Too Many Kittens To Juggle At Once

Ahh, the Internet. That crazy, mixed up place where one tweet turns into a conversation between dozens of people and spawns a blogpost. This is the direct result of such an event this morning.

It started innocently enough, with this:

Then followed up by a blog post by Joel here. In the post, Joel introduces us to the term Business Solutions Architect with mad skillz like InfoPath, Access Services, Excel Services, building Workflows, and SSRS report creation, all while meeting the business needs of users in a SharePoint environment. I somewhat disagreed with Joel that this really wasn’t a new role (at least IMHO) and that a good Architect or BA should really be doing this job. As Joel pointed out when you’re building a SharePoint team this kind of role is often overlooked. Engineers might be able to build workflows but is the right workflow for the right problem?

Michael Pisarek wrote about a SharePoint Business Architect a few months ago and it’s a pretty solid assessment. Again, I argue you really shouldn’t be looking for roles that don’t exist and I don’t suggest anyone create roles to hire people to fill them. That’s basically creating a solution looking for problems. Michael’s article does have some great points if you’re lost in the quagmire of SharePoint duties though (and I especially like John Ross’ quote “The coolest shit is worthless if it doesn’t meet business needs”).

SharePoinTony summed it up nicely with “SharePoint Solutions knowledge is both lacking and underrated in most environments. Roles help”.

Having someone on the team who can dance between a business user and a coder can be difficult. Remember the idea of telling something to someone and them passing it on to the next person. By the time the story comes round the circle it’s a shadow of it’s former self with little resemblance to the original tale. This is very much business requirements as they’re told by the user to a business analyst, written down on paper, read by an architect, tuned into a solution plan, and implemented by a developer.

Transformations between what was said, what was heard, what was written down, and what was developed can be distant cousins. Not everyone has the skill of communication and even less have negotiation skills to suit the SharePoint platform. Negotiation is important because not everything can be (or should be) done in SharePoint. Sometimes it’s just not appropriate to build it on the SharePoint platform but someone needs to know enough about the platform and what limitations it might have, then communicate that (and/or negotiate) with a customer or user so it’s not about “You can’t have this” to “Let’s try it this way”. Visualize the possible instead of denying the impossible.

So what is the right SharePoint team?

My cromag brain came with a fairly simpleton answer (and I’m sure people will just say this is a cop-out). The perfect SharePoint team is just enough people to do the job that know the technology and business problem they’re solving. Bridge the gap between business need and technology platform and you have an architect. Communicate the needs of the business effectively so the entire team understands it and you have a business analyst.

Can you get this with full time workers? Maybe but don’t expect miracles out of the gate. Also don’t take a consultant’s word as gospel. Some consultants just don’t have the diversity of the SharePoint platform to be worth their value so be careful. You really need someone who knows enough about SharePoint to be able to validate a consultants knowledge level. This is basically try for any consultant, not just a SharePoint one.

Specialization is good and needed. A good, well-balanced SharePoint team is one of people that can solve problems with work with the technology, not against it. Having a top developer is great, but don’t rely on them to solve world hunger if they can’t communicate very well with users. An expert business analyst might be great at gathering requirements so the entire team can understand them, but if it means building 100% custom solutions because they don’t fit inside the SharePoint boundaries isn’t of much value.

Just repeat. There is no silver bullet. There is no silver bullet. There is no silver bullet.

A few people pointed out Nick Inglis’ article Excluding The Information Professional In SharePoint. It’s a good read too and hits home that maybe some developers and IT pros need some extra help in the information space. If you’re in an organization that needs labels on people, come up with something everyone understands and go with it. If that’s Business Solutions Architect, SharePoint Advisor, or Guy Who Knows A Lot About Portals, make it work for you.

We all wish that one person could master all that is SharePoint but we also know that doesn’t scale very well and you quickly get into the hit-by-a-bus syndrome (with the organization coming to a full crawl when the guy or girl goes on vacation, gets sick, or pops out a baby). There are too many gaps in SharePoint knowledge to have any one person know it all and too many kittens to juggle all at once. We like to consider ourselves experts in our field, but trying to tackle too many roles at once and we end up being mediocre jack of all trades, master of none. Don't fall into this pit. It's a deep, dark hole you don't want to try to claw your way out of. Trust me. Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt.

In the end I don’t disagree with Joel. SharePoint is a beast and not something that should be taken on by newbies. If you just read “Teach Yourself SharePoint in 24 Hours” and want to go build your corporate intranet or the next killer business solution with all your new found knowledge plan to pony up consultant dollars a few months later when everything goes to Hell in a handbasket and falls over.

I’m not saying don’t build solutions in SharePoint. I’m just saying that building effective ones takes skill like any craft and not something you can just cobble together with a little bit of cursory knowledge.

Thanks to everyone who participated in this tweet rush. It was fun and educational.

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