Earlier this week, I took a CIP Exam Preparation class conducted by Steve Weissman of The Holly Group. At some point, I’ll swing around to the Certified Information Professional and my reason for pursuing this certification, but today I am busy being reminded of something Steve said during our class:
“What problem are you trying to solve and who are you trying to solve it for?”
I don’t think this will be a question on the exam, but Steve circled back to this concept about 50 times as he wove Content Management best practices into the exam preparation class. I was reminded of this notion as soon as I returned to work, where I had a SharePoint related request waiting for me. The request was a simple one; I was being asked to create a document tracking site for one of our claims. In the past, this request might have made me sigh a little, but upon reflecting on Steve’s wisdom, I actually smiled.
The reason I might have sighed in the past, is that we have gone to great lengths to make these sites easy to build. The sites are created from a template, and there are a few easy-to-create list entries that also have to be made. Once the lists are updated, time can be charged (this is a site for lawyers), reports can be produced (when you have lawyers, can accountants be far behind?) and events can be scheduled. Once the site is created, documents can be stored in about 13 different libraries. While not self-provisioning, we have long thought that this was a task our claims people could do themselves. On the other hand, as I have pointed out several times on this and other blogs, I have to remember that “they have a day job” and that it isn’t to administer SharePoint.
I’m not sure if Steve meant for his mantra to be used in this manner, but I see it as containing a feedback mechanism. The first part of the question “what problem are you trying to solve?” is modified by the act of answering the second part. In fact, depending on who you identify as the solution-seeking party, the problem can take on a radically different form. In my case, if I were the person I was trying to solve the problem for; the goal would be to make the claim and site creation process more intuitive, more automated and to put it on rails for the end users. However, since the person in that position is one of our attorneys, he just wants the site to be created. The solution to that problem is much easier to provide, assuming that I am the one providing it. Since we work for the same company, the real question is “what is the most efficient way to create a new claim site?” For a variety of reasons, the answer is “…have someone in Information Services create the site.”
One of the other things that Steve emphasized in his class is that “none of this is technology!” This isn’t a SharePoint problem. This is a case management problem, an accounting problem, a scheduling problem and a compliance problem. SharePoint is the underlying technology on which we (information services) decided to build the solution(s) to these problems. SharePoint was a good choice, because it actually is capable of supporting all the collection, storage, management and distribution tasks (finally, something that will be on the exam) required to solve the business problem. Solving the business problem is the goal; we are solving the problem by using SharePoint so life is good. The fact that the SharePoint solution could be different, and that the tasks could be completed by other people is irrelevant – in this case.
If we were creating 10-15 sites a day, and if the availability of information service personnel to create those sites was in short supply, we might need to invest in making the provisioning process easier. If we did that, and 50% of the sites were being created incorrectly, we might need to make the process more exact. On the other hand, if no two claims were ever alike, we might have wasted our time building a template. In fact, since 2006, when we started building these sites, we have created six different templates. It’s not as bad as it sounds; each new template incorporated a simple modification to the site created by the previous template. The moral of the story is: “once you answer your questions, check to see that the answers are still correct.”