In the TechNet forums there is a thread that got off topic and somehow came to this question. “What makes a good SharePoint consultant?”
Since I felt the answer to the question and the tone of the conversation were so off base I started to write a reply. I also had another well respected SharePoint consultant tell me they thought someone should bring some clarity to the thread. Well, after beating up my keyboard for several minutes I thought I would take my reply to my private little soap box, my blog. So here goes.
The basic concept of the thread is that a good SharePoint consultant would need to know a bunch of administrator stuff. Active Directory, SQL, Windows Server, etc. Interesting idea I guess? Joel Oleson does a thorough job of laying it all out in the SharePoint Architect Skill Set post.
The big issue I see with this all being advertised as what you should be looking for in a “Good SharePoint Consultant” is I don’t think any of this is as nearly important as the “Soft Side” of SharePoint. There is no mention of the key things like Usability? Design? Taxonomy? Planning? Rollouts? Search? Branding? Custom apps? Business analysis? User adoption? Discovery? Etc. These are the things that will decide if you have a successful deployment or not. Poorly setup hardware can cause you issues but can be fixed by someone like myself in hours. A poor taxonomy can take 6 months and a complete redesign to fix.
I got into SharePoint as the guy who knew all of the server stuff. I was an MCSE and all of that jazz. Guess what? For most SharePoint projects I was useful for about 2 days. Once the hardware was built and rock solid I went home and the real work was begun by the “good SharePoint Consultants”. I have since spent a great deal of effort learning the “human” side of SharePoint. That is the hard part. I can teach anyone to install the software in a couple of hours. If you give me a couple of days I can teach you to make it rock solid. But then what? You need content. That is where you get into the black arts that are portal planning and design. That is the hard part. Once you design what needs to be built in SharePoint you are back to the easy stuff. Clicky, clicky and the thing is deployed. One project I am on we are paying a high school kid to build it and bring in the data. He just follows the directions we laid out. And it only took 3 months and a couple of dozen meetings with a few hundred decisions to get to that. 😉 Of course that is just phase one.
<RANT> Now here comes the part that annoys me the most. If you don’t know most everything SharePoint can do out of box then don’t speak to another customer until you do! Seriously! I can’t tell you what percentage of my business is cleaning up other so called “consultants” but it is a big part. People who walk in the door with their army of .NET developers and start building the functionality the customer is asking for. This would be great except for one small detail. 9 times out of 10 what they are building is already included out of the box. Do you know how many times I see things that are the content query web part recreated? Or they wrote custom navigation because they couldn’t figure out how to use the one that comes with SharePoint? It drives me bonkers. They hard wire in these things and then guess what? You can’t upgrade later or the latest service pack breaks something. Why? Because that is your punishment for reinventing the wheel. This may be a great model for the consulting company but really sucks for the customer footing the bill for the never ending cycle of maintenance. </RANT>
Now don’t get me wrong not all SharePoint Consultants are evil. There are a lot of very talented ones, some are even developers ;), (I love you guys) but development is not the first answer when it comes to SharePoint. Squeezing as much as you can out of the box is. If I was looking for a SharePoint consultant I would use Bold Zebras they are the best. (Oh yeah, in case you didn’t know I own the company. So take that with a grain of salt.)
So my questions I would ask a potential SharePoint consultant are:
- List your last 10 projects? (If more than 5 aren’t SharePoint be scared)
- What was your favorite solution you came up with? (Hopefully something like well we combined the BDC, Forms Server, and a custom workflow. Then we setup a KPI for the data with Excel Services. But any real solution will do.)
- What is your favorite feature? (This gives you insight into the person. If they don’t have an answer RUN.) My answer is search.
- What type of Taxonomy would you suggest? (Kind of a trick question. If they list one immediately ask them for a second one to make sure they aren’t just using buzz words. They should really answer with well it depends. If they say they already paid their taxes RUN)
I welcome comments. Though I fear I may be opening that darn box of Pandora’s again. And yes, I really don’t hate developers.
Shane – SharePoint Consulting