I have seen many situations where the actual reason for “doing SharePoint” is something that gets asked long after its implementation (if at all)
Antony Clay wrote a brilliant piece on what the real vision is when companies start talking about using SharePoint. This was originally written as a guest blogger for Cloud2.
Antony has been kind enough to allow me to publish it here also…
The Board and the SharePoint Platypus
Did I say Platypus? Sorry I meant platitude…
Platypus are cool, cuddly and can, from what I hear, add value to any organisation and SharePoint project by giving them a warm fluffy feeling.
Platitudes are not so good, platitudes are a huge challenge for the board and your SharePoint project. Platitudes insight confusion, lack of direction and hinder the delivery of SharePoint business value to your organisation
The definition of a platitude is a word or statement that is:
“…too overused and general to be anything more than undirected statements with ultimately little meaningful contribution towards a solution…”
So what relevance does this have to your SharePoint project and engaging with your board? Well it all stems from vision: Most failing SharePoint projects I have witnessed or been involved with do not have a clear vision; in fact an alarmingly significant proportion of companies I have engaged with don’t have a clear vision!
The challenge for SharePoint projects and their visions are that it is this vision that the board hears about, it is the vision that should tell the story of the value that the SharePoint can or will deliver to the organisation and so if that vision is not strong and clear, the board will get mixed messages, the board “won’t get it”, the board will struggle to engage with the project and, in essence won’t give a damn.
Typical SharePoint project platitudes include some of these, do you recognise them? I thought so!:
- “Better Collaboration” [better than what, fileshares, our competitors, why?]
- “Be more social” [why do we need to be more social?]
- “Take control of our information” [to what end, what if we don’t?]
- “Improve efficiencies” [Company, department, me? By how much? What does good look like?].
That’s just a sample of platitudes that I see pinned to the mast as visions to SharePoint projects and in every case you can misinterpret, ask the question why and not understand how you measure and achieve that vision.
This is our challenge. In my experience a good vision serves three very valuable roles:
- Defines the difference that the project will make in business terms
- Enables us to align business requirements to the project Vision
- Articulates to the board the value the project will deliver.
These three areas are all equally important and actually can all add substance and meaning to the conversations we need to have at board level.
Get a vision
Your first step to engaging the board effectively is to get yourself a vision. My absolute favourite activity for doing this is using ‘Cover Story taken from the book ‘Gamestorming’ (Gray, D., Brown, S., Macanufo, J., 2010). It is a great collaborative exercise if facilitated well, for defining your SharePoint vision, at a platform, project or even functional level.
Whatever the remit of an engagement, I always use this activity to ensure we all have a clear vision or goal to strive for during the engagement. As the activity is extremely collaborative, one advantage is that early on in the engagement I can gain an initial assessment of the dynamics of the stakeholders and whether they have a shared understanding of the goal. The activity also often unearths interesting insights into culture, personalities and the general dynamics of the group that I will need to work with and the organisation as a whole. In short, it can be a gold-mine of emergent value for you.
The exercise asks the participants to imagine that the project/initiative that they are working on has been successfully completed, actually it has not just been successful, but earth shatteringly awesomely successful! So much so that an international trade publication or Time magazine, have decided to run a full front-cover story on the project and the difference it made to the organisation and its customers!
On a whiteboard or very large piece of paper, in groups of 4-8, depending on the number of stakeholders, the participants build out the template I’ve sketched below using sketches, words, craft materials or post-it notes:
The areas on the visual canvas are used to help derive certain ‘vision’ details and are defined as follows:
- Cover – This is the front-cover and should contain the bold, hard-hitting story and perhaps images, that articulate the big story and the high-level difference that you have made delivering the project
- Big Headlines – Here you convey the substance of the story, more detail, but still hard-hitting and usually aspirational key requirements or functional areas
- Brainstorm – This area is used for ‘storing’ any ideas that don’t fit anywhere else, but quite often contains very interesting insights
- Images – I tend not to use this for SharePoint Governance work, but the areas is meant for any visuals that help define your vision and the difference this has made
- Quotes – This is really useful, what would people say about this great success? What do project members, business users, stakeholder or even customers say about what’s been delivered and the difference it has made?
- Side-Bar – This area is for capturing the details; I encourage participants to use this area to come up with measures for the difference they have made articulated in %’s, $’s, £’s, time etc.
The resulting visual canvas is both beautiful, insightful and delivers a clear message, in the words of business stakeholders, of what they are trying to achieve. What you will also find is that as the group or spokesperson report back their ‘cover story’, they will be telling you a story. Actively listen and make copious notes, because as all great facilitators know, there is substantial value in what they say as well as what they have created.
When you are engaging the board, this vision is invaluable as it should really articulate the benefit, values and drivers for the project and you can and will continually refer back to it, as you steer your SharePoint project or platform towards its goal.
In my experience it’s what can make the difference between technology mayhem and SharePoint sanity!
Goal align to your vision
Once you have a clearly articulated vision defined in terms of ‘the difference it will make’, you can utilise another equally effective and disruptive activity in a range of scenarios to ensure the vision is effectively influencing your projects direction. It’s all about ‘Goal Alignment’ and it is a simple means of sense-checking what’s going on in a project:
“Ensuring that we are not delivering the wrong things really effectively!”
In my eyes, in order to truly reach the karmic state of delivering maximum business value, everything that happens in your technology platform and any subsequent projects must be aligned to directly or indirectly making a positive difference to your organisation. If it isn’t then don’t do it, or re-define it. Agile and lean approaches to manufacturing, technology and business, all strive to reduce waste, and however you’re implementing your SharePoint solutions, I think you should too. It may seem harsh or even verging on heretical to go around your projects telling people to stop what they are doing and move onto something else, but consider these common SharePoint ‘feature requests’:
- Move the ‘Search’ box to the left-hand side of the screen
- Animate the menu structure
- Make SharePoint more ‘Social’
- Have an information architecture based on our ever-changing organisational structure
- Make the text flash if it’s important.
Seriously, do any of these actually add any value to your solution or to the business? The likely answer in all the cases above is no they don’t, so let’s stamp out this waste and focus on delivering the right things really well.
Now I am not saying that we shouldn’t have solutions that look good and exude a great user experience, we should; but let’s focus our precious resources on the things that really matter first.
This approach, albeit perhaps very annoying to the recipients, is relevant whatever phase or activity you are doing whether it’s coding a custom web-part, branding, creating a custom list, facilitating requirements, delivering training, managing on-going change or engaging with the board.
How do we achieve this project nirvana of just doing the things that matter and make a positive difference?
The answer is ‘Goal Alignment’.
Why? Fundamentally, this is a very effective approach to ensuring a shared understanding and allows you to question the value of what you are doing. If you already have a vision, then this is a simple validation technique:
For every programme, project, requirement or technical feature we can ask ‘why’ it supports the Vision, if it does, great; but if it doesn’t then we either need to redefine it or remove it from scope, as it must be waste, for this project at least.
This is also extremely powerful and useful when you’re talking to the board and gaining their trust and backing for your project. With a clear vision, any new requirements, ideas or projects the board may dream up you can sense-check it with them as to how it adds value to or supports the vision, if it doesn’t then it is clear and send a strong message as to why that ‘thing’ shouldn’t be pursued.
It’s much easier to say no to the board with your vision, a visual (goal alignment) and some post-it notes than just saying ‘No!’
Socialise your vision
Once you have the vision defined it’s time to socialise it, bring it forth in everything you are doing and make sure your aligned to it.
The visuals from the activity are very useful to replay in project documentation and display in project war-rooms, you’ll find that key pieces, statements etc. will resonate strongly with your business, use them, they are the voice of your business stakeholder and they are the backbone of your project.
It’s really important to not let these messages, this vision and your projects story to stagnate and the more it’s used the more it will take on its own life and increase in value.
The board need to be interested in your project, but for the most part they don’t really care about the technology and they’re not that fussed about what requirements you’ll be delivering.
What does matter is the value you’re project will deliver and the difference it will make to their business. The stories your vision can articulate and the messages it will reinforce are powerful ways of engaging and maintaining a strong relationship with the board and ensuring they are keen advocates for the delivery of business value through your SharePoint platform long term.
So for every project your deliver:
Hug a Platypus.
Engage your Board.
Stay away from Platitudes.
Build your own Vision.
The original post, at Cloud2, can be read by clicking here.
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