Aidan Garnish

Collaboration Not Competition

SharePoint projects are like vegetables

SharePoint is often marketed as a way for businesses to deliver results quickly. The breadth of capabilities in SharePoint is impressive straight out of the box – collaboration, search, business intelligence, web content management and the rest. Because you get all of this without any custom development it is possible to deliver SharePoint solutions to the business very quickly without having to write a line of code.

At this point the title of my post may seem a little misleading. SharePoint and vegetable growing are definitely not similar in terms of speed of delivery or quick wins but bear with me.

I recently planted some vegetable seeds and I can now tell you from my limited gardening experience that it takes a while for lettuce, potatoes, chillies and tomatoes to make progress from being tiny seeds to being little shoots. Delivering results in the form of tasty things I can eat still seems a very long way off.

In a world where we are seemingly obsessed with instant gratification growing your own vegetables forces you to slow down and accept that whilst there are things you can do to encourage growth there is also a natural cycle that cannot be rushed.

Whilst sitting in the garden wondering how long it was going to take before I could make a meal from the things I was growing I started thinking about how different this was to how I spend my rather more fast paced working life delivering SharePoint solutions. However, the more I thought about it the more similarities I saw. A truly successful SharePoint implementation isn’t going to survive based on those initial quick wins it is going to be judged on the value that it provides to the business over time as it continues to grow and develop to maturity. I started thinking about the SharePoint projects I have been involved in and particularly those that involve intranets and lots of business users. Whilst SharePoint does provide a huge amount out of the box that can produce quick wins and deliver fast results there also seems to be a natural cycle to SharePoint success that cannot be rushed, although there are things you can do to speed it up.

Thanks for making it this far, I promise that this is where the similarities between vegetable growing and SharePoint start to become clearer, in my slightly warped mind anyway. In any SharePoint or gardening project there is initially a flurry of activity where the infrastructure or garden is prepared. Any existing content or compost is migrated from the current infrastructure or garden to provide a useful or fertile environment for users or seeds to become a part of.

The users or seeds are then given access to the content or compost and the first shoots of use or growth appear. At this point everything looks good and you could be fooled into thinking that your job as an IT professional/gardener is over, think again. Those users or seeds are going to need supporting or watering and some of them are simply going to lose faith with the project or wither and die unless you provide training or protection from the elements.

Over time the content or garden can become a bit of a mess and data cleansing or weeding is necessary otherwise your users or vegetables will not be able to get to the content or nutrients they need to prosper and meet their full potential. As with all SharePoint project or gardening tasks this is not something you can just do once and tick it off a list. It is a never ending process of supporting or watering, training or protecting, removing clutter or weeding.

Often a SharePoint project is seen like any other IT infrastructure project that has a start and an end date which will produce immediate results as soon as the magical project end date is reached. This is the gardening equivalent of digging over your vegetable patch, adding compost and nutrients to the soil and then going back indoors thinking your job was done. People are then surprised when nothing grows and the vegetable patch is still empty come the summer. When this happens in a SharePoint project it is usually the technology that gets the blame for underperformance rather than a lack of governance or assurance plan.

The concept of SharePoint as an ongoing process rather than a fixed term project is crucial to the success of SharePoint within an organisation. Although there are quick wins to be had when you first implement SharePoint depending on your circumstances the tastiest rewards will only come in time if you carefully tend to your installation and feed your users the right mix of training, knowledge and support.

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