The Inspector

clip_image002Almost two years ago, I wrote a post about SharePoint being like empty office space. The primary purpose of that post was to help ban the word “platform”, an effort that, sadly hasn’t succeeded. I recently received an email from someone who read that old entry, which caused me to reread it, which caused me to ponder: “if SharePoint is empty office space, who am I?

If you think about it, there are a lot of roles that are involved with empty office space. Someone owns the space, someone manages it, perhaps the manager leases the space, but they are equally likely to farm that task out. Once a tenant is found, the space is designed and then someone builds it out according to that design. Designers, general contractors, sub-contractors, vendors, inspectors, agents…the list goes on and on. Oh, and let’s not forget the lawyers, the process would never be complete without lawyers. Like many of you, I find myself in all of those roles at some point, but I am going to focus on one that I think is overlooked; in fact, this role is often overlooked in construction too. I am talking about the inspector.

Not every contractor or homeowner is a fan of the local Building Inspector, but I like the guy in our town. He is pretty easy to deal with, and in addition to checking for compliance with the building code, he offers pretty sound advice. He also points out things that are being added to the building code in other states that may end up in Connecticut’s at some point. He’s also pretty good about adapting to a changing situation. Plans are plans, but sometimes, you run into things that require changes to the plans. That’s why there’s such a thing as as built drawings. If you’re building out a SharePoint site, particularly if you’re letting users build their own sites or add their own touches, you need someone acting in the role of building inspector.

As far as I know, there isn’t a Building Code for SharePoint, but I don’t think it would be too hard to develop. Some of the “violations” we have caught recently have been in the form of sites which should have just been document libraries, document libraries that should have been several document libraries and large collection of stuff that rightfully should have been built out to be a sub-site of something. Ironically, a happy event occurred as I was writing this post that underscores the validity of this analogy. We have a new group of people who are working to define an important process and develop a ton of supporting documentation. The content that they will be creating includes an important company manual, a series of presentations, records of communication and what sounds like a lengthy list of custom lists. The reason for this first meeting was, as the leader of this group said “we want to use SharePoint, but we want to do it right.” How cool is that?

We talked about a number of fundamental features, like the way versioning works, and the value of meaningful version comments. We talked about how to decide when to combine documents into one library and rely on metadata to sort and filter the view, and when to create separate libraries instead. We talked about options like linking list items to documents in a bunch of different places and we talked about the fact that you can actually attach one or more documents to a list item if that makes more sense. We didn’t decide how to implement all these things in one meeting, but we did decide that we need to meet again. We also agreed to take a tour. Actually, one of the people asked “can you show us a site that we can use as a guide?” The answer was “no, but we can show you the kind of things you will need to do.” The fact is that this will be a unique solution. This will be the first time that we will bring all these features together in one site, for one purpose. So next week, I will assemble a series of links, arrange a webcast and walk these people through several good examples of how bits and pieces of their site will work. We also talked about look and feel issues. This will be a place everyone in our company will come for information, so we will want to create a welcoming and useful appearance. I am totally psyched to start this project.

In construction terms, we are about to “pull the permit” and begin the project. Members of my team will provide information and probably help with some of the heavy lifting, and we will also make sure the project remains in compliance with the building code. Of course, I will report on our progress.