From Rick Astley to Fidget Spinners: A slew of PowerApps and Flow video tutorials

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I have been recording various videos over time of some advanced PowerApps and Flow concepts/solutions. All of these are either workarounds for current limitations in PowerApps or Flow or work I have done with my daughter, Ashlee.  I have listed each here with explanations…

How to Save Photos from PowerApps to SharePoint via Flow

This video outlines a robust and flexible method for uploading photos from PowerApps to SharePoint. At the time of writing, it is the best option despite having to create OpenAPI files.


Calling Cognitive Services Vision API from PowerApps via Flow

This video demonstrates a simple receipt tracker that uses the OCR capability of Microsoft cognitive services to find price information from a scanned receipt.


How to set SharePoint list permissions using Flow

This video shows the high level view on how Flow can be used to set SharePoint permissions, much like an app step that is used in SharePoint Designer. It also demonstrates the idea of breaking up flows into reusable chunks – called service flows.


It’s not a Flow, nor a Proxy… It’s a Floxy!!

This is an example of utilising flow to display document library content in PowerApps. I also wrote a detailed post about this one…


How To Rickroll Your Friends Using PowerApps

A funny app with some very clever design considerations. This was actually done by my daughter, Ashlee. She explains how she did it below…


Paul and Ashlee on PowerApps

More nerdy fun with my daughter, who is already an accomplished PowerApps coder as you will soon see. In this video, she build me a sophisticated audit/checklist app using Microsoft PowerApps and Flow. This app demonstrates offline support, calling external API’s and photo handling.



and finally….the famous fidget spinner…

Build a FidgetSpinner using PowerApps

Demonstrating the power of the PowerApps platform for citizen developers, Ashlee won a contest from Microsoft to create a fidget spinner using PowerApps. In this video, Ashlee explains to me how she built the app and shames me for my dodgy high school maths…

p.s don’t miss out the Solar System PowerApps by MVP Daniel Christian, who was inspired by Ashlee’s fidget spinner. Amazing stuff…

I think these videos highlight the flexibility and power of this platform. Let me know if you would like me or Ashlee to record others or expand on them!

Paul Culmsee

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Incredible! Download a PowerApp that determines your IQ from a selfie…

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Some of you might have seen my post where I explained how how my daughter, Ashlee (18), won a competition from Microsoft to develop a fidget spinner app. Well if you think that was impressive, check this out…


Inspired by the positive feedback from the community, Ashlee decided to up her game and investigated some of the various online services that PowerApps and Flow can connect to. The net result is an app which has capabilities that are quite extroadinary. By connecting to Microsoft Cognitive Services in Azure, Ashlee has created an app that will determine your IQ from your facial structure. In other words, you download this app, take a selfie, and via cloud-based machine learning that has processed millions of photos, you can find out your IQ without doing a traditional IQ test!

Even better, Ashlee has kindly donated it to the community as a learning tool, so you can not only learn about these ground-breaking techniques, but you can download/share it with your colleagues too.

So far this app has been used in various global organisations including Microsoft. It has also been demonstrated to rapturous applause at the recent Digital Workplace Conference in Sydney.


So DO NOT MISS OUT on this, especially when using this app is a simple set of easy-to-follow steps!


Ready… Steady…


Wait… I forgot to mention, this app is optimised for phones, and utilises Microsoft speech recognition, so be sure to turn up the volume so you can hear the instructions…


Right are you ready?


Oh… don’t forget… you need an Office365 subscription for this so make sure PowerApps is enabled on your tenant…


Okay, so do the following right now!


1. Download and install PowerApps studio onto your PC.

2. Download Ashlee’s Guess your IQ MSAPP (rename the file extension from .zip to .msapp) and open it in PowerApps Studio

3. In PowerApps studio, save a copy of the App to your tenant (“the cloud”) via the File menu


4. Now install PowerApps on your IOS or Android Phone (you will find it in the app store and its free)

5. Run PowerApps on your phone and sign in with the same user account you used in step 3

6. Select the app called Guess Your IQ. It might take a little while to load, but don’t worry – there is a lot of awesome functionality.

7. Enter your name when prompted…


8. Now use your phone camera to take a selfie…


9. Click the “Find my IQ” button and watch the magic of machine learning…

image  image

10. Seriously, you WILL NOT BELEIVE what happens next!… but you have to try for yourself!


Make sure you let me know what your IQ is! Smile


Paul Culmsee

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The ASS Scale. The best 2*2 management model ever!

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So today I was inspired to come out of blogging hibernation because I saw possibly the worst dodgy 2*2 management matrix ever. The piece below was something that was originally going to be part of my next book with Kailash – as we spend some time on why models like this are so popular. Unfortunately this piece never made it, but Craig Brown told me I had to release it or he would. Thus, I feel it is now appropriate to unveil the greatest 2*2 dodgy management model ever! Without further ado I present to you the ASS Scale…

Does your team kick ass?

Want to improve team performance? Do you want your teams to be more agile, resilient, flexible, strategic, emergent, dynamic and follow orders without question?

The Agile Synergy Scale (ASS)™ is a cutting edge team diagnostic tool that provides a typology of team states. This provides CEO’s and other people who control the budget a sure-fire way to bring the best out of your people, help them reach their full potential and Kick Ass!.

The Agile Synergy Scale draws on several beers worth of research into all the latest literature from Wikipedia and Social Media, such as Big Data Analytics, Neuroscience, Holocracy, Transdisciplinary Intelligence, Innovation Ideation, Neurolinguistic Complexity Theory, Tasseography, Graphology, Craniosacral Therapy and 3D Printing. It explores the relationship between people, motivation and intelligence and unlocks an entirely new way of thinking about all forms of organisational awesomeness.

The framework consists of 4 domains – or “ASS cheeks” as shown below. There is a fifth domain – but we will get to that in a moment. These domains are illustrated in the diagram below.


The X axis represents team ability from low to high – and incorporates all of the sheer talent and expert knowledge necessary to probe for outstanding achievement for team and organisational excellence. The vertical scale represents a team desire – the lube of synergy that is the difference between accommodating maximum motivation versus constricted performance.

Let’s examine each ass-cheek in more detail and see where you and your team sits.

High Desire, High Skills: Kick Ass!

You and your team are as awesome as the Avengers. Perfectly balanced between brain, brawn and beauty, there is no challenge too tough for you and a Nobel prize in the category of legendaryness is a foregone conclusion.

High Desire, Low Skills: Kiss Ass

You and your team so want to be awesome, you all read the clickbait pearls of wisdom on your LinkedIn feed and therefore “talk the talk” with the best of them, but when the rubber hits the road and pressure is on, there is nothing under the hood. A dangerous sub-variety of kiss-asses are scary-asses (those who think they are kick-asses but are blind to their skill deficiencies.)

Low Desire, High Skills: Slack-ass (or “Can’t be assed”)

You all know your stuff as good as anybody, but nevertheless, you all withhold your discretionary effort (loafing). This is likely because the psychological needs of your team and individual members are not being met – either that or you are all whiny bitches.

Low Desire, Low Skills: Suck-ass

This quadrant has two sub-types. Rational suck-asses and stupid suck-asses. Rational suck-asses have the self-awareness to know they suck-ass and remedial action can be undertaken. Stupid suck-asses unfortunately have their head so far up their asses that they have little awareness of how much they suck-ass.

The toxic hole of chaos

There is a fifth domain (in the middle of the diagram): The toxic hole of chaos, which is the state of not knowing what sort of ASS cheek your team aligns with. It is extremely important you avoid this area in the long term as prolonged exposure can stifle and suffocate your team.

How to measure your ASS

We measure your teams ASS by administering a Rate of Extrinsic Collaboration and Team Agile Leadership Exam. This psychometric instrument can be administered by one of our certified Agile Synergy Scale PROfessional Business Excellence Reviewers. Our ASS PROBERS have gone through an extensive vetting process via a comprehensive multi-choice exam, and can administer a RECTAL exam with minimum discomfort.

So what are you waiting for? Sign your team up for a RECTAL exam today and measure your ASS.


Paul Culmsee

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What? Even more epic than MOSS world!

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Hi all

Back on St Patricks Day in 2011, Christian Buckley and I commandeered a hotel piano in Wellington NZ and recorded an impromptu duet entitled “MOSS world” – a satirical take on many of the challenges with SharePoint back then, using a parody of the Gary Jule’s version of Mad World as the musical backdrop. In case you missed the epicness of that particular collaboration, here is the video. As you will see, I am a pretty shitty piano player but nevertheless, the whole thing went down pretty well.

Now all good things take time, and three years have passed since MOSS World. But Christian has been working with me in Perth last week, so it was a foregone conclusion that we would have to flex our musical muscles once again and see if we can top MOSS World. A lot has changed since then too. We are both a little older, and my piano playing is still just as crap. But recent things like SharePoint 2013, apps model, cloud, enterprise social and server hugging IT Pros, provided us plenty of new inspiration.

So off we went to the studio (and actually it was a real studio) for another epic collaboration. The result? An album of such epic awesomeness that it could only be called “Working on it…”   Featuring an eclectic mix of ambient, metal, funk and folk rock, “Working on it…” will be a tour-de-force of sheer awesome. To get a speak peek of the how much time and effort Christian and I put into our music, we have released a behind the scenes look at the recording process, along with special previews of new songs such as “Losing my MVP”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Cloud” and “Nothing Compares to the pain of a regression bug introduced by a service pack”. Best of all is our self penned composition called “The Answer To All Things Social” where Christian pushes his vocal prowess to its soaring limits.

Watch, enjoy and let us know your feedback (and yes I already know my guitar playing is worse than my piano playing ) Dux Sy – the gauntlet has been thrown…


Paul Culmsee

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A Very Potter Audit – A Best Practices Parable

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Once upon a time there lived a rather round wizard named Hocklart who worked at the FogWorts school of witchcraft and wizardry. Hocklart was a very proud wizard, perhaps the proudest in all of FogWorts. His pride did not stem from being a great wizard or a great teacher; in reality, he was neither of those. In fact Hocklart was never much good at wizardry itself, but he knew a lot of people who were – and therein lay the reason for his pride. For what Hocklart lacked in magic ability, he more than made up for with his attention to detail, love of process and determination to rise to the top. From the day he arrived at FogWorts as one apprentice amongst many, he was the first to realise that the influential wizards liked to unwind on Friday nights with a cold ale at the Three and a Half Broomsticks Inn. Hocklart sacrificed many Friday nights at that pub, shouting rounds of frothy brew to thirsty senior wizards, befriending them all, listening to their stories and building up peerless knowledge of FogWorts organisational politics and juicy gossip.

This organisational knowledge brought just enough influence for Hocklart to climb the corporate ladder ahead of his more magically adept colleagues and presently he was very proud. As far as Hocklart was concerned, he had the most important job in all of FogWorts – Manager of the Department Responsible for the Integrity of Potions (or DRIP for short).

You see, in schools of witchcraft and wizardry, wizards and witches concoct all sorts of potions for all sorts of magical purposes. Potions of course require various ingredients in just the right amount and often prepared in just the right way. Some of these ingredients are highly dangerous and need to be handed with utmost care, while others might be harmless by themselves, but dangerous when mixed with something else or prepared incorrectly. Obviously one has to be careful in such a situation because a mix-up could be potentially life threatening or at the very least, turn you into some sort of rodent or small reptile.

The real reason why Hocklart was proud was because of his DRIP track record. You see, over the last six years, Hocklart had ensured that Fogwarts met all its statutory regulatory requirements as per the International Spell-casters Standards Organisation (ISSO). This included the “ISSO 9000 and a half” series of standards for quality management as well as the “ISSO 14000 and a sprinkle more” series for Environmental Management and Occupational Health and Safety. (Like all schools of witchcraft and wizardry, Fogwarts needed to maintain these standards to keep their license to operate current and in good standing).

When Hocklart became manager of DRIP, he signed himself up for a week-long training course to understand the family of ISSO standards in great detail. Enlightened by this training, he now appreciated the sort of things the ISSO auditors would likely audit FogWorts on. Accordingly, he engaged expensive consultants from an expensive consultancy to develop detailed management plans in accordance with wizardry best practices. To deliver this to the detail that Hocklart required, the consultants conjured a small army of business analysts, enterprise architects, system administrators, coordinators, admin assistants, documenters, quality engineers and asset managers who documented all relevant processes that were considered critical to safety and quality for potions.

Meticulous records were kept of all activities and these were sequestered in a secure filing room which was, among other things, guaranteed to be spell-proof. Hocklart was particularly fond of this secure filing room, with its rows and rows of neatly labelled, colour coded files that lovingly held Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for each potion ingredient. These sheets provided wizards the procedures for handling or working with the ingredients in a safe manner, including information of interest to wizards such as fulmination point, spell potency, extra-magical strength, reversal spells as well as routine data such as boiling point, toxicity, health effects, first aid, reactivity, storage, disposal, protective equipment and spill-handling procedures. All potion ingredients themselves were stored in the laboratory in jars with colour coded lids that represented the level of hazard and spell-potency. Ever the perfectionist, Hocklart ensured that all jars had the labels perfectly aligned, facing the front. The system was truly was a thing of beauty and greatly admired by all and sundry, including past ISSO auditors, who were mesmerised by what they saw (especially the colour coded filing system and the symmetry of the labels of the jars).

And so it came to pass that for six years Hocklart, backup up by his various consultants and sub-contractors, saw off every ISSO auditor who ever came to audit things. All of them left FogWorts mightily impressed, telling awestruck tales of Hocklart’s quality of documentation, attention to detail and beautiful presentation. This made Hocklart feel good inside. He was a good wizard…nay, a great one: no one in the wizard-world had emerged from an ISSO audit unscathed more than twice in a row…

On the seventh year of his term as FogWarts head of DRIP, Hocklart’s seventh audit approached. Although eagerly waiting to impress the new auditor (as he did with all the previous auditors), Hocklart did not want to appear overly prepared, so he tried to look as nonchalant as possible by casually reviewing a draft memo he was working on as the hour approached. Only you and I, and of course Hocklart himself, knew that in the weeks prior to today, Hocklart was at his meticulous best in his preparation. He had reviewed all of the processes and documentation and made sure it was all up to date and watertight. There was no way fault could be found.

Presently, there was a rap on the open door, and in walked the auditor.

“Potter – Chris Potter,” the gentleman introduced himself. “Hocklart I presume?”

Hocklart had never met Potter before so as they shook hands he sized up his opponent. The first thing he noticed was that Potter wasn’t carrying anything – no bag, notebook and not even a copy of the ISSO standards. “Have you been doing this sort of work long?” he enquired.

“Long enough,” came the reply. “Let’s go for a walk…”

“Sure,” replied Hocklart. “Where would you like to go?”

For what seemed like an uncomfortably long time to Hocklart, Potter was silent. Then he replied, “Let’s go and have a look at the lab.”

Ha! Nice try, thought Hocklart as he led the auditor to the potion laboratory. Yesterday I had the lab professionally cleaned with a high potency Kleenit spell and we did a stocktake of the ingredients the week before.

Potter cast his sharp eyes around as they walked (as is common with auditors), but remained silent. Soon enough they arrived at a gleaming, most immaculate lab, with nothing out of place. Without a word, Potter surveyed the scene and walked to the shelves of jars that held the ingredients, complete with colour coded lids and perfectly aligned labels. He picked up one of the red labelled jars that contained Wobberworm mucus – a substance that, while not fatal, was known to cause damage if not handled with care. Holding the jar, he turned to Hocklart.

“You have a Materials Safety Data Sheet for this?”

Hocklart grinned. “Absolutely… would you like to see it?”

Potter did not answer. Instead he continued to examine the jar. After another uncomfortable silence, Potter looked up announcing, “I’ve just got this in my eyes.” His eyes fixed on Hocklart.

Hocklart looked at Potter in confusion. The Wobberworm mucus was certainly not in Potter’s eyes because the jar had not been opened.

“What?” he asked hesitantly.

Potter, eyes unwaveringly locked on Hocklart, remained silent. The silence seemed an eternity to Hocklart. A quick glance at his watch then Potter, holding up the jar in his hand, repeated more slowly, “I’ve just got this in my eyes.”

Hocklart’s heart rate began to rise. What is this guy playing at? He asked himself. Potter, meanwhile, looked at his watch again, looked back at Hocklart and sighed. “It’s been a minute now and my eye’s really starting to hurt. I risk permanent eye damage here… What should you be doing?”

A trickle of sweat rolled down Hocklart’s brow. He had not anticipated this at all.

Potter waited, sighed again and grated, “Where is the Materials Safety Data Sheet with the treatment procedure?”

A cog finally shifted in Hocklart’s mind as he realised what Potter was doing. Whilst he was mightily annoyed that Potter had caught him off guard (he would have to deal with that later), right now however he had to play Potter’s game and win.

“We have a secure room with all of that information,” he replied proudly. “I can’t have any of the other wizards messing with my great filing system, it’s my system…”

“Well,” Potter grated, “let’s get in there. My eye isn’t getting any better standing here.”

Hocklart gestured to a side door. “They are in there.” But as he said it his heart skipped a beat as a sense of dread came over him.

“It’s… “ he stammered then cleared his throat. “It’s locked.”

Potter looked straight into Hocklart with a stare that seemed to pierce his very soul. “Now I’m in agony,” he stated. “Where is the key?”

“I keep it in my office…” he replied.

“Well,” Potter said, “I now have permanent scarring on my eye and have lost partial sight. You better get it pronto…”

Hocklart continued to stare at Potter for a moment in disbelief, before turning and running out of the room as fast as his legs could carry his rotund body.

It is common knowledge that wizards are not known for being renowned athletes, and Hocklart was no exception. Nevertheless, he hurtled down corridors, up stairs and through open plan cubicles as if he was chased by a soulsucker. He steamed into his office, red faced and panting. Sweat poured from his brow as he flung a picture from the wall, revealing a safe. With shaking hands, he entered the combination and got it wrong twice before managing to open the safe door. He grabbed the key, turned and made for the lab as if his life depended on it.

Potter was standing exactly where he was, and said nothing as Hocklart surged into the room and straight to the door. He unlocked the door and burst into the secure room. Recalling the jar had a red lid, Hocklart made a beeline for the shelf of files with red labels, grabbed the one labelled with the letter W for Wobberworm and started to flick through it. To his dismay, there was no sign of a material safety data sheet for Wobberworm mucus.

“It’s…it’s not…it’s not here,” he stuttered weakly.

“Perhaps it was filed under “M” for mucus?” Potter offered.

“Yes that must be it”, cried Hocklart (who at this stage was ready to grasp at anything). He grabbed the file labelled M and flicked through each page. Sadly, once again there was no sign of Mucus or Wobberworm.

“Well,” said Potter looking at his watch again. “I’m now permanently blind in one eye… let’s see if we can save the other one eh? Perhaps there is a mismatch between the jar colour and the file?”

Under normal circumstances, Hocklart would snort in derision at such a suggestion, but with the clock ticking and one eye left to save, it seemed feasible.

“Dammit”, he exclaimed, “Someone must have mixed up the labels.” After all, while Wobberworm mucus was damaging, it was certainly not fatal and therefore did not warrant a red cap on the jar. This is why I can’t trust anyone with my system! he thought, as he grabbed two orange files (one labelled W for Wobberworm and one labelled M for mucus) and opened them side by side so he could scan them at the same time.

Eureka! On the fifth page of the file labelled M, he found the sheet for Wobberworm mucus. Elated, he showed the sheet to Potter, breathing a big sigh of relief. He had saved the other eye after all.

Potter took the sheet and studied it. “It has all the necessary information, is up to date – and the formatting is really nice I must say.” He handed the sheet back to Hocklart. “But your system is broken”

Hocklart was still panting from his sprint to his office and back and as you can imagine, was absolutely infuriated at this. How dare this so-called auditor call his system broken. It had been audited for six years until now, and Potter had pulled a nasty trick on him.

“My system is not broken”, he spat vehemently. “The information was there, it was current and properly maintained. I just forgot my key that’s all. Do you even know how much effort it takes to maintain this system to this level of quality?”

A brief wave of exasperation flickered across Potter’s face.

“You still don’t get it…” he countered. “What was my intent when I told you I spilt Wobberworm mucus in my eye?”

To damn well screw me over, thought Hocklart, before icily replying “I don’t care what your intent was, but it was grossly unfair what you did. You were just out to get me because we have passed ISSO audits for the last six years.”

“No,” replied Potter. “My intent was to see whether you have confused the system with the intent of the system.”

Potter gestured around the room to the files. “This is all great eye candy,” he said, “you have dotted the I’s, and crossed the T’s. In fact this is probably the most comprehensive system of documentation I have ever seen. But the entire purpose of this system is to keep people safe and I just demonstrated that it has failed.“

Hocklart was incredulous. “How can I demonstrate the system works when you deliberately entrapped me?”, he spat in rage.

Potter sighed. “No wizards can predict when they will have an accident you know,” he countered. “Then it wouldn’t be an accident would it? For you, this is all about the system and not about the outcome the system enables. It is all about keeping the paperwork up to date and putting it in the files… I’m sorry Hocklart, but you have lost sight of the fact the system is there to keep people safe. Your organisation is at significant risk and you are blind to that risk. You think you have mitigated it when in fact you have made it worse. For all the time, effort and cost, you have not met the intent of the ISSO standards.“

Hocklart’s left eye started to twitch as he struggled to stop himself from throwing red jars at Potter. “Get out of my sight,” he raged. “I will be reporting your misconduct to my and your superiors this afternoon. I don’t know how you can claim to be an auditor when you were clearly out to entrap me. I will not stand for it and I will see you disciplined for this!”

Potter did not answer. He turned from Hocklart, put the jar of Wobberworm mucus back on the shelf where he had found it and turned to leave.

“For pete’s sake”, Hocklart grated, “the least you could do is face the label to the front like the other jars!”



I wrote this parable after being told the real life version of a audit by a friend of mine… This is very much based on a true story. My Harry Potter obsessed daughter also helped me with some of the finer details. Thanks to Kailash and Mrs Cleverworkarounds for fine tuning…


Paul Culmsee


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MOSS World

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Wow, Christian Buckley doesn’t waste any time. First up, watch this video then I will explain:

Now I am writing this at 8am and around 10pm last night I recorded this vid with him and now it has photos, montage and credits. I don’t think he slept.

The story behind this goes back a bit. When Dux first told me he was going to do a rap – I think 2 years ago or more at a Best Practices Conference – and showed me the lyrics to “SharePoint is Nice Nice Baby”, I thought “no that will never work because its framed too nicely”. (Of course I was completely wrong and Dux stole the show and continues to do so. )

Anyway, to me Mad World (the Gary Jule version) seemed the perfect song for SharePoint because it gave me the right sort of subtlety to work with my cynical sense of humour. Much of the lyrics were done years back and I sent them to Ruven Gotz and Peter Serzo who both sent back some mods. Somehow by chance the subject came up again in Wellington New Zealand with Christian Buckley. Christian happens to be a great singer who has been in bands in his past. Our hotel lobby had an old piano so the scene was set.  A bit of Lennon/McCartney-esque collaboration (Culmsee/Buckley of course) on lyrics and we were ready to go.

We did one take, with Mark Miller providing magnificent cinematography (the flowers fade in and fade out was sheer gold)

In case you are interested, here are the full lyrics as far as I remember them… enjoy!


All around me are new interfaces

Shared workspaces, my-site places

Run by admins who can’t tie their laces

Page loads snail pace, backups no trace


Out of box is just so boring, i think its kind of sad

My dreams of coding c-sharp are the best I ever had

I find it hard to tell you, the root hive’s really toast

When coders put in SharePoint its a really really

Mad world, Mad World


Metrosexuals try to make it facebook

Where’s my hairspray? where’s my hairspray?

Using designer to create a workflow

No-one follows, no-one follows


Out of box is just so boring, i think its kind of sad

My dreams of coding c-sharp are the best I’ve ever had

I find it hard to tell you, the root hive’s really toast

When coders put in SharePoint its a really really

Mad world, Mad World


Content database is like Godzilla

8 hour backups, 8 hour backups

Mess with settings inside web.config

Where’s my homepage? where’s my homepage?


Out of box is just so boring, i think its kind of sad

Code monkeys blame their admins but their memory leaks suck bad

I find it hard to tell you, the sequel’s out of space

When tech-geeks put in SharePoint its a very very

Mad world, MOSS world

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How to use Charlie Sheen to improve your estimating…

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Monte Carlo simulations are cool – very cool. in this post I am going to try and out-do Kailash Awati in trying to explain what they are. You see, I am one of these people who’s eyes glaze over the minute you show me any form of algebra. Kailash recent wrote a post to explain Monte Carlo to the masses, but he went and used a mathematical formula (he couldn’t help himself), and thereby lost me totally. Mind you, he used the example of a drunk person playing darts. This I did like a lot and gave me the inspiration for this post.

So here is my attempt to explain what Monte Carlo is all about and why it is so useful.

I have previously stated, that vaguely right is better than precisely wrong. If someone asks me to make an estimate on something, I offer them a ranged estimate, based on my level of certainty. Thus for example, if you asked me to guess how many beers per day Charlie Sheen has been knocking back lately, I might offer you an estimate of somewhere between 20 and 50 pints. I am not sure of the exact number (and besides, it would vary on a daily basis anyway) , so I would rather give you a range that I feel relatively confident with, than a single answer that is likely to be completely off base.

Similarly, if you asked me how much a SharePoint project to “improve collaboration” would cost, I would do a similar thing. The difference between SharePoint success and Charlie Sheen’s ability to keep a TV show afloat is that with SharePoint, there are more variables to consider. For example, I would have to make ranged estimates for the cost of:

  • Hardware and licensing
  • Solution envisioning and business analysis
  • Application development
  • Implementation
  • Training and user engagement

Now here is the problem. A CFO or similar cheque signer wants certainty. Thus, if you give them a list of ranged estimates, they are not going to be overly happy about it. For a start, any return on investment analysis is by definition, going to have to pick a single value from each of your estimates to “run the numbers”. Therefore if we used the lower estimate (and therefore lower cost) for each variable, we would inevitably get a great return on investment. If we used the upper limit to each range, we are going to get a much costlier project.

So how to we reconcile this level of uncertainty?

Easy! Simply run the numbers lots and lots (and lots) of times – say, 100,000 times, picking random values from each variable that goes into the estimate. Count the number of times that your simulation is a positive ROI compared to a negative one. Blammo – that’s Monte Carlo in a nutshell. It is worth noting that in my example, we are assuming that all values between the upper and lower limits are equally likely. Technically this is called a uniform distribution – but we will get to the distribution thing in a minute.

As a very crappy, yet simple example, imagine that if SharePoint costs over $250,000 it will be considered a failure. Below are our ranged estimates for the main cost areas:

Item Lower Cost Upper Cost
Hardware and licensing $50,000 $60,000
Solution envisioning and business analysis  $20,000 $70,000
Application development $35,000 $150,000
Implementation $25,000 $55,000
Training and User engagement $10,000 $100,000
Total $140,000 $435,000

If you add up my lower estimates we get a total of $140,000 – well within our $250,000 limit. However if my upper estimates turn out to be true we blow out to $435,000 – ouch!

So why don’t we pick a random value from each item, add them up, and then repeat the exercise 100,000 times. Below I have shown 5 of 100,000 simulations.

Item Simulation 1 Simulation 2 Simulation 3 Simulation 4 [snip] Simulation 100,000
Hardware and licensing 57663 52024 53441 58432 51252
Solution envisioning and business analysis 21056 68345 42642 37456 64224
Application development 79375 134204 43566 142998 103255
Implementation 47000 25898 25345 51007 35726
Training and User engagement 46543 73554 27482 87875 13000
Total Cost 251637 354025 192476 377768 267457

So according to this basic simulation, only 2 out of 5 shown are below $250,000 and therefore a success according to my ROI criteria. Therefore we were successful only only 40% of the time (2/5 = .4). By that measure, this is a risky project (and we haven’t taken into account discounting for risk either).

“Thats it?”, I hear you say? Essentially yes. All we are doing is running the numbers over and over again and then looking at the patterns that emerge from this. But that is not the key bit to understand. Instead, the most important thing to understand with Monte Carlo properly is to understand probability distributions. This is the bit that people mess up on and the bit that people are far too quick to jump into mathematical formulae.

But random is not necessarily random

Let’s use Charlie Sheen again to understand probability distributions. If we were to consider the amount of crack he smokes on a daily basis, we could conclude it is between 0 grams  and 120 grams. The 120g upper limit is based on what Charlie Sheen could realistically tolerate (which is probably three times the amount of normal humans). If we plotted this over time, it might look like the example below (which is the last 31 days):


So to make a best guess at the amount he smokes tomorrow, should we pick random values between 0 and 120 grams?  I would say not. Based on observing the chart above, you would be likely to choose values from the upper end of the range scale (lately he has really been hitting things hard and we all know what happens when he hangs with starlets from the adult entertainment industry).

That’s the trick to understanding a probability distribution. If we simply chose a random value it would likely not be representative of the recent range of values. We still have to pick a value from a range of possibilities, but some values are more likely than others. We are not truly picking random values at all.

The most common probability distribution people use is the old bell curve – you probably saw it in high school. For many variables that go into a monte carlo, it is a perfectly fine distribution. For example, the average height of a human male may be 5 foot 6. Some people will be larger and some will be smaller, but you would find that there would be more people closer to this mid-point than far away from it, hence the bell shape.

Let’s see what Charlie Sheen’s distribution looks like. Since we have our range of values, for each days amount of crack usage, let’s divide up crack usage into ranges of grams and see how much Charlie has consumed. The figure is below:

Amount Daily occurrences %
0-10g 16 50%
10-20g 6 19%
20-30g 4 13%
30-40g 1 3%
40-50g 1 3%
50-60g 0 0%
60-70g 2 6%
70-80g 1 3%
80-90g 0 0%
90-100g 1 3%
100-120g 0 0%

As you can see, according to the 50% of the time Charlie was not hitting the white stuff particularly hard. There 16 occurrences where Charlie ingested less than 10 grams. What sort of curve does this make? The picture below illustrates it.


Interesting huh? If we chose random numbers according to this probability distribution, chances are that 50% of the time, we would get a value between 0 and 10 grams of crack being smoked or shovelled up his nasal passages. Yet when we look at the trend of the last 10 days, one could reasonably expect that its likely that tomorrows value would be significantly higher than zero. In fact there were no occurrences at all of less than 10 grams in a single day in the last 10 days.

Now let’s change the date range, and instead look at Charlie’s last 9 days of crack usage. This time the distribution looks a bit more realistic based on recent trends. Since he has not been well behaved lately, there were no days at all where his crack usage was less than 10 grams. In fact 4 of the 9 occurrences were over 60 grams.

Amount Daily occurrences %
0-10g 0 0%
10-20g 3 33%
20-30g 1 11%
30-40g 0 0%
40-50g 1 11%
50-60g 0 0%
60-70g 2 22%
70-80g 1 11%
80-90g 0 0%
90-100g 1 11%
100-120g 0 0%


This time, utilising a different set of reference points (9 days instead of 31), we get very different “randomness”. This gets to one of the big problems with probability distributions which Kailash tells me is called the Reference class problem. How can you pick a representative sample? In some situations completely random might actually be much better than a poorly chosen distribution.

Back to SharePoint…

So imagine that you have been asked to estimate SharePoint costs and you only have vague, ranged estimates. Lets also assume that for each of the variables that need to be assigned an estimate, you have some idea of their distribution. For example if you decide that SharePoint hardware and licensing really could be utterly random between $50000-$60000 then pick a truly random value (a uniform distribution) from the range with each iteration of the simulation. But if you decide that its much more likely to come in at $55000 than it is $50000, then your “random” choice will be closer to the middle of the range more often than not – a normal distribution.

So the moral of the story? Think about the sort of distribution that each variable uses. It’s not always a bell curve. its also not completely random either. In fact you should strive for a distribution that is the closest representation of reality. Kailash tells me that a distribution “should be determined empirically – from real data – not fitted to some mathematically convenient fiction (such as the Normal or Unform distributions). Further, one should be absolutely certain that the data is representative of the situation that is being estimated.”

Since SharePoint often relies on some estimations that offer significant uncertainty, a Monte Carlo simulation is a good way to run the numbers – especially if you want to see how many variables with different probability distributions combine to produce a result. Run the simulation enough times, you will produce a new probability distribution that represents all of these variables.

Just remember though – Charlie Sheen reliably demonstrates that things are not often predictable and that past values are no reliable indicator of future values. Thus a simulation is only as good as your probability distributions in the first place


Thanks for reading


Paul Culmsee


p.s A huge thanks to Kailash for checking this post, offering some suggestions and making sure I didn’t make an arse of myself.

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SharePoint Webcasts: Reporting Services for the Really Really Good Looking

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imageLast year, Peter Serzo and I presented at the SharePoint Best Practices Conference in DC. We did an extremely serious talk called “SharePoint and SQL Reporting Services 2008 for the really really good looking” which rated rather well. As part of this, we recorded a bunch of screencasts that have never seen the light of day, so I thought that some would benefit from this being released to a wider audience.

Note: This post and content is really going make utterly no sense unless you have watched Zoolander. Even if you have seen the movie, before you launch into the webcasts, some scene setting is required.

The business need

Some time ago, Peter and I were contracted by the Derek Zoolander School for the Really, Really Good Looking after Derek saw Microsoft’s new SharePoint diagram when he accidentally picked up a “Computerworld” magazine. Apart from matching Derek’s suit colour rather nicely, the diagram captivated his imagination with the notion of “Insights”.

Zoolander thought that “Insight”, sounded like the perfect look to follow up from the highly successful “Magnum”, which he used to save the Malaysian prime ministers life. He took the diagram to his wife, and demanded that he must have “Insights” at all costs.


Zoolander’s wife saw the business problem that “Insights” would help to address. You see, the Derek Zoolander School for the Really, Really Good Looking, at great expense, custom developed an ERP system to manage everything you needed to know about male models. The system was called the “Computerised Records for Attractive People”…


The CRAP system stored all sorts of interesting information about male models, such as tracking their “hotness”, as well as important detail such as stated age versus actual age, and any cosmetic procedures that they have undertaken. After a long and expensive consultation, Peter and I concluded that SharePoint 2007, integrated with SQL Reporting Services, was the perfect solution to create the all important “Insights” that Zoolander so desperately needed.

As a result, we conducted a project kickoff meeting with Hansel and Peter tried to explain the architecture of reporting services using a nice diagram.


… but we worked out pretty quickly that this was not the way to explain how it all worked to poor old Hansel…


So instead, we went the live demo route. Being male models, custom development was totally out of the question. This solution had to be done using all out of the box methods in a quick and easy manner. Below are the four live demos that were recorded and now you can use them as inspiration for your own male modelling school.

  • Our first webcast illustrates how we were able to create a meaningful report from the CRAP system within five minutes.
  • The second webcast expanded on this idea, by illustrating how reports can be parameterised and linked together for drilldown reporting.
  • The third demo modifies the user profile store to allow for recording of each users unique ID in the CRAP system
  • The last webcast strings this all together for the final demonstration where we pimp the report to make it dynamic with no custom code.


image  image

The 5 minute report

Drilling down with Derek
image image

User Profiles for the really really good looking

Pimp my report


We hope you find some value from these webcasts and we look forward to hearing about your hot new look as a result!

Thanks for reading



Paul Culmsee

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The problem with sales guys… (a peek into complex adaptive systems)

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Vulgarity warning. Its the silly season, I am winding down and being more low-brow than usual with this post

There is this wonderful way to look at the world, through a lens of something called “Complex adaptive systems”. Unfortunately with a name like that, it is automatically doomed to be only spoken of and understood by, a small subset of those sort of dishevelled looking nerdy guys who others take the piss out of when they are not around.

The notion of complex adaptive systems explains many things, including why salesman can unintentionally really be damaging to an organisation. I thought that I needed to write about this, and given that I am going to talk about sales guys, I had to write in a manner commiserate with their level of understanding of how the world works. Since the chances of a sales guy reading my blog is probably low, I should be safe 🙂

So here we go.

Here is a sales guy. Although us geeks think they are assholes, for this metaphor we have to change our context of what an asshole actually is. I think of him more of a guy who gathers food and brings it to you.


Here is the world for a sales guy. He finds work, and feeds that work into the mouth of the organisation. For performing such a feat, he gets to nibble off a small morsel of the meal to keep for himself. If he feeds the organisation enough and makes it grow, he will get enough morsels to grow rather nicely himself. This is a pretty sweet deal if you are good at finding food, because your reward is a percentage of what you push into the organisations mouth. Therefore it is in the sales guys interest to find as much food as he can for the organisational “body”. In fact his performance is directly attributed to doing exactly that in the form of quotas or sales targets


At the other end of the chain, the implementers have to digest what has been fed them from mouth and produce output that makes clients happy. Therefore it is the people in the organisation that actually implement a project who are actually the assholes, not the sales guys. As a result, I can say with some confidence that most people reading this post, like myself, are all assholes.


As this cycle perpetuates over time, the body in between these two ends grows. To continue to feed this body and keep it growing, we need to seek out more food. To do this we try and incentivise our sales people to supply more food by offering them larger morsels if they make more ambitious targets.

Never forget the assholes

Now we all know that we have to eat a balanced diet with healthy foods. But some people find it a pain to do all of that preparation and effort and instead go and grab some Chinese takeout instead. To a sales guy who is being rewarded for the amount of food being delivered to the organisation, fast food is great! Remember that the sales guy only takes just enough of the food for no lasting effects and is the furthest away from the assholes to feel the negative effects on the organisational as a whole.

Now our sales guy starts to look like the image below.


Therefore, this process of incentivising sales guys by the amount of food that they pass into the mouth is not without its risks and often can damage the long term health of the organisational body. Fast food can be tolerated now and again of course. For example, we all get the occasional hankering for Kentucky Fried Chicken every 6 months or so, and delude ourselves that this time, unlike all of the other times, it will actually not be oily enough to power a small town and leave you with that queasy feeling that you get when your heart labours against your cholesterol.

This can be a self perpetuating cycle. For example, the sales guy feeds the organisation a blisteringly hot spicy lamb vindaloo. Naturally is a very unpleasant experience for the assholes and as a result, what is delivered to the customer is (literally) crap and costs much more than anticipated. This cost bleed puts pressure on the sales guys to feed the body to make up for the wasted time, effort and cost. But the sales guy is so far away from the assholes, it does not occur to him that it was the spicy lamb vindaloo was the wrong meal. Nor too, does he receive any feedback to let him know that the burning sensation still lingers.

So what does he do? He feeds an even spicier lamb vindaloo to the mouth. Why? because he now has learned how to find spicy lamb vindaloos and is reaping the rewards of many tasty morsels – a perfectly reasonable practice given that he is now put under pressure to deliver more food.

Despite good intentions…

This cyclical phenomenon is called the “ring of fire” and afflicts many organisations who just can’t seem to deliver projects on time and budget. The customers of these organisations, fed up with getting nothing but crap, start to look elsewhere, thereby increasing pressure and starting the cycle again. Management get all flustered and usually blame the assholes.

The essence of the notion of the complex adaptive system is that the assholes and sales guys need each-other. Attempting to optimise the sales guys performance in isolation, ultimately has a negative impact on the assholes, which in turn has a negative impact on the organization as a whole.  The organisation is a system that comprises of many parts that interact in different ways. The system is perfectly capable of self organising and self optimising. For example, if the sales guy feeds the organisation sushi and next time it is fed a burrito, the assholes have a certain amount of tolerance to deal with that. But when you optimise one end (reward for food) without considering the assholes at the other end, you actually reduce that tolerance to deal with change!

The lesson that should be learned here is that the command and control methods of problem solving or project management that operate by optimising one part of the system, will usually work in the short term, but to the long term detriment to the system as a whole. The result that I have seen first hand for many IT organisations in particular, is that they have developed a certain reputation in the market for being a bit on the nose because of their seeming inability to get a project completed. Once this happens, it is very very difficult for them to regain the lost trust.

Microsoft for example, has taken years to win back the hearts and minds of geeks for their actions more than a decade ago.

What sort of fast food is SharePoint?

image image

If SharePoint were a fast food, it would either be one of those giant steaks that you get your name on the wall if you finish, or the Guatemalan chilli that sent the normally invincible Homer into the spirit world. It is so seductive to the sales guys because it is in demand, but their distance to the assholes means that they will think it should be just like any other IT infrastructure oriented project to install. Therefore, some integrators will be doomed to repeatedly bite off more than they can chew and by the time they realise it, the long term damage will be done.

So what do you do?

If you accept that the organisation is a system and that optimising one part of it will likely impact the rest of the organisation, often in unpredictable ways, then incentivising has to be more strategically focussed. In other words, the true performance indicator on a good sales guy is actually the success of the project, because it is a much more reliable indicator of the sort of food being passed to the mouth and results in customer goodwill – social capital. If sales guys received their morsels based on the success of the project as a whole, then it would force them to interact more with the assholes to achieve that end and think a little more carefully about what they feed the organisation.

But self interest is a very strong force and there are very few sales guys that would be enthusiastic about that idea. This is of course the other big problem. The longer you leave it, the harder it is for an organisation to make the changes necessary to produce the outcomes that they aspire to.

If you want to see that in practice, look no further than the Copenhagen climate change conference.

Final note about thinking in terms of systems

Of course, if we are taking a complex adaptive systems view, then one could argue that the affect of all of this would be that your sales guys will leave and find organisations who feed them bigger morsels with much less effort of (heaven forbid) being judged on real outcomes. As a result, opportunities for sales may be lost to competitors and the organisation still suffers as a whole

This is the dilemma of systems thinking and what frustrates the hell out of the “command and control” world. You can just end up with a giant talkfest and never actually make a decision on anything because systems adapt in ways that can’t be predicted.

Is it any therefore wonder that command and control usually wins out? 


Thanks for reading


Paul Culmsee

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The rationale of a 5 year old

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Hahaha ahem – I found this funny. I am teaching my 11 year old daughter how to perform issue and dialogue mapping. Each night, we pick a relevant family topic, discuss all of the issues around the topic and my daughter maps the discourse.

Recently and the root question of the day was whether her little brother (Liam) should get a cat for Christmas. We already have a cat named Jessica and a detailed conversation unfolded, where my 5 year old outlined his reasons to the family. We all had a good laugh and by the end if the session, my 5 year old changed his mind and decided that he’d rather ask Santa for some lego. 

Check out how it unfolded.

Start: Root question, some basic background and Liam’s first two answers


Round 2. Mum and dad challenge both of the initial ideas and Liam offers a potential counterpoint. Unfortunately, Liam has the perfect comeback that his mother and I cannot argue with – Santa will take care of it!


Round 3. Liam offers a new reason why he should get a cat. It will help him with spilt milk. When challenged on the grounds of the new cat eating fish as well as milk, and the possibility of the cat not liking milk, Liam offered to hiss at it to protect the fish.


Round 4. Unable to get buy-in for the milk idea, Liam switches tack and comes up with quite a clever idea that has some merit. Our current cat has a particular talent for catching mice and then leaving what is left of them at the back door for our approval. Liam suggests that we can grow vegetables in the garden because of the fact that two cats are now hunting mice, thereby reducing the population (not bad logic for a 5 year old). Unfortunately for Liam, he is reminded that our current cat also has a habit of chewing plants in the herb garden now.


Round 5. My personal favourite. Mrs Cleverworkarounds suggests that Liam should not get a cat because there will be more cat poop to clean. When asked who will clean up said poo, Liam was adamant that it would not be him. When pressed for suggestions, he firstly says he will cover the mess with Kleenex and as alternative suggests that we can get a “cleaner man” to pick up the poo. When Liam was further challenged as to who the cleaner man is and how to find him, he suggested the police would help. He also then hit upon the idea of teaching the cat not to poo as well! 🙂


This proves that mapping discourse does work. At this point, faced with the prospect that he would have to clean up after the cat, Liam conceded defeat and asked for Star Wars lego instead.

The full map in context can be found below (click for the full size version).



Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee

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