netherlands (watch this space)
  • Wondering what to expect in these classes? Read on!

     SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture Master Class. 2 full days of real world, examples knowledge and techniques

    Most people understand that deploying SharePoint is much more than getting it installed. Despite this, current SharePoint governance documentation abounds in service delivery aspects. However, just because your system is rock solid, stable, well documented and governed through good process, there is absolutely no guarantee of success. Similarly, if Information Architecture for SharePoint was as easy as putting together lists, libraries and metadata the right way, then why doesn’t Microsoft publish the obvious best practices?

    In fact, the secret to a successful SharePoint project is an area that the governance documentation barely touches.

    This master class pinpoints the critical success factors for SharePoint governance and Information Architecture and rectifies this blind spot. Paul‘s style takes an ironic and subversive take on how SharePoint governance really works within organisations, while presenting a model and the tools necessary get it right.

    Drawing on inspiration from many diverse sources, disciplines and case studies, Paul has distilled the “what” and “how” of governance down a simple and accessible, yet rigorous and comprehensive set of tools and methods that organisations large and small can utilise to achieve the level of commitment required to see SharePoint become successful.

    Master class aims:

    • Present SharePoint governance and Information Architecture in a new light – focus on the “blind spots” where the current published material is inadequate
    • Cover lessons learned from Paul’s non IT work as a facilitator and sensemaker in complex large scale projects
    • Examine the latest trends in the information landscape for industry and government and review studies that inform governance and Information Architecture efforts
    • Present an alternative approach to business-as-usual SharePoint governance planning that focuses on real collaboration
    • Provide quality information that is rigorous yet accessible, entertaining and interesting

    Master class outcomes:

    • Understand the SharePoint governance lens beyond an IT service delivery focus
    • Develop your ‘wicked problem’ radar and apply appropriate governance practices, tools and techniques accordingly
    • Learn how to align SharePoint projects to broad organisational goals, avoid chasing platitudes and ensure that the problem being solved is the right problem
    • Learn how to account for cognitive bias and utilise tools and techniques that help stakeholders align to a common vision
    • Understand the relationship between governance and assurance, why both are needed and how they affect innovation and user engagement
    • Understand the underlying, often hidden forces of organisational chaos that underpins projects like SharePoint
    • Understand the key challenges and opportunities that SharePoint presents for Information Architecture
    • Learn how to document your information architecture
    • Practical knowledge: Add lots more tools to your governance and IA toolkit!

    Course Structure: The course is split into 7 modules, run across the two days.

    Module 1: SharePoint Governance f-Laws 1-17:

    Module 1 is all about setting context in the form of clearing some misconceptions about the often muddy topic of SharePoint governance. This module sheds some light onto these less visible SharePoint governance factors in the form of Governance f-Laws, which will also help to provide the context for the rest of this course

    • Why users don’t know what they want
    • The danger of platitudes
    • Why IT doesn’t get it
    • The adaptive challenge – how to govern SharePoint for the hidden organisation
    • The true forces of organisational chaos
    • Wicked problems and how to spot them
    • The myth of best practices and how to determine when a “practice” is really best

    Module 2: The Shared Understanding Toolkit – part 1:

    Module 2 pinpoints the SharePoint governance blind spot and introduces the Seven Sigma Shared Understanding Toolkit to counter it. The toolkit is a suite of tools, patterns and practices that can be used to improve SharePoint outcomes. This module builds upon the f-laws of module 1 and specifically examines the “what” and “why” questions of SharePoint Governance. Areas covered include how to identify particular types of problems, how to align the diverse goals of stakeholders, leverage problem structuring methods and constructing a solid business case.

    Module 3: The Shared Understanding Toolkit – part 2:

    Module 3 continues the Seven Sigma Shared Understanding Toolkit, and focuses on the foundation of “what” and “why” by examining the “who” and “how”. Areas covered include aligning stakeholder expectations, priorities and focus areas and building this alignment into a governance structure and written governance plan that actually make sense and that people will read. We round off by examining user engagement/stakeholder communication and training strategy.

    Module 4: Information Architecture trends, lessons learned and key SharePoint challenges

    Module 4 examines the hidden costs of poor information management practices, as well as some of the trends that are impacting on Information Architecture and the strategic direction of Microsoft as it develops the SharePoint road map. We will also examine the results from what other organisations have attempted and their lessons learned. We then distil those lessons learned into some the fundamental tenants of modern information architecture and finish off by examining the key SharePoint challenges from a technical, strategic and organisational viewpoint.

    Module 5: Information organisation and facets of collaboration

    Module 5 dives deeper into the core Information Architecture topics of information structure and organisation. We explore the various facets of enterprise collaboration and identify common Information Architecture mistakes and the strategies to avoid making them.

    Module 6: Information Seeking, Search and metadata.

    Module 6 examines the factors that affect how users seek information and how they manifest in terms of patterns of use. Building upon the facets of collaboration of module 5, we examine several strategies to improving SharePoint search and navigation. We then turn our attention to taxonomy and metadata, and what SharePoint 2010 has to offer in terms of managed metadata

    Module 7: Shared understanding and visual representation – documenting your Information Architecture

    Module 7 returns to the theme of governance in the sense of communicating your information architecture through visual or written form. To achieve shared understanding among participants, we need to document our designs in various forms for various audiences.

    Putting it all together: From vision to execution

    As a take home, we will also supply a USB stick for attendees with a sample performance framework, governance plan, SharePoint ROI calculator (Spreadsheet), sample mind maps of Information Architecture. These tools are the result of years of continual development and refinement “out in the field” and until now have never been released to the public.

    Note: The workshop sessions will be hands on, we provide all of the tools and samples needed but please bring your own laptop.

    Issue Mapping Master Class. Your path towards shared understanding and shared commitment

    “Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them.” Laurence J. Peter

    Presented by: Paul Culmsee

    Courseware by: Cognexus Institute and Seven Sigma

    “Not another $#%@*$ meeting!”

    All of us have felt the frustration of walking from yet another unproductive meeting, wondering where the agenda went. Yet, as problems become more complex, meetings are still the place where critical strategic decisions are made.

    ibis-map

    What is Issue Mapping?

    Issue-Based Information Systems (IBIS) is a sense-making framework used to support group discussions to assist all involved to come to a shared understanding. It visually maps participants’ points of views, problems voiced, the rationale and reasons leading up to decision(s). The maps can be easily read and understood by everyone, even by those not part of the discussion group.

    Why Issue Mapping?

    • Maps detailed rationale behind decision-making as well as the decision; maps the thinking process of the group
    • Concentrates on pros and cons to an idea, encourages and explores all views, taking the sting out of differences
    • Represents and clarifies diverse points of views, conflicting interpretations and goals, inconsistent information and other forms of complexity
    • Everyone gets a chance to speak, if they want. People are heard and contributions are acknowledged. Interruptions, repetition and dominance of the loudest decreases
    • Keeps participants on topic because they can visually see the progress of the discussion
    • Keeps everyone’s attention
    • Meeting progress/result can be seen
    • Map helps participants come up with ideas/arguments
    • Visual display of progress to review summary if need so the brain can absorb the bigger picture and appreciate the validity and value of a larger perspective
    • Avoids jumping to easy answers or superficial conclusions
    • Promotes deeper reasoning, rigor and even wisdom
    • Everyone can visually see everything discussed- leaves no room for misunderstandings
    • Documents can easily be attached to map to back up ideas
    • Participants can see effectiveness of mapping and genuine will try to make it more productive

    About Seven Sigma

    Issue Mapping is a life skill that can be applied to many different problem domains and scenarios. Participants will gain proficiency in a craft that can be applied long into the future, to help them and others bring clarity and convergence to the management of complex problems. At Seven Sigma, we practice Issue and Dialogue Mapping routinely and this has brought us many satisfied clients. The Mapping in itself is part of the ‘secret sauce’ that makes Seven Sigma’s reputation renowned.

    Seven Sigma Business Solutions is the only recognised designated partner of Cognexus Institute, founder of the art of Issue Mapping, in the world. We recognise that without reaching shared understanding, you will find yourself at yet another meeting, rehashing the same unresolved problems, listening to the same arguments month after month. Or, if a decision has been made, it has not been followed up to fruition due to lack of commitment/buy-in.

    We are proud to be part of your journey towards shared understanding and shared commitment.

    Master Class aims and outcomes:

    • Be able to create great maps – issue maps that are clear, coherent, and inviting
    • Immediately start using Issue Mapping effectively in your work and life; the class will focus on practical experience and map building
    • Command a rich range of options for publishing and sharing maps
    • Lead with maps: create direction, momentum, and energy with issue maps
    • Quickly and effectively do critical analysis in dynamic situations
    • Organize unstructured information and discover patterns and connections within it
    • Make critical thinking visible for inspection and analysis
    • Recognise early, the symptoms of wicked problems and the forces behind group divergence
    • Recognise the importance of capturing the rationale behind decisions, as well as the decisions themselves
    • Rethink the traditional approach to meetings and decision making
    • Start capturing the rationale leading up to the decisions by using IBIS and Compendium software

    It will also give you a deeper understanding of:

    • The fundamentals of IBIS and Compendium
    • The structural patterns that give clarity and power to issue maps
    • How decision rationale is represented in a map

    This master class will be hands on – please bring your own laptop with Compendium software (freeware) installed.

    Duration: 2 days, with homework after the first day

    Audience: For both IT and non-IT audience; those involved in highly complex projects including leaders, consultants, facilitators, organisational development professionals, change agents, managers and engineers.

    Prerequisite: An open mind geared for shared understanding and shared commitment

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    Improve your stakeholders “Crapness Calibration ™” for SharePoint Information Architecture success

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    Hi All

    Here is my simple, patent pending method to use to help users design good SharePoint sites. It combines two very effective IA methods into one and its amazing how it turns people from wanting 1990’s era sites complete with horizontal scrolling banners with animated GIF’s into usability and IA gurus within minutes.

    The tools of the trade you need for this method is:

    So now you know the ingredients, let’s run through the recipe

    1. Put key stakeholders into a room (ensure the ones with poor taste are there together)
    2. Visit websitesthatsuck.com and review the 2010 contenders for worst websites of the year. (For what its worth, my personal vote is Yale School of Art)
    3. Have a good laugh and discuss all the crappy aspects to those sites – make particular note of the write-up on websitesthatsuck for each contender
    4. With the group’s sucky website radar now primed, have them load up their existing intranet (if they are really big organisation, go around to various departmental sites around the intranet). This time they will not laugh, due to the effect of your “crapness calibration” ™ exercise, they will see many faults in the existing site straight away.
    5. At this point, crank out Balsamiq and start to wireframe what the site should look like while you have the fleeting moment of clarity (crapness calibration fades with time and needs to be re-primed). The wisdom of the crowd should ensure that most of the common mistakes will be avoided there and then.
      • Statistically, one of every three times you do this, there is always one user who’s taste is so bad that calibration will take another round of deprogramming. So if you have someone that persists with crap taste or has ideas that 99% of the user base would balk at, move to the 2009 hall of shame for sucky sites. Faced with the reaction from their peers, as well as the parallels that can be drawn between their current site and the contenders, it usually does the trick.
      • Also be sure to draw attention to sites that have similar underlying concepts, but where one works well and the other has agonising lameness. For example, the New York Times compared to Havenworks. Discuss the layout, colours, fonts, images, navigation, search and the like and relate back to the site being envisioned.

    In about 30-90 minutes, one of two things will happen.

    1. You will have a pretty good wireframe or three
    2. The group will realise that they have more soul searching to do.

    Although your business development manager will whine at you if outcome 2 happens, consider it a good thing. You will be saving yourself and the participants a mountain of stress later and have them thinking more holistically about the outcomes they are trying to achieve.

    (Final serious bit at the end alert)

    What you will notice when performing this process, is that with a recent and clear frame of reference, some of the biases that people carry with them can be temporarily lifted. In some ways, this exercise is very similar to the “down the pub” calibration of estimates exercise that I wrote about previously. The trick is to find ways to change the lens people look through to see other aspects or facets to the problem at hand.

    To that end, if you are in the UK or nearby, consider coming to my Governance and Information Architecture Master Class in London with Andrew Woodward and Ant Clay. Lots of other (more serious and rigorous) methods for developing shared understanding will be covered.

    Thanks for reading

    Paul Culmsee

    www.sevensigma.com.au

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    A different kind of SharePoint Governance Master Class in London and Dublin

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    The background

    Over the last three years, my career trajectory had altered somewhat where I spent half my time as a SharePoint practitioner, doing all of the things that us SharePoint practitioners do, and the other half was spent in a role that I would call sensemaking. Essentially group facilitation work, on some highly complex, non IT problems. These ranged from areas such as city planning, (envisioning and community engagement) to infrastructure delivery (think freeways, schools and hospitals), to mental health, team and relationship building, performance management, board meetings and various other scenarios.

    Imagine how much of a different world this is, where a group is coming together from often very different backgrounds and base positions, to come to grips with a complex set of interlocking problems and somehow try and align enough to move forward. We cannot simply throw a “SharePoint” at these problems and think it will all be better. By their very nature, we have to collaborate on them to move forward – true collaboration in all its messy, sometimes frustrating glory.

    As a result of this experience, I’ve also learned many highly effective collaborative techniques and approaches that I have never seen used in my 20+ years of being an IT practitioner. Additionally, I’ve had the opportunity to work with (and still do), some highly skilled people who I learned a huge amount from. This is “standing on the shoulders of giants” stuff. As you can imagine, this new learning has had a significant effect on how Seven Sigma now diagnoses and approaches SharePoint projects and has altered the lens through which I view problem solving with SharePoint.

    It also provided me the means to pinpoint a giant blind spot in the SharePoint governance material that’s out there, and what to do about it.

    The first catalyst – back injury

    In January this year, my family and I went on a short holiday, down to the wine country of Western Australia called the Margaret River region. On the very first day of that trip, I was at the beach, watching my kids run amok, when I totally put my back out (*sigh* such an old man). Needless to say, I could barely move for the next week or two after. My family, ever concerned for my welfare, promptly left me behind at the chalet and took off each day to sample wines, food and generally do the things that tourists do.

    Left to my own devices, and not overly mobile I had little to do but ponder – and ponder I did (even more than my usual pondering – so this was an Olympic class ponder). Reflecting on all of my learning and experiences from sensemaking work, my use of it within SharePoint projects, as well as the subsequent voracious reading in a variety of topics, I came to realise that SharePoint governance is looked through a lens that clouds some of the most critical success factors. I knew exactly how to lift that fog, and had a vision for a holistic view of SharePoint governance that at the same time, simplifies it and makes it easy for people to collectively understand.

    So I set to work, distilling all of this learning and experience and put it into something coherent, rigorous and accessible. After all, SharePoint is a tool that is an enabler for “improved collaboration”, and I had spent half of my time on deeply collaborative non IT scenarios where to my knowledge, no other SharePoint practitioner has done so. Since sensemaking lies in all that ‘softer’ stuff that traditionally IT is a bit weaker on, I thought I could add some dimensions to SharePoint governance in a way that could be made accessible, practical and useful.

    By the end of that week I still had a sore back, but I had the core of what I wanted to do worked out, and I knew that it would be a rather large undertaking to finish it (if it ever could be finished).

    The second catalyst – Beyond Best Practices

    I also commenced writing a non SharePoint book on this topic area with Kailash Awati from the Eight to Late blog, called Beyond Best Practices. This book examines why most best practices don’t work and what can be done about them. The plethora of tools, systems and best practices that are generally used to tackle organisational problems rarely help and when people apply these methods, they often end up solving the wrong problem. After all, if best practices were best, then we would all follow them and projects would be delivered on time, on budget and with deliriously happy stakeholders right?

    The work and research that has gone into this book has been significant. We studied the work of many people who have recognised and written about this, as well as many case studies. The problem these authors had is that these works challenged many widely accepted views, patterns and practices of various managerial disciplines. As a result these ideas have been rejected, ignored or considered outright heretical, and thus languish (largely unread) in journals. The recent emergence of anything x2.0 and a renewed focus on collaboration might seem radical or new for some, but these early authors were espousing very similar things many years ago.

    The third catalyst – 3grow

    Some time later in the year, 3grow asked me to develop a 4 day SharePoint 2010 Governance and Information Architecture course for Microsoft NZ’s Elite program. I agreed and used my “core” material, as well as some Beyond Best Practice ideas to develop the course. Information Architecture is a bloody tough course to write. It would be easy to cheat and just do a feature dump of every building block that SharePoint has to offer and call that Information Architecture. But that’s the science and not the art – and the science is easy to write about. From my experience, IA is not that much different to the sensemaking work that I do, so I had a very different foundation to base the entire course from.

    The IA course took 450 man hours to write and produced an 800 page manual (and just about killed me in the process), but the feedback from attendees surpassed all expectations.  This motivated me to complete the vision I originally had for a better approach to SharePoint governance and this has now been completed as well (with another 200 pages and a CD full of samples and other goodies).

    The result

    I have distilled all of this work into a master class format, which ranges from 1 to 5 days, suited to Business Analysts, Project and Program Managers, Enterprise and Information Architects, IT Managers and those in strategic roles who have to bridge the gap between organisational aspirations and the effective delivery of SharePoint solutions. I speak the way I write, so if the cleverworkarounds writing style works for you, then you will probably enjoy the manner in which the material is presented. I like rigour, but I also like to keep people awake! 🙂

    One of my pet hates is when the course manual is just a printout of the slide deck with space for notes. In this master class, the manual is a book in itself and covers additional topic areas in a deeper level of detail from the class. So you will have some nice bedtime reading after attending.

    Andrew Woodward has been a long time collaborator on this work, before we formalised this collaboration with the SamePage Alliance, we had discussed running a master class session in the UK on this material. At the same time, thanks to Michael Sampson, an opportunity arose to conduct a workshop in Ireland. As a result, you have an opportunity to be a part of these events.

    Dublin

    Storm_long_banner

    The first event is terrific as it is a free event in Dublin on November 17, hosted by Storm Technology a Microsoft Gold Partner in Dublin. As a result of the event being free, it is by invitation only and numbers are limited. This is a one day event, focussing on the SharePoint Governance blind spots and what to do about them, but also wicked problems and Dialogue Mapping, as well as learning to look at SharePoint from outside the IT lens, and translate its benefits to a wider audience (ie “Learn to speak to your CFO”).

    So if you are interested in learning how to view SharePoint governance in a new light, and are tired of the governance material that rehashes the same tired old approaches that give you a mountain of work to do that still doesn’t change results, then register your interest with Rosemary at the email address in the image above ASAP and she can reserve a spot for you. We will supply a 200 page manual, as well as a CD of sample material for attendees, including a detailed governance plan.

    London

    SamePage-Rect-BannerMed

    In London on November 22 and 23, I will be running a two day master class along side Andrew Woodward on SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture. The first day is similar to the Ireland event, where we focus on governance holistically, shattering a few misconceptions and seeing things in a different light, before switching focus to various facets of Information Architecture for SharePoint. In essence, I have taken the detail of the 4 days of the New Zealand Elite course and created a single day version (no mean feat by the way).

    Participants on this course will receive a 400 page manual, chock full of SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture goodness, as well as a CD/USB of sample material such as a SharePoint governance plan, as well as IA maps of various types. Unlike Ireland, this is an open event, available to anyone, and you can find more detail and register at the eventbrite site http://spiamasterclass.eventbrite.com/. In case you are wondering, this event is non technical. Whether you have little hands on experience with SharePoint or a deep knowledge, you will find a lot of value in this event for the very reason that the blind spots I focus on are kind of universally applicable irrespective of your role.

    Much of what you will learn is applicable for many projects, beyond SharePoint and you will come away with a slew of new approaches to handle complex projects in general.

    So if you are in the UK or somewhere in Europe, look us up. It will be a unique event, and Andrew and I are very much looking forward to seeing you there!

    Thanks for reading

    Paul Culmsee

    www.sevensigma.com.au

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    Announcing the SamePage Alliance

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    This is really great, and something that’s been a long time coming. On behalf of my partners at Seven Sigma, I’m announcing the formation of the SamePage Alliance. A strategic partnership with Seven Sigma and 21Apps, founded by Andrew Woodward, as founding members. SamePage is a commercial relationship where we will be pooling the respective talents of our organisations together and expanding our service offerings to clients.

    I first met Andrew in San Diego in 2008, the SharePoint Best Practices Conference, where I was a very nervous first-time presenter, wondering if all of my wicked problem stuff would resonate with the US audience. Andrew was there, presenting on TDD and Scrum, and apart from having someone in the US I could talk about the cricket with, it was immediately clear that we had a hell of a lot in common. It was like he held a big piece to a puzzle, and I held another piece. The irony was that I never got to see his talk as, if I recall, we presented at the same time. But back then (Feb 08) I made a rather prophetic statement at the end of my report of that conference.

    “I feel some future collaboration in the very near future.  Andrew Woodward will definitely be a part of it (although he doesn’t know it yet…Hehehe).”

    Funny how things turn out. We have collaborated on a number of different things since then, both within the SharePoint realm and beyond it. The common interests run deep and between 21apps and Seven Sigma, there is a lot of experience there. During the SharePoint Evolutions conference, where a certain volcano prevented me attending, Andrew ran my wicked problems/SharePoint/IBIS talk for me and did a tremendous job (I watched all the tweets from Perth).

    In terms of practicalities, we will be reselling each-others products and services. Seven Sigma entered the training space this year, writing the SharePoint 2010 Governance and Information Architecture course that 3Grow and Microsoft New Zealand use to certify gold partners for SharePoint prowess. Seven Sigma also developed a unique 1 and 2-day SharePoint Governance f-Laws course, with content drawn from our sensemaking work that we ran in the New Zealand and Sydney conferences. When it came to who could possibly teach Seven Sigma courseware, the obvious answer was Andrew Woodward, given our shared interests and his sterling job at Evolutions.

    21apps released their first SharePoint product into the marketplace this year – 21scrum, and 21apps authors and teaches workshops and training for development teams looking to improve their quality of development around the SharePoint space.

    Further to this, we will be co-developing products as well. Seven Sigma has been brewing some things in the cauldron for some time and 21apps will be part of this development effort.

    In general terms, we offer great SharePoint competencies across training, governance, infrastructure, development and delivery. Our combined offerings means that we can offer:

  • Global software development and round the clock SharePoint managed services and support
  • World-unique strategic advisory services and collaborative facilitation services, incorporating goal alignment, shared visioning and performance framework development, large group facilitation, user and community engagement, enquiry by design, risk analysis, critical thinking and decision methodologies, process improvement
  • Beyond SharePoint, we can provide full enterprise architecture and analysis services over the program life cycle
  • The first output of this new arrangement is a two-day course to be run in London in mid November. Andrew will be there too, and we will cover my SharePoint Governance f-Laws course as well as material from the recent Information Architecture course in New Zealand. If you have SharePoint competencies and find yourself having to bridge the gap between organisational aspirations and SharePoint as the enabler to that aspiration, then this session is for you.

    You can find out more about this event and register at the 21apps site.

    Looking forward to seeing you all there!

    www.samepage.co

    www.21apps.co.uk

    www.sevensigma.com.au

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