Back in the 1980’s, I left a promising consulting career to open a cabinet shop; I like to say I had my mid-life crisis early. Last week, I reconnected with my boss from that consulting firm. One of the things he asked me was if running a cabinet shop made me a better woodworker. Ironically, working as a consultant made me a better woodworker and owning a cabinet shop made me a better businessman. Sounds like two blog entries – let’s start with the two lessons from my consulting experience that I still rely on today: creating a work plan and the curious habit of reading the “proposal” every day.
Every one of our consulting engagements had a written proposal, and at the heart of every proposal was a work plan. The work plan outlined every aspect of the project: the goals, the key players, the individual tasks, and the dependencies between tasks. Urging us to “read the proposal every day” was the way my boss made sure we followed the work plan and didn’t step out of scope. The written proposal ensured that we and our clients had the same expectations. Following that work plan ensured that we did what we said we were going to do.
When I look at our SharePoint farm, I realize that the worst sites we have are the ones we threw together quickly; usually “Team Sites” built with little input from the user. The best SharePoint sites we have are the ones that were well planned. It sounds obvious but SharePoint makes it so easy to just start building something that we sometimes minimize planning. The good news is that SharePoint also includes the tools to make planning and project management just as easy.
As we build our most important sites, we start with a SharePoint survey where our customers tell us what they want. We have a document template in Word that helps us create a custom work plan based on the survey. As we build the site, we keep that survey in front of us alongside that work plan. Every feature, permission and bit of content to be uploaded is written down, waiting to be checked off. As the site is being prepared, a Custom List is updated showing the status of the site and other lists are being updated with the details that we need to administer the site after it’s in production.
25 years after leaving that firm, I realize that building a sustainable SharePoint Farm is not unlike building a successful consulting practice – it’s all about understanding and meeting client expectations. Later, I’ll talk about the lessons from the wood shop; hint: it’s all about patterns, jigs and tools.