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SharePoint Sites - Why Pizza, not Cookies.

Over the past couple of years working on building operationally robust IT teams with customers, to support SharePoint solutions, we often hear how IT want to ensure consistency, robustness and standardisation when rolling-out. The phase that is bandied around to represent this is: "a cookie-cutter approach".

Hearing this invokes 2 different thoughts for me:

  1. for IT - its the illusion of business enablement and standardised support (read: minimum-investment/minimal service impact)

  2. for business users its the death-knell of business-centric solutions (read: low-function/no responsiveness)

I get it. For IT the challenge is supportability. Its essential in order to ensure business can continue to leverage a capitalise on SharePoint based on solutions, even more so on the expanded Office365 platform offerings, but reducing the options to a "Cookie" based delivery model is too narrow (conceptually).

The Fast-food challenge

Yes IT want consistency: to be able to provide common features and let users work with the rich functionality - while not getting bogged down with custom-code and support nightmares, but the pre-baked, shrink-wrapped packaged snacks are not the answer - it's a short energy-boost, that offers no long-term sustenance. To drag the analogy to along: the business want "fast-food" that offers economies of "standardised" business model, but it needs to have more substance and to be flexible - users want choice, and the options to make it (appetizing) ours.

Hell's vs. Best

May be our thinking should be expanded? How about we consider the Pizza model?! We have consistency of common base (site-template), and we know there's likely to be a tomato paste and cheese (libraries, content types) but after that it's personal choice. IT need to provide the common 15 - 20 elements we can choose as toppings (tasks, calendars, registers, workflow, Yammer).

We know there'll be standard Pizza's that the masses are happy with (Margarita - team site, Hawaiian - simple project site, Pepperoni - publishing site), and then we might just want to add a little something (like Capsicum = specific metadata-terms).

In platform terms - yes we may want Project sites - but not every project is going to use PRINCE II or Agile. Some may be programmes, others simple work-orders. Scale, and specific context mean we need consistency with flexibility. This is why IT Operations run into business backlash from business and get a bad wrap, in the rush to provide the tooling to support a production line for cookies. They miss the point.

What's the answer?

We need functional base-lines, and service support options which allow us to (sort of) customise the personal experience. Production lines had the advantage of creating a commodity of expensive items, but the (retail) revolution in the last 20 years has been "personalised" commodity - look at MacDonald's response to the rise in Café culture and high-street quality restaurant chains.

A plain cookie might be good-enough as a snack between meals, but it's not going to cut-it for the evening meal. Just as "Team-sites" with libraries and calendar might be useful as a start for ideas, but nobody wants to work with the out-of-the-box SharePoint collaboration site template - with the massive calendar view on the front, and no social integration. The total lack of flavour and / or seasoning (information architecture) is a killer from a business usability point of view.

Let's get real IT, take a lesson from Domino's (or Hell's) and provide a reasonable menu with a range of optional toppings - within support reason.

What next?

Microsoft is busy turning out the latest range of Cookie-templates (Planner, Office Groups etc), it's leaving us with the customers trying to help make use of these ingredients to generate a real-meal. That frustrates the hell out-of-me. This is not home-economics 101, despite me hammering the food analogy to death. Most organisations see the writing on the wall for high-cost services providing commodity output - but somebody somewhere really needs to provide MS with a Dummies guide to cooking - you have the ingredients - Please!!! - just learn to make something other than sugar-laden snacks?!

If you want some proven recipes, which are known to provide a decent meal - give us a call.

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