So what is this newfangled apps model anyway and why do I care? (part 2)

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Apps Model
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Hiya

This is the second post in some articles aimed at demystifying the SharePoint “apps” model for the strategic or business focused user. In case you are not aware, Microsoft have gotten a serious case of “app fever” in recent times, introducing the terminology not only into SharePoint, but Office as well. While there are very good reasons for this happening, Microsoft used the “app” terminology in multiple ways, therefore making their message rather confusing. As a result, Microsoft have not communicated their intent particularly well and customers often fail to understand why they make the changes that they do.

Things are definitely getting better, but I nevertheless see a lot of confusion around the topic. So in part 1 of this series, I explained the reasons Microsoft have adopted the strategy that they have done. To recap, they are trying to respond to five major disruptive forces that challenge their market position:

  • Changing perceptions to cloud technologies and increased adoption; which enables…
  • The big scary bogeyman known as Google with a viable alternative to SharePoint, Office and Exchange in the form of Google Apps; as well as…
  • An increasing number of smaller cloud-based “point solution” players who chip away at SharePoint features with cheaper and easier to use offerings; while suffering from…
  • A serious case of Apple envy and in particularly the rise of the app and the app marketplace; while dealing with…
  • Customers unable to handle the ever increasing complexity of SharePoint, leading to delaying upgrades for years

Microsoft’s answer to this has to go all-in with cloud, as this is the only way to beat the cloud providers at their own game, while reducing the complexity burden on their customers.  This of course is in the form of Office365, OneDrive and an ever increasing set of cloud oriented tools like Delve and Project Online.

But in SharePoint land, this has turned traditional development upside down. More than a decade of customisation “best practices” are no longer best – in fact they are no longer usable in many circumstances. The main reason is that the most common method of customisation normally applied to SharePoint (full-trust server side code) is not permitted in the cloud. Microsoft couldn’t risk untrusted, 3rd party custom code on their servers. What happens if one clients dodgy code affects everybody else sharing the service? This would threaten performance, uptime and Microsoft’s ability to upgrade their service over time.

So things had to change. Microsoft’s small army of product architects commandeered a whiteboard and started architecting innovative solutions to deal with these challenges and the apps model is the result. So let’s examine some core bits to the apps model by channelling a much loved children’s TV show.

There is a bear in there…

Now at this point I have to warn the developers or tech people writing this post. I am going to give a simplified version of the apps model intended for a decision making audience. I will omit many details I don’t deem necessary to make my key points. You have been warned…

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Any parent of small children in most countries might be familiar with Playschool – a show for toddlers that has been around for eons. It is well known for its theme song starting with the line “There is a bear in there…and a chair as well”. When trying to come up with a suitable way to explain the SharePoint apps model, using Playschool as a metaphor turned out to work brilliantly. You see in each episode of Playschool, there was a segment where viewers were taken through the “magic window” to faraway lands. In the show, the presenter would pick one of the three windows and we would zoom into it, resulting in a transition to another segment. In our case, we have to pick the square window for two reasons. Firstly, a good many apps are in effect windows to somewhere else. Secondly, and much more importantly, it perfectly matches the new Microsoft corporate logo. Perfect metaphor or what eh? 🙂

Like the Playschool magic window, browsers have a similar capability to enable you to visit strange and magical lands… Not only is there a bear in there and a chair as well, but there are plenty of other things like YouTube videos and Yammer discussions. I have drawn this conceptually shown below. Note the black window in the SharePoint team site on the left, that can be filled with YouTube or Yammer.

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You have no doubt visited web sites that have embedded content like YouTube videos or SlideShare slides in them (This blog site has lots of embedded ads that make me no money!). Essentially, it is possible for browsers to include content from different sites together into a single “page” experience. Users see it all as one page, even through content can come from all over the place. This is really useful, because it means you can leverage the capability of other sites to enhance the functionality of your own sites..

This my friends, is one of the core tenets of the current SharePoint 2013 apps model. Instead of running on the SharePoint server, many apps now run separately from SharePoint, embedded in SharePoint pages so that they look like they are part of SharePoint. In the example mock-up below, we have a SharePoint team site. In it, we have a remote web site that displays some pretty dashboard data. By loading that emote content into our magical square window, it now appears a part of SharePoint.

image       image

Going back to Microsoft’s core pain points, this helps things a lot. For a start, it means no custom code has to be installed onto the SharePoint server. Instead, SharePoint simply embeds the external content on the page. In the leftmost image above, you can see the SharePoint server (labelled as “Your server”), rendering a page with a placeholder in it. It then retrieves content from a remote server (labelled “my server”) and displays it in the placeholder to render the complete page (the rightmost image above).

So what feat of Microsoft innovation and general awesomeness enabled this to happen?

Everybody meet “Mr IFrame”.

Inline Frames (IFrames) are windows cut into your webpage that allow your visitor to view content on another site without reloading the entire page. The concept was first implemented in Microsoft Internet Explorer way back in 1997. Yep – you heard right… 1997. So IFrames are not a new concept at all – in fact its positively ancient when you count time in internet years. For this reason, when developers find this out, their reaction is usually something like this…

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But there is more than meets the eye…

Now if the apps model was just IFrames alone, then you you might wonder what the big deal is with apps. In fact IFrames have been used this way in SharePoint for years via the Page Viewer Web Part. For years, companies with SharePoint deployments have embedded stuff like Twitter, YouTube or Facebook widgets via iFrames.

So of course, there is more to it…

Let’s revisit the “your server” and “my server” diagram used above and consider the question.. What if these remote applications displayed inside an iFrame can interact with SharePoint? In other words, What if the remote application running on my remote server is able to connect to your SharePoint server and read/write data? In the diagram below I have illustrated the idea. The top half of the diagram represents a SharePoint server that could be on-premises or an Office365 tenant. On the left is a Products list, that is somewhere inside this SharePoint server. At the bottom is my application running on my server that creates a pretty dashboard. What if my remote application queried the SharePoint products list to create the dashboard? Now we have an application, that while not running inside SharePoint, can nevertheless utilise live data from SharePoint to create a seamless experience for users.

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If we now add 3 iframes to a page, the implications should start to become more clear. We can build hybrid solutions leveraging the best of what SharePoint can do, whilst leveraging the best of what other platforms can do. To the user, these are still SharePoint sites, but the reality is that we are now viewing a page that has been delivered by various different platforms. Each can interact with SharePoint data in different ways to deliver a seamless experience. Because these remote apps are not SharePoint at all, developers can write any application they want to, using the platform and tools of their choice. But to the user it is still a SharePoint page… neat huh? I’m sure the Microsoft product team thought that this was a brilliant conceptual masterpiece when they dreamt it up.

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A beautiful model…

I don’t know if you have ever watched developers come up with API’s, but it tends to be a lot of excitement around a whiteboard as they revel in the glory of their elegant solution designs. So let’s quickly re-examne the benefits of this remotely hosted app approach from Microsoft’s perspective and see how we are going so far…

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First and foremost, we now have SharePoint customisation approach that they can be fully support in Office365. Microsoft don’t have to put code on their online servers, yet can support extensibility. Now they are much more evenly matched with Google, while at the same time, reduce their tech support costs of SharePoint because they have isolated 3rd party code out of SharePoint. If any problems are encountered with a remote app, SharePoint will keep humming along and Microsoft can now legitimately tell the clients “no really it is not SharePoint causing your issue – go see your friendly neighbourhood app developer”.

More importantly since apps can also can be used in on-premises SharePoint deployments too, meaning both Microsoft and their customers now have pristine SharePoint servers free of the muck and clutter of 3rd party code. Therefore service packs and cumulative updates should no longer strike fear into admins. Microsoft also now nails google’s ass because Google has no real concept of on-premises at all in the way Microsoft does. Thus when hybrid scenarios come up in conversation, Microsoft has a much stronger story to tell.

But there is a more important implication than all of that. Microsoft can now do the app store thing. Vendors can maintain cloud based services that can be embedded and consumed by on-premises and online SharePoint installs. This means 3rd parties can tap into the customer ecosystem with a captive marketplace and customers can browse the store to examine what options are out there to extend SharePoint functionality. In theory, this should enable hundreds of vendors to do some slight modifications to their existing web based applications and incorporate them into the SharePoint ecosystem.

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But reality is not what’s on the whiteboard…

At this point, I hope I have painted a pretty good picture of the advantages offered by this new paradigm and you can probably appreciate the Microsoft nerds completely falling in love with this conceptual model of future SharePoint customsiations. The Microsoft strategy dudes probably loved it too because it elegantly dealt with all of the challenges they were seeing. Unfortunately though, with most conceptual models, reality is a very different beast from the convenient fiction of models.

So in the next post, we are going to dig a little deeper. For example, how can a remote app even have permissions to talk to SharePoint in the first place? Do you really want code running in some untrusted 3rd party server to be fiddling with data in your SharePoint lists and libraries? How does that even work anyway in an on-premises scenario when a cloud hosted app has to access data behind your firewall?

Fear not though – the Microsoft guys thought of this (and more) when they were drawing their apps model concept on the big whiteboard. So in the next post, we are going to look at what it takes to bring this conceptual masterpiece into reality.

 

Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee

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So what is this newfangled apps model anyway and why do I care? (part 1)

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Apps Model
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Hiya

I’ve been meaning to write about the topic of the apps model of SharePoint 2013 for a while now, because it is a topic I am both fascinated and slightly repulsed by. While lots of really excellent material is out there on the apps model (not to mention a few good rants by the usual suspects as well), it is understandably written by developers tasked with making sense of it all, so they can put the model into practice delivering solutions for their clients or organisations.

I spent considerable time reading and researching the various articles and videos on this topic produced by Microsoft and the broader SharePoint community and made a large IBIS map of it. As I slowly got my head around it all, subtle, but significant implications begin to emerge for me. The more I got to know this topic, the more I realised that the opportunities and risks of the apps model holds many important insights and lessons for how organisations should be strategically thinking about SharePoint. In other words, it is not so much about the apps model itself, but what the apps model represents for organisations who have invested into the SharePoint platform.

So these posts are squarely aimed at the business camp. Therefore I am going to skip all sorts of things that I don’t deem necessary to make my points. Developers in particular may find it frustrating that I gloss over certain things, give not quite technically correct explanations and focus on seemingly trivial matters. But like I said, you are not my audience anyway.

So let’s see if we can work out what motivated Microsoft head in this direction and make such a significant change. As always, context is everything…

As it once was…

I want you to picture Microsoft in 2011. SharePoint 2010 has come out to positive reviews and well and truly cemented itself in the market. It adorns the right place in multiple Gartner magic quadrants, demand for talent is outstripping supply and many organsiations are busy embarking on costly projects to migrate from their legacy SharePoint 2007 and 2003 deployments, on the basis that this version has fixed all the problems and that they will definitely get it right this time around. As a result, SharePoint is selling like hotcakes and is about to crack the 2 billion dollar revenue barrier for Microsoft. Consultants are also doing well in this time since someone has to help organsiations get all of that upgrade work done. Life is good… allegedly.

But even before the release of SharePoint 2010, winds of change were starting to blow. In fact, way back in 2008, at my first ever talk at a SharePoint conference, I showed the Microsoft pie chart of buzzwords and asked the crowd what other buzzwords were missing. The answer that I anticipated and received was of course “cloud”, which was good because I had created a new version of the pie and invited Microsoft to license it from me. Unfortunately no-one called.

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Winds of change…

While my cloud picture was aimed at a few cheap laughs at the time, it holds an important lesson. Early in the release cycle of SharePoint 2007, cloud was already beginning to influence people’s thinking. Quickly, services traditionally hosted within organisations began to appear online, requiring a swipe of the credit card each month from the opex budget which made CFO’s happy. A good example is Dropbox which was founded in 2008. By 2010, won over the hearts and minds of many people who were using FTP. Point solutions such as Salesforce appeared, which further demonstrated how the the competitive landscape was starting to heat up. These smaller, more nimble organsiations were competing successfully on the basis of simplicity and focus on doing one thing well, while taking implementation complexity away.

Now while these developments were on Microsoft’s radar, there was really only one company that seriously scared them. That was Google via their Google Docs product. Here was a company just as big and powerful as Microsoft, playing in Microsoft’s patch using Microsoft’s own approach of chasing the enterprise by bundling products and services together. This emerged as a credible alternative to not only SharePoint, but to Office and Exchange as well.

Some of you might be thinking that Apple was just a big a threat to Microsoft as Google. But Microsoft viewed Apple through the eyes of envy, as opposed to a straight out threat. Apple created new markets that Microsoft wanted a piece of, but Apple’s threat to their core enterprise offerings remained limited. Nevertheless, Microsoft’s strong case of crimson green Apple envy did have a strategic element. Firstly, someone at Microsoft decided to read the disruptive innovation book and decided that disruptive was obviously cool. Secondly, they saw the power of the app store and how quickly it enabled an developer ecosystem and community to emerge, which created barriers for the competition wanting to enter the market later.

Meanwhile, deeper in the bowels of Microsoft, two parallel problems were emerging. Firstly, it was taking an eternity to work through an increasingly large backlog of tech support calls for SharePoint. Clients would call, complaining of slow performance, broken deployments after updates, unhandled exceptions and so on. More often than not though, these issues had were not caused by the base SharePoint platform, but via a combination of SharePoint and custom code that leaked memory, chewed CPU or just plain broke. Troubleshooting and isolating the root cause very difficult which led to the second problem. Some of Microsoft’s biggest enterprise customers were postponing or not bothering with upgrades to SharePoint 2010. They deemed it too complex, costly and not worth the trouble. For others, they were simply too scared to mess with what they had.

A perfect storm of threats

image  image

So to sum up the situation, Microsoft were (and still are) dealing with five major forces:

  • Changing perceptions to cloud technologies (and the opex pricing that comes with it)
  • The big scary bogeyman known as Google with a viable alternative to SharePoint, Office and Exchange
  • An increasing number of smaller point solution players who chip away at SharePoint features with cheaper and easier to use offerings
  • A serious case of Apple envy and in particularly the rise of the app and the app marketplace
  • Customers unable to contend with the ever increasing complexity of SharePoint and putting off upgrades

So what would you do if you were Microsoft? What would your strategy be to thrive in this paradigm?

Now Microsoft is a big organisation, which affords it the luxury of engaging expensive management consultants, change managers and corporate coaches. Despite the fact that it doesn’t take an MBA to realise that just a couple of these factors alone combine as a threat to the future of SharePoint, lots of strategic workshops were no doubt had with associated whiteboard diagrams, postit notes, dodgy team building games and more than one SWOT analyses to confirm the strategic threats they faced were a clear and present danger. The conclusion drawn? Microsoft had to put cloud at the centrepiece of their strategy. After all, how else can you bring the fight to the annoying cloud upstarts, stave off the serious Google threat, all the while reducing the complexity burden on their customers?

A new weapon and new challenges…

In 2011, Microsoft debuted Office365 as the first salvo in their quest to mitigate threats and take on their competitors at their own game. It combined Exchange, Lync and SharePoint 2010 – packaging them up in a per-user per month approach. The value proposition for some of Microsoft’s customers was pretty compelling because up-front capital costs reduced significantly, they now could get the benefits of better scalability, bigger limits on things like mailboxes, while procurement and deployment was pretty easy compared to doing it in-house. Given the heritage of SharePoint, Exchange and Lync, Microsoft was suddenly competitive enough to put Google firmly on the back foot. My own business dumped gmail and took up Office365 at this time, and have used it since.

Of course, there were many problems that had to be solved. Microsoft was now switching from a software provider to a service provider which necessitated new thinking, processes, skills and infrastructure internally. But outside of Microsoft there were bigger implications. The change from software provider to service provider did not go down well with many Microsoft partners who performed that role prior. It also freaked out a lot of sysadmins who suddenly realised their job of maintaining servers was changing. (Many are still in denial to this day). But more importantly there was a big implication for development and customisation of SharePoint. This all happened mid-way through the life-cycle of SharePoint 2010 and that version was not fully architected for cloud. First and foremost, Microsoft were not about to transfer the problem of dodgy 3rd party customisations onto their servers. Recall that they were getting heaps of support calls that were not core SharePoint issues, but caused by custom code written by 3rd parties. Imagine that in a cloud scenario when multiple clients share the same servers. This means that that one clients dodgy code could have a detrimental effect on everybody else, affecting SLA’s while not solving the core problem Microsoft were having of wearing the cost and blame via tech support calls for problems not of their doing.

So with Office365, Microsoft had little choice but to disallow the dominant approach to SharePoint customisation that had been used for a long time. Developers could no longer use the methods they had come to know and love if a client wanted to use Office 365. This meant that the consultancies who employed them would have to change their approach too, and customers would have to adjust their expectations as well. Office365 was now a much more restricted environment than the freedom of on-premises.

Is it little wonder then, that one of Microsoft’s big focus areas for SharePoint 2013 was to come up with a way to readdress the balance. They needed a customisation model that allowed a consistent approach, whether you chose to keep SharePoint on-premises, or move off to the cloudy world of Office 365. As you will see in the next post, that is not a simple challenge,. The magnitude of change required was going to be significant and some pain was going to have to happen all around.

Coming next…

So with that background set, I will spend time in the next post explaining the apps model in non technical terms, explaining how it helps to address all of the above issues. This is actually quite a challenge, but with the right dodgy metaphors, its definitely possible. 🙂 Then we will take a more critical viewpoint of the apps model, and finally, see what this whole saga tells us about how we should be thinking about SharePoint in the future…

thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee

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Help me visualise the pros and cons of hybrid SharePoint 2013…

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Like it or not, there is a tectonic shift going on in the IT industry right now, driven primarily by the availability of a huge variety of services hosted in the cloud. Over the last few years, organisations are increasingly procuring services that are not hosted locally, much to the chagrin of many an server hugging IT guy who understandably, sees various risks with entrusting your fate to someone else.

We all know that Microsoft had a big focus on trying to reach feature parity between on-premises SharePoint 2013 and Office365. In other words, with cloud computing as a centrepiece of their strategy, Microsoft’s SharePoint 2013 aim was for stuff that both works on premises, but also also works on Office 365 without too much modification. While SharePoint 2013 made significant inroads into meeting this goal (apps model developers might beg to differ), the big theme to really emerge was that feature parity was a relatively small part of the puzzle. What has happened since the release of SharePoint 2013, is that many organisations are much more interested in hybrid scenarios. That is, utilising on-premises SharePoint along with cloud hosted SharePoint and its associated capabilities like OneDrive and Office Web Applications.

So while it is great that SharePoint online can do the same things as on-prem, it all amounts to naught if they cannot integrate well together. Without decent integration, we are left with a lot of manual work to maintain what is effectively two separate SharePoint farms and we all know what excessive manual maintenance brings over time…

Microsoft to their credit have been quick to recognise that hybrid is where the real action is at, and have been addressing this emerging need with a ton of published material, as well as adding new hybrid functionality with service packs and related updates. But if you have read the material, you can attest that there is a lot of it and it spans many topic areas (authentication alone is a complex area in itself). In fact, the sheer volume and pace of material released by Microsoft show that hybrid is a huge and very complex topic, which begs a really critical question…

Where are we now at with hybrid? Is it a solid enough value proposition for organisations?

This is a question that a) I might be able to help you answer and b) you can probably help me answer…

Visualising complex topics…

A few months back, I started issue mapping all of the material I could get my hands on related to hybrid SharePoint deployments. If you are not aware, Issue mapping is a way of visualising rationale and I find it a brilliant personal learning tool. It allows me to read complex articles and boil them down to the core questions, answers, pros and cons of the various topics. The maps are easy to read for others, and they allow me to make my critical thinking visible. As a result, clients also like these maps because they provide a single integrated place where they can explore topics in an engaging, visual way, instead of working their way through complex whitepapers.

If you wish to jump straight in and have a look around, click here to access my map on Hybrid SharePoint 2013 deployments. You will need to sign in using a facebook or gmail ID to do so. But be sure to come back and read the rest of this post, as I need your help…

But for the rest of you, if you are wondering what my hybrid SharePoint map looks like, without jumping straight in, check out the screenshots below. The tool I am using is called Glyma (glimmer), which allows these maps to use developed and consumed using SharePoint itself. First up, we have a very simple map, showing the topic we are discussing.

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If you click the plus sign next to the “Hybrid SharePoint deployments” idea node, we can see that I mapped all of the various hybrid pros and cons I have come across in my readings and discussions. Given that hybrid SharePoint is a complex topic, there are lots of pros and cons as shown in the partial image below…

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Many of the pros and cons can be expanded further, which delves deeper into the topics. A single click expands one node level, and a double click expands the entire branch. To illustrate, consider the image below. One of the cons is around many of the search related caveats with hybrid that can easily trip people up. I have expanded the con node and the sub question below it.  Also notice hat one of the idea nodes has an attachment icon. I will get to that in a moment…

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As I mentioned above, one of the idea nodes titled “SPO search sometimes has delays on low long it takes for new content to appear in the index” has an attachment icon as well as more nodes below it. Let’s click that attachment icon and expand that node. It turns out that I picked this up when I read Chris O’Brien’s excellent article and so I have embedded his original article to that node. Now you can read the full detail of his article for yourself, as well as understand how his article fits into a broader context.

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It is not just written content either. If I move further up the map, you will see some nodes have video’s tagged to them. When Microsoft released the videos to 2014’s Vegas conference, I found all sorts of interesting nuggets of information that was not in the whitepapers. Below is an example of how I tagged one of the Vegas video’s to one of my nodes.

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A call to action…

SharePoint hybrid is a very complex topic and right now, has a lot of material scattered around the place. This map allows people, both technical and non technical, to grasp the issue in a more strategic, bigger picture way, while still providing the necessary detail to aid implementation.

I continually update this map as I learn more about this topic from various sources, and that is where you come in. If you have had to work around a curly issue, or if you have had a massive win with a hybrid deployment, get in touch and let me know about it. It can be a reference to an article, a skype conversation or anything, The Glyma system can accommodate many sources of information.

More importantly, would you like to help me curate the map on this topic? After all, things move fast the SharePoint community rarely stands still. So If you are up to speed on this topic or have expertise to share, get in touch with me. I can give you access to this map to help with its ongoing development. With the right meeting of the minds, this map could turn into an incredible valuable information resource to a great many people.

So get in touch if you want to put your expertise out there…

 

Thanks for reading

 

 

Paul Culmsee

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Rethinking SharePoint Maturity Part 5: From Conditions to Actionable Lessons Learnt

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Maturity
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Hi all

Welcome to part five of my quest to improve people’s awareness and understanding of what SharePoint maturity is really all about. For those new to this series of articles, we have traversed a bit of territory to get here, and during the journey there has been not a single SharePoint site column, content type or site collection in sight. In fact, I have not touched any of the topics that many would traditionally view as a sign of SharePoint maturity. Instead, I have been taking readers on a fun-filled journey examining three nerdy, yet highly interesting areas of research in team development, collaboration and organisational learning. Along the way we defaced the Mona Lisa, looked at SharePoint through holes in slices of Swiss Cheese and channelled the number of the beast.

After all that, we ended part 4, by arriving at this odd looking diagram below…

What you are looking at is something called the CALL model, which stands for “Conditions to Actionable Lessons Learnt”. I originally developed the model with Dialogue Mapping and knowledge management in mind – essentially to help my clients do a better job of integrating double loop learning into their projects. However, it soon became apparent that it was valuable in various SharePoint contexts too.

Single vs. double loop learning

In the previous paragraph I made a reference to “double loop learning” without explaining what it was, so let’s quickly make amends because it is interesting stuff. The idea of single and double loop learning has been around for close to 40 years – it was in 1974 when Chris Argyris came up with the idea. To explain, let’s bring back our trusty SharePoint 2010 governance poster that I trash-talked in the first and fourth articles…

If you have not seen this poster before, it represents what Microsoft believe to be the focus areas for SharePoint 2010 governance. Many people – consultants in particular – will take the information in this poster for granted and create SharePoint governance plans that try to cover off the various areas it suggests to be covered. Everyone will feel good because they have ticked all the boxes of this authoritative fountain of SharePoint wisdom.

Then, if SharePoint then fails to live up to expectations, many will look at the poster and wonder which areas they did not adequately cover. They will study the poster, search Google or Wikipedia for better definitions of the terms listed and then make another reattempt, trying to do an even better job of implementing the wisdom contained therein.

This my friends, is a shining example of single loop learning. Single loop learning, as described in this article “seems to be present when goals, values, frameworks and, to a significant extent, strategies are taken for granted. The emphasis is on techniques and making techniques more efficient.” In single loop learning, the fundamental premise of a course of action remains unchanged. All of the energy of learning is directed to making sure “we get it right this time.” In short, in a single loop learning scenario, repeated attempts are made at solving the same issue, but no-one questions the underlying premise of the strategy.

Now in case you haven’t noticed, I spent the first three posts of this series “questioning the underlying premise” of the above SharePoint governance poster. So in effect I’ve been introducing you to the notion of double loop learning already. Double-loop learning involves taking a deeper look at what is going on. In double-loop learning, having attempted to achieve a goal on different occasions, the goal itself may be modified, re-framed or rejected in the light of the experience gained in trying to achieve it. Think about it – double loop learning actually happened in organisations people would never say things like “well that’s always how we have done it here.”

I see a lot of single loop learning in SharePoint land, and I want to help people break out of their existing framing of the issue – compassionately, of course Smile

Enter the CALL Model

So getting back to my CALL model, I propose it as a multi-purpose tool that can be used for various SharePoint related stuff. It is based on the Swiss cheese risk management model; a metaphor which suggests most strategies have gaps that create risk. These gaps are analogous to holes in slices of Swiss cheese. In terms of the SharePoint governance poster, think of each of the areas it suggests to be covered as slices of cheese. This key to this model is that it assumes that no single defence layer is sufficient to mitigate risk. It also implies that if risk mitigation strategies are set up with all the holes lined up, there is a systematic flaw, since it would allow a problem to progress all the way through to adversely affect the organisation. Accordingly, the Swiss cheese model encourages a more balanced view of how risk is managed.

You can think of the CALL model as a SharePoint optimised Swiss cheese model. CALL extends the Swiss cheese model by incorporating cutting edge research in enabling team performance (Hackman), collaboration (Wilder) and knowledge management (Duffield). It outlines 8 actionable areas (Swiss cheese slices) that operate at the individual, team and organisation levels. These focus areas can be thought of as enabling conditions that mitigate risk, as well as focus areas for identification and application of lessons learnt. In other words, my contention is that for SharePoint maturity, you should strive to create these 8 conditions and then consider them when evaluating project performance.

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The image above is another drawing of the model minus the pretty colours I used earlier. In this version, I am showing the path of a SharePoint project flows through these 8 areas. Note how the arrow from left to right deviates because we are seeking to use them to mitigate risk via defence in depth. But when it comes to applying learnings from a project (arrow now moves from right to left to close the loop), the flow is designed to be smooth and unencumbered to ensure that the opportunity for double loop learning takes place.

Here is a description of each of the 8 focus areas:

Skills and expertise

This focus area is concerned with ensuring individuals are selected with the right skills and task expertise to perform their role in delivery and operation of services. In SharePoint this is critical because of the technical depth and breadth of the product. Want to deploy SharePoint 2013 request routing in dedicated mode? Go see Spence so he can tell you not to. Want to learn how the new WOPI protocol works with Office Web Apps? Sign a cheque for Wictor to help you.

Skills is closely associated with high IQ. In other words, specialist skills require smart, dedicated people. Therefore this also incorporates ensuring staff have appropriate qualifications and certifications, that education, training and ongoing development practices are properly targeted, and that individuals are willing to learn new skills and be proactive in keeping themselves up-skilled. (In other words, all of the hallmarks of those brilliantly talented people who completed the now defunct Microsoft Certified Masters program).

Collaborative Maturity

Ever heard of the term “dumb smart guy”? Usually it is someone who is intellectually smart, but has all the emotional maturity (EQ) of a potato. Collaborative maturity is all about ensuring that individuals have skills in working collaboratively with others. It signifies a willingness to listen, empathy, mutual respect, understanding and trust. Collaboratively mature people have a tolerance for ambiguity and have the ability to engage in genuine dialogue to reach compromise. Collaboratively mature people also see collaboration in their self-interest and foster develop deep ties with colleagues in order to work interdependently.

Being in the IT industry, I’m not sure if this person actually exists, but hey – this description gives us all something to aspire to!

Role clarity

Role clarity is concerned that the role of each team member is understood by everyone within the team and it is clear how much authority is vested within each role. This in turn provides task clarity, fosters interdependency among a team and reduces process loss. (Process loss is difficulty in knowing who is doing what and how it is done). Where roles are clear and understood, team members are appropriately appointed to tasks according to their capacity (see “skills and expertise” above) and character (see “collaborative maturity” above).

Goal clarity

Goal clarity relates to purpose, direction and goal alignment between members of a team is essential for good team performance. A compelling purpose energizes team members, orients them toward their collective objective, fully engages their talents and motivates them to resolve conflicts. A compelling purpose should be underpinned by concrete, attainable goals and objectives, both short and long term. Knowing where you are heading focuses the team’s energy in directive meaningful activity. This also helps build team efficacy, which is the belief within teams of their ability to solve problems and deliver great solutions. On the other hand, lack of goal clarify is one of the classic symptoms of wicked problems.

Participation safety and decision influence

Ever been on a project that’s taking on water, but nobody seems to be willing to listen? Ever had any critically important topics not discussed because they are simply taboo and unmentionable? It is not fun – and little breakthrough thinking or innovation can exist without participation safety and decision influence. When a team has a high level of participation safety, members feel safe to share ideas, raise unpopular views or opinions, or speak their truth to one another. This reduces groupthink and social loafing, encourages breakthrough and can lead a collaborative team and a collaborative organisational culture. There are countless case studies of major disasters (such as the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill), where a culture of “only tell me the good news” prevented critical information from being raised that could have averted the issue. In fact ‘communication’ (or lack of it) is probably the most commonly cited project failure factor.

Having said all that, while participation safety is critical, the ideas that team members put forward need to influence the direction and outcome of the team. A manager who says “my door is always open”, but then ignores feedback creates dissonance among team members because what is espoused is not practiced. The simple facts of the matter is that a key element for peak performance is to provide an environment safe enough for team members to speak their truths, to be rewarded for doing so and for truth telling to actually influence direction.

Enabling Technology

Technology underpins all aspects of organisational systems and projects and provides the means to generate leaps in performance and capabilities of users, as more broadly, team and organisational productivity. Technology at its best facilitates the delivery of timely, relevant information for decision making, co-ordination and collaboration. Thus it is critical that technology does not get in the way of delivering value. How often have you worked on a project when you have been forced to use technologies that stifle productivity, create frustration and reduce collaboration between team members? How often has that technology been SharePoint?

Enabling Process

How often have you said to yourself “I can’t believe I have to follow this braindead process.” Process is the glue that provides the rules of behaviour in delivering on goals and like technology, underpins all aspects of organisational systems and projects and is a key part of performance and productivity. It is critical that process, like technology, is always driven by purpose and that it does not get in the way of delivering value. Inappropriate process can make a huge difference in how team members interact with stakeholders and each-other.

Enabling Resources

Enabling resources is concerned with the financial, material and human input necessary to develop and sustain delivery of services. Put simply, even the best teams with the most compelling direction can falter if they are under-resourced. It is critical that sufficient funds, staff, materials and time are provided to get the job done.

Applications for the CALL model

The CALL model can be used in many ways, given its heritage of Hackman, Wilder and Duffield. Examples include:

  • A model for performing SharePoint governance health check/assessment
  • A model for assessing the makeup of a SharePoint team
  • A model for assessing the complexity of a proposed SharePoint solution
  • A model for assessing departmental readiness for SharePoint
  • A model for developing SharePoint Business Continuity planning

It is worthwhile noting that Hackman developed a team performance instrument called a Team Diagnostic Survey based around his 6 enabling conditions. Since the CALL model is so closely aligned to Hackman, it should also be able to be used in a similar fashion. The same goes for the Wilder research on collaboration, that developed an instrument called the Collaboration Factors Inventory.

So given the source material, the CALL model also has applicability in the areas of:

  • An set of enabling conditions to establish to develop high performing teams
  • An set of enabling conditions to successful collaborative delivery of projects
  • A focus area for the identification of risks (and opportunities) on organisational initiatives
  • A framework for the systematic capture of project lessons learnt
  • A framework for assessing change and other organisational initiatives
  • A governance maturity model
  • A knowledge management and organisational learning maturity model

Conclusion

The CALL model reflects a synthesis of three highly rigorous research efforts. All three seemed to gel really well when they were put into the melting pot and I was pleased with the result. In the next post, I will show you how I have used the CALL model when developing a SharePoint Business Continuity Strategy for a client. I’ll also talk about how I have used it in lessons learnt workshops.

Thanks for reading

 

Paul Culmsee

www.hereticsguidebooks.com

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Rethinking SharePoint Maturity Part 4: The number of the beast…

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Maturity
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Hi all

This is part four of a series I am writing on my ideas about how the SharePoint community can revitalise how SharePoint maturity is understood and communicated. If this is your first time reading this series, then I urge you to go back and read the first three posts in the series because I covered a bit of ground to get to here. For those of you who will not do that, here is a super quick recap.

As part of doing some book research, I came across three distinct bodies of work that I think can help Microsoft and their customers better understand, foster and cultivate SharePoint maturity. To set the scene, I started this series by taking a few cheap potshots at the SharePoint 2010 governance poster that many people use as a guide to ensure they are doing SharePoint “right”. I highlighted some of the less obvious risks with it, by comparing it to a paint by numbers representation of the Mona Lisa. While people seem to understand implicitly that colouring in a Mona Lisa template will not make it a Mona Lisa (far from it), there same cannot be said for our SharePoint paint by numbers poster. The result is a skewed version how SharePoint ‘maturity’ is perceived, because this poster ignores some critical factors.

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To shine a spotlight on areas not covered by the above poster, I introduced you to the work of JR Hackman, who’s pioneering work in the area of leadership and team development contains important lessons for SharePoint teams. Hackman urges people to stop trying to look life through simplistic cause and effect lens of “If you do Z, you will get Y” and instead focus on the conditions that enable or disable success. Hackman, in his examination of leadership and the performance of teams, listed six conditions that he felt led to better results if they were in place (none of which make much of an appearance on the above poster):

  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

I sometimes challenge agile development evangelists by saying “If Scrum was ‘the answer’ then there would be no need for Scrum coaches.” When you speak to good agile coaches, what they strive to do is create the sort of enabling conditions conducive to getting the best out of Agile – exactly what Hackman is urging us to do. Hackman’s insight is super important because It is incredibly common for people to say things like “now this will work for the right organisation…” or “this will work provided the right culture is there to support it,” but they do not elaborate further on what “right” actually is. Hackman challenges us to actually focus on the enabling conditions that underpinning a process, not the other way around.

To see if Hackman’s 6 conditions were applicable outside of his interest area of team development, I then examined the work done by the Wilder Research Group. This group published a book “Collaboration: What Makes It Work” which distilled the wisdom from 281 research studies on successful collaboration. Importantly for me, they looked at very different research than Hackman did, yet also broke it down to six quite similar focus areas:

  1. Membership characteristics: Skills, attributes and opinions of individuals as a collaborative group, as well as culture and capacity of orgs that form collaborative groups
  2. Purpose: The reasons for the collaborative effort, the result or vision being sought
  3. Process and structure: Management, decision making and operational systems of a collaborative context
  4. Communication: The channels used by partners to exchange information, keep each-other informed and convey opinions to influence
  5. Environment: Geo-location and social context where a collaborative group exists. While they can influence, they cannot control
  6. Resources: The financial and human input necessary to develop and sustain a collaborative group

Finally, I examined the work of Stephen Duffield, who took the Swiss Cheese model for risk management (which is popular in safety circles) and adapted it for organisational learning for projects. This is brilliant because the Swiss cheese model assumes that any one mitigation strategy has holes in it (hence the Swiss cheese metaphor). If you consider the SharePoint governance poster above as listing particular slices of cheese, then if you still have not met with the success you were hoping for, some important slices of cheese must be missing. So what are they?

To develop his project learning model (called SYLLK), Duffield distilled the wisdom over 500 papers on the topics of project lessons learned, knowledge management and risk management. Like above two research efforts, he also distilled it down to six key areas. Duffield’s slices of cheese were:

  1. Learning: Whether individuals on the team were skilled, had the right skills for their role and whether they were kept up-skilled
  2. Culture: What participants do, what role they fulfil, how an atmosphere of trust is developed in which people are encouraged, even rewarded for truth telling– but in which they are also clear about where the line must be drawn between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour”
  3. Social: How people relate to each-other, their interdependence and how they operate as a team
  4. Technology: Ensuring that technology and data supports outcomes and does not get in the way
  5. Process: Ensuring the appropriate protocols drive people’s behaviour and inform what they do (gate, checklists, etc.)
  6. Infrastructure: Environment (in terms of structure and facilities) that enable project outcomes

Why does all this stuff matter?

Now I am hoping this is not the case, but I would not be surprised that some readers have gotten to this point and are thinking “What the hell does all this have to do with SharePoint maturity?” (particularly if you have not read the 3 articles that preceded this one). So let’s address this one now…

Since 2009 I have taught a SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture class to BAs, PMs, CIOs, consultants, as well as developers and IT Pros. I’ve taught the class around the world and in every class I start by asking students to articulate what they feel is the hardest thing about SharePoint delivery. Take a look at the answers for yourself…

A Brisbane 2012 class said:

  • Explaining what SharePoint is
  • User uptake (“People do not like new things”)
  • Managing proliferation of SharePoint sites
  • Too much IT ownership (“Sick of IT people telling me that SP is the solution”)
  • Users don’t know what they want
  • Difficulties around SP ownership because of a lack of accountability

Not too many technical answers here it seems – in fact I am seeing connections to Hackman, Wilder and Duffield already. Looking at the seven points, they indicate we are missing some key enabling conditions like a compelling purpose, role clarity as well as the collaborative skills and attributes needed in the SharePoint team to address them (“User uptake” and “Difficulties around SP ownership because of a lack of accountability”). Perhaps we are also missing product skills (“proliferation of SharePoint sites”) and have an issue with process and structure, given the complaint of “too much IT ownership”.

Not convinced? For what it’s worth, Melbourne 2010 answered with:

  • Every project is “new” (“Traditional ASP.NET web site development is ‘same old same old’)
  • The solution is never the same as the initial design and the end client may not realise this. The implication is gaps between expectation and delivery
  • Stakeholders don’t know what they want (“First time around what they sign off on is not what they want “)
  • Projects launched as “IT projects” with no clear deliverable and no success indicators
  • Lack of visibility as to what other organisations are doing
  • Determining limits and boundaries (“Doing anything ‘practically’ in SharePoint is hard”).
  • Managing expectations around SharePoint.
    • Clients with no experience think it can do everything
    • Difficulties getting information from and translating into design, so it can be implemented
  • Legacy of bad implementations makes it hard to win the business owner
  • Lack of governance
    • Viral spread of unmanaged sites
    • No proper requirements of “why”
    • No-one managing it

… and if you want to move further afield, Singapore 2012 said:

  • Trying to deal with the sheer number of features
  • “A totally different kind of concept”
    • A little knowledge can be dangerous
    • If you start with the wrong footing, you end up messing it up
  • Trying to deal with “I need SharePoint”
  • SharePoint for an external web site was difficult to use. Unfriendly structure for a public facing website
  • Trying to get users to use it (Steep learning curve for users)
  • The need for “deep discussion” to ensure SharePoint is put in for the right reasons. Without this, the result is messy, disorganised portals
  • The gap between the business and IT results in a sub optimal deployment
  • Demonstrating value to the business (SharePoint installed, but its potential is not being realized)
  • Stakeholders not appreciating the implication of product versus platform
  • You are working across the entire business (The disconnect between management/coalface)
  • “Everything hurts with SharePoint”
  • Facilitating the discussion at the business level is hard when your background is IT

Once again, if you start to distil the underlying themes behind the above answers, you can start to see how Hackman’s conditions are not met and how we are missing some of Duffield’s slices of cheese. So at this point if you are not convinced of the relevance of Hackman, Wilder and Duffield’s research by now, then I can confidently tell you two things…

  • 1) I am not the SharePoint consultant that you need!
  • 2) I am eventually going to become the SharePoint consultant you need! (You will see the light eventually Smile)

The number of the beast…

Hopefully by now I have given you an appreciation of Hackman, Wilder and Duffield’s work and its relevance to SharePoint maturity. All of them have made highly rigorous research efforts, each asking different questions and utilising different research. Those of you who are more superstitiously minded might feel that I am meddling with the forces of darkness here, given that each of the three distilled 6 themes – 666 Surprised smile

While there is no fire and brimstone nearby as I write this text, my next job was to indeed meddle with dark forces in the sense that I had to perform my own analysis of their work to draw out the commonalities and gaps. I figured that this would go a long way to laying the groundwork for gaps I see in SharePoint maturity. I won’t bore you with too much of the detail on this effort, except to say that I used Dialogue Mapping techniques to perform the synthesis. Below are a couple of screenshots illustrating the maps I built which give you a feel for what was done (click to enlarge)…

 

In a nutshell, I mapped out each authors six constructs and then mapped their behind the scenes detail. As expected, while some terminology differed somewhat , by in large there was a lot of commonality. I linked all the commonalities together in my maps and slowly, a new picture began to emerge…

Meddling with forces…

When you think about it, my synthesis of this research is not all that different from what SharePoint people do all the time when developing an information architecture to store organisational data in a meaningful and intuitive way. Just like when you have to determine an appropriate navigation structure for your SharePoint sites, with this work I had to first think about the basis for how I wanted to structure things.

First up, I found Duffield’s use of Swiss cheese model for risk inspiring and absolutely applicable for SharePoint maturity. The metaphor of holes in each slice of SharePoint governance “cheese” is vivid and confronting. The commonality in the answers I got to the above “What is the hardest thing about SharePoint?” question speaks to the fact that there are universally common missing slices of SharePoint governance cheese. I also felt strongly that there was huge potential for a clearer relationship between Hackman’s enabling conditions and Duffield’s lessons learnt. My logic was pretty basic here: Surely organisational lessons learnt (if actually learnt), should be enabling conditions next time around? It seemed to me that Hackman “conditions” and Duffield “lessons” are looking at the same thing, just from different points in time. So my intention was to develop my own Swiss cheese model using constructs (navigation labels if you will) that could be lessons learned focus areas as well as enabling conditions. That way one could truly gauge if lessons really had been learnt, because by definition they would be the enabling conditions to strive for next time around.

The other thing I was looking to do was to make things more actionable. Saying things like “have the right people”, “the right membership characteristics” or “the right culture” are not easily actionable because what exactly is “right” anyway? To that end, I think all of the authors suffered from creating constructs that were fine for their purposes, but were a bit wishy-washy when trying to be more directive and action-focused.

One particular anomaly I noticed when comparing the research was the lack of “purpose” as a construct in Duffield’s work. Hackman and Wilder both list “purpose” as one of their six factors, but Duffield’s SYLLK model makes no mention of purpose at all. I felt this needed to be addressed because lack of purpose is one of the classic symptoms of a wicked problem – a topic I have been writing about for years now. So for me, clarity of purpose is a very big slice of Swiss cheese!

I also felt that Hackman was a bit weak on some of the process/system areas. Duffield lists “process”, “technology” and “infrastructure” as key focus areas for lessons learnt on projects and the closest Hackman comes to that is “Supportive organizational context”. This is understandable when you remember that Hackman was talking only about teamwork in general. Nevertheless for our SharePoint context, I thought that Duffield was closer to the mark. Wilder turned out to be a bit in between – as they list “Process and structure” and “Resources” as two of their six areas.

There were other various things that influenced my synthesis as well, but none of them matter for this discussion. I guess you want to see the results no?

The CALL model

The result of this work is a model I have called the CALL model (Conditions to Actionable Lessons Learnt). Since this post is getting long, I will defer a detailed description of the model for the next article. But to whet your appetite, below is an image that shows what I ended up with. It adopts Duffield’s SYLLK model as its base, but highlights 8 enabling conditions (or learning areas), split across individual, team and organisation lines. Additionally, distinction is also made between the soft (people) factors and the harder (system) factors. The arrows are there to help convey the “defence in depth” idea of the Swiss cheese model.

If you go back to the start of this article and examine Hackman, Wilder and Duffield’s work, you will see all of them represented here, except I used more action focused labels. My contention is that these eight areas are what you should be considering when judging your organisation’s SharePoint maturity. The importance of considering these as enabling conditions, to be put in place right at the start cannot be underestimated. Going back to Hackman, here is what he said about the importance of enabling conditions for team performance (emphasis mine):

Let me go out on a limb and make rough estimates of the size of these effects. I propose that 60 per cent of the difference in how well a group eventually does is determined by the quality of the condition-setting prework the leader does. Thirty per cent is determined by how the initial launch of the group goes. And only 10 per cent is determined by what the leader does after the group is already underway with its work. This view stands in stark contrast to popular images of group leadership—the conductor waving a baton throughout a musical performance or an athletic coach shouting instructions from the sidelines during a game

I note that Hackman’s view doesn’t just stand in stark contrast to “popular images of group leadership” – it also stands in stark contrast to Microsoft’s SharePoint governance poster too!

Conclusion

Now I am sure that some of you are still trying to decipher the model above, or feel the urge to tell me that something is missing or that the labels for each of my slices of SharePoint maturity cheese don’t do it for you. In the next post I will spend more time going over the model and what each slice really means. Given the heritage of the source material that inspired it, I feel that it can be used in various SharePoint and non-SharePoint scenarios. So I will also spend some time talking about that.

Finally, I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but I didn’t actually develop this model just for SharePoint! In fact I have already used this model in various non-SharePoint ways too. We will also take a look at this…

thanks for reading

 

 

Paul Culmsee

www.hereticsguidebooks.com

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Rethinking SharePoint Maturity Part 2: What Makes Collaboration Work

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Maturity
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Hi all

Welcome to part 2 about my research efforts that has led me to thinking a little differently in how we understand and measure SharePoint and organisational “maturity”. In the first post, I gave a glimpse into the work of JR Hackman, who had presented some really interesting ideas about what leads to outstanding team performance. In case you have not read the first post (damn you!), Hackman presented the notion that trying in vain to come up with the causes of team efficacy was a rather dumb idea and instead, looking at the conditions that enable great teams was a much more productive approach.

This notion of conditions over causes is really important to understand, because we all routinely get suckered into conversations about whether one process, approach or model is objectively “better” than another. This sort of discussion frustrates me and I usually find it all rather pointless because it all but ignores the underlying conditions that enabled or disabled things. As a result, we misattribute success or failure of SharePoint to how we used methods, processes and models, rather than focus on what really matters – the conditions under which those methods, processes and models operated.

Now Hackman was not looking at SharePoint projects when he came to this realisation. He was looking at leadership and the performance of teams in general. He synthesised his years of research work down to six conditions that he felt led to better results if they were in place. Those conditions are:

  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

So I very much bought into Hackman’s conditions over causes argument, but wasn’t sure whether his six conditions were directly applicable to SharePoint projects. To find out, I got lucky, coming across some really great work on the subject of collaboration by the Wilder Research Group.

Collaboration: What Makes it Work

Earlier this year, I  bought a crapload of books on the topic of collaboration. One of them had the rather long title of “Collaboration: What Makes It Work, 2nd Edition: A Review Of Research Literature On Factors Influencing Successful Collaboration” written by Paul W. Mattessich, Marta Murray-Close, Barbara R. Morrisey and published by the Wilder Research Group.

This book is quite short – just over 100 pages, but it packs a heavy punch nevertheless. The core question asked in this book was “What makes the difference between your collaboration’s failure or success?” and it sought to answer the question by providing an in-depth review of lots (and lots and lots) of academic research on collaboration. In all, the authors examined more than 281 research studies on collaborative initiatives (and their success or failure) and synthesised them. I love these sort of meta-analysis studies, because I am lazy and its terrific when someone else has done the rigorous hard work!

Why Wilder matters for SharePoint

The intent of the report is to help readers expand their thinking about ways to help projects succeed, gain background information before beginning a collaboration, compare their situation with others, determine collaboration strategy including necessary ingredients, uncover and resolve trouble spots. It also provides a tool called the “The Collaboration Factors Inventory which allows you to self-assess how your collaboration is doing against the success factors they came up with. Examples are also provided of how organizations have used the inventory as well as a case study illustrating how one collaboration assessed itself and how it  used the results to take action to improve its success.

Thus, it should be fairly obvious why this particular work should be of interest to SharePoint practitioners. After all, improving collaboration in organisations and teams is one of the core value propositions that underpins SharePoint and has done so for years now. Under the guise of “governance”, we do lots of work and produce processes (and usually lots of documentation) in the hope that we have put in the necessary plumbing for collaboration to take root and blossom. So when someone has taken the time to distil the learnings from 281 research efforts into collaborative success, there is bound to be valuable takeaways to be had for us SharePoint peeps – especially if our organisations have bought heavily into “social” features of the product.

Now while that all sounds good, there is another less obvious, but cooler reason to be interested in this book – especially given my examination of Hackman in part 1. The Wilder team found a total of 20 factors that were identified as “ingredients” for successful collaboration and guess how many categories they distilled them down to?

Six! – precisely the same number of conditions that Hackman distilled for great team performance. So, wouldn’t it be interesting to see how much overlap there is between what Hackman says are the six conditions for great teams versus Wilder’s six “differences” between collaboration failure and success?

I thought so too…

Back to the Wilder team…

So what are the factors that make a difference in successful collaboration identified by Wilder? Below are their twenty ingredients, divided into the aforementioned six categories…

  • 1. Membership characteristics: (Skills, attributes and opinions of individuals as a collaborative group, as well as culture and capacity of orgs that form collaborative groups)
    • – Mutual respect, understanding and trust: Members of the collaborative group share an understanding and respect for each other and their respective organizations: how they operate, their cultural norms and values, limitations, and expectations.
    • – Appropriate cross section of members: To the extent that they are needed, the collaborative group includes representatives from each segment of the community who will be affected by its activities.
    • – Members see collaboration as in their self interest: Collaborating partners believe that they will benefit from their involvement in the collaboration and that the advantages of membership will offset costs such as loss of autonomy and turf.
    • – Ability to compromise: Collaborating partners are able to compromise, since the many decisions within a collaborative effort cannot possibly fit the preferences of every member perfectly.
  • 2. Purpose: (The reasons for the collaborative effort, the result or vision being sought)
    • – Concrete, attainable goals and objectives: Goals and objectives of the collaborative group are clear to all partners, and can realistically be attained.
    • – Shared vision: Collaborating partners have the same vision, with clearly agreed-upon mission, objectives, and strategy. The shared vision may exist at the outset of collaboration, or the partners may develop a vision as they work together.
    • – Unique purpose: The mission and goals or approach of the collaborative group differ, at least in part, from the mission and goals or approach of the member organizations.
  • 3. Process and structure: (Management, decision making and operational systems of a collaborative context)
    • – Members that share a stake in both process and outcome: Members of a collaborative group feel “ownership” of both the way the group works and the results or product of its work.
    • – Multiple layers of participation: Every level (upper management, middle management, operations) within each partner organisation has at least some representation and ongoing involvement in the collaborative initiative
    • – Flexibility: The collaborative group remains open to varied ways of organising itself and accomplishing its work
    • – Development of clear roles and policy guidelines: The collaborating partners clearly understand their roles, rights, and responsibilities, and they understand how to carry out those responsibilities.
    • – Adaptability: The collaborative group has the ability to sustain itself in the midst of major changes, even if it needs to change some major goals, members, etc., in order to deal with changing conditions.
    • – Appropriate pace of development: The structure, resources, and activities of the collaborative group change over time to meet the needs of the group without overwhelming its capacity, at each point throughout the initiative.
  • 4. Communication: (The channels used by partners to exchange information, keep each-other informed and convey opinions to influence)
    • – Open and frequent communication: Collaborative group members interact often, update one another, discuss issues openly, and convey all necessary information to one another and to people outside the group.
    • – Established informal relationships and communication links: In addition to formal channels of communication, members establish personal connections — producing a better, more informed, and cohesive group working on a common project.
  • 5. Environment: (Geo-location and social context where a collaborative group exists. While they can influence, they cannot control)
    • – History of collaboration or cooperation in the community: A history of collaboration or cooperation exists in the community and offers the potential collaborative partners an understanding of the roles and expectations required in collaboration and enables them to trust the process
    • – Collaborative group seen as a legitimate leader in the community: The collaborative group (and by implication, the agencies in the group) is perceived within the community as reliable and competent—at least related to the goals and activities it intends to accomplish.
    • – Favourable political and social climate: Political leaders, opinion-makers, persons who control resources, and the general public support (or at least do not oppose) the mission of the collaborative group
  • 6. Resources: (The financial and human input necessary to develop and sustain a collaborative group)
    • – Sufficient funds, staff, materials and time: The collaborative group has an adequate, consistent financial base, along with the staff and materials needed to support its operations. It allows sufficient time to achieve its goals and includes time to nurture the collaboration.
    • – Skilled leadership: The individual who provides leadership for the collaborative group has organizing and interpersonal skills, and carries out the role with fairness. Because of these characteristics (and others), the leader is granted respect or “legitimacy” by the collaborative partners.

Now that you have seen Wilders six factors that influence successful collaboration, think about where you focus on your SharePoint projects in the name or guide of “governance”. How many of these factors did you consider when you started on your quest to use SharePoint for improved collaboration? Which of these really scream out at you as something worth pursuing? Go back in time and with hindsight, imagine if you had considered these and acted on it… Would it had led to better outcomes?

Conclusion

I have previously stated that collaboration is a classic SharePoint platitude, and chasing goals like “improved collaboration” are a sure fire way to create elaborate SharePoint solutions that miss the mark. Thus, this work by Wilder is a crucial resource in helping organisations determine what collaboration means to them. Furthermore, anyone interested in assessing SharePoint “readiness” (whatever your interpretation of readiness), would be well served to think about how they can incorporate the Wilder work into their readiness or maturity models. After all, how many other meta analyses of 281 studies on the topic have been done, eh?

Consider also that the Wilder team asked themselves a different question than Hackman. While Hackman framed his question around “What are the enabling conditions?” the Wilder team asked “What makes the difference?” This more broader question posed by the Wilder team explains a lot about their results. Some of their collaboration success factors can be seen as potential enabling conditions as Hackman described, whereas others are a more retrospective look on what successful collaboration looks like during and after collaboration has taken place. Consider also Hackman and the Wilder team used very different areas of research to come up with their answers. Wilder examined 281 case studies on successful collaboration, whereas Hackman used decades of research in teamwork and leadership. While research on collaboration might seem related to teamwork and leadership, in the world of academic research, you are talking about completely different bodies of knowledge.

Nevertheless, if you compare Hackman’s six conditions to Wilder’s six collaboration factors, there are more overlaps than there are differences. This I find exciting because it tells me that these independent research efforts are coalescing around the same themes. But I am going to defer a detailed examination of them both in context till a future post, because as I started to synthesise Hackman and Wilder together, I came across a third area of research that also led to some important insights – perhaps the most important ones of all… the work of PhD candidate Stephen Duffield in the area of risk and organisational learning on projects.

That my friends, is the topic of the next post…

 

 

Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee

www.hereticsguidebooks.com

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Rethinking SharePoint Maturity Part 1: Conditions Over Causes

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Maturity
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Hi all

I have been hitting the books lately, doing various bits of research, all related to plans for a new book.  While most of that research would not be of too much interest to readers, some of it turned out to be quite profound and has significant implications for anybody interested in SharePoint governance/maturity/readiness, as well as risk management, organisational learning, knowledge management and team development. So if you are spending your days delving deep into the bowels of the SharePoint 2013 apps model, oAuth and Azure Service Busses, then maybe this article is not for you. However if you manage or are responsible for people or projects that delve deep into the bowels of the SharePoint in areas like the apps model, oAuth and Azure Service Busses, then I strongly suggest you read on. Continue reading

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Making Sense of SharePoint and Digital Records Management…

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Hi all

One of the conversation areas in SharePoint life that is inevitably complex is that of records management since there are just as many differing opinions on records management as there are legal jurisdictions and different standards to choose from. Accordingly, a lot of confusion abounds as we move into a world dominated by cloud computing, inter-agency collaboration, changes in attitudes to information assets via the open data/government 2.0 movements, and of course, the increasing usage of enterprise collaboration systems like SharePoint. As a result, I feel for record managers because generally they are an unloved lot and it is not really their fault. They have to meet legal compliance requirements governed by various acts of legislation, but their job is made all the harder by the paradox that the more one tries to enforce compliance, the less likely one is to be compliant. This is because more compliance generally equates to more effort on the part of users for little perceived benefit. This results in direct avoidance of using record management systems or the plain misuse of those systems (both which in turn results in a lack of compliance).

As it happens, my company works with many government agencies primarily in the state of Western Australia, both at a state agency and local government level. We have seen most enterprise document management systems out there such as HP Trim, Objective, Hummingbird/OpenText and have to field questions on how SharePoint should integrate and interact with them (little known fact – I started my career with Hummingbird in 1998 when it was called PCDOCS Open and before SharePoint existed).

Now while I am sympathetic to the plight of your average records management professional, I have also seen the other side of the coin, where records management is used to create fear, uncertainty and doubt. “You can’t do that, because of the records act” is a refrain that is oft-levelled at initiatives like SharePoint or cloud based solutions to try and shut them down or curtail their scope. What makes it hard to argue against such statements is that few ever read such acts (including those who make these sort of statements). So being a sucker for punishment, I decided to read the Western Australian State Records Act 2000 and the associated standard on digital recordkeeping, published by the State Records Office. My goal was to understand the intent of these standards and the minimum compliance requirements they mandate, so I could better help clients integrate potentially disruptive tools into their compliance strategies.

I did this by starting out with the core standard in Western Australia – SRC Standard 8: Digital Recordkeeping. I created an IBIS Issue Map of this standard using Compendium software. What I soon discovered was that Standard 8 refers to other standards, such as Standard 2: Recordkeeping Plans and Standard 3: Appraisal of Records. That meant that I had to add these to the map, as well as any other documents they referred to. In the end, I followed every standard, policy or guideline in a recursive fashion, until I was back at the digital recordkeeping standard where I started. This took a while, but I eventually got there. You can click the image below to examine the standards in all of their detail and watch the video to see more about how I created it.

Map   

Now I need to make it clear that my map is not endorsed by the State Records Office, so it is provided as-is with a disclaimer that it is not intended to drive policy or be used as anything more than an example of the mapping approaches I use. I felt that by putting the standards into a IBIS based issue map, I feel I was able to reduce some of the complexity of understanding them, because now one can visually see how the standards relate to each other. Additionally, by taking advantage of Compendiums ability to have the same node in multiple maps, it allowed me to create a single ‘meta map’ that pulled in all of the compliance requirements into a single integrated place. One can look at the compliance requirements of all the standards in one place and ask themselves “Am I meeting the intent of these standards?”

Reflections…

In terms of my conclusions undertaking this work, there are a few. For a start, everything is a record, so people should just get over the whole debate of “is it or isn’t it”. In short, if you work for a government agency and are doing actual work, then your work outputs are records. The issue is not what is and is not a record, but how you control and manage them. Secondly, the notion that there has to be “one RMS system to rule them all” to ensure compliance is plain rubbish and does not stand up to any form of serious scrutiny. While it is highly desirable to have a single management point for digital recordkeeping, it is often not practical and insistence in doing this often makes agencies less compliant because of the aforementioned difficulties of use, resulting in passive resistance and outright subversion of such systems. It additionally causes all sorts of unnecessary stress in the areas of new initiatives or inter-agency collaboration efforts. In fact, to meet the intent of the standards I mapped, one by definition, has to take a portfolio approach to the management of records as data will reside in multiple repositories. It was Andrew Jolly who first suggested the portfolio idea to me and provided this excellent example: There is nothing stopping records management departments designating MS Exchange 2013 Site mailboxes as part of the records management portfolio and at the same time having a much better integrated email and document management story for users.

For me, the real crux of the digital records management challenge is hidden away in SRC Standard 8, Principle 5 (preservation). One of the statements of compliance in relation to preservation is that “digital records and their metadata remain accessible and usable for as long as they are required in accordance with an approved disposal authority.”  In my opinion, the key challenge for agencies and consultancies alike is being able to meet the requirements of Disposal Authorities (DA’s) without over burdening users. DA’s are the legal documents published by the State Records Commission that specify how data is handled in terms of whether it is archived or deleted and when this should happen. They are also quite prescriptive (some are mandated), and their classification of content from a retention and disposal point of view poses many challenges, both technically and organisationally. While for the sake of size, this article is not going to get into this topic in detail, I would advise any SharePoint practitioner to understand the relevant disposal authorities that their organisation has to adhere to. You will come away with a new respect for the challenges that record managers face, an understanding on why they use the classification schemes that they do, why records management systems are not popular among users of the systems and why the paradox around “chasing compliance only to become non-compliant” happens.

Maybe you might come away with some insights on how to better integrate SharePoint into the story? Then you can tell the rest of us Smile

Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee

paul.culmssee@sevensigma.com.au

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Confession of a (post) SharePoint architect… What are you polishing?

This entry is part 9 of 10 in the series confessions
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Hi and welcome to the latest exciting instalment in my epic series of posts on my confessions of a post SharePoint architect. I was motivated to write this series because the mild mannered shrinking violet known as Bjorn Furuknap wrote an insightful series of articles on what it takes to be a SharePoint professional. I had always planned to write on this topic as well and opted to frame it as SharePoint “confessions” because some of my approaches do not always seem mainstream (but work!) so it feels like I am confessing my sins for using them. I chose to use the word “(post)” because SharePoint is not my fulltime gig anymore. I am very lucky to do a lot of non IT work, helping organisations deal with highly complex problems. This side of my work is where most of my insights have come from and what inspired the Heretics Guide to Best Practices book.

Thus far, we have traversed a fair bit of territory via the use of f-laws – home truths about successful SharePoint delivery that focuses on areas often overlooked for various reasons. In case this is your first visit to this series, we have covered 6 f-laws so far and I strongly suggest that you read them first…

In this post, we are continuing with f-law 6, focusing on aspects to SharePoint delivery where geeks have a habit of being crap…

No matter how much you polish it…

In Australia, there is an old saying, that no matter how much you try and polish a turd, it will always be a turd. In the last post, I more or less stated that some geeks have a tendency to polish turds. They do this because of a combination of an inflated view of their self-importance, mental scars from ghosts of disaster recoveries past, and a bias toward something I termed dial tone governance.

Dial tone governance refers to all of the stuff that ensures that the SharePoint platform remains pristine, consistently reliable and high performing. I noted in the previous post that this echoes what quality assurance aspires to do. This type of IT assurance for SharePoint is completely necessary, but it is definitely not sufficient. If it was, lavish praise would be heaped upon us heroic geeks for consistent fantastic SharePoint delivery.

In the last post I also channelled Neo from the Matrix and suggested that being a hero like Neo is a thankless job since, for many stakeholders, the assurance of dial tone is assumed to be there. Whether this is right or wrong is not the point, because geeks do not survive their own hypocrisy on this matter. After all, no one thanks the telephone company for providing them with dial tone when they pick up the phone to make a call – they just get pissed when it is not there.

Now while I can sympathise with unloved telephone company engineers, they actually have it easy because once they provide dial tone, their job is done. This also applies to tools like Microsoft Exchange, Virtualisation, IP networks and storage. Unfortunately with SharePoint, successful delivery is not judged on whether the level of dial tone is appropriate. At the end of the day no amount of turd polishing via awesome support, consistent process or fast response time will make a crap solution anything other than a crap solution.

So this raises a couple of questions that readers should consider:

  1. Am I focusing too much (or too little) on dial tone governance?
  2. What are the other governance areas that I need to focus on?

As it happens, I have some data we can use to answer them.

The hardest thing…

In 2009 I created my SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture class. The class is attended by a wide variety of roles, from BAs to PMs, CIOs as well as developers and tech dudes. It has been delivered around the world with students representing just about every industry sector (including Microsoft employees). This combination of varied audience, varied industry sectors and geographic location has provided a lot of insight, because at the start of every class, I ask students to introduce themselves, and tell the class what they feel is the hardest thing about SharePoint delivery and I dialogue map the answers.

Can you see the logic of this question? By listing all of the areas that is hard about SharePoint delivery, what should emerge are the areas we should be focusing on. Why? Well the hard bits are likely to be the areas of most risk when it comes to a failed or stressed deployment.

So let’s go through the answers given to me from a few SPGovIA classes. Maybe there are some consistent patterns that emerge. It will also be interesting to see how much of it is dial tone governance.

Brisbane 2012 and Melbourne 2010

First up, here are the answers I captured from a small class in Brisbane in 2012:

  • Explaining what SharePoint is
  • User uptake (“People do not like new things”)
  • Managing proliferation of SharePoint sites
  • Too much IT ownership (“Sick of IT people telling me that SP is the solution”)
  • Users don’t know what they want
  • Difficulties around SP ownership because of a lack of accountability

For me some interesting things emerge already, but before we get into detail, let’s look at a Melbourne class answering this question two years earlier and see if any consistent patterns.

  • Every project is “new” (“Traditional ASP.NET web site development is ‘same old same old’)
  • In SharePoint you can do things in many ways so the initial design takes longer
  • The solution is never the same as the initial design and the end client may not realise this. The implication is gaps between expectation and delivery
  • Stakeholders don’t know what they want (“First time around what they sign off on is not what they want “)
  • Projects launched as “IT projects” with no clear deliverable and no success indicators
  • Lack of visibility as to what other organisations are doing
  • Determining limits and boundaries (“Doing anything ‘practically’ in SharePoint is hard”).
    • For example: We improved Ux in certain areas, but to extend to the entire feature set would take too long”
  • Managing expectations around SharePoint.
    • Clients with no experience think it can do everything
    • Difficulties getting information from and translating into design, so it can be implemented
  • Legacy of bad implementations makes it hard to win the business owner
  • Lack of governance
    • Viral spread of unmanaged sites
    • No proper requirements of “why”
    • No-one managing it

Some analysis…

The first thing that I notice is that if you go back to the start of this post and review the six f-laws, four are clearly represented here. We have stakeholders not knowing what they want which makes design hard (f-law 2), the gap between expectation and delivery (f-law 5), the problem of SharePoint projects being done as “IT projects” (f-law 6) with “no clear deliverables and no success indicators” (f-law 3). Other themes include lack of accountability and managing viral growth of sites, but the overwhelming theme that comes through for me is that of managing user expectations and buy-in.

A telling part about what is listed is that aside from the ever present issue of managing site sprawl, not too much of it is dial tone at this point. To see if this pattern continues, let’s head to Auckland New Zealand and see if the Kiwis are any more geeky than their Australian cousins…

Auckland 2011

  • Gap between expectations and reality
  • Accountabilities and role clarity around delivery
  • Knowledge transfer and ongoing maintenance (“Not everything is written down and when people leave, key critical information is lost. For example: Business rules set up at the start are lost over time”)
  • Helping people change practices (“Getting people to use it “)
  • Managing the growth over time (“the challenge of a large user base wanting to use it in different ways”)
  • It’s a big, complex product
  • The perception of “mystique” around SharePoint (“hard to know what not to do”)
  • Seen as another “IT service”
    • product selected because it’s Microsoft
    • the people who chose the product/delivering the product are IT
  • Translating the capabilities of the product to the needs of the user
    • Getting the business to understand SharePoint’s capability
    • Restrictions vs freedom
  • Ramp up time: The learning curve across all roles (tech and non tech)
  • The challenge of user requirements: Knowing the right questions to ask

Some more analysis…

It is clear that the themes that emerged from the two classes in Australia are also consistent here. The issue of stakeholder expectations came up straight away as well as the “IT driven project” issue (“seen as another ‘IT’ service”). Once again, the only real dial tone governance issue was the problem of managing site growth over time, but even then, it was framed more of an expectations issue (“the challenge of a large user base wanting to use it in different ways”). F-law 4 also copped a mention in terms of knowing the right questions to ask to get the right user requirements.

The additional themes that I noted from this group were:

  • complexity (“It’s a big, complex product“)
  • change management (“helping people change practices”)
  • the high learning curve of SharePoint for users
  • knowledge transfer over time the challenge of a large user base wanting to use the product in different ways.

<geek alert>Now if you are reading this and you manage complex infrastructure, let me assure you that tech people were in the classes</geek alert>. Also, since Australia and New Zealand are culturally quite similar to each other, it could be argued that we are not taking into account different cultures. So let’s find out what a 2012 class in Singapore had to say…

Singapore 2012

  • Trying to deal with the sheer number of features
  • “A totally different kind of concept”
    • A little knowledge can be dangerous
    • If you start with the wrong footing, you end up messing it up
  • Trying to deal with “I need SharePoint”
  • SharePoint for an external web site was difficult to use. Unfriendly structure for a public facing website
  • Trying to get users to use it (Steep learning curve for users)
  • The need for “deep discussion” to ensure SharePoint is put in for the right reasons. Without this, the result is messy, disorganised portals
  • The gap between the business and IT results in a sub optimal deployment
  • Demonstrating value to the business (SharePoint installed, but its potential is not being realized)
  • Stakeholders not appreciating the implication of product versus platform
  • You are working across the entire business (The disconnect between management/coalface)
  • “Everything hurts with SharePoint”
  • Facilitating the discussion at the business level is hard when your background is IT

Final Analysis

Once again the answers provided by Singapore attendees is extraordinarily consistent with the other three classes we looked at. User expectations and adoption were at the forefront, complexity was there, as was the business/IT disconnect as well as demonstrating business value. The theme of platitudes (f-law 4) and confusing the means from the ends (f-law 1) was apparent with the comment about dealing with the “I need SharePoint” issue.

I also note that the Singapore group seemed to have a greater recognition of their weaknesses – particularly with SharePoint as a “totally different type of concept” quote and last comment about difficulties facilitating discussion “when your background is IT”. I also noted one potential dial-tone comment about the difficulty of deploying SharePoint as a public facing website. Another emergent complexity related theme here is the perennial problem of SharePoint’s ample supply of features (and caveats) which risks an inappropriate up-front design decision that has negative consequences later (“Trying to deal with the sheer number of features,“ “A little knowledge can be dangerous” & “If you start with the wrong footing, you end up messing it up.”)

Finally, I particularly liked the comment about the “need for “deep discussion” to ensure SharePoint is put in for the right reasons” – that one was made by one of the Microsofties who attended the class.

Conclusions and takeaways

My own conclusion from this examination is that the responses from class attendees illustrate that dial tone governance (which is best termed as IT assurance) is necessary, but certainly not sufficient. The focus on IT assurance is a reflection of the lens that IT looks through. After all, when your performance is judged on keeping things running smoothly and reliably, it makes sense that you will focus on this.

But as illustrated by the responses, it seems that IT assurance isn’t all that hard. If it was, then why didn’t dial tone topics come up with more frequency in the responses?

So IT people, always remember f-law 1. The word ‘govern’ means to steer. We aim to steer the energy and resources available for the greatest benefit to all. Assurance on the other hand provides confidence in a product’s suitability for its intended purpose. It is a set of activities intended to ensure that customer requirements are satisfied in a systematic, reliable fashion. (I didn’t make that up by the way – that is how the ISO9000 family of standards for quality management described assurance).

The key takeaway is that to be effective and successful you actually need to apply both governance and assurance. You cannot have one without the other. Whether you have the balance right between dial tone and all the other stuff is for you to decide. So rather than focus on the stuff you already know well, perhaps it is worth asking yourself what you find hard and focus there as well.

 

Thanks for reading

 

Paul Culmsee

www.hereticsguidebooks.com

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

This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series confessions
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Hi all and welcome to the next exciting instalment of my confessions from my work as a SharePoint architect and beyond. This is the eighth post and my last for 2012, so I will get straight into it.

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

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

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

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

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

image

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

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

Bad tequila bender? What the…

Never again…

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

image

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

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

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

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

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

The thing about dial tone…

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

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

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

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

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

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

and finally for 2012…

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

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

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

Thanks for reading…

 

Paul Culmsee

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

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