No one's going to thank you for SharePoint Dial-Tone

…yes, this is about governance

(Warning, shameless self promotion will appear at the bottom of this post: Reader discretion is advised.)

From the phone company’s point of view, if they provide you with dial-tone and then connect your call, they are delivering on their promise. You don’t pick up the phone every day and say “Wow, dial-tone! The phone company is doing such a great job today”.

SharePoint is a much more complex system, so why does IT often act as if all it takes to successfully deploy SharePoint is to deliver “dial-tone”?

  • The service is up == Dial tone
  • The service is performing == Calls go through
  • Let’s limit training and support costs == You can only dial these six numbers (Huh!?!)

Caught you with that last parallel, eh? But, if you take a look at the discussions of governance that are out there, you’ll see that they are very much focussed on dial-tone-like approaches with many limitations on what users may do (i.e. very IT centric).

Let me ask you:

  • If your SharePoint service is rock solid, fast and has 100% uptime. Will SharePoint be successful?
  • If your backup and disaster recovery processes are extensively tested and well understood. Will SharePoint be successful?
  • If your source code is designed correctly, well tested, and responsive. Will SharePoint be successful?

I could go on with a much longer list of items that many governance plans cover, but we have found that all of these elements are NBNS TM: Necessary But Not Sufficient for a successful deployment.

By the way, when I say “we” I’m referring to a group of SharePoint people (Paul Culmsee, Dux Sy, Andrew Woodward and me) who have found that we had a lot in common with our approaches to SharePoint deployment projects.

We have come to realize that all of these governance plans, efforts, practices and initiatives are NBNS unless you have one more, essential element: Shared Commitment and Shared Understanding. (Ok, that’s technically two elements, but Shared Commitment comes from Shared Understanding, so they are connected.)

Collectively, we have found that building Shared Understanding & Shared Commitment into our projects has been spectacularly successful. Now, making this happen requires a shift in thinking, and it requires tools and techniques that require some practice but are not hard to learn. Read Paul’s series: One Best Practice to Rule Them All for a lot more detail.

I’m really excited to report that all four of us will be touching on these topics when we speak at the upcoming Best Practices conference in Washington DC in August. But, I am even more excited to tell you that since the conference has brought us all to the same place at the same time, the four of us are going to do a deep dive on Successful SharePoint Project Delivery during a three-day workshop running August 19th – 21st in the DC area (the week before Best Practices).  This is a fantastic opportunity, as we come from the corners of the earth (Australia, England, Canada, USA) and so getting together is a rare event. Here is a post with more details: Our goal is to run a highly interactive workshop for a small number of attendees, where we will work through – in detail – the thinking and the tools of our approaches, while having enough time to talk to you one-on-one to help you deal with the unique circumstances of your own organization. The cost for the three days will be $1,750 per attendee, with a 10% discount for those who are also attending the Best Practices conference the following week.

If you are interested, please let us know by visiting Dux’s site: http://sp.meetdux.com/workshop_interest.aspx (this is not a registration site, just a place to record if you are interested).

I look forward to seeing many of you at the Best Practices Conference, and I hope some of you will consider attending our workshop.

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Free SharePoint Conference in Toronto

 

 

 

 

You want to attend one of the big conferences this year, don’t you? You want to hear SharePoint experts speak so that you can get great new ideas and you like bumping into fellow SharePointers for networking and fun.

But…

Justifying $500 – 1,000 for airfare, $300 – 600 for food and hotel and more than $1,000 for the registration fee just won’t fit your departments (or your personal) budget?

Well…

If you live in the Greater Toronto Area, you have a fantastic option coming up very soon. On July 11th, there is going to be a FREE conference in Toronto. This is put on by the community (i.e. unpaid SharePoint experts). Microsoft is lending us their meeting rooms at their head office in Mississauga.

And…

If you think that you’ll be getting any less of an experience than you would at a ‘big’ conference take a look at who’s talking:

Bill Brockbank  – MVP
Reza Alirezaei  – MVP, Author, International Conference Speaker
Rob Windsor – MVP, International Conference Speaker

The co-author of Professional Microsoft® SharePoint® 2007 Design by Wrox Publishing, Coskun Cavusoglu will be there and others that I’ve seen speak before include Kanwal Khipple, and Shai Petel.

And, of course, me! You can see me here for free, or you can pay to see me speak at the Best Practices conference in Washington in August. I’ll be presenting my talk on MindMapping for the Information Architect, which was rated 3rd out of 75 sessions by attendees at the February Best Practices conference in San Diego.

See the complete list of speakers on the site.

So…

Hear some of the best in the business; get all the knowledge and networking that you need and want; get a free lunch (yes, it does exist); and, like the guy on the ING Direct ad says: “Save your money”.

I hope I’ll see you there!

Register on-line at: http://www.sharepointsaturday.org/toronto/

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Great Turn-Out at the Toronto SharePoint Camp

These types of events have often been very technically focused, so I wasn’t sure how many people would turn out for my sessions on “Mind Mapping Tools for the Information Architect” and “Effective Requirements Gathering Workshops – How to organize and run them”. I was pleasantly surprised when my room filled up nicely (between 40 – 60 people at each session), with quite a few staying for both.

I attended some really interesting sessions as well:
  – MOSS Search: Why it’s not enough to just turn it on by Nadeem Mitha
  – Effective Deployment of SharePoint Publishing Sites by Ivan Neganov
  – Architecture into Implementation: The practical limits of people and SharePoint by Eli Robillard

For those who are looking to download my presentations, they are at the following link:

http://bit.ly/AoF8

The items that begin with “Ruven Gotz” are the actual presentations. The rest are PDF’s of Mind Maps that I used as examples.

For more on my demo of Balsamiq Mockups, see the Balsamiq site: http://www.balsamiq.com

Congratulations to Eli Robillard and Bill Brockbank (and a ton of other volunteers) for putting together a great event. There were well over 200 attendees and I heard a lot of positive comments from a number of “Happy Campers”.

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This is going to be fun…

There’s a new blog in town and if I tell you it’s called The SharePoint Mad Scientist, then I’ve told you just about all you need to know. If I tell you that it’s written by Mike Watson, that’ll fill in the rest of the picture.

If you want to check it out, read this post first. You’ll learn that Mike comes from years at Microsoft, but is now with Quest and that his mind doesn’t necessarily work the same as yours and mine, but that’s what makes his stuff interesting. I’m looking forward to his impact on the SharePoint world, both from his work at Quest from the book he’s working on with Joel Oleson.

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When the going gets tough, the tough get going…to the SharePoint Best Practices Conference

I’m going to the Best Practices Conference in San Diego, and I went to the last one in Washington as well. It’s true that I am a speaker, but I signed up to attend the last one before I knew I was going to speak. I just knew that I was going to learn a ton based on the speaker list, and I did. 

Times are pretty tough right now, but hopefully ROI still remains king. If you can justify the short-term cost with short, medium and long-term gains, you’ll have a pretty good chance of getting management to see that it’s worth the cost to send you. Here’s something I overheard at the last one: “I went to the experts panel, and now I know what I need to do for the next six months: I’m set.”

SharePoint can be a nasty beast: Handle it properly and it will reward you, but screw up – even a little bit – and be prepared to suffer the consequences. Last week, Joel Oleson (www.sharepointjoel.com) was here in Toronto, and I got to the answer to a question that I was about to learn the hard way. Joel’s going to be at the conference, and he’s very approachable. You’ll be able to ask him your questions and save yourself some considerable pain.

I’m a huge (long-distance) fan of Paul Culmsee (www.cleverworkarounds.com). He’s going to tell you about SharePoint ROI, and more importantly, he’s going to set you straight on “Wicked Problems”. SharePoint implementations often fail due to these types of problems. Learn from Paul how to tame your wicked problems and you could save your company the tens, or hundreds of thousands of dollars that a failed implementation could cost.

Getting governance right is one of the most important factors in a successful SharePoint implementation. At the conference there will be no-less than four sessions on governance that you just should not miss. Paul Galvin (http://paulgalvin.spaces.live.com/blog/) was my favourite speaker last year: I’ll be sure to attend his and Natalya Voskresenskaya’s (spforsquirrels.blogspot.com) governance talk this year.

To shamelessly plug myself:  I’m going to talk about requirements gathering and how to communicate with clients and stakeholders.  If you can’t get the requirements right, you can’t deliver what the users need and your project will be a failure. I have developed a collection of techniques and tools that help me make this process (which is really, really hard) a bit easier. As I’ve refined these techniques I’ve had great success in delivering what’s needed (even more important than delivering what’s asked for).  I’m pretty sure that these techniques work because our clients invite us back for return engagements. I was also lucky enough to lead a SharePoint project that won this year’s Information Worker Solution of the Year award from Microsoft Canada. (First shameless plugs, and now bragging… sorry.)

So, bottom line: It’s about the bottom line. Save your company money and come to the SharePoint Best Practices Conference.

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MindManager Version 8 Released Today

 

Those of you who know me, know that I consider Mindjet’s MindManager is the greatest invention since sliced cheese. I use it for almost everything that you could think of (and a few that you couldn’t).

I’ve only had a couple of hours to test the new version so this is just a short post with my first impressions.

The interface has barely changed: It still exhibits the Office 2007 style of interface, making excellent use of the ribbon. They’ve cleaned up the fit and finish in subtle ways, redrawing icons and making good use of shadow, anti-aliasing and some slight colour adjustments. People who look at it assume that it’s a Microsoft Office product because it just fits in so well and everyone has the same comment: I’ll bet Microsoft buys it and adds it to Office in the near future.

The major new features of this new release are around publishing and collaboration. MindManager is now available as a rich desktop application and as a fully-featured browser-based tool that allows you to upload and edit your mind-maps via the web. This extra-cost service will be a major benefit when you have distributed groups that need to view and edit maps as a team. It also means that you can view and update maps from anywhere that you can get an internet connection, even if you don’t have your laptop with you.

The other great collaboration/publishing feature is that you can export an interactive map via PDF. This flash-embedded PDF allows the user to navigate the map, including expanding/collapsing items, viewing notes and zooming in and out, all without downloading a MindMap viewer. You can also save as a flash file that can be embedded into a web page (watch this space for an example – coming soon).

Another new feature that looks very interesting is the database access functionality: This allows MindManager to attach to an external database (Excel, Access, SQL Server, Oracle, etc.) and bring the values directly into the map. 

So, here’s the bottom line on my quick first impressions about upgrading to Version 8: If you have a requirement for the new web based share and edit features, or if database linked maps are important to you, then this is a compelling upgrade. However, at $129 to upgrade (and $179 after December 31st), the majority of functionality is already available in MindManager 7 Pro and the upgrade may not be necessary for you.

Stay tuned for more details as I use MindManager in the “real-world” for my ongoing projects.

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Wheat from Chaff

When you search the net for SharePoint answers, how do you know if what you find is a good answer or not? Sometimes a post that’s been around a long time comes back much earlier in the results, even if newer and better approaches have been documented or discovered.

Into the fray jumps StackOverflow.com where people can vote answers up or down. This site is targeted mostly at developers, but even though it only launched recently it already has over 200 SharePoint questions many of which are not directly about programming.

Some of the nice features are how the site is very reputation driven: People who have built up more reputation have the power to do more things, like edit questions or answers; answers that become outdated can be voted down, allowing better answers to float to the top over time.


It’s still early days for this site, but it looks really promising to me.

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Folders? No Way! Way!!!

Today, Joris Poelmans (of JOPX on SharePoint) wrote a post against the use of folders in SharePoint. Now don’t get me wrong, I too spend a good deal of my time explaining to customers why folders should be avoided in SharePoint. As Joris says: “NOOOOO …. metadata is the way to go in SharePoint”.

However, there are some cases where folders are absolutely the way to go and I want to tell you about my favourite example.

My customer has a team-site used for collaboration by the Human Resources teams in Toronto, Hong Kong, and Los Angeles. Most of the content on the site is shared among all groups, but there are some documents under the control of the VP of HR that are specific for each location. These documents should not be seen by anyone other than the targeted groups.

We already know that audience targeting is not an answer when security matters.

The solution is to create three folders, one for each location, and secure each folder so that only members of the appropriate groups can see them. This means that only members of the Hong Kong group can see the Hong Kong Folder. The VP of HR of course has access to all three folders, so that he can add/edit/delete documents from any folder.
The final step that makes this really work, and avoids an extra click for the user, is to create a default view that is a “no-folders view”. With a no folders view, all the documents are displayed in “flat” format, with no folders in the way. However, the security that you’ve applied to the folder is still in effect, so you will only see files that you have the rights to see.

When you create the view, expand the “Folders” section and select “Show all items without folders”.


The bottom line is: Never use folders in SharePoint, except where they simplify or enhance functionality.

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Populate My Sites with staff pictures when you go-live

SharePoint’s people search is a SharePoint feature that many organizations want to take advantage of. (I’ve heard stories of people sitting for weeks within 25 feet of a new co-worker, and even having e-mail conversations with them without realizing who they are.)

However, at the time that most SharePoint deployments “go live”, the users have not yet had an opportunity to fill-in their My Site data. This especially applies to the employee picture. Adding pictures is an element of My Sites and people search that adds great value.

 
(Some random staff pictures)

It’s pretty boring for your new users if the first time they do a people search, they just get a bunch of placeholders.

Steven Van de Craen stepped in with a great solution: He wrote an event handler that gets attached to a picture library.

  • – The document library is loaded with headshots, each named with user id (account name) of that person (e.g. Bob Smith’s picture is named bsmith.jpg)
  • – The event handler updates the profile picture URL property for that user’s profile
  • – For our client, we used everyone’s security badge headshots as the default picture. As most people HATE their badge headshots, this is ample motivation for them to get into their MySite to change the picture.


Note: You can prevent your users from changing the image, but I’d recommend against this. You should educate your users with ground-rules around their pictures (no “back of the head” shots, or holding up things that obscure the face: The image must be recognizable).

The only problem with Steven’s solution is that it can be tricky to install and configure. To the rescue comes Itay Shakury who wrapped the event handler into an easy to deploy feature.

We’ve used this at a client, and it worked out really well: The day we went live, every employee had a profile picture (and a strong desire to go into their My Site and replace it!).

I can’t finish this post without sending out a thank you to my colleague, Brian Lalancette who discovered and implemented this solution.

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SharePoint Best Practices Conference

Last week I attended the SharePoint Best Practices conference in Washington DC. I learned a lot and I had a great time. This was the first Best Practices (BP) conference put on by Bill English and Ben Curry of MindSharp. The BP conference was a great follow on to their recently published book: SharePoint Best Practices. I found the conference to be well organized and well run. I heard that there were a couple of glitches, but none were obvious to me. If you can get yourself down to the next one in California (in February, I think), I would highly recommend it.

The 350 attendees were a mixed group, without about 2/3 being “technical” and 1/3 being in the “CIO/Information Architect/Project Manager/Director” category (if you can call that group a category).

I found value in all the sessions that I attended, but my favourites were from Paul Galvin, Ed Hild, Mark Ferraz and Vanessa Williams.

I also presented a session on “Mind Mapping for the Information Architect”. I felt that the presentation went really well: I had some great discussions with many attendees afterwards. I promised the attendees that I would make my material available after the conference. I am currently working on that; look for a new post soon.

During the keynote, Tom Rizzo, Director of the SharePoint group at Microsoft was describing how difficult it is describe SharePoint concisely. When you point to “Exchange Server”, you can say “that’s an e-mail server” and when you point to “SQL Server”, you can say “that’s a database server”. But what can you say when you point to a SharePoint Server? I know that we’ve all had this problem…  So, here was my single favourite line from the conference: According to Tom, the reason that it’s so hard is because “SharePoint is a floor wax AND a dessert topping”. Ok, you may not find that funny, but I thought it was hilarious.

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