Friday, May 27, 2011

SharePoint is like a very complex swing set kit, but without the assembly instructions and picture

I just finished teaching our Exploring SharePoint 2010 and Upgrading from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010 classes this week in Nashville.  I’ve been teaching these classes around the U.S. on a monthly basis for the last year and a half.  It’s Friday afternoon and my students have headed home and I am reflecting on how much information we covered and how much they learned.  I think it was a great week for them.

It just occurred to me that SharePoint has some amazing similarities to “kits”.  Have you ever purchased a “do it yourself” kit of any kind?  There are kits for a lot of different household and hobby types of things that people have a hankering for and want to assemble themselves rather than purchasing a finished product.

A great example is a children’s swing set kit.  For instance:
These parts in this kit:

Can be assembled into this swing set:
Of course, you have to go to a lumber yard to get the wood components required to complete the kit.
Perhaps most important of all, but not shown that prominently in the pictures, is the printed instructions that come with the kit.  These are usually really important to have unless you happen to be one of those “handy” type of people that can just look at the parts and figure out how all of them fit together properly.

Unfortunately, that is not me - at least when it comes to swing sets.  I need the assembly instructions. Smile
So, after being 100% devoted to SharePoint for the last eight years, it is very clear to me that there is a strong analogy that can be made hereSharePoint is like a very complex swing set kit, except that it doesn’t come with the assembly instructions or the picture of what it is supposed to look like when you are finished.

Therein lies the rub that so many people in so many companies have learned the hard way over the past eight years.

Really, there just can’t be a picture of the finished product included with the out-of-the-box SharePoint or detailed assembly instructions even though SharePoint is a lot “kit-like”.  Why?: because SharePoint is designed to be a general purpose set of tools that can be used to build an almost infinite variety of browser-based business applications.  This characteristic is what a lot of people are referring to when they talk about “SharePoint as a platform”.

Unfortunately, the fact that SharePoint is really a platform and therefore can’t ship with a picture and assembly instructions, doesn’t eliminate the need for a picture and assembly instructions!
When an organization starts with SharePoint, it is really important to spend some time on the front-end envisioning what the finished product needs to look like (i.e. coming up with the “picture”).  To do that, it is really important for the people who are responsible for developing the vision to first understand the capabilities of all of the various SharePoint tools that are available to them.

The only way to get that understanding is through reading, research, trial and error, and formal training.

My opinion is that there is really no substitute for high-quality classroom trainingBooks, conferences and SharePoint Saturday’s can only take you so far.

At a high-quality hands-on SharePoint training class, you can trial and error to your heart’s content using a pre-configured lab machine and you can ask an expert instructor as many questions as you want to.  It really is the most efficient and high-value way to get a good start on a SharePoint project.