What makes a “good” SharePoint consultant?

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



140 Comments so far

  1.   Jeremy Thake on May 21st, 2008          Reply

    I’ve been writing on a similar path lately too.

    My beef is that SharePoint is just so huge and the MCTS certifications put people in two buckets: Administrator or Developer and there is so much more than just that breakdown.

    Glad to see you’re back to blogging!

  2.   Ann Bui on May 21st, 2008          Reply

    Several phrases come to mind:
    Rock on, Shane!
    Hallelujah!
    Can you get an Amen?? AMEN!

  3.   Sharon on May 22nd, 2008          Reply

    Well said. A lot of my time is spent going in and clearing up issues created by others. And a bigger portion is now being spent bridging between IT and IM and connecting them back into the biz.

  4.   Jan on May 22nd, 2008          Reply

    Shane, I agree totally with what you are writing.
    I do not have a technical background, and I thought this would be a major disadvantage when working with SharePoint, but more and more I realize this can be an advantage. Your post confirms this.
    Thanks for sharing your ideas and taking the risk of opening Pandora’s box 😉

  5.   Harish on May 22nd, 2008          Reply

    I am sales guy selling MS related Software Services (Including MOSS), I was truly inrigued by the comments made in your posting. While my technical understanding of SharePoint in itself is limited, I was surprised to see the emphasis that you seem to lay on the MOSS’ ‘Out Of Box’ (OOB)capabilities. Even though I might sound naive I would still want to ask you, why seem to be so convinced with these supposed capabilites and could you also tell me how well is the OOB features to corporate intranets (from a direct fit perspective)?

  6.   Mark Miller on May 22nd, 2008          Reply

    Shane – I couldn’t agree more with your main point: the functionality out of the box with SharePoint is so vast, it’s a shame that most implementations don’t start there before they unleash the developers.

    As a rule of thumb, I tell clients that they should anticipate a three to six month period of OOTB use before even considering custom development.

    Good starting point for discussion.

    Regards,
    Mark
    EndUserSharePoint.com

  7.   symon garfield on May 22nd, 2008          Reply

    Try the question; “What is SharePoint?”

    My prefered answer is, “SharePoint is Microsoft’s market leading Information Worker Platform”

    This obviously requires a follow up conversation on the subject of what is an Information Worker platform and why do I need one.

    S:)

  8.   Arné on May 23rd, 2008          Reply

    I myself have come from a very disperse range of technologies and finally I’m now moving into the Sharepoint space, I’ve dealt alot with dealing with clients, and must say, I’ve spent 4 months just researching and playing with Sharepoint and it is still too big and very complex and sometimes so easy to get your end results.

    I reckon Sharepoint is not all about the technical side, but how you put all the pieces together to get the tight lid on.

  9.   Chandima on May 24th, 2008          Reply

    Great post Shane! I could not agree with you more on solution providers who over complicate by trying add “extra” functionality to SharePoint when you can simply do so much more out of the box.

  10.   Peter Seale on May 26th, 2008          Reply

    Where would you go to master the human aspects, besides jumping onto 10 projects? Is there a book you’d recommend? Or are we stuck with the “10 projects” requirement?

    I’d love to hear more on that topic.

  11.   Mo Omar on June 3rd, 2008          Reply

    You rock man! Thank you so much for opening up this topic, it was definitely needed.

  12.   Akashya on June 6th, 2008          Reply

    You are write boss,
    Skill required is more then just a fancy terminologies.
    Thank you

  13.   Mike Houston on June 21st, 2008          Reply

    Great post! I couldn’t agree more!

  14.   Adan Brown on July 2nd, 2008          Reply

    List your last 10 projects?
    Broker Portal (MOSS): BDC, InfoPath Forms, Forms Auth (Auth Provider), Site Definition.
    Change Management System (MOSS): Custom List (some minor changes on DispForm, Add/Edit), Custom Activities Built for SharePoint Designer, SharePoint Designer Workflow, Data Repository
    Board Of Directors (WSS 3.0): Standard out-of-the-box “everything” with some nifty XSLT.
    Social Intranet with Search: Master Page redesign, User Control Delegation, Content Sources
    Reporting Site (MOSS): Excel Services, KPI, Custom List
    New Hire Process (MOSS): InfoPath, Custom List, Custom Workflow, Proper SharePoint groups and AD
    —– Ten is too many, but I do have 5 more 🙂 —-
    What was your favorite solution you came up with? Funny, the shortest one to deliver – Reporting Site: 4 hours of work!! Such a change for the client.
    What is your favorite feature? SharePoint Designer for Workflows (I am process oriented)
    What type of Taxonomy would you suggest? Your comment is interesting, my answer is that Taxonomy is an organized reflection of the Business environment. The white papers on this from an Information Architecture/Logical Architecture/ and/or Deployment and Planning – are just the tip of the iceberg.

    A Developer 🙂
    (Owner of Intuitive Dynamics – two grains of salt!)

  15.   sge on October 24th, 2008          Reply

    Geetings from Shirley.
    Only SharePoint isn’t enough,more integration and customization are important.

  16.   Rohit on December 29th, 2008          Reply

    great post. You rock man.. very well written article on sharepoint Consulting..

  17.   Kevin on March 29th, 2009          Reply

    Ya sometimes the developers don’t realize SP can do a lot on it’s own and just try and programatically take and add things to SP. I’ve been in a situation of cleaning up after such messes. Since then I’ve built a perfect farm and have no worries of upgrading. However, I think if developers respect SP and code and customize within’ it’s boundaries ie: features, SDK etc..such messes could be reduced significantly.

  18.   Mike on April 1st, 2009          Reply

    From the Sharepoint Tech Support Trenches… One year of level 1 Sharepoint Support under the belt, and I can tell you many of the people I help are tasked with installing MOSS on a server (or a farm) and they have NO clue whatsoever. Bt the time they get to me, Sharepoint is throwing “Unknown errors”s all over the place, web sites created by the web applications have disappeared from IIS and running a stsadm for them makes them believe I am Sharepoint GOD almighty.

  19.   sharepoint consultant on June 15th, 2009          Reply

    Well said. Anyone who has been involved in a SharePoint consulting project has gone through the same experience.

  20.   Bakus on June 17th, 2009          Reply

    I am a newbie consultant. I have the background of an Livelink support. I am want to step know in consultancy. The qualities you have outlined here, I guess applies also to any ECM consultant.
    I will be very interested to know what a consultant’s day is like.

    Does technical writing and editing skills help you as a consultant?

    What if you can’t program?

  21.   Jonas on June 30th, 2009          Reply

    That was interesting. I feel a bit… guilty, even though I am not a SharePoint consultant; I just work a lot with SharePoint at my company (no “official” education in it though).

    It would be great with a blog post for common scenarios where you have replaced a custom built web part with the Content Query Web Part. We do for example have a web part “What’s New”, displaying all recently changed/new items for a site (and subsites) grouped by date. Is this something that could be done with CQWP?

    Also, we have built a custom navigation control to be able to map sites to organisational units (departments mostly) in a tree view structure where each site can appear more than once. It would be really interesting to see if this can be solved using OOB-functionality!

    I guess there are many good blog posts out there covering this, maybe you could add useful links to some to make us think twice before releasing the thirsty hoard of .NET developers?

    Thanks!

  22.   SharePointWolfe on July 16th, 2009          Reply

    Love your post. I heard someone say once: “Any monkey can install SharePoint..” (no offense to all my monkey friends) and I completely agree that there’s a lot more to achieving the all-important ROI than farm configuration.

    I would add that it takes communication skills, business acumen, and a knack for digging up info from the Internet.

    And CREATIVITY – SharePoint OOB features are incredibly powerful if they are combined and used effectively. I’ve never touched code, and still have been able to do some really cool stuff.

    Thanks for a great post!!

  23.   Ari on August 20th, 2009          Reply

    what’s really funny for anybody who believes that Sharepoint is a cumbersome and unreliable application (like myself) is that I agree with you that the best advice any consultant can give out to his clients is to try their best to stick with whatever’s in the box. Venturing outside is like inviting big trouble.

    I think what makes a good consultant is plain simple and straightforward honesty!

  24.   SharePoint Consultant on September 2nd, 2009          Reply

    I totally agree with Shane post. SharePoint consultant should have broad Sharepoint development and .NET experience and strong background of Sharepoint architecture and implementation.

  25.   Tripathi on October 29th, 2009          Reply

    nice tips shane, I was searching sharepoint consulting in google and found you on top 🙂 very nice post, keep writing

  26.   Axis Tech on November 30th, 2009          Reply

    Yes, I am agree with you all points those are mentioned in post by you, it is really informative as well as good post.

  27.   Srinivasa T on January 12th, 2010          Reply

    Your article is very nice. I have one question…
    I am a sharepoint developer from 2 years.Now my manager asked me to work on .net, but i said i am interested in sharepoint projects. The question from him was like i can’t grow being only in SP & he asked ‘what you want to be 4 years down the line.

    Could you suggest me.

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  70.   Wael Mohamed on January 16th, 2011          Reply

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    even he knows development or not its not important and i think SharePoint is designed for out of the box fast solutions for reports and business problems not for deeply development !!

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  109.   Thomas Carpe on May 31st, 2011          Reply

    Great post Shane. I can’t believe it took me so long to stumble scross this one. I think in SharePoint 2010 most of your points are still largely true, perhaps even more so than in past versions.

    However, I did take issue with some of this being a little debatable. I seldom find a client who can survive totally on OOtB – no customization whatsoever. But, perhaps this is because my background is also in developmentment. ;-)Usually those are the folks who can’t afford it anyway.

    It is very true that SharePoint is a complex product, and it can take a career to understand it across all its feature sets and deeply. Personally, I believe that you can have a good team of lead consultants who have this kind of long term experience, and a supporting cast of those who fill the common niche like developer, admin, information architect. That siad, I agree it can be very challenging to bring success to SharePoint development/customization projects.

    In the end, I guess you can say that SharePoint is a complex product and it has spawned a complex ecosystem. What makes a good SharePoint consultant probably fits that “it depends” you talked about, as in “It depends on what you need out of SharePoint.” 🙂

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  111.   Mark on June 17th, 2011          Reply

    Hi this post is great and wished I stumbled on it earlier. I am an IT manager and had the worst experience with some so-called SharePoint consultants who did exactly that, push out custom developed solutions when we really didn’t need it (we found out later that year..). We brought in a new consulting company now (www.projectradius.com) that helped leverage what we already have with the oob stuff, what a difference. thanks for the info on this post, more people should post about these issues

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  123.   suresh_manakal, Aspire Thrissur on July 26th, 2011          Reply

    Hello there,

    “Reusability” is the question here.

    You can do things using OOB, but what if you want to do it in another server farm. Do you think without the custom development of Features this is possible?

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    I do think Sharepoint Consultancy is not just related to administrative or architectural skills. To meet the users requirements, custom development effort also is required.

    Thanks,

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