I took this past week off to build a combination entryway landing and walkway at our house. I figured that by the end of the week, I’d have a nice analogy between a small construction project and building a SharePoint site. Of course my construction work was delayed by Hurricane Sandy, and when our office lost power, I started thinking about the value in having certain essential content available in a Cloud-based ECM system. Fortunately, if I ever move in that direction, I have a good start courtesy of a timely article by Cheryl McKinnon on CMS Wire. Getting back to the construction analogy, I think that there are some clear common threads between building a physical structure and building something in SharePoint.
Foundation – Every construction project builds off of a good foundation. In the case of our landing, it was a series of six 10” concrete piers, each extending 42” down to get below the frost line. I could have saved myself some back-aching labor and tried to connect the structure to the roof piers that were already there and the side of the house, but that would have meant possibly compromising the piers and affecting the design (see below). We made similar decisions when building our SharePoint site. We could have handled both our internal and Internet users with the same server. That would have saved time and money, but it might have compromised security and it would have meant that trade-offs would have to be made for many internal solutions. We opted for the more expensive approach of having two farms, one internal and one Internet facing, and that has proven to be a very good solution for us.
Proper construction techniques – Although this landing isn’t supporting anything other than a few people, and perhaps a package delivered by UPS, it has to be built according to the building code. Sometimes I wish there was a building code for SharePoint, because people shouldn’t be allowed to build SharePoint badly. When we meet with people to discuss the site they want, we often propose building more than they wanted. We want them to include metadata, we want them to utilize managed metadata when it exists or build it when it would help others. We want them to think hard about whether they need a site, or a library or a folder. We ask them to think down the road to the point where their site has an abundance of content and try to imagine how future users will find what they need. We help them decide what out-of-the-box parts to use the same way the guy at Kelly-Fradet helped me decide what fasteners to use for the Trex decking. When there isn’t anything in the box that meets their needs, we help them build the part that meets their requirements – if they aren’t capable of building that part; we supply or bring in a professional.
Appropriate design elements – The early (and easy) plan to use the existing piers and anchor the landing to the house would have meant cutting into the vinyl siding for about 8’. Whenever you do that, you expose your house to the elements. Of course there are ways to guard against infiltration, but the best way is to not make that cut. When visiting my brother earlier this year, he showed me how his deck comes close to his house, but doesn’t penetrate the siding. That means that although in the course of 25 years a few deck boards rotted, the siding of his house didn’t. Not only does that make sense, it looks much better. When building a SharePoint solution, you have to think about the design while you’re building the foundation. I’ve seen many sites where, after the solution is built, people say things like “I wish it looked better” or “I wish we could look at this…” The time to make those wishes is before you start building.
Sandy cut 3 ½ work days off of my 8-day schedule. Not only did that leave me with a few long days, it meant postponing the walkway section of the project. That’s OK; we can work around that by deploying the two sections in two phases. Our work in SharePoint often follows a similar path. For example, we built a document repository, put it into production and then went back and built a management dashboard several months later. Like home improvement, SharePoint is easier to build right than it is to change later. Getting it right the first time, even if it takes longer and costs a little more is well worth the effort.