For Christmas, my daughter and I gave my wife a piece of wood. Eventually, it will be the surface of the opening between our family room and kitchen, which just happens to be where she uses her laptop. This is no ordinary piece of wood, it is what’s known as Ambrosia Maple and it owes its pattern of stains and small holes from having been infested with Ambrosia beetles. We know that this will be used for the surface, but we don’t know if we will run it up the sides and across the top of the opening, she can make those decisions after the surface is installed. At that point, we will have some scrap that we can hold up, and she can determine whether or not she wants to be surrounded by beetle tunnels and fungus stains or just work on them (and you thought romance was dead).
I wasn’t willing to make that decision for her, in fact, I wasn’t willing to decide what 5’ section of the 8 ½’ board we would use for the shelf – we let her decide. By now, you probably know where this is heading. Sometimes, SharePoint solutions can be designed ahead of time and built to order, but sometimes the process needs to be piecemeal and flexible. If you need to sell this concept, you can use the word “agile” but I like to think of it as a construction process wrapped up in a learning experience. People shouldn’t have to decide what they want before they know what they are buying, and practitioners shouldn’t make those decisions for them. The beauty of SharePoint lies in the fact that it’s malleable and that it can be assembled piece by precast piece and augmented with custom fabricated elements. The power of SharePoint lies in the fact that as soon as the first piece is set in place, it becomes useful.
One of the projects we are working on is at the point where we need some feedback before we can move forward. We have assembled a few libraries of what will be a composite site, but we are reluctant to charge ahead until people put some content in those libraries. We need to know if the design decisions we made were correct, and there are too many variables to say with certainty at this point. The hardest part of this process is accepting the fact that delays aren’t a type of failure. Pausing to reflect on the progress to-date, to refine the path going forward, to correct bad assumptions and to build on unexpected success, are all good things. The fact that we can use what we have built and that building the next section won’t interfere with that use is a wonderful thing!
As I look back over 35 years of systems development work, I realize that the best systems I have been associated with are the ones that evolved. By far the worst systems were the few times the team I was on attempted to leverage a turn-key packaged bit of software. In between those extremes were many well-intentioned, well designed albeit adequate systems. In every case, things had to be the way they were. Deadlines might have forced us into a “settle on a design and live with it” mode, or we might have decided that the function being automated was such a minor segment of our business that it didn’t warrant much investment in design. When I think about the solutions that we are building in SharePoint, systems that will preserve the important information about our company, I feel strongly that we need to take the time to get them right. Not arbitrary delay, not indecisive wandering, but thoughtful progress is the order of the day.
In our case, we are asking the users to populate three of the libraries that we have built. As they do that, they will experience how well the chosen metadata fits the content it is describing. They will get a feel for the degree to which they have to bounce between distinct libraries that we decided hold content that can’t be comingled. They will navigate the links and connections that we put in place and find them useful or wanting. They will have to add elements to several lists that drive the common metadata. These actions will tell them if the site works well. Having completed this first chunk of productive use, they will also see several dashboard elements spring to life, and they should be in a position to decide if they like what they see, or not.