What is collaboration?

SharePoint is a great tool supporting collaboration!!

What exactly IS collaboration?

Go ahead- define it. I’ll wait.

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Does your response looks something like this?

“Activity leading to increased efficiency”

Or “People working together to achieve a common goal”

Or maybe even, “Improving team outcomes by participating in common tasks according to best practices.”

All good tries. But esteemed SharePoint expert Paul Culmsee (@PaulCulmsee) calls those types of phrases “platitudes.” He defines them as “Words or phrases that sound impressive and correct but ultimately do not contain a lot of substance… also defined as ‘a trite or meaningless statement made to sound profound.”

Hmm. This sounds like platitude-users are knowingly trying to put one over on their listeners. This is not usually the case. Most of the time, these types of statements are made with complete sincerity, and are perceived by those making them as being the right response to a given question or situation.

But there is a problem with platitudes as goals, mission statements, vision statements, purpose statements etc., especially in the case of SharePoint. To spend a lot of money on technology and the people using it requires (usually) that the “bang for the buck” can be at least articulated, if not captured and measured and shown to prove success. Platitude statements are too vague to suffice in those circumstances. 

If your definition/purpose statement for SharePoint is anything like this: “A tool to support increased collaboration and efficiency,” there may be cause for concern. How will you know if you have accomplished either of those things?

How will you measure the results? How will you recognize a state of affairs that is any different from how it was before SharePoint came into your life?

Some other common platitudes:

  • Quality (i.e., ‘increased quality,’ ‘improved quality,’ ‘better-quality widgets’)
  • Governance (see also, ‘a governance plan’)
  • Streamline business processes
  • Improve communication

So how do you get past the fuzzy phrases? (Culmsee calls this “busting a platitude“). You have to continually ask questions like, “What does [platitude] looks like?” or, “Can you describe how [platitude] would be recognizable in your company or in the course of your daily work?” or “What are some of the behaviors displayed by people in a workplace that have [platitude]?”

Paul’s presentation goes on to explain the benefits of asking questions like this. If you’re lucky, the answers tend to start with things like, “increased this…” or “decreased that…” If so- that’s good because these responses indicate items are often inherently measurable. This means you are on the right track.

BUT- sometimes you get answers that are just another platitude! Such as, “Increased efficiency would result in better-quality widgets.”

So you must ask again. “If you had increased efficiency, what would that look like? How would we recognize that efficiency had increased? And then, how would we know that widget quality was any better than it was before?”

Anyone considering use of a product like SharePoint must be able to articulate- WITHOUT resorting to platitudes– what SharePoint is supposed to be doing in whatever context it is being used. What is your “SharePoint purpose statement?”

All responses welcome! Leave a comment and share yours.

If you have not taken the time to read Paul’s articles, you are missing out! DO it now.

Required reading: What is SharePoint?

Brilliant article from WASBSIan McNeice. If you only have time to read one article about the role of SharePoint in the enterprise… make it this one.

What is SharePoint?

“SharePoint is increasingly an eclectic kit-bag of publication and collaborative tools, services and features that can be used somewhat like a Lego set to build technology solutions driven by business need. Receiving SharePoint for the uninitiated is rather like being given a toolkit as a gift. The first question would be: what do I do with this? Build something is the answer. Build what? Whatever you want or need to build. I’m not sure what I want, is there a blueprint or plan? No. Can we build what someone else has built? Sure. Can you help us build something the same as someone else has? Sure yes. How much will it cost? It depends what you want, we will need to discover what your specific needs are. Yes but how much will it cost as a ball-park figure? It depends on what you want. I want what everyone else has! Ah but everyone else is different so we cannot tell you how much it will cost and how long it will take until we have defined your exact requirements. And so it continues…

“In other words, the SharePoint toolkit is powerful but without a logical, progressive business plan, blueprint or roadmap alongside SharePoint is extremely difficult for a business audience to imagine in terms of a future, valuable whole. Business stakeholders have a requirement to describe SharePoint to their own internal audiences and this is frequently where initial problems occur. They call in a Partner to demonstrate the value of SharePoint in an hour. What is all too often described is a technical demonstration of a team site, or a workflow, or a form, or version control etc. SharePoint is being described both by some isolated features, and in isolation of a fuller business context.

“This issue regarding describing SharePoint is often anticipated by Partner Sales Managers prior to a client presentation by requesting some specific problems the business may be prioritizing and basing a pitch and demonstration regarding how SharePoint can solve these specific problems. Therefore SharePoint, as an enterprise platform, is all too often described in these situations primarily as a project-specific technological solution. What happens when that problem is solved – where does the client go then, what does the business do next, what else can they build? And so we come back to the same dialogue as before. What other problems do you have? What other priorities can we assist you with? How much budget do you have? It is because of this scenario, played out hundreds of thousands of times globally that a number of things have occurred that have assisted in defining SharePoint in a specific way. The first is the flexibility of solution design and delivery. This has led to SharePoint rather frequently being described as a ‘development platform’. ‘Tell us what you want and we will build it’. Ah, says the client, but we don’t know what we want. ‘It’s okay’ says the platform developer, SharePoint can be used to develop and provide you with anything and everything you want. Within a short space of time of the introduction of SharePoint solutions are being built without any form of business plan.”

See also: The Role of the SharePoint Business Strategist

The SharePoint Automobile

Inspired by Veronique Palmer‘s post

Analogies can be invaluable in explaining SharePoint concepts to end users. This is one of my favorites.

Microsoft Car
Provisioning

A car dealership is focused on selling you a car. They make promises and provide services designed to produce that specific end result. After listening to your transportation requirements, they present options that (hopefully) lead you to a decision to buy.  

They want a transaction that many of us dread to be a positive experience so that once you buy, you’ll come back and buy again. They also hope you will tell your friends and family good things so THEY will buy from them vs. the dealership down the street. Therefore, it’s very important that they address all your concerns and find out as much as possible about what you are looking for in a car. What are your typical activities? Do you have kids or pets? Do you take lots of trips? Do you have a long commute? All these requirements help them put you in the right vehicle. The successfully completed transaction is the primary goal– they want you to leave the showroom happy, in a car that meets your needs so they can remain in business.

Support
Once you leave the dealership, what is the dealership’s obligation to you? It usually depends on what kind of car you bought. A new car probably came with a warranty allowing services ranging from free car washes and oil changes to lifetime mechanical repairs, with a loaner car while yours is being worked on. They may come to your house to pick up your car for you. New cars usually come with a significant obligation to you post-sale on the part of the dealership. The bigger your investment, the bigger response you’ll get, and for a longer period of time. They want to maintain a relationship with you because you are the type of customer they want to encourage.  

If you bought used, you likely have less coming after the sale. It depends on the specifics of your deal- for example, whether you bought a service contract or warranty. This can also include whether it’s convenient for you to visit the dealership, do they offer loaner cars, etc.  

Generally, the post-sale obligation for used cars is less complex and requires less input from the dealership. Does that mean they value your relationship less? They likely value it in a different way. Does your used car get a lower service priority when you bring it in for repairs? It’s difficult to say. They may not even work on your car themselves- often used cars are of a model that the dealership does not sell, therefore their service department does not have the parts or the expertise in-house and they must “farm out” your repair work to another dealership. This alone will probably increase your wait time, and give at least the perception that your business is less of a priority.  So the type of car you purchase directly influences your post-transaction experience. 

There is a period of transition between the purchase and the actual use of the car. The act of purchasing a car has its own unique characteristics. These are tied to the acquisition and maintenance of the product, and are important in their own way. However, the car will sit in your garage or driveway forever if you don’t know how to drive it. Once you know how to drive it, you have to prove that knowledge by earning a license (more on that later). You must have roads to drive on, and laws that maintain a safe driving environment.

Registration
You must register your car and put tags on it, so that it can be tracked and identified by those in authority. All cars and drivers must be logged in a database so that information about you and your car is available to those in authority. The requirements and questions associated with obtaining your license plate are non-negotiable 

Enhancements
Before you change the appearance or functionality of your car, you must verify whether the changes you propose are safe and legal. There are lots of things you can do (depending on your skills) which are perfectly legitimate. However, there are certain types of changes that the law will not allow. Just because you paid for the car, you can’t change it in ways that might affect the safety of others or possibly impede the overall driving experience for the public. Also, if your car is damaged, there are certain damages things that must be repaired or you risk legal repercussions. Your obligations in this regard extend to the entire driving community.  

Training
Back to the topic of your driver’s license- think back on that experience. There are variations in the process but in general, it involves studying a manual, practicing driving and finally testing. It takes longer to become licensed to drive it than it did to buy the car. Sometimes you don’t “get it” the first time and must repeat the process. This is by design. Those in authority want to make sure that before driving on public roads, each person understands all their obligations. The training must be sufficient to ensure that passing the test provides each person enough of a foundation of knowledge to ensure safety for all. In addition, the process must confer sufficient understanding of the consequences if obligations are not met. It shouldn’t be fast and easy to become a licensed driver.  

Governance
All drivers are subject to traffic regulations regardless of how long ago they took the test or how much of it they recall. If you break a traffic law- even one you forgot about or didn’t remember from the driver’s manual- you will still get a ticket. If a new law is passed, all drivers must comply even though that particular law was not in force when they took their test. For example, a driver ticketed for texting while driving cannot claim that the law does not apply since it did not exist when he got his license. You’re still ticketed for running a stop sign even if you didn’t notice the sign was there. If a governing body imposes legislation that affects any part of the driving experience, all drivers must obey. If the city changes a traffic pattern- for example, turns a road into a 1-way street- you can’t ignore it, even if it adds 15 minutes to your commute.  

Many of us resent low speed limits, “no U-turn” mandates and all the other legal responsibilities we must comply with as drivers. But we understand why they exist. They ensure a safe, consistent environment within which we can operate our vehicles. Without their enforcement across the board, everyone would be subject to great risk every time we got behind the wheel.  

Infrastructure
Once your car is safely operational and you are properly authorized to drive, your trip will be very short if there weren’t a system of roads and traffic signs & signals providing you with safe, navigable routes. While driving, you are subject to all the constraints that may be imposed by the current state of affairs in your area. The DOT may have whole highways closed down- sometimes you have to take a detour when a road is closed for maintenance. Rush hour affects your drive time- when lots of cars are all trying to get to the same place at the same time, everyone has to go slower. Sometimes things come to a standstill and you’re unable to drive at all if a traffic accident or other incident requires an emergency shutdown. Eventually, the blockage is removed and you are able to resume normal operations.  

Scheduled maintenance signs are often posted alerting you to upcoming closures or detours during construction projects, allowing some level of pre-planning to accommodate such changes. All these things are by-products of our reliance on the local infrastructure to get where we are going. We all share the same roads and are therefore subject to circumstances and events that affect them. Those responsible for their maintenance do all they can to reduce and avoid disruptions so that most of the time, the driving experience is optimal.


Wondering what in the world this all has to do with SharePoint? Let’s review… here are the headings for the sections above:

  • Provisioning
  • Support
  • Registration
  • Enhancements
  • Training
  • Governance
  • Infrastructure

 Do any of them sound familiar? Thought so. The next time you find yourself struggling to clarify a SharePoint concept, perhaps these examples will provide a “roadmap” toward a common understanding.