Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Volition Services LLC > Office Over Easy
Official blog for Volition Services LLC and written by Tiffany Songvilay. Topics include SharePoint 2010, Social Networking, Training, and Governance.
December 06
Checklist: How to create a Record Center

Link to document

I'm not claiming that this information isn't already out there for any SharePoint pro whose quick with an internet search. But considering that I don't have to build a Record Center from scratch every day, I put this checklist together as I was building a pilot this week and figured I'd post it in case it could save someone else some time. I'll update it to 2013 whenever I get the call to develop a Record Center in the new version of SharePoint.

What I've attempted to do in this document is list out the order in which certain things need to be done so that you don't have to go back and redo something later. For example, make sure to activate the Library and Folder Based Retention feature on the Hub site collection before creating a content type. Without that feature activated, you won't even see the option to add an Information Management Policy and you'll have to do an internet search to jog your memory as to why that's not showing up. Even something as simple as remembering to add the site columns to your content type before trying to add a retention stage could be the difference between needing to take a few pain killers to get through the frustration of the afternoon. 

I've highlighted the steps in yellow that require access to Central Admin for those of you who don't have farm-level permissions in your Test/Dev environments. Keep in mind that you could complete all the items in yellow in one sitting with a farm admin and then start back at the top of the list as a site collection admin to build out the Hub and Record Center at your leisure.

Keep in mind that this is a pilot for the simplest of all requirements. I am literally showing them what SharePoint 2010 Record Center can do out of the box. They're not an Enterprise and I suspect that we'll be able to meet their needs with one Record Library. The fact that I created a new web app to do that is simply an exercise in scalability and because you can only turn off Recycle Bin (to my knowledge) at the web app level. 

This isn't meant to be a treastise on Record Center best practices though feel free to comment if you see that I've missed a step and I suppose it could scale to any site that uses content types. This document is not a training document as it simply lists out the activities but I have linked to how-to documents where I thought more information would be relevant.

Link to document

References and thanks to @GKM2Solutions, @nkhamis, @PhillipChilds, @MichalPisarek, and @DonLueders for keeping their old blog posts archived. 

 

 

October 03
How to budget for training

1. Decide how many people will actually attend training.

You can put the total number of employees in your proposal to management but never use that number to get quotes from vendors. The quotes will be way too high and it will end up making your ROI look very poor at the end of the year. Small ROI means no money for training next year. As an example, if you tell a vendor that you want to train 10,000 employees, then the cost to you is the same if 10,000 employees show up or if only 500 attend class. Training quotes aren’t like catering contracts, you don’t pay per head; you pay by the class. So, if you’re delivering enough classes to train 10,000 people, then you are offering (and paying for) way too many classes. On top of that, attendance looks low when your manager looks at the class rosters and now it looks like no one is coming to the training you’re providing. Do you see how this happened? How we all got to a place where training is no longer in the budget? Start this exercise by admitting that there is no way that all 10,000 employees will attend training even if you make it required.

Not everyone who is affected is going to attend training either, so the number gets even lower. You are going to reach more people than will ever attend a class. Reach is when someone comes back after attending a class and tells someone that the class was good or shares the tip sheet with a co-worker or shows their boss how to do something that makes them more productive. Reach is the service desk sending people out to watch the video long after the vendor has left the building. Ask your Six Sigma expert how many people one trained person can reach in an organization. It’s not as many as a dissatisfied customer, but for the purposes of this exercise, I suggest targeting an audience of 30% of the total number of employees who will use the new tool as a critical path in their business process. So, if it’s Office, then you only count people who spend their day in front of a PC and then take 30% of that number to come up with your audience. Big companies turn into small businesses real quick.

When budgeting, the trick is to figure out how many people you would have to train to reach the number of employees who actually use the product for critical business functions. That’s a mouthful. What I’m saying is that chances are that 10,000 employees don’t rely on Windows to make better business decisions. It’s great that it does so much cool stuff, but let’s face it, once you record a video of how to put Windows 8 in Classic Shell mode so people have the Start button again, you're done with the majority of training you need to do on launch day. Do 10,000 people need to know how to add and create tiles? Better question - do 10,000 people care? If IT did a poor job of communicating and people showed up one day with Windows 8 on their desktop, then training will merely be a feedback loop to collect complaints. My suggestion is always to keep as many people out of the classroom as possible. Hands-on training for 10,000 people to learn Windows 8 is absolutely a waste of money.

Windows 8 is most relevant to people with touchscreen devices and those who are going to use tiles to surface BI. To create a buzz about the value of Windows 8, focus on the people who are going to love it. Training on a new operating system in a managed PC environment is only affecting the people who can log in as administrators of PC’s anyway. That’s nowhere near 10,000 folks. The trick to budgeting for training is to only pay for the people who will come to training. And the trick to getting people to come to training is to make each class extremely relevant. Get the masses through their first day - opening Outlook, checking the weather, putting a picture of their kids on their desktop, and searching for documents. They’re already going to be frustrated enough that they have to change that much; don’t get greedy. Design training around the audience - have help files grouped in sections for business travelers, office users, and remote workers.

2. Pick a price per head that you’re willing to pay.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sure, we’d all like to train everyone for $2/head, but coffee and sodas and cookies and doughnuts in the back of the room will cost you more than that (and if you weren’t planning to include refreshments – big mistake – food is a big draw to convince someone who’s on the fence to attend a training class).

Instead, think about this number in terms of an hourly wage. How many hours of company time (lost productivity) are you willing to pay for one employee to get trained on the new toolset? How much is it REALLY going to cost the company to train everyone? This is a much bigger number than that quote you just got. Employees are the number one cost to companies. The longer you keep them away from their desks, the less likely their boss will be to allow them to attend a class.

Human Resources can probably provide you with an average cost per hour of how much employees cost the company, but if you’re just looking for an estimate, then $37/hour is the weighted average that Siemens Communication used in a 2007 study on how much money companies lose due to fragmented communications amongst team members (interesting read but the link I had expired). So, for the purposes of our estimate, tack another $5/head onto that figure for catering and you’ve got a pretty good starting point for how much your company might be willing to spend on training next year. Keep in mind that this is not suggesting that training courses are only an hour long, just that an hour is about all the company is probably willing to pay for. That means that you will have to figure out how to make the productivity gains justify each additional hour spent in class. Design your curriculum with this in mind. If you can’t save them 15 mins/ week for the first month after they attend class, then you’ve just burned one more hour of the company’s time to the tune of $37 an hour.

So here’s what we’ve got so far:

($37 + catering cost/head) x .3(total # of employees affected) = min training budget for one tool
 
3. Decide how many tools you need to train on.
 
Don’t panic. Office 2013 is one tool even though it’s multiple applications. The idea behind this exercise is to ensure that your training plan is in line with your technology roadmap. If you are deploying a new operating system at the same time as you are deploying a new version of Office, then that counts as two tools and you get 90 minutes to train them. But if you are deploying one tool at a time, then you have to teach two classes.
 
IT implementation plans rarely consider that it will cost the company much less to pay for training development and delivery of all the tools that are integrated with one another at one time than it will be to repeat the process for each tool at different times of the year. Giving users training just in time, as the product is deployed to their machine, is the key to user adoption. While it makes sense to teach them everything at once and it is cheaper that way, you have to balance that with the fact that it’s a waste of time to teach something that they aren’t going to be able to use for six more months. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t pay to have the content developed and then just have someone in house deliver it later.
 
As an example, if you are deploying SAP in the same year as you are replacing hardware with a new operating system and a new version of Office, then you would probably use two training vendors, right? But if you are integrating SAP into Excel, Access, and SharePoint, then why not have a class for your SAP users and teach them the new features of Excel while they’re in there? Teaching two separate training classes isn’t helping them put together why you did both implementations this year. Whenever possible, group applications together on the same quote. Seek out a vendor that can do both SAP and Office training together.
 
And if you’re deploying six new tools in the same year and everyone is affected and none of the software applications are related, then you might want to reconsider. You might not, but realize that it’s going to cost you more than the company is willing to pay in the way of corporate profit and loss and now you’re stuck with no training budget because you came in too high and demanded too much of the company’s time to do it all. At the very least, this exercise allows you to line item each training program. If one gets slashed, you still have enough money to deploy training on other applications. I know it’s hard enough to get approval in an Enterprise to deploy new software that your business desperately needs. That’s why you need to make training count. The free classes that the software vendors offer are great but they are not going to be customized to your complex business scenarios and unique needs. And it only gets worse.
 
4. Figure out how many critical business processes are going to change.
 
Whether they are improved or not, teaching users how to do a new process using a new tool is much more complex than teaching them how to do things the same way they’ve always done them using a new tool. And this is where most companies opt out of training. They figure that there isn’t much change between two versions of the same software, so users will pretty much figure it out on their own. The number one reason I heard why companies opted out of Office 2007 was because they felt it was going to cost too much to train users on the new user interface – The Ribbon. Pshh. Do you all remember what it was like before the ribbon? Of course you don't! And in six years, you're not going to remember what Windows was like before tiles either. In the case of The Ribbon, there was a 15-minute video on Microsoft.com that trained people for free and you can bet there will be resources available for Windows 8 and The Next Office as well.
 
Unfortunately, training vendors in 2007 really played this up in the hopes of making a bunch of money and it turned into quite a backlash for the entire industry. Companies panicked and didn’t deploy Office 2007 at all. The real losers were the users who missed out on some amazing features designed to help them get their work done faster and with less frustration. The ribbon should have been the least of their worries and that's how you need to position tiles. Start communicating NOW and take a survey to learn how many of your users are planning to buy a new PC in the next year. <- That's the number of people Windows 8 training will be relevant for. 
 
If you are going to roll out to the next version of Office and Windows 8 but stay on SharePoint 2010 – SHAME ON YOU! You robbed your company of the integration between MOSS and Office 2007 and made it that much harder for your users to adopt the new technology that you did deploy and now you're going to repeat the same mistake again. For the sake of our formula, not rolling out to Office 2013 and SharePoint 2013 will cost you more in the way of training complexity. It will take longer to teach users how to work around the lack of integration then it will be to just go ahead and show them how to create site collections on Office365. Remember, good governance isn't about telling users what they can't do; it's about taking them on a tour of what is available to them and explaining why there are certain fences built to keep them out of dangerous areas. By the time you show them what IS possible with the toolset, the list of things they can't do seems irrelevant.
 
This is why some companies opt to bring someone in to do analysis prior to training development. Bringing in a vendor just to identify pain points and run skills assessments isn't a bad idea. This information can then be delivered to all future vendors and will save you from paying everyone you hire to do the same analysis. Make sure that they figure out what it’s going to take to align both the IT vision and the corporate objectives with end user efficiency. They’ll deliver a gap analysis that tells you where your users are in terms of skillset versus where you want them to be and they will publish recommendations as to what the company needs to do to get everyone to a baseline of competency.
 
So, where did we end up?
$42 x .3(employees) x (1 +.3(# of additional tools)) + cost of audience analysis = training budget for the year
 

Example: In a company with 10,000 user affected by the introduction of Windows 8 and Office 2013 with no other rollouts planned.

[($42 x 3,000) x (1 +.3(2))] + 20% = $196,560

On a proposal, that comes out to about $20/head to train 10,000 employees. So, if you want to skip all of this and you need a number for the scenario above right now. Then, use that one. Just multiply your total number of employees times $20 and be done with it. The good news is that no one ever believes a number that low, so they’ll usually throw in a little extra. Which is good news because…
 
5. We did not factor in multiple locations into this equation.
 
Typically, travel is another line item in the budget, and we all know that travel expenses can kill you. For the vendors part, just make sure you get an all-inclusive rate (seriously, who wants to deal with expense reports and receipts from these guys?) and write into the contract that you are not paying for the time it takes the presenter to travel to and from the event. You give them your budget and then agree with them on what they can deliver for that price keeping in mind that the more locations you add, the more likely you will have to go with a larger firm that has local offices. Now, for that price, you’re stuck with canned content (not customized to your business needs), fewer participants because these classes run all day and may even be delivered off-site, as well an inconsistent user experience based on the fact that you have multiple presenters.
 
On the other hand, if you go for a highly customized training program, then you need to factor in another $1800 per week for each week that you or someone like you is going to have to spend out on the road (higher than that if you plan to book on short notice). A successful training program means that you don’t send the vendor in to do your dirty work for you. They can still deliever the content for you, but a representative from corporate needs to be on hand to help them answer the tough questions from the users about why we're deploying now and to hear firsthand their frustrations and celebrations about the product set. I typically suggest delivering the content twice for each off-site facility with 300 or more affected users. You can minimize expense by traveling to multiple cities in one week, so if you have two locations you want to travel to, then estimate two separate weeks of travel (I like to wait about three weeks between each class). It seems trivial but by the end of the year, most people realize that they didn’t budget enough on this line item. The quickest way I've found to piss people off about a software deployment is to only offer training at the corporate office. It's cheaper to send a trainer to them than it is to fail. 
September 04
When the rate isn't right

As an independent consultant, I get a lot of calls asking me to triple hop. This is my term for when a recruiter is placing a candidate for an even bigger consulting firm and everyone between me and the client needs to make a profit on my skillset. My rate is reduced to compensate the bigger firm for finding me work and then that firm pays an even bigger company for having a relationship with a client who is willing to pay way too much for consulting services. I call it triple hopping because I’m three degrees removed from the actual client but I might as well call it a pyramid scheme.

Assuming that each consulting company is marking up 40%, then a client paying $250 an hour will be charged $150 by the recruiter and the consultant will get $90.

Pay your own sales staff. I did the math at one point and decided that discounting my rate 35% was still fair for the company who found me the client. If your skills are worth $150 an hour, then you are perfect for triple hopping. If you went into consulting to make more money, then this is your niche. If you went into consulting to work for yourself, pick your own projects, and have more time off, then I suggest becoming a sales person for yourself.
 
Profile a company that pays $150 an hour for consulting in addition to people you’ve worked for in the past and companies you’d very much like to get into, then pay yourself a percentage of every hour you bill to commission and marketing. If you get the client, then you get the commission and the marketing budget to find the next client. By looking at my hourly rate in this way, I’m more realistic when it comes time to take those calls from recruiters. By taking less an hour, I’m paying their commission for finding me work. If I don’t feel like being a sales person, then I have to be willing to pay a sales person. Why not just hire someone directly then?
 
If they sell a 100-hour block at $150 an hour, you could pay yourself $10K, the sales person $2,750 (18% commission), and bank $2,250 for a marketing budget that the two of you decide how to spend. Target 10-12 of those projects a year and you have a great marketing budget and something profitable as a side job for any sales person you know. If they want to do it full time, then the sales person would need to have 3-6 clients all with the same specs, and it would be ideal if your skillset didn’t compete with anyone else that they represent. Even so, they could target larger clients if they had more consultants with the same skillset. And now you’re starting to see how consulting companies get their start.
 
Depending on your corporate goals, you may decide that $90 an hour to save you all that hassle is a good rate for you, but for anyone who has gone through the process of incorporating, my question really is, what did you expect it would mean to run your own company? Before you decide the rate isn’t right, think about what it is you really want to do. If you are not good at marketing or sales, then finding work at the rate you think you’re worth is going to be tough.
 
Set the bar low. When deciding your rate, pick a range and know how low you’re willing to go. The easiest formula I’ve found is to double what you were making as a salaried employee and break that down into an hourly rate. I know, I know, you want your years of experience and certifications to count for something but as a consultant, you have to face the hard truth that none of that means dick if you are not willing to work for a rate that someone else is willing to pay. And they will only ever pay the lowest rate you quote them.
 
My best advice to new consultants is to know your worth (hint: you’re probably not worth $250/hour). That means you need to ask around. What is everyone else making right now? If you left a job because you were undervalued, then find someone who has similar skills and education and then double their salary to come up with your hourly rate. My advice goes for both ends of the spectrum. Walk away if the rate is too low (hint: $65/hour is too low for more than 2 years of SharePoint experience). Consider what it says about each one of us when someone truly talented with 10+ years of SharePoint deployment experience works for the same rate as someone with 2 years of experience. I know that $65/hour is a higher ‘salary’ than you were making before but you are still being undervalued and you’re taking the rest of us down with you. Give yourself a budget and pay yourself a salary. And here's the part you don't want to think about - don't assume you'll bill 40 hours a week for 52 weeks. Long-term contracts are rare. To be a successful consultant, you may need to keep your lifestyle where it was when you were working full time to get you through the times when you don't have a project.
 
Think of it this way, if you are making twice as much, then you only have to work half the year. Working for yourself isn’t about making more money, it’s about having more control over the projects you work on, the hours you work, and the pride that comes from representing your own brand. If you’re going to triple hop, you’ll always be wearing someone else’s logo on your shirt and if that’s okay with you, then my advice is to work full-time for a consulting company. You’ll make more money in the long run doing it that way than working for yourself. A salary buys you entitlement. A company will often times pay for you to travel, pay for your certifications, and buy you opportunities you wouldn’t normally have to do things like keynote at conventions, write a book, or get a bonus for bringing in business. That’s not a bad life! If you are in it for the money, then this is definitely the way to go.
 
Working for yourself typically comes as the result of fundamentally disagreeing with the politics and corporate values of those consulting companies. Perhaps you want to work from home or have a flexible work schedule to spend more time with your kids or doing something you love like writing a book or going back to school or living on a boat half the year. Working for yourself grants you the freedom and flexibility to only have to answer to your family. I highly recommend it for anyone who isn’t in debt, doesn’t have kids to put through college, and isn’t prone to bouts of depression when left alone in the house day after day.  The longer that goes on, the more desperate for work you’re going to get and the lower the rate you’re going to take.
 
You’ll get less work at a higher rate but set your rate for the work that you want and be prepared to walk away for anything less than what you’re worth. That is the freedom that working for yourself grants you. If you want to set your lifestyle to match a 40-hour work week, then get a full-time job. As an independent contractor, you need to lower your expectation that you’ll be working year round.
 
Negotiate the non-compete. One great way to take independent consultants off the market is to sign an agreement with them promising them work that never comes. Even at the standard one year, this is a great way for the middle men in this scenario to pick off the $150/hour competition. As a freelancer, always ask to have the clause removed and be prepared to not sign over it. From an integrity perspective and based on the math I outlined above, I don’t have a problem with a non-compete as long as I get the work. However, I have burned myself recently in one of these triple-hop scenarios because the project I signed on for didn’t go through and now I can’t do work with the big-name consulting company either. So, if that one contract didn’t work out and the bigger consulting company wants to work directly with you on another project, you’re screwed for a year.
 
As for negotiating, if they won’t remove it then see about getting the term cut or add wording that narrows the client scope (just the project client) or geography (the city the project is in – which would free you up to work with the same client in another city). As hard as it is to turn down business that you need, be prepared to walk away if they won’t remove that clause. As a side note, LegalZoom does a $30 a month retainer fee. If you only had them review one contract each year, it would pay for itself.
 
Before you walk away though, consider whether or not you would normally do business with that client without the help of an outside resource. Government contracts for example are just not something I’m willing to put in the work to chase down. It’s a never-ending process of paperwork and RFP’s that I would rather not spend the time doing. It would be a dick move in my opinion to contract directly with a client that I didn’t do all that work to land. So, if I want the client on my resume, then I’ll tend to sign a contract with a non-compete clause in it, but all of my research suggests that I’m an idiot for doing so as an independent consultant signing a work-for-hire (not a full-time employment) contract.  
 
If this is what you want, then go after this in your sales strategy. Reach out to the consulting companies that get the kinds of contracts you want to work on. Pay the cost of admission on your rate to work on the projects you want. That is the lesson here. As an independent consultant, you get to do the work that you want to do. If you don’t have the entrepreneurial spirit to research your market and make things happen, then hire someone to do it for you or take on a role where someone else does that work for the company.
 
Summary. Be realistic about your rate as an independent consultant. If you’re on the high end of the scale and you’re having problems getting that rate in this market, stop looking at your rate as a single set of skills. Break your rate down into sales and marketing and then break it down into years of experience and certifications. By doing that, you are better prepared to negotiate your rate based on the things that a client isn’t willing to pay for. If you’re the only one on the team with a certification, then I expect you to be making more money, but if a certification isn’t required for the job, then be prepared to deduct that from your hourly rate. Or better yet, stop taking roles that don’t require your certifications!
 
It is getting much harder to compete as an independent consultant against the bigger consulting companies that are out there. Consider pairing up with other independent consultants and working on a single rate card that a sales person can use to go get business for all of you. Think through the projects you’ve been on and consider creating sample projects for yourself to present to clients as a product offering. A lot of consulting companies won’t do flat-rate projects but you might feel that your services are clearly defined enough to do just that. Find out what consulting companies won’t do and decide if that’s a niche you can fill in the market.
 
To survive, you must take control of your business. Put in the work to pick your projects. Who do you want to work for? Go after that account. Find a contact and cold call with your resume and list of services. Don’t wait for someone else to find you a job. Get the work you want at the rate you are worth. You turned in your entitlement to a job when you turned in your two weeks’ notice.

 

August 15
Collaborating with Aspies: Part 2

I’ve worked with Human Resources departments in the past and they seem to prefer Jive. I had never heard of Yammer before Microsoft bought them so I have no idea who was using it but I think it’s safe to say that Chatter is being driven by Sales and Marketing departments. Keep in mind that I have no experience with these tools and I am only making observations based on the screenshots I’ve included with this article. The first thing I notice is that what these tools do that SharePoint does not intuitively do (without some design work being done) is to walk you through the profile process (think of LinkedIn's indicator bar that tells you how far you are from a complete profile).

Compare the startup screens for a new account. It looks like Yammer and Chatter both immediately take the user to their Profile page. My Sites go to the newsfeed and users have to find the tab that says Profile. It's subtle and you'd think it wouldn't be a deal breaker but if people don't know how to use a tool the first time they go into it, then I think the tool needs to put them on a relevant screen. Every other social networking tool on the planet makes you create your profile first. I have no idea why Microsoft decided to make people hunt for their profile. Create everyone’s My Site for them and have the link go to their profile page the first time they visit. That’s an easy fix in my opinion.
 
Checkmarks are a user requirement
A getting started web part can literally be the difference between adoption and failure. My advice? Create a Getting Started web part and add it to your My Site template.
 
yammer - getting started.png
Notice the progress bar (To compare, Chatter has a 'What to do next' web part). Telling users when they are done with a task is crucial. With no feedback, there is no reward. Are they on the right track? Are they done yet? Each checkbox is an opportunity for them to opt out and say, ‘that’s enough,’ and that is a powerful tool. To give people the option to only participate to the level they are comfortable with is the best motivator ever. Choice is the best motivator ever in my opinion. Don’t want to admit you graduated from University of Phoenix? Fine. If they say no, the consequence isn’t that bad. For most people, they won’t care if items don’t get checked off but when dealing with Aspies, completing the task becomes more important than their comfort level. It will drive them nuts to have items unchecked and progress at less than 100%.
 
Integrate and separate
Chatter has tabs that keep the things that sales people want to talk about in the same interface as their social networking. Opportunities and Accounts are accessed in the same place as social networking information. SharePoint would require at least a links web part to take the user out of their My Site interface and into one of many other collaboration spaces for an account. My Sites are literally out of site and out of mind for 'social' departments that rely on leads and contacts and immediate responses to make their goals. Using SharePoint becomes ‘one more thing’ they have to do in the process. Many times we force our sales people to do double work for very little payoff. They have their own systems and if they are going to social network, then they need to be able to do that in their system (in this case, Salesforce).
 
salesforce-chatterprofile.jpg
Back to a point I made in Part 1, I believe that users will adopt all the social networking outlets that you give them as long as you have clearly defined when they are to use each one. That means they see a distinct benefit for opting in to each social network. Chatter is for collaborating with other sales and marketing folks while My Sites are about finding technical resources to help you close a deal. Who can demo the product? Are they available for a call after hours or early in the morning? Is there a consultant on the bench who can help with an RFP? If you think through the business needs of a department with regards to people (when do you need people you don’t know?) then you can better design a My Site Profile to meet those needs.
 
On the upside, people who hate FB may also hate Chatter. But think about that. What is the MO of a person who hates Facebook? I don't have any statistics to back this up but through observational data, the people I am most likely to hear 'hate' Facebook are scientific or technical types. I'm talking HIGHLY technical like developers who are critical of the programming or scientific to the point of sociopath. In case that word is too charged (look it up - it's not the same as psychopath and isn't an indicator of criminal behavior), then let's use the word Aspie or highly-functioning autistics. These are folks who do really well in certain areas of science, tech, and engineering where they are left alone to do their job and aren't being forced to interact with people. Tell me what their worst nightmare is? Facebook. Not paying attention necessarily but participating.
 
Often times Aspies say that they feel misunderstood. They are known for being overly critical and brutally honest. Most people don’t appreciate a tactless approach and so they are easily confused at people’s reactions to being told the ‘right’ way to do something and are often times deterred by negative ‘social’ performance evaluations. We teach Aspies that disappearing and blending in is a survival strategy. After years of being invisible to stay out of trouble, they typically stop participating all together. One problem with that is you have people around them who are being influenced with a non-collaborative attitude.  The more obvious issue is that the rest of the organization is missing out on the benefit of their intellectual property.
 
So, how do we get Aspies to fill out their profiles?
  1. Give them a status indicator so they know when their profile is complete and give them a reward for doing it. A badge that allows them to see how they measure up against their colleagues and/or a jeans day next Friday (having a deadline for completion helps as well). Aspies often times feel like they are better than everyone and looking around to see who isn’t in jeans will feed their concept of self-importance.
  2. Include some open-ended questions as opposed to relying too heavily on choice fields that only allow one answer, but
  3. make the rules clear. Don’t expect them to know what’s appropriate to share and what’s not. Fields like ‘interests’ or ‘hobbies’ work best if they only allow specific answers (as opposed to the open-ended question).
  4. If you pre-fill information from another system give them a clear and easy process to fix ‘wrong’ or outdated information. This process needs to have clear feedback that the change request has been accepted and a notification that the work is completed because they will check it every day until it’s fixed.
  5. Eliminate fields in the profile that don’t tie back to people search results. Don’t waste their time.
Take the “Ask Me About” section of the My Site as an example of the second point listed above. By having a field that asks, “What kind of projects are you qualified to lead?” the Aspie is better able to fill in the choice fields in the “Ask Me About” section after picking keywords out of a paragraph they’ve written. Open-ended questions work best when you are granting them a forum to be better understood by their colleagues. People who aren’t wired to brag will just leave it blank. The difference between your Aspies and your norms is that norms want to get through the profile quickly. Once an Aspie starts on their profile, they will focus on it until it’s done.
 
We’ve spent a lot of time in the workplace catering to the ADD diagnosis. I submit that focusing on the needs of Aspies will get you closer to your goals. As you were reading the list above, hopefully the light went off that these are generally good things to do for the user population. Aspies know how to do things the right way. Just ask them and don’t be put off by their response. They’re probably the most honest and politically unmotivated audience you’re likely to encounter.
August 08
Collaborating with Aspies: Part 1

This was going to be a blog entry to compare Yammer and Chatter (Salesforce) and SharePoint My Sites. What it turned into was a series that analyzes how different departments view social networking and any time we talk about user adoption, it’s logical to talk about gathering requirements. Still, it was a huge leap even for me to get to the title of this series considering I only know a few people who have been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome (one of the highly-functioning forms of autism).

For the purposes of this and any article by me regarding social networking, collaboration is a synonym. I believe that social networking is just one specific form of collaboration and I notice that social networking is not interesting to any company who is not already collaborating. I still say that based on my experience with enterprise clients that rolling out SharePoint as a collaboration tool was the wrong approach from a change management perspective. I’ve seen SharePoint change the way people do something (improve processes) but I have not seen SharePoint change the fundamental behavior of users right out of the gate. I’ve learned that adding tech doesn’t make users do something they aren’t doing now. We kept saying that we were going to ‘improve’ collaboration but I didn’t see very many people collaborating at all. Emailing attachments is the weakest definition for collaboration I’ve ever heard and it’s why SharePoint by and large just became another file repository or data storage location for folks.

But we kept saying collaboration and like any good marketing strategy, it finally caught on (just like cloud and big data). It is frightening to me how much Microsoft influences user adoption even if they aren’t the ones who create the product that does it. Does anyone seriously believe that SharePoint taught anyone to collaborate? Social Networking taught people to collaborate. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are what made products like Yammer and Jive and Chatter popular. And Microsoft has gotten on board with this ‘tech starts at home’ wave of thinking with Office 13. I can still remember a time when the software we had at the office was newer than what we were using at home.

To that end, if users are already using an application like Yammer or Jive or Chatter then now is the PERFECT time to introduce them to the value of My Sites. Using a new tool isn’t nearly as tough as learning a new process. We got bogged down in SharePoint implementations in my opinion because we were teaching a new process – collaboration. Now we are entering into a world of work where collaboration is the norm and as an expectation, users will be ‘shopping’ for the best way to collaborate with their co-workers. Now is not the time in my opinion to give up on My Sites just because there’s a little competition in the product catalog. I believe that users who social network will adopt ALL the social networking tools you give them. I do not believe this is a choice of picking ONE.

Enterprise collaboration is a lie

The first thing that I pay attention to is what departments are driving the technology change. In recent years, the concept of Software as a Service has opened enterprises up to make their own assessments of technology tools and the success of a department with any given tool typically leads to the question – is this what’s best for everyone in the enterprise? That, in and of itself is an interesting question. What is our obsession with standardization? Why choose SaaS and then turn right back around and roll it out for everyone? That’s too much pickle juice (Ellen Degeneres reference) in our eyes for now, but let’s start with the fundamental social marketing concept that in order to network, everyone has to have a profile. In the case of social networking software add-ons, I would still encourage companies to take a step back and ask, “Really? Everyone? I need to network with everyone in this company?” I call bullshit.

It all comes down to business process. At a 30-thousand foot view, it looks like Sales needs to have access to R&D, but the more I’ve learned about the sales cycle and the fact that the overwhelming majority of sales people that I’ve met can’t demo the product they are selling, I have to wonder if that’s true at all. Somewhere between R&D and Sales are two writers:

  1. a tech writer or trainer to document the new feature or breakthrough into words a product user can understand and
  2. a marketing writer to match the benefits of the product with the needs of people who have money.

Give a sales person access to R&D info and I suspect they will just wave their hands in front of their face (a common gesture with an overwhelmed or excited Aspie) and insist that someone give them a one-pager to hand out to clients instead of forcing them to go to (or worse to watch a video of) a product training course. Sales people need tools they can use for their various audiences – not actual product knowledge. And I’m not saying that to knock them. I have learned that sales people have a unique skillset that I have no interest in developing and they do not represent nor do they talk to our end users. Let them do their thing and let’s all give them what they need (within reason) to keep us in business. It’s for the leadership team to ensure that Sales and R&D remain balanced in their different approaches to the product and that both are acting in accordance to the corporate vision and roadmap as opposed to one or the other being powerful enough to define our values as a company.

It’s not Sales or R&D deciding what to develop next. It’s the Board of Directors and executive team looking at sales figures and market trends in addition to our expertise and skillset and resources and deciding what projects to fund. Would it help someone in R&D to know what marketing is looking at before pitching their project? If they are motivated to get their project funded, then yes, but typically the science and tech types are more interested in the boldly going where no company has gone before route and I think that has a lot of value for a company who needs to be able to predict the ‘next’ big thing. Sales is about collecting money today, marketing is about building relationships for our pipeline this year, and R&D is about innovating to ensure the company is around to make sales five years from now. We all need each other but it’s like trying to collaborate across time. Do I really need to talk to someone from the 1950’s who is amazed and satisfied with a frozen dinner about the way we’ll be eating food in 2050?

Collaboration between sales and R&D only makes them frustrated with one another. It’s only the people in the middle of those two departments who are interested in having access to both. Enterprise collaboration looks less like a Venn diagram and more like a Flux Capacitor (it’s in the shape of a Y for those of you who are too young to remember the movie Back to the Future). Silos of information aren’t a problem unless there is no crossroads of communication. Governance needs exclusivity – a limited number of people who have access to multiple silos. Opening up everyone’s information to everyone is the stupidest search strategy I’ve ever heard, but if that’s what the sales people have to tell the executives to get them to sign on, then whatever. I haven’t met an executive yet who cares if the results they got were ‘unexpected’ as long as they make a profit. It’s up to us, the implementers, to stop allowing marketing and sales to define our business solutions.

Collaborating with Aspies: Part 2

July 19
Metro Tiles Template

The last couple times I've gone out on the internet to search for a PowerPoint presentation inspired by Microsoft tiles, I haven't found anything that I love. Inspired by what @ColinEberhardt put together, I watched this video and paused it in a number of different places to come up with several slide layouts to mimic the static look and feel of the metro style. I did add a touch of animation on a couple of the layouts but it's nothing like the animation from the video with pictures moving in and out of colored blocks. Still, I think it's a viable design in the spirit of Metro Tiles and I'm looking forward to using it for the first time at SPSTC in August 2012.

I like to see templates with real content, so I've included three of the slides from my records management deck to get you started on how to use the various content placeholders. As is customary when using things created in a state of cognitive surplus, consider crediting me as the creator and modify the color palette to suit your brand before using it (this is my corporate branding for Volition Services that Tina Long designed for me). While I'd love to see the style of this presentation at events where people are speaking free of charge, you do not have my permission to use this design, color palette, or slide layouts in a for-profit presentation. If you are interested in using the color palette, send Tina an email and she can send you an invoice for the rights to it.

Here's an overview of the slide layouts (scroll to the bottom for download link):

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

  

Title slide with content

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

The colored blocks are content blocks throughout the template (that's the inspiration I got from @ColinEberhardt) as opposed to a static picture background like I found in a lot of the Microsoft Office templates available for download. Earlier, I made an attempt at modifying this template and it just didn't work because I had no flexibility with the size and shape of the tiles. I hated that the background was one picture instead of individual blocks that I could manipulate. This design gives you more flexibility to change colors, add text, or to simply use the measurements of the placeholder to line up other content on the page. You can add a video or any other graphic to the three place holders in the right margin. My SharePoint tweeps can think of them as web parts. Thanks, Colin!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Content slide with color and content

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All slide layouts have a monochrome and a color version. The slide layout has two picture placeholders and the assumption is that you will resize the placeholders to fit the images. Often times, I find a picture that I like to use but it may be landscape when the template placeholder is sized for portrait. This design allows you to use either orientation and as you can see, it looks great seeing one of each side-by-side. Two small pictures adds to the tiled look but I also have slide layouts with just one placeholder. By the way, I get all my pictures royalty free from the Insert-Clip Art menu in Microsoft Office.

I know that the PowerPoint trend is to get away from content on the slide and just use images to convey the general idea. For me, I like a presentation to stand on its own even when I'm not presenting and someone is looking at a pdf version of the deck. That means that I will always have words on my slides. That being said, when I was converting my existing content into this design, I was able to reduce the number of words in each bullet points because I could use keywords in the placeholders. The presentation still stands alone and I don't have to use more than one line for each bullet point. The result is a clean page with lots of white space that still serves as a refresher or conversation starter for attendees after the event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Content slide with numbers on the right

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

I added animations to the picture placeholders in this layout and a few others like it. Both placeholders 'Float In' from the bottom at the same time and without a mouse click. It looks pretty cool and adds a bit of visual flair to the slide show.

At this point, I'll leave it to you to download the template (right click-save target as) and see for yourself that there are nine unique slide layouts with both a monochrome and color version. Placeholders are on the right in most designs but I did create two (the one above included) with the graphics on the left. How I use those are as a visual break when I am presenting something that is counter to traditional thinking. It literally makes the brain stop and try to make sense of what it's seeing because the words and images aren't where they are supposed to be.

 

Office 13 Preview

I did this entire project inside the Office Preview version of Office 13 and here were some observations I made:

  • Save often. There were times when I was changing the fill color on the placeholders and PowerPoint would shut down and not recover my work. Kicking AutoSaves down to five minutes didn't even help because I was making a lot of color changes in a short amount of time. It got really annoying to save after every mouse click but there was no way to predict when it would shut down. If you've ever been in beta before, you know it comes with the territory. Consider this your reminder if you too are previewing Office 13.
  • I couldn't find a way to define a new number format. It was there in Word 13 Preview but in PowerPoint, I have to live with the period after the numbers. I suspect this will be changed before the product goes to market.
  • The colors dropdown where you customize the color palette before saving a theme is in View-Slide Master and not on the Home tab anymore and none of the Themes buttons are on the Design tab – only in View-Slide Master. I suspect 98% of PowerPoint users won't notice this change, but it's how you change all the color galleries to match your custom color palette.
  • Presenter View freaking rocks. I mean, it was okay before but it is automatic now when you are hooked up to two monitors and it's awesome because it has a black background.  

 

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

  • Clip Art is now completely online and the placeholder refers to it as 'Online Pictures' instead of Clip Art. There's no more task pane on the right side. It's a dialog box that pops up (pictured below). My main criticism is there's no way to limit the media file types to just Photographs. My secondary criticism is that there is also no link to Copy to Collection. I like reusing the same images over and over again in my decks, and it's faster to choose from my local Clip Art gallery than to do an internet search each time, but I do like the Bing Image Search and Flickr link in this window, so it's a bit of a wash. Change is fine with me and I doubt it will be a user adoption deal breaker for anyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Online Pictures interface in Office 13 Preview

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Online Pictures results screen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bing Image Search results screen

July 09
Don’t Forget About the Weeds

I have been on several SharePoint projects where the executive sponsor or the project manager knows very little about SharePoint. When concerns come up from the group about something like, oh let’s just pick security groups, it seems like we often hear something along the lines of ‘let’s not get into the weeds right now.’ Um. Okay, but governance is important and I’d really like us to stop referring to it like it’s no big deal and it will all work itself out if we all just assume that someone will take care of all that 'piddly shit' at some point.

When are we going to talk about it?

I’m very meeting averse based on these bad experiences with management teams who call 10,000 meetings (it seems) to discuss our progress on the project. We are so swamped with progress meetings that we never have a meeting to ‘get into the weeds.’ So, we press forward without having discussions about out-of-the-box SharePoint groups and whether or not we want to change the default permissions for Owners, Members, and Visitors or create new custom groups based on audiences like Records Coordinators and Managers.

While we’re defining content types, would it kill us to talk about custom library views and how we’d like to edit the web part on the home page of the team site to give us more relevant information than just date modified? It seems to me that ‘the weeds’ become the responsibility of the end user which means that it falls to the trainers to teach people who have never used SharePoint before how to make SharePoint easier for them to use. No wonder they hate IT.

Here’s a quick review of what’s included in a Site Template (reference this article for more information):

  • Navigation – what lists/libraries appear in Quick Launch
  • Lists – used as choice fields in libraries
  • Views – expose custom metadata values in the default views of libraries and web parts
  • Content types – define which content types are associated with each library
  • Workflow – have the forms library already set up with the workflow attached
  • Site Pages – create a sample dashboard page that demonstrates how KPI lists work
There are some great opportunities to incorporate training into your site template if you choose to include content when saving the site as a template. Consider a Getting Started web part on the home page of a team site that filters by a Yes/No field. Create a Getting Started list that has some basic step-by-step instructions on how to prepare the site for use. Things like how to add a People/Group or Taxonomy field (which don’t come over in your templates) and how to add an AD group to Site Members (again, security won’t be included in a template). When they check off the item in the web part on the home page, that list item ‘disappears’ from the web part but it still exists in the list. You can even have the final item on the Getting Started list be ‘Delete this list.’
 
Site Pages are another great way to demonstrate to your users what is available to them. Seed a discussion board with content and create pages with web parts and include a ‘Sample Pages’ drop-down in your global navigation. Go back to the previous paragraph to see that your Getting Started list can also include instructions on how to remove that menu from the global navigation list. There is a 50 MB size limit on how much content can be saved in a template, so I’m not talking about creating extravagant scenarios but while you’re in the room with that executive who has a million great ideas about how people are going to be using SharePoint in the future, take some time to figure out how to implement your template in a way that users will adopt these new ideas around doing work. 
 
Take some of the money in your budge set aside for training and figure out how you can train users who will never be given the chance to go to training. In my experience, only the early adopters are offered training by the project team. That means the majority of the organization will never attend training. Even if you do videos, there are a lot of people who won’t go looking for training or won’t be told those videos exist. Think about user adoption a year after implementation and then see how relevant we could be making our templates for users. How would your training program look if you really could assume that everyone in the organization was using SharePoint without ever going to a class on how to use their site? The number one complaint that I still hear is that SharePoint isn’t intuitive. Whose fault is that? I’m pointing my finger at the person who refused to put on their gardening gloves. 
June 27
SharePoint Roles and Responsibilities

I was looking around yesterday sure that I’d find a blog entry that had SharePoint 2010 roles and responsibilities clearly defined as a reference for tech recruiters who are new to placing SharePoint-specific roles. I found this by Geoff Evelyn which I think is a great overview of the Project Manager, Administrator and Architect roles, but I figured I’d go ahead and flesh out my thoughts on the matter as these titles have evolved over many projects in the hopes that it would inspire other bloggers to revisit this topic and post their thoughts as well.

My life is all about documentation and for those of you who have attended my Write it Down session at a SharePoint Saturday event, I break down the roles based on the artifacts that I think are essential to a SharePoint implementation. I remember arguing with a recruiter from a big consulting firm when he contacted me a few years ago for a Solutions Architect position. I told him that he couldn’t just go around re-defining words to suit his needs.

Architect, it seems to me is a position that garners a higher rate and I was offended at the concept that they were using that title to charge a higher rate. I’m not an architect. I need an architect to consult with when I’m on a project. But I’m also a senior consultant who’s worn a path in the pavement around the block and I am able to lead a team through an implementation. As the years have passed, I’ve finally embraced this concept of a Solutions Architect but I spend a lot of time explaining that the title sits on the Business side and not on the Developer side inside of a project team. But they’re called the same thing? Yep. And as this need for Architects increases, I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on how to differentiate between these two types of Solutions Architects.

People are getting very creative with job titles and nothing is more misunderstood in my mind right now than the concept of what skills a SharePoint Architect has. I try to be very careful to say that I’m not a systems architect but often times solutions architects are expected to understand the infrastructure behind an implementation. I would be much more comfortable NOT being an architect because it seems that title is more about being a Developer+. If you’ve ever played an MMORPG like World of Warcraft, then you’ll appreciate the analogy that an Architect to me is a Raid leader. They’ve done this Raid a million times and they know what everyone is supposed to be doing and where they’re supposed to stand. They’re more technical than a Project Manager and they probably don’t Develop anymore but they are someone that Developers will listen to.

In a lot of ways, that’s me. Architect sums up my experience and my hierarchical role on the team but it is not an accurate description of my skillset given that I cater to the Enterprise and I’m typically on large project teams that differentiate between the hardware/infrastructure architects that solve problems that people like me create when we are designing end-user solutions. I know more than a BA just because I’ve been around for so long but I still need a systems person and a developer to consult with before I allow a hair-brained idea from the business to become a promise to the management team. I’m a gatekeeper and people listen to me when I tell them to stop running in the halls. A BA typically goes native and swings off the chandelier with the rest of the users.

I rely on an architect to look at my information architecture design and tell me if I can feed any of those fields from existing systems. SharePoint implementations aren’t about metadata anymore – in the way that you add a column and fill in the choices at the library level. We’re talking managed metadata, content type hubs, and integration with more than just SQL. I can’t do all that. I need a Systems Architect for that. So, I’ve started to see the concept of an Information Architect and I like that, but now we have three Architect titles floating around out there. Way to solve the problem by adding to the confusion.

To me, SharePoint Architects transcend SharePoint. They understand the entire farm. I know that the solutions I design in SharePoint have to play nice with AD, Exchange, SQL, legacy systems and third-party tools. The kind of counsel I would expect from an Architect would be for them to tell me whether or not what I want to do is possible and if it is for them to go back and draw diagrams that the people in IT will understand. I make sure the developers understand what the users want because I know more about what SharePoint can do than the users and I make sure that the users never have to think about the technomagic that makes it all possible. I have straddled the line my entire career, and I have struggled to fit into the typical titles that people put on these roles.

This used to be the issue we had with Developers, remember? I see this as a maturation of our skillset as a SharePoint community and none of my colleagues have ever told me that my title is misleading, but I feel like ‘SharePoint Architect’ is not a fair estimation of the entire skillset needed on a project nor does it clearly define all the things that need to be built. I suspect we’re expecting our Architects to be the new one-stop job title solution. In an effort to avoid that, here is how I lay out a SharePoint Dream Team for my clients when we are writing a governance plan.

Project Manager – Gets it done on time and on budget and then they move on to the next project. They may or may not know SharePoint. I, personally, don’t think they need to know anything about SharePoint to be a good project manager. In fact, they may do their job better the less they know. It’s frustrating to serve under someone like that but boy can they keep us in scope.

IT Professional – This is the term we use in SharePoint Saturday tracks and it seems to me to encompass Server and Site Collection Administrators. These are people with power who are trusted by the organization to maintain the system and create new things after the project is over. In a very real way, I think that IT Professionals are the real stakeholders. Do they have everything they need to support the solution we just delivered? Then, here are the keys. Drive the hell out of it and make us proud. Learn SharePoint Designer and PowerShell and jQuery. Break it and learn how to fix it. It’s your baby now.

Business Analyst – These are the folks who know the business. Most of the time, they are being asked to support all the software in an organization and SharePoint is just one of the things they are expected to manage for their clients. I consider them to be facilitators and coordinators. They are experts on who to call to get a problem solved. Those who specialize in SharePoint, in my opinion, do a bit of a disservice to their clients. Sometimes SharePoint isn’t the answer and that has to be an okay thing for a BA to say. A BA is forced to work with the software and vendors they've got. Their solutions will always be limited to the resources they have. Often times they become trainers out of necessity and they are kind of the catch all go-to person for anyone who has a question about SharePoint. They get overwhelmed very quickly as soon as anyone realizes that they are competent in the tool. But what is their career path? BA’s are either forced to become more technical to meet the increasing demands of their clients (Designer, IT Pro, Developer) or they become Project Managers. I think that this is the key. This is the crossroads role.

Designer – This is what we could call Solutions Architects if the word wasn’t already taken. Designers are all about the User Interface. They are a different kind of developer in that they are the kind of developer that doesn’t mind talking to the end user (a bit of a jab, but we know it’s true – it they’re a developer that does well in front of a user, then they become architects). Can Developers design? They could, but I say leave it to the experts. Designers make sure the solution is intuitive. It’s not about colors and themes though it can be. I think the real power of a Designer lies in their understanding of web design and their passion for delivering something that people WANT to use. It looks easy and clean and it facilitates the process. In my opinion, Designers are key to user adoption. I’ll even go so far as to say that good design saves you money on training every single time. Trainers are forced to teach users how to work around the system. Designers make the system work around the user.

Developer – These are the miracle workers. I don’t know why anyone ever bothers to ask them the ‘can’ question. The answer is always yes. Of course, they can do that. That’s what a developer does. They create things that don’t exist and you are completely wasting yours if they’re in meetings all the time. You want these people in front of a screen with their hands on the keyboard coding at all times. You either need to take whatever they give you or you need to give them really great documentation. They need to be motivated to get things done and they’ll always be distracted by the cool, shiny, new thing that they’ve never coded before so keep that in mind. Keep them creating. A developer dies a little inside every time the project team puts a .1 after a software release. It makes them sad. Don’t make your developers sad. But you know what? I’ve never met a developer who gets frustrated if something they created doesn’t make it to the user. I’ve never heard one complain that their time was wasted. Are they coding? Are they creating? Are they proud of figuring something out that no one else on the team could wrap their head around? Then it’s been a good day. Respect their genius. Do they come off like Kanye West at the Grammy’s? Yep. That’s why we don’t put them in front of users.  

UA Tester – The solution isn’t done until these people check off the list of everything we said we’d deliver. They check the design and the development. They click through Use Cases based on User Profiles and SharePoint roles. They log into the system as people with different permissions to ensure security is working and they create new items in an Issues List (or create Service Desk tickets) for the Dev/Engineering team to resolve. This role typically falls to the BA’s or the Project Team which I feel is a real shame. I think UA Tester is a career path to BA and I think it’s a viable role if for no other reason than it takes someone completely removed from the process in front of the product. A fresh set of eyes can catch all sorts of stuff that the project team will miss as they try to rush the testing process or squeeze it into their current duties.

Architect – As I said earlier in this post, Architects are leaders. They come at problems with perspective. They don’t stand too close to the issue. They factor in all the information and they ask follow-up questions that shut everyone up in the room who thought they had an opinion. They think differently than the rest of us. They are the ones who look at our over-complicated designs and solutions and ask, why didn’t you just use content approval in the library? Fuck! Yeah. Why didn’t I just do that? These are our mentors and the first ones didn’t know SharePoint any better than a Site Collection Administrator. To me, the tech skills of an Architect will grow and change over time to suit the problems they are faced with because they are investigative by nature. I hate it when they ask a question that they already know the answer to, but they teach us to ask those questions. They teach us the difference between a problem and an obsession. When we are convinced that the path we’re on is the right way to solve the problem, they make sense. They are reason. Architects are our think tank.

Solutions Architect - I credit Joel Oleson with the first person who split SharePoint roles between the Business side and the Developer side in his now famous keynote presentation. Here’s what he has to say about the Solutions Architect role.  That’s me! I don’t do enough on the Server side to pass a certification test anymore but I know the business and I know more than just SharePoint and I’ve developed professionally beyond a BA. I still hate being called an Architect though because I hate the phone calls I get from recruiters who don’t distinguish between business roles and developer roles. Then again, it’s not nearly as frustrating as it used to be when they just searched for the keyword SharePoint and were looking for one person to play all these roles – to be the ONLY SharePoint person in an organization.

We’ve come a long way, SharePoint Tweeps. If you’ve blogged about this topic, link it in the comments. It just seems to me a good time to re-visit this topic. The beginning of a new lifecycle is exciting! Let’s help recruiters get the right people into the right roles.

I even made an attempt at a career path to show how many of us move in and out of roles throughout our careers based on our skills and the business need.

career path.jpg

 

June 21
Reframing the Work-Life Balance Debate

Getting closer to a 50-50 balance of women to men in powerful positions may be as simple as working towards a 50-50 balance of people with families versus those who are single and/or childfree. How many people on your leadership team have young children? For those of you who work for people with kids, do you feel like you have a better work-life balance?

This article titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” by Anne-Marie Slaughter has really set my mind in motion. I love this new perspective on the issue of why we don’t see more women in government and leadership positions. I am childfree. That’s different than being childless in that I made a conscious decision to not ever have children. That choice I have to admit was made in part because I was raised by a mother who firmly believed that she was expected to be a wife and mother and who vowed to never raise her daughters thinking that we had to make the same choice that she did. Choice. Family and career were always presented to me and I think a lot of women in my generation (now in our mid- to late 30’s) as a choice. I chose career at a very early age and I married a man who was okay with me not wanting to have kids.

I say this because I’ve been one of those people in the office staring down my nose at the husbands of working mothers. It has always rubbed me the wrong way that it is an expectation that women are the ones who will stay home from work when the child is sick or leave work early to manage a crisis at school. Men are made out to be heroes and good dads when they barely manage to leave early enough to make a school play for one of their kids. Who has been taking those kids to practice this whole time? Mom. That’s who.

So, when a childfree person starts defending the rights of parents, I’d hope that people would be open to that conversation. This article first helps me to see the perspective of the mother. Many probably don’t resent their husbands at all. This whole time, it’s just been another thing I’m happy to blame men for but the author says, “I wanted to be able to spend time with my children in the last few years that they are likely to live at home, crucial years for their development into responsible, productive, happy, and caring adults. But also irreplaceable years for me to enjoy the simple pleasures of parenting—baseball games, piano recitals, waffle breakfasts, family trips, and goofy rituals.” I can relate. You know what I do most evenings? Cook dinner with my husband, play video games, and watch cartoons. And I wouldn’t trade that part of my life for anything because that is how I recharge my batteries. My co-workers know that I stop working as soon as my husband gets home from work. It’s important even for someone who is childfree to be with my family of my spouse and my closest friends.  

And let’s face it, this family we speak of isn’t just about kids and spouses, it’s also about people in their 50’s choosing to take on the responsibility of tending to the needs of their aging parents. If a woman wants to be the primary caregiver, then why shouldn’t she be allowed to do that and have a successful career? I have always framed this debate in the opposite way by calling on more men to step up and be the stay-at-home dads that they’ve always wanted to be. My take has always been that this is not just impacting women but non-assertive men who would love more family time as well.

The author says, “Changes in default office rules should not advantage parents over other workers; indeed, done right, they can improve relations among co-workers by raising their awareness of each other’s circumstances and instilling a sense of fairness.” She goes on to cite family leave policies as a means to not exclude people who don’t have children. Brilliant!

I applaud the men and women in top leadership positions who are leaning more towards ‘work to live’ as opposed to ‘live to work’ because in the end, who are we really working for? Ourselves, our livelihood, and our welfare. The author says, “some firms are finding out that women’s ways of working may just be better ways of working, for employees and clients alike.”

A job can give us a huge sense of purpose and I desperately hope that people are doing jobs that they love, but devoting oneself as a monogamous partner to work relegates your family of choice to the role of a guilty lie. I think that we need to get out of this mindset that we are somehow ‘cheating’ on our work when we want to come home and spend time with the people who are just as committed to our professional goals as we are. 

As a business owner, do you want to stop being forced to reward mediocrity? Then realize that talented people are always going to make the best decision for themselves. Corporate loyalty is a thing of the past for most people my generation and younger. Perhaps looking back, we’ll say that was the first step in changing over to a culture that favors work-life balance. All of my professional mentors (men and women) have had one thing in common – they have all counseled me against upper management positions. Not because I’m a woman but because many of them know what those jobs are like. Many of them have been in those roles and they opted to step down for one reason – to have more time with their families.

The author also talks about how we differently judge people. One example is a devout religious man who does not work after sundown or Friday or all day on Saturday. She asks what our perception would be if a mother drew this same line in the sand? I am at a place in my career where I’ve done a lot of travel and I’m still willing to be on the road during the week, but I set travel constraints with my clients. I don’t travel until Monday morning and I insist on flying home Thursday nights. I haven’t gotten contracts because of this stance. People expect business travelers to get there Sunday night for Monday morning meetings. I have been able to pay the mortgage without making that sacrifice. I’m not on a track to be a Director at a Fortune 500 company either because it became evident to me that owning my own business was the only way that I was going to get the work schedule that I wanted. And that’s what a lot of other women are realizing too. I recognize that my refusal to give up my weekends for my job is not the only factor that would put me in an influential position, but add enough of those things up and I look like a very difficult woman to work with because I’m not ‘on board.’

The author even had something comforting to say about that. She talked about the value of stair stepping our careers and encouraged women that peaking in their 50’s is a very real possibility. Discouraging perhaps for someone like me who is hoping to be in a powerful position in her 40’s. Then again, maybe it will be up to childfree women like me to value the contribution of a woman in her mid to late 50’s. I’d like that very much actually. I’d love to know that for everything the professional female pioneers have done to lay the groundwork for me to be in this enviable position now that there’s something I can do promote women in the future who are older than myself. What an exciting new prospect! As I continue to mentor the next generation of women in technology, I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for our talented predecessors.  

Wow, do you think we could bridge the wage AND the age gap all with one set of changes? I would love that. Thank you for this article, Ms. Slaughter. Here’s to changing everything. 

June 21
Giving it 10-percent

It’s good to stretch yourself every once in a while and focus on what you do well from a different angle. For the past six months or so, I’ve been working with a SharePoint product company and they were gracious enough to give me a shot at doing some marketing projects. The end of a product lifecycle always gives me the blues and I felt like this was a good opportunity for me to see if my expertise with SharePoint 2010 could be a value to other departments besides IT. The verdict is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s kind of like switching from a Bachelor of Science program to Bachelor of Arts. I love the technology and so from my perspective, I wanted to include more tech in the marketing messages. But the reality as many of you already know is that we are not selling tech products to tech users. I was shocked to find out how much debate could rage over the colors used in a PowerPoint presentation. I have never ever once thought about getting into a fist fight over a color palette. Marketing people are hardcore.

Stop and really wake up to that fact. We spend all this time developing things that are feature rich and full of value but it’s not the tech that sells the tech. It’s the PowerPoint presentation. Someone told me the other day that selling is 10% knowledge of the product and 90% personality. Training, my passion, is the opposite – 90% product knowledge and 10% personality. I live in a world where if I show people what the product can do and they see how excited I am about it that they give the product a chance. My job is to make users, not customers. In the sales cycle, it seems to me like we get so few people who really care about what the product does. I have seen demo after demo cut short in the interest of leaving time to talk about something else entirely – usually to answer the question of whether or not they can make the product do something different than what it does. We have created an entire industry around the fact that SharePoint isn’t good enough as is and I don’t think Microsoft seems to mind that. They use partners to sell their platform and I think they’ve been very transparent about that, but when a product company builds something that makes SharePoint better, people want that product to be customized as well. No wonder we can’t find enough SharePoint developers for projects!

Seeing all of this as a delivery person firsthand, I would like to formally apologize to every sales person who I have ever been critical of for selling customizations. What I do comes later for a reason. And now I know that people don’t include me in the sales cycle because I don’t understand why people buy products that don’t meet their business needs. And I have a mouth on me and would say so right there in front of the client.

“Look at what it does. Do you need that? Does that fix 80% of the problem? Great! Sign here. But nothing! That 20% you’re worried about are the pain-in-the-ass services users who are going to suck up all your money trying to resist having to change their processes that don’t make you any money. They are the people who hate tech anyway. Brand it and they will love it because they only care about the colors anyway. We can’t solve your fundamental business problem of enabling people by changing products so that your people don’t actually have to change. You know what? You don’t deserve our product. Get the car!”

It seems like for the loudest departments, it’s 90% branding and 10% functionality. That should be empowering and not discouraging. Stop being so excellent! Stop creating amazing things that no one will ever appreciate! Stop wasting your time on things that will never ever be good enough. Stop investing money in product development before you sell the product. That’s what I’ve learned this past six months.

Perhaps in a way I’ve always known that. I remember doing Tips and Tricks for Microsoft and people saying that in a 90-minute demo of Office 2007 that we were covering too much information. They were using so little of the product that they couldn’t possibly absorb all the enhancements because those features were all new to them. As a result, I’ve changed my approach in the classroom to only cover three really relevant things that everyone can prove to me that they know when they walk out the door with an agreement that they will go back to their desks and do just those three things. People are excited about a very small increase in their productivity. They can stomach a 5-10% change at a time. But we are often hired to construct an application that will change what they do 180%. And we wonder why user adoption is so low?

I’m in the same spot as a developer when it comes to our work being appreciated. I spend a lot of time writing documentation. I <3 documentation. You know what people do with my training manuals? Many of them don’t even bother to click on the link in the email, but I find that people feel better about any product when they know there’s a training manual for it. I get better scores on my training evals when I’ve provided a training manual that no one will ever read again. Sounds a lot like the sales cycle doesn’t it? Most process people in most organizations simply don’t love technology enough to care about what the product does. And these were the people we just spent all that money customizing the product for?

I swear I’m trying to put a positive spin on this. So, to every developer who I have ever accused of developing to the specification without truly understanding and thinking through what the client is trying to accomplish, I apologize to you too. If I’m playing the role of a Business Analyst, I think I get it now. BA’s are the sales people inside an organization. They have been given the task by their executive chef to use the entire pig – snout and all. They devise solutions (sometimes elaborate) to meet the specific needs of one department’s process. The developers give them something that will work and then the BA’s train people on how to use it before going on to develop something totally different for the next department’s problem. We’re not even creating re-usable products within our own organization! Sure, people are using SharePoint to solve their problems but I rarely get the sense that people are using SharePoint. Does that make sense? They’re using solutions built on SharePoint but an entire industry has built up around the fact that anything is possible and nothing is repeatable. We don’t even re-use our own customizations.

How am I supposed to work in that kind of environment? I get full-time offers all the time and that right there is why I don’t take them. If I'm going to have to do something new every single time and I'm never going to be able to draw from past success, then I might as well be doing work for hire. When I settle down, I want to know that I’m developing a program. Strong products, good documentation, a set of clients that are committed to change based on a set of products that will improve their processes, and a set of consultants that don’t pull out a blank sheet of paper and start drafting up something new before exhausting our current set of resources. And that starts with sales people who find clients that our product is good enough for as is. I hate it when good products are thrown under the bus in a meeting room in the interest of making a sale. I understand it, but I still hate it.

When I’m wearing the hat of BA, I show the department what SharePoint does out of the box to see if that much functionality would meet their needs. I find that at least half the time people feel like that could work. We spend the money on branding and making the task a bit more user friendly but fundamentally, they understand that it’s a SharePoint list and metadata and custom views driving the solution. THAT is what I call using SharePoint.

Maybe it’s just the end of lifecycle blues talking and I’m not trying to take anything away from companies who are truly developing on SharePoint as a platform. I’m just noticing that a lot of what we do with SharePoint is very specific and I’m still not convinced that every single company out there is unique because if they were, they wouldn’t ALL be using SharePoint for SOMETHING. No one seems to be mad that SharePoint isn’t impacting the entire organization the way the sales person said it would, so I don’t know why I’m taking the time to ponder over it other than to just put things into perspective. I love 90% of this product and my audience will only ever use 10% of it. I’m going back to bed.

Is Office 15 out yet? I need a pick me up.

 

1 - 10Next
 

 About this blog

 
Volition Services LLC
Translating IT to the end user.