Sunday, 14 April 2013

Best Laid Plans: Ten Reasons for the Requirement for a Client-Side SharePoint™ Project Manager

It is fascinating how many SharePoint™ clients adopting SharePoint fail to consider employing a dedicated SharePoint-literate Project Manager in a timely and appropriate manner. Given the fact that the Salem™ series of SharePoint™ strategy articles advocates a professional programmatic approach to a highly-involved platform, it is therefore natural that we turn our attention to the subject of the SharePoint project manager, or more specifically, the lack of one.

I cannot count the number of clients who, in engaging with SharePoint have failed to see the need for a project manager with any skills in the platform which underlines the common problem that client organisations see SharePoint as just another software platform that can be controlled and managed through to service delivery by anyone who can create a timeline, write a risk report and issue log, yet with no appreciation of what they are about to encounter nor embrace.

Let us therefore consider, in a pragmatic way, ten random but poignant reasons why every client without question should consider the requirement for a client-side, appropriately experienced and trained SharePoint Project Manager.

Here we go then:

1. Delivering SharePoint is a full time, skilled job

SharePoint™ requires a portfolio of skills that may not be found with a traditional project manager. I have worked in many environments where the traditional PM sits 8 hours a day staring at a risk log and Gantt chart and communicates with the stakeholders mostly by phone and email. With SharePoint the PM is actually performing a wide range of roles simultaneously, frequently at the coal face, performing everything from presenting the benefits of the platform itself, to presenting and leading stakeholder meetings, to acting as pseudo business liaison officer, to working with the service delivery partner all the way through to training administrators and other personnel.

There are so many strands to successful SharePoint service delivery on the client-side that employing someone who is unable to plan and anticipate what SharePoint will require to occur is a highly risky business prone to failure.

By employing someone who already knows that these tasks will be, how they work best, how to engage both the business and technology and anticipate risk, the better time will be used and the more likely you will be to progress.  For clients, ignore this advice and investment at your peril.

 2. SharePoint requires a central, experienced liaison point

Delivery of SharePoint services requires liaison between a wide range of personnel both within the client and with suppliers, contractors and service delivery partners. Think of it like spinning 50 plates at once and these plates start spinning very quickly with the PM standing at the centre. Keeping everyone inter-connected and communicated with regarding what needs to happen and when only comes with experience in the SharePoint field, therefore platform literacy is needed to ensure that everyone is asked the right questions and provides the right questions at exactly the right time. A generalist PM will probably not know which questions will need to be asked, why, when and what the follow-on actions will be.

Central liaison on a SharePoint project requires immediate understanding of what is happening and why and is something that, if learned as one proceeds, will slow the entire project down and start to increase costs and timeline impact. One cannot underestimate the amount of liaison required with business stakeholders and how it can stretch both available time and resources.

 3. SharePoint is the sum of series of interconnected projects

Inevitably and so frequently wrongly a business service will be deployed using SharePoint without any thought or consideration to any further service that ends up using the same platform. Consequently design and service decisions are sadly made in isolation, driven by stakeholders who have a somewhat understandable myopic view of things and aren’t typically interested in other projects but primarily their own.

Whilst many clients are notorious for avoiding ‘program manager’ roles in favour of the rather more mysterious (i.e. non-existent) and somewhat cheaper ‘Senior SharePoint Manager’ role, many SharePoint Project Managers are indeed fulfilling the vastly more complex role of the SharePoint Program Manager. That is in itself a good reason for selecting a SharePoint-literate project manager.

What the SharePoint Project Manager does is knowledgably anticipate business decisions and advise accordingly to ensure that some decisions do not occur in isolation when they will clearly affect parallel and subsequent projects using the same platform. It is the anticipation of the inter-connectedness of SharePoint services that is critical and something that the SharePoint PM suitably provides.

Whilst you may rightly argue that design decisions should be led by solution architects, the architect sessions are frequently usurped by ad hoc and sporadic decisions by business and IT stakeholders when the partner architect is not present, therefore it is down to the client-side project manager to fill the gap, temporarily.

 4. SharePoint uses a specific vocabulary

Whether it be content types or site collections or content databases or web parts there is an intrinsic language to the scripture of SharePoint that is not learned and understood overnight. Working with a partner organisation any client will be expected to understand the language and therefore the SharePoint Project Manager acts as the skilled translator or interpreter who can translate what may be complex technical queries into suitable business language appropriate to the audience in hand. The SharePoint Project Manager can speed up the entire process by working with the business stakeholders separately and educate and prepare them with the language until everyone is speaking the same language. Failure to address this role will present friction amongst a number of parties caused back failure of communication.

 5. A partner requires a SharePoint literate liaison point

Further to the above, the SharePoint partner, if there is one, will be asking very specific questions of the Project Manager which the PM will be expected to understand and action. The more a partner has to spend time supporting the client project manager the slower things will progress and the more likely there will be friction, issues and mistakes if the client PM is not clear what is being asked of them.

The SharePoint Project Manager will be working in unison with the partner project manager, solution architects and lead developers amongst others and may need to liaise with other related partners for workflow, packaged applications and other services. The sheer weight of current market knowledge and partner experience will ensure that the SharePoint Project Manager is able to drive the project or program forwards whilst keeping control of both the budget and the partner activities like the conductor of an orchestra. Would you employ a conductor that had never heard the piece of music before?

 6. Failure to anticipate will cost time and money

As a SharePoint Project Manager is an extremely knowledgeable resource, so they will be able to advise where and when things should occur and when money will need to be spent and where it can be saved. Here is a simple example. In deploying a SharePoint solution there may be a requirement for cross-training the incumbent second level support team. This may not have been anticipated in terms of cost and budget but by understanding the potential requirement, the SharePoint Project Manager could suggest that the incumbent team is trained to deploy the solution iterations as part of the testing phase which in itself acts as a cross-skilling exercise.

There are a thousand examples just like this. The more the SharePoint Project Manager brings to the table, the safer the client program/project will be.

 7. SharePoint PM skills establish a standard base line for the future

In a SharePoint service implementation the SharePoint Project Manager is able to lead by example, to demonstrate how things should be done, by putting into place the project assets and collateral that can be reused time and time again. Assuming that SharePoint is not being deployed for a single business service and that many others will follow, so the skilled Project Manager will be adapting current processes and existing project templates and documentation to suitably fit the subject of SharePoint for future projects and as such will establish a performance and process base line. This will occur as a natural part of the initial service delivery process. It would be almost impossible to achieve this using someone not already literate and experienced in SharePoint projects.

8. SharePoint Project Managers can see all sides of the service equation 

Whether you wish to call it empathy, pathos, understanding or comprehension the SharePoint Project Manager is able to work with everyone from the infrastructure architects through to senior business management and take on board all aspects of the equation and fit them together to ensure that SharePoint is delivered fit for purpose.

Whilst some of this occurs via the solution architect role, the SharePoint Project Manager is partly fulfilling a role of a SharePoint Business Strategist (hopefully Salem™ certified) and taking no sides but working out how to fit the greater parts of the strategic jigsaw together and then advising accordingly. In other words the SharePoint Project Manager knows how to handle the complexities of the SharePoint project in an objective fashion but to fight the corner of those who are under-represented.

Into this area one can also pull the complex area of SharePoint governance where diplomacy and skill is required to put together the governance structures and groups who will drive the policies that underpin the SharePoint program and projects.

 9. The SharePoint Project Manager is Switzerland (i.e. politically neutral)

There is a great deal of benefit to be said for bringing in an independent SharePoint Project Manager from outside the organisation (but not from the delivery partner) for the establishment of the SharePoint business service program and duration of the first SharePoint project delivery phase. This suggestion is primarily to gain an independent view of the entire status quo, to ensure readiness and preparation on behalf of the client and to allow the PM  to say and do things that are independent, unencumbered, uncomfortable, unpopular or indeed impossible for an incumbent member of staff.

A SharePoint Project Manager role is not an easy one and straddles a number of political camps regarding ownership, business versus technology and others. I have encountered a large SharePoint program where two directors competed continuously with one wishing the other to fail. By being independent there is a greater chance of success because the SharePoint Project Manager can drive through change and (hopefully) remain above the day to day politics inherent in any organisation.

10. The SharePoint Project Manager is really a Program Manager and SME 

The chances of a SharePoint Project Manager hiding behind an MS Project Gantt chart and weekly status report are none existent. From the word go SharePoint is an all-encompassing, all day, full-time activity that requires everything from ingenuity to strategic skills to pull off successfully. For most other ‘players’ on the SharePoint chessboard, they have very specific roles to play but the Project Manager is asked to wear many hats, fill many shoes and sit in many chess squares, all at a moment’s notice and be a friend, confidant and educator to everyone else. It is for this reason alone that those who have successfully delivered a number of major SharePoint projects have developed a skill range that is often exceptional, though all too often underappreciated and undervalued. 

Due to the wide ranging insight and knowledge that SharePoint Project Managers bring to the table, they are often seen as on-site subject matter experts handling far more than an individual project and very often the entire service program. It is no wonder therefore that to seek substantiation in their position, SharePoint Project Managers are now seeking further substantiation of their experience and skills through tracks such as the Certified Salem™ Practitioner. 


I am sure you can add to this list but these are ones that stand out for me. All Project Managers, whether SharePoint literate or not, aim to deliver solutions to time and to budget as well as to client satisfaction. When one project finishes another may commence or a number of projects may run side by side. Most Project Managers are certified in one or more project management methodologies which assist in establishing process and control and can be adapted for any particular organisation's internal processes. These things should be an absolute given.

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that there are very specific reasons why SharePoint Project Managers are specialists who have a very particular, beneficial role to play and are very valuable to the success of any client SharePoint™ engagement. There will always be those who believe they know better on the client side and select someone from their own internal team who is requested to learn on the job. This decision often marks the difference between those clients who succeed with SharePoint™ and those who fall by the wayside. For me the SharePoint Project Manager is all too frequently the unsung, heroic lynchpin of the SharePoint client service industry.

Copyright Genius! by Morgan & Wolfe. All Rights Reserved 2013.

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