Sunday, August 10, 2014

SharePoint Nirvana Part I: The Right Decision

I'd like to take a moment and write about something I feel very passionate about - SharePoint. This particular web log is not anything technical in nature but more about how to achieve something I call "SharePoint Nirvana". SharePoint Nirvana is that happy place all Microsoft SharePoint customers ascend to when they have planned and executed all of the crucial turning points involved in a large implementation before going live with the product itself in whatever form it takes.

Although each of these turning points may have many sub areas, the main ones to have on your radar are these:

  1. Make the right decision and involve the experts (focus of this article!)
  2. The Cloud Challenge! (where to put your environment)
  3. Designing your site hierarchy and taxonomy
  4. Aggregating and Propagating data
  5. Creating Work Spaces
  6. Governing the SharePoint landscape
  7. Set the tone for change and make it easy!

Make the right decision and involve the experts

This particular article is all about making the right decision and involving the right people at the right time. SharePoint is a product with endless possibilities. With that, comes many important decisions to determine. Should I go to the cloud? Or should stay on premise? What about 3rd party hosting? If I stay on premise, should I virtualize or stay physical? How important is high availability? What about failover? Should I have separate development, staging and production environments? Can I use SharePoint for our intranet? How about an extranet? How about a public website? What kind of customizations can I do with it? What are the limitations with out of the box? What's the difference between SharePoint 2013 and 2010? Once we have SharePoint deployed, what kind of a change will it be for my business users? Will it be hard to maintain? Will it work well for a small business like me?

With so many questions to consider, it's time to back up for just a second and ask yourself the question - why SharePoint? Is it the success of the product in the market place? Product referral from another business colleague? A case study you really liked reading? Or perhaps a demo you saw at a conference?

Whatever the case may be, be mindful you have the right tool for the right job. While SharePoint is highly known for its business integration needs and working well both as a collaboration and content management tool, it's probably not going to make the best solution as a CRM, or a time management tool, or some other tool - although it's highly likely you could make it do so if the price is right.

While I feel strongly SharePoint can do just about anything, I also feel it is sometimes purchased prematurely - before certain questions have been vetted. The very first question you should be asking yourself is - what is the business problem you are trying to solve for? Think about the answers to this question from your various business stakeholder groups and look for the following key words in your assessments:

Are people asking for:

  • Collaboration
  • Sharing
  • Better Communication (publishing)
  • Easy ways to managing content (manage documents)
  • Staying connected
  • Finding information easily
  • Integrating information

Avoid basing anything on the following words:

  • SharePoint
  • Website
  • Portal
  • Intranet
  • Extranet
  • Public site

If the first set of bullets reside with your assessment from your stakeholders, then it's time to dive in further. Bring in a Microsoft sales rep (if you haven’t already) and have them look at your portfolio of products and ask them to demonstrate SharePoint and how it could integrate with your business needs and tools.

If you would like to get less of a sales approach, really consider SDPS (SharePoint Deployment Planning Services). It's free if you have an Enterprise agreement with Microsoft and it’s a small cost if you're not. Basically, this allows you to work with a SharePoint Architect like myself between 1-3 days and start to truly addressing your stakeholders questions with some high level planning effort and at the same time, this provides you with a glimpse of the roadmap scope of work with SharePoint might really look like.

Once you have a high level plan in place - you now can see the road before you. You still need to do further requirements gathering to determine true scope, and maybe even to determine what your environment will look like. But you are on your way, my friends and now you have made your business case that SharePoint really is the right tool for the job. You've engaged the right people and if you like the process you might engage with them further. The point is, you involved the experts. And that's important to ensure the road to SharePoint Nirvana is a good one.

At this point, you’re about ready to submit a budget and get this project underway.  But before you do, and as you further engage experts such as Microsoft or SharePoint consultants such as myself, please don’t be afraid to think BIG but start small.  What I mean by that is, don’t try to boil the ocean with one project.  In fact, in my 10 year history with SharePoint related projects, the ones that succeed the most are the ones that split their projects up into smaller projects. Get your requirements and design done, fine-tuned, estimated, and maybe even fine-tuned again and reduced in scope to meet your initial needs and goals and then create a second or even in some cases a third project that encompasses the build, deployment and support phases of your bigger project.  You’ll find you gain efficiencies and accuracies because the later parts of the project are truly based on an actual design and not a pie in the sky.

This is the road to SharePoint Nirvana.  Keep following it.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Please stay tuned for future articles that address the other areas on your radar for reaching what I like to refer to as "SharePoint Nirvana".

-Ryan Corliss