Monday, November 28, 2011

The importance of de-stressing

Like many hard working individuals (I want to say workaholics, but I think that’s too strong a word), I have designed my entire lifestyle around doing my job as best as I can.

To start off with, I make sure I get plenty of sleep so I so I am fully charged to handle the 8-10 hours of taxing activities. I follow news and subscribe to feeds that relates to my work, and catch up whenever I have some free time.  I don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol, don’t do drugs and limit my coffee consumption to social outings.  I even try to stay active and eat healthy since it affects my health and eventually the way I work (but admittedly, I easily compromise those tasks when more after hour work is required or the tasks I handled for that day was more draining than usual).

While I think it’s important to give your job high importance, I also understand that life is about balance.  So while your job may expose you to stress, it is important to counter that with some de-stressing tasks.

Without de-stressing, your job WILL cause the following:

  • Loss of enthusiasm
  • Loss of motivation
  • Symptoms of depression (sadness, low self-esteem, isolation, tiredness)
  • Over sensitive
  • Over anxious
  • Short tempered
  • Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Feeling overwhelmed

My de-stressing techniques are the following.  They are simple, yet effective.

Talk to a friend.
I follow this rule with limitations as too much of this affects the quality of your work.  I have turned off all my social network notification tools, I don’t use any chatting program and only check my Gmail after hours or during lunch (and that’s if I’m taking lunch) as these tools are distracting and prevents me from doing my duties optimally.
But speaking to someone that can take your mind off work for a few minutes, and in that time, you get a smile on your face or even a bit of laughter, you just got yourself an instant de-stressor.

Take your mind off things.
It is important to not think about work when you not working, but when you have tight deadlines, your responsibilities tend to stay in your head, even after hours, stressing you out.  So it’s important to find an activity that can pull you away from that.
I can suggest that you do something worthwhile like participate in a charity event so you can find fulfilment via some alternative avenue, but my approach is video games (not very noble, probably regarded by most as a waste of time, but it works).
Video Games allow my mind to enter this alternative universe, and focus on the challenges presented in the game, with that sense of fulfilment when I have accomplished the task.  The best de-stressing games I played to date is Batman: Arkham City, but I hear Call of Duty and other FPS (First person shooter) games are great for de-stressing as well.

Get away
I always believed that it was a good idea to build up my leave days to a significant number, and then use it for some significant event like an overseas holiday.
In reality, those overseas trips are few and far between and I learnt, that sometimes you need to take time off to do nothing, i.e. have no plans but to relax.
You could plan to go to some relaxing spa, maybe have a picnic or have a nice walk in the forest or up the mountain.  Don’t be scared to take off a day from work every now and then just  for relaxing (I know this one  may be easier said than done - and if you have any advice on how to do this, let me know)

So that it, that’s my de-stressing techniques, the important thing is that you have to love your job and gain fulfilment from it, it makes all the stress worthwhile.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

SharePoint 2010 and Content Migration Presentation

If you managed to catch my SharePoint 2010 and Content Migration presentation for SharePoint Saturday, thank you for attending - as promised, my slides are attached.

If you didn't attend my presentation, which is very possible sine the majority of my audience is from the States, India and Jhb.  I tried to make the presentation as clear and detailed as possible.  I also reduced all the unnecessary images I used to give the presentation more live so the downloads are much smaller.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Don’t use SharePoint 2010’s mobile view for internet presence sites

SharePoint offers a lot; it’s a platform that provides BI, ECM, Search, collaboration and a lot more including WCM.  It’s the Web Content Management (WCM) component that makes it’s a great platform for internet presence sites and with the more appealing pricing structure available for internet presence, it is becoming the preferred choice to internet deployment.

Without any effort from the SharePoint deployment team, SharePoint provides a “mobile friendly” view of the site been created.  In theory, this sounds great, this means that we can create a SharePoint site, apply a nice appealing brand to it (it is an internet site, so the look is important), spend some time on the structure the content so information can be easily found (very important for internet sites), configure search correctly and then fill the site with information and images knowing that it will automatically work out the best way to display this information on mobile devices, right?   WRONG!

SharePoint offers a mobile friendly version of the site, that is true, but when they created this mobile friendly view, they created it for the convenience of collaboration, and the factors that are important for internet sites were not included in the mobile view.

Here are a few examples:

By default, mobile view does not allow anonymous access, there are ways to override this, but that should be your first clue that the mobile view is not internet friendly.

The look and feel is not displayed in the mobile view, and there is no interface to change the look and feel of the mobile view, meaning that your internet brand will not be viewable in the mobile devices, solutions in solving this problem involves editing files located in the 14 hive folder, and that approach is not best practice, and should be avoided.

Navigational structure and content pages is not displayed in the mobile view, the main part of an internet site is the navigational structure and the content.  Those elements are ignored in the mobile view; instead, the mobile view’s navigational menu provides easy access to SharePoint lists and sufficient control in managing those lists.  So if you have some hidden lists on your internet sites (like a list to store feedback responses) they will be easily accessible in the mobile view.  Also, since the mobile view is focused on list management (and not the displaying of web parts), web parts containing content and information are usually removed from the mobile view.

Search facility is not working in mobile view.  Search is becoming the preferred way to search for information, so all the effort in classifying and indexing your information is rewarded by providing powerful search functionality, this functionality is turned off in the mobile view.

If you don’t believe me, here’s proof.  Go to Microsoft’s SharePoint site,, look and the brand, the navigational structure, and the content and the search functionality.  Now go to the mobile view of this site,, you will notice that you will need to sign in (thankfully, your hotmail account will work), and after you login, look for the brand, the navigational structure, the content, and now try to search for it.  It is clear that this view is not designed for internet sites.

So how can I make my site more mobile friendly?

SharePoint looks at the browser accessing the site and if the browser is a mobile browser, the user is directed to a mobile friendly template.

The file that contains the list of mobile browsers can be edited to stop the redirect from taking place or you can make use of URL rewriting features. This will cause the mobile device to load the standard view of your site and since SharePoint sites are W3C compliant, it should work fine on those devices (but they will probably have to do a bit of scrolling).

Best practice will involve you doing a little work on the standard view, you will need to create a mobile friendly CSS file and with some clever JavaScript you can load the correct CSS that will provide the mobile friendly look on mobile devices.

UPDATE : Mobile EntrĂ©e (, seem to have a good solution this problem, they created a 3rd party extension of the SharePoint platform that provides mobile friendly sites. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sharing files with a iPad/iPhone/iPod wirelessly

I have a Windows laptop that I mainly use for work and blogging, a PC at home that is configured to act as a HTPC (Home Theater Personal Computer), an iPhone and an iPad. 

When I am at home, all these devices are connected to my local network via WIFI.  Some of my devices download files like eBooks, while others act as my eBook reader, the same thing happens with movies. so there is this need for me to easily share files amongst my devices and I dont want to connect my iPhone/iPad to the PC/laptop via USB - its just too much effort and I am sure I can find a better solution.

Cloud based file storage mediums like DropBox are available, which pretty much means that I can store my files on the internet and access it via any other devices, but I have a problems with this approach. Cloud based file storage mediums cost me bandwidth, and in South Africa, bandwidth is expensive (which is why I believe that South Africa will be slow adopters of cloud based solution – but that’s another topic for another blog).

If I want to copy my 1MB photograph taken from my iPhone to my laptop wirelessly, I will need to upload the file to my DropBox storage via the iPhone app.  This will cost me 1MB of bandwidth, I will then need to use another MB  of bandwidth to download the file to my laptop, I know this sounds petty, but do this for 10, 20 or 100 files, the bandwidth adds up and it is really unnecessary, especially since all my devices are connected to my local network so I should be able to do this without using the internet.

There are other disadvantages like slow speed, restrictions with the storage medium and this actual step of uploading or duplicating files just to make it available for sharing.  So the preferred alternative would be the ability to share files across my local network.

iDevice (iPhone/iPad/iPod) developers figured out how to transfer files from their iDevice over a WIFI network.  They have created apps like File Sharing (, Air Sharing ( and Good Reader (  just to name a few (there’s a lot out there).  They all work on the same principle.  They use WebDAV protocol ( ) that makes it possible to access files on the iDevice via a URL.

WebDAV protocol are perfect for this purpose, it’s a standard set of rules and methods that makes it possible to edit and manage documents all via HTTP, it essentially makes the device on the network a readable and writable medium.

Having an iDevice app that uses WebDAV is a step in the right direction (I installed and love Good Reader) but more needs to be done for me to achieve a true file sharing environment across all my devices.

The biggest problem is that I can share files from my iDevice, but I cannot share files from my PC or laptop – now for me to get that right, i need to get my PC or Laptop to share files via WebDAV or FTP protocols (Good Reader allows you to access other shares on the network via WebDAV or FTP) – and that is a lot more complicated that it sounds – I tweaked around with my IIS settings, loosen my security configurations, installed all kinds of server type software on my PC/Laptop, read all kinds of articles on how Microsoft did a poor job in WebDAV support and just about gave up – I was unable to make my PC/Laptop files accessible to my iDevices.  Finally I found some a programme that provides a “User Friendly, personal FTP and WebDAV server”.

The programme is called neteK ( ), its freeware but its incomplete, the FTP part is working, but the WebDAV part is not, I tried contacting the developer as I believe that there is a market for this product once the WebDAV component is working, but he is not replying to my emails and from what I can see, this product was last updated in 2006 – so it’s probably a dead product – but he made his source code available (  - so if anyone wants to work on a product that provides a user friendly, personal FTP and WebDAV server – get a kickstart from the source code and work on a solution.  I believe that this problem I am experiencing with sharing files amongst my devices is a common problem and is rapidly becoming a big problem as more different types of devices are connected to the network and needs to talk to each other, so there is a market for this product.  Imagine how great this product will be if you can get it working for iOS, Android, XBox, PlayStation, Wii, BlackBerry, Windows, Linux, etc.

Good luck, When you get rich with this product, remember to mention my name :)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

SharePoint 2010 and Branding

Some time ago, before SharePoint 2010 was popular, I write an article ( pleading with the world to please stop creating fancy looking SharePoint sites, because you are not using SharePoint the way it was intended, and you are creating a maintenance nightmare. 

Now, with SharePoint 2010 around, I think its time we re-visited this topic.

Lets me start off by saying that SharePoint has improved greatly when it comes to branding, but I still believe that strong branding should be limited to internet sites.

Intranet sites are more feature heavy, and those features has a default size, layout, structure and design that fits the default look provided by SharePoint, so I still see a lot of additional time spent on tweaking the features so it fits the new look, and then a lot of time will be needed to maintain these tweaked features.

So, when you want to apply a brand to a SharePoint site, use the publishing templates, these templates are designed to be a strong WCM (Web Content Management) type site, so the features are more limited to publishing content rather than collaboration and BI (Business Intelligence) type features but the overall look of the template is easier to adjust, tweak and re-design.

There are now some great tutorials out there to help you be a SharePoint Designer Guru; I like his article straight from the Microsoft MSDN site:, and if you prefer a video, here’s a great one from Technet:, it’s a series of WCM videos but Chapter 5 gives you a 40 minute video just on branding.

And, after all that training, if you need inspiration, check out Top SharePoint: for the biggest gallery of Branded SharePoint sites.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

3d printing - the next big thing - see it in action with Lego

The NXT STEP - LEGO® MINDSTORMS® NXT Blog: Amazing Mindstorms 3D printer: Brought to us by Arthur Sacek from Brazil's ZOOM Education for Life , this very well built and surprisingly precise 3D milling machine is tr...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

How to find a “Good” SharePoint consulting company?

Looks like every organisation wants SharePoint these days.

I mentioned before, there is a big shortage of SharePoint skills out there, so hiring a good SharePoint resource has become a rather difficult task, especially when you realise that a good SharePoint deployment requires a range of specialised skills meaning that you need a specialised SharePoint team for a successful deployment. Where does one begin in getting this team?

The answer is in Outsourcing, i.e. hiring a consultant company that specialise in SharePoint deployment. That seems simple, but perform a search for SharePoint consultant companies in your area, I bet you there is a lot more than you expected. That’s a problem, because you now have to select the “best” consultant company and pray you don’t make a mistake as this will greatly affect the success of your SharePoint deployment and you’re ROI (return on Investment).

So what do you look for when selecting a “good” consulting company?

Before I answer that question, let me lay down the sad truth. There are many SharePoint consultant companies out there that are not good at what they claim to do. They claim to be SharePoint consultant companies because they see a lot of money in SharePoint, they understand that SharePoint is Microsoft’s most profitable product and they want a piece of that pie, they are relying on the fact that they can "learn" SharePoint by securing one good client and figuring it out. The lack of training and experience will not stop them from deploying a solution, but it will not be deployed using best practices, making it a unstable deployment.

There are also SharePoint consultant companies out there that may have the necessary training and experience in deploying a certain part of SharePoint but has no clue on how to deploy another component (SharePoint is just so big) and again, they plan to figure it out by securing a client.

There are also situations where consultant companies will not do any custom work, even thou SharePoint were designed for customisation, or they do too much customisation, making it difficult to maintain or expand the solution (these are typical situations of not following best practices).

Some SharePoint consultant companies may not have specific skills like SharePoint Architects or SharePoint Designers making it difficult for them to deliver a strong solution.

Some SharePoint consultant companies may not have a good post-deployment support structure, and thus cannot support your solution after deployment.

So there are a lot of bad apples that one has to go through in order to find that right Consultant Company. Where does one begin?

You can start off by checking out there relationship with Microsoft. Microsoft wants to assist you in selling their product because it is there business to sell licenses and you need SharePoint licenses in order to use SharePoint (unless you plan to use the free version of SharePoint, in which case, I’m not sure how much support you will actually get from Microsoft). Good Consultant Companies tries to maintain a good relationship with Microsoft; in fact, they go the extra mile in building a strong partnership with Microsoft. Microsoft has high demands when they enter into a partnership; they expect their partners to be:
  • Product Centric with proven competency
  • High level of performance
  • Loyalty
  • Perseverance
  • Results
  • Customer Focused
  • Sufficient staff members are Microsoft Certified
  • Sufficient customer references are submitted, proving customer satisfaction
So when you are looking for a good consultancy company, check who has a good relationship with Microsoft, the easiest way to spot this is to look for the silver or gold partner logo (obviously, the gold partner logo is preferred). Like I said, the consultant companies need to go the extra mile to establish this partnership, so when they do qualify for the gold partnership (for example) they usually like to advertise that, on their website, email signatures, business cards, letterheads, etc. so it is usually not that difficult to figure out what type of partnership (if any) the consultancy company has with Microsoft.

While the Microsoft partnership logo may separate the Mickey Mouse companies from the more established ones, this is not enough in finding a good consultancy company.

Some Consultant companies may not be good on what they do, but they managed to secure one big client through clever marketing, or being in the right place at the right time, or through some inside information or good networking – and they managed to use this relationship to for fill the necessary requirements to obtain the high Microsoft partnership status, so don’t be too reliant on that component alone.

So now you need to look beyond the surface of the consultant companies. Essentially, you want to determine their capability maturity. This will provide some insight on the company’s behaviour, practices and processes which will assist you in determining their reliability in producing the required output.

For example, a company with a low capability maturity level typically have undocumented processes and approaches and are in a constant state of dynamic change, they are driven in an ad-hoc, uncontrolled and reactive manner that usually provides a chaotic or unstable environment for the processes.

When the processes are defined, measured and documented, with standards and governance that is adaptable to different situations and are subject to improvement over time, the company is more mature, stable and reliable.

Now, this may not be easy to determine, asking the consultancy company to fill in a questionnaire will more than likely lead to a less than truthful response, even interviewing them will lead to the same result. So there is no easy way to get this information, one approach that I believe is more effective than others is to conduct an interview, but interview the staff that focus on delivery, i.e. not there sales division or the company director but the people that actually deliver the work, as everyone else has an objective to secure the sale, the delivery team has to deliver on what the sales division promised, so you may get a more honest answer from them, but that is not guaranteed – still, I’ll trust them over anyone else.

While you are interviewing the delivery team, try to determine how they will handle your particular project, are they using out-of-the-box SharePoint features as much as possible? Are they applying customisation only when needed? Are they actually saying “no” to some of your requests and recommending a SharePoint best practice approach instead, are they considering maintainability and stability with their approaches?

Also, apart from the delivery component, do they offer any complementary services? Do they have a product support structure? Do they have processes that can assist with user adoption like a training programme or change management process? Many companies focus too much on delivery that they fail to provide a good range of complementary services which is essential for proper ROI.

So, in a nutshell, good consultant companies has a strong partnership with Microsoft which means proven competency to deliver high level performance, the company also has a high capability maturity level and offer a good range of complementary services.

That’s a good start, but I don’t think that’s enough, if you can provide any more points, let me know.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Only Certified AIIM Master in Africa

I have received confirmation that I am now a certified SharePoint Aiim Master, the first one (I can say only one, but I guess that depends on when you read this article) in Africa.

This is the highest certified SharePoint title available from Aiim, and this is a title I had to EARN, this isn’t a simple certificate of attendance.  After attending the four day course, I had to study and then write an online exam, pass with over 70%, and after that, I had to study a detailed case study and submit a 10 page report on it.

So yes, I worked hard for this title, made a few sacrifices, and, at the risk of sounding arrogant, deserve the right to blow my own trumpet for short while – thus this post.

So what’s so great about this title?  Well, it’s from Aiim (, a non-profit organisation that specialise in providing education, research and best practices to organisations to help them find control and optimise their information.  Aiim has been working on Enterprise Content Management for over 60 years now so when it comes to deploying SharePoint the right way.  Aiim would know how.

The course focuses on Best Practices for managing and sharing information on the SharePoint platform, it’s a non-technical course that really explains SharePoint, what it’s designed to do and really how to use the core features of SharePoint correctly.  The course then looks at best practices approaches to the typical scenarios you will encounter when deploying/maintaining a SharePoint solution.  More details on the course can be found here:

In my previous posts, I mentioned why we have a shortage of SharePoint skills, I mentioned common mistakes that occur during SharePoint deployment and I also focused on how we tend to use SharePoint incorrectly.  These posts highlight the fact that many people are deploying and using SharePoint incorrectly and there is a big need for this type of training.

As the only certified SharePoint Aiim Master in Africa, I am the only one qualified to provide this training in and around Africa (unless you are going to fly someone in from the UK or the USA).  So if you believe that this training can help you, contact me or our partner company (

UPDATE : On 5th August 2011, I have officially lost my title as the "only" SharePoint Master in SA, well done Marc Lenferna De La Motte of achieving this title as well.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The move from Technical Expert to Manager

Let me start of by explaining how things were before I became a Manager.

I worked my way to a Senior ASP.NET developer with a decent amount of SharePoint exposure; it only took me 7 years.

And in those 7 years I was usually poorly managed;

• scope was poorly defined and not managed

• no clear plan was in place or plan omitted crucial steps

• timeframes were unrealistic

• no quality checks were in place (faults were discovered during client demo's)

• clients expectations were not managed

• communications were poor

• processes were not followed

• resource allocation was poor (I once requested a .NET developer and my Manager believed he solved the problem when he got me a junior network administrator who knew a little HTML)

• poor risk management

In many cases I had reached a point where I had very little faith (or respect) for my manager that I insist that they present me with the requirements and leave me alone so I can “do my magic”, this involved me contacting the clients to clearly define their requirements, plan an approach that is within the timeframes promised, build, document and demonstrate the solution (so it looks like I had the making of a good manager at a very early stage).

I was seen as a champion and I enjoyed that, but poor management always frustrated me, and to make matters worse, I became the victim of my own success where my managers (from every company I worked in) ended up overloading me with projects, while other members of the team were able to watch movies and chat whole day. I shut off my Gmail Notifier because it was distracting.

So when a company approached me and asked me to manage their Systems Integration department, I said yes without any hesitation. I saw it as a great opportunity to finally be part of a company that is well managed.

But the move from a technical expert to a manager is not an easy one.

At first it was great, I was heavily involved in all the technical aspects of all the projects, I hired 2 resources, and spent hours a day training them up and improving the quality of their deliverable, I used my technical experience and skills to produce accurate cost estimates and timelines so clients expectations were well managed. Delivery was strong, Staff was happy, Department was profitable.  In summary, my approach was seen as successful.

Over time, the number of projects coming in increased, meaning that I had to grow the team in order to continue delivering a strong solution. My team of 3 grew to 15 (and we are still hiring), I now have team members spread across 2 provinces and 2 continents.

With a team this size, I was forced to move away from the technical aspects of a project and needed to focus on Management specific tasks, my focus shifted to the following:

• Improve customer relations

• Project planning, estimating, coordinating

• Improve staff morale

• Improve internal coordination and processes

• Improve department profits

• Focus on high quality service delivery

• Manage project scope

• Improve resource management

• Staff training

• Risk management

I have been managing this department for over 3 years now. Thankfully, the department is still successful in all aspects – there are a few things I know now that I wish I knew 3 years ago. I would like to share that with anyone about to start the technical to management transition.

• If you are spending time on the technical requirements, you are not doing the things you need to do to be an effective manager

• Seek coaching from other managers who has made this transition, I unfortunately did not have a coach, and I feel that whatever I achieved in 3 years could have been done in 1 year with proper coaching.

• You need to change your thinking from “what can I do” to “what can I get my team to do”

• Management is a full time job – if it’s not, your team is very small or you are doing it wrong

• You need a set of skills that was not needed as a technical expect, mainly: business skills, leadership skills, management skills, planning skills, communication skills so attend a management class as soon as possible.

• Technical skills are not a requirement to be a good manager – it helps but you can’t be dependent on that or too long, keep on learning about the technology, but focus on high level overview rather than technical details.

• Do not be controlling, empower your staff

• Your manager or other members in the organisation may still see you as a technical expert (no matter how long you have the Manager title) and expect you to fulfil technical roles personally – you need to stop that from happening, make it clear that as a manager, you cannot fulfil the requirements personally and, if possible, assign a resource instead.

• Become more people focused, maintain communication with your client and staff even if they are in a different continent.

• Be passionate about Managing, it’s that passion that made you a technical expert, and its that passion that can make you an expert in Management.

• As a manager, it is your responsibility to say No to tasks that cannot be completed without compromising bigger projects or the companies reputation

• Understand that this job is not expected to be easy. Managing people have too many variables and unlike you technical role, you are not going to get it right all the time, understand that, accept that and learn from that.

The future of .NET starts today.

Microsoft has provide a Windows SDK for the Kinect, you can download it here

Do you know what this means? It means that it is now possible for .NET developers to create the user interface that Tom Cruise used in the Minority Report.

To be honest, this was “possible” within hours from the date the Kinect was launched as hackers immediately found a way to gather the data captured from the device and started creating very clever applications that work with gestures, sound, video feed and so on. You can view some of these app’s here Microsoft has just made it official and provided a proper SDK with training material that is supported by them.

Now we (skilled .NET developers) have the necessary skills and means to build applications that can read the “raw data” captured by the Kinect and code an appropriate action. This can be the start of the Next Wave of User Interaction and the time to grab this opportunity is now.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

SharePoint Reviews: Free Products

What a great resource of SharePoint 2007/2010/WSS 3.0/Foundation related freeware.

SharePoint Reviews: Free Products

Saturday, June 04, 2011

What is SharePoint? SharePoint 2010 Essential Training from

This in an excellent Video for End Users that needs to understand SharePoint.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Failure to identify the ROI in Project Managers

IT Project Managers are expensive.  If an IT department is given a fixed budget on human resources, they might be tempted to spend the budget on 2 developers instead of one Project Manager, after all, it’s the developer that does all the coding which is pretty much what the clients are buying, so where is the ROI (return on investment) for Project Managers?

Today I am a Project Manager, but not too long ago, I was a web developer, as a web developer, it was easy to justify my ROI, after all I am doing "ALL" the work right?  A client comes to us asking for a site that needs to for fill a certain objective, I build a site to satisfy the objectives, client is happy, I get paid.  It’s simple.

Project Managers are not writing code, so they are not seen as physically building what the client wants.  Departmental Managers, Directors, HR Managers, or just about any (misguided) decision makers are failing to justify the need to Project Managers (PM), especially since they are an expensive resource.
So to reluctantly justify the acquisition of the PM, they hire a PM but give them multiple roles such as Business Analyst, Architectural Design, Documentation Writer and Tester.  Now hiring one person, paying one salary, calling this person a Project Manager, so he is ultimately responsible for any assigned projects, not assigning Business Analysts and Testers to the projects so the responsibility falls to the Project Manager, who has to ultimately for fill these roles himself/herself for project success and (here’s the most profitable part) stretch this “Project Manager” across 5 or more projects is seen as THE justifiable reason for hiring Project Managers.  If that’s the intended purpose, are you using Project Managers correctly?

When a true Project Manager is assigned to a Project, he automatically has many roles and responsibilities; the project manager is responsible for ensuring that the project team completes the project (and since IT projects are inherently risky – this role is essential)  – this mammoth of a task is a time consuming one (that’s why you need a dedicated resource assigned to it)  it involves the management of the following factors (based on PMBOK) …
  • Scope
  • Time
  • Cost
  • Risk
  • Communication
  • Quality
  • People
It also requires a strong Change Management Plan, a Master Project Plan, a strategy to drive success for every factor mentioned above and a strong involvement in pretty much all the phases of the project.
Adding more “non-PM” roles to the Project Managers responsibility list (like Business Analyst and Tester), prevents the PM from properly managing the PM factors correctly.  Also, adding too many projects to the PM’s plate prevents the Project Manager in assigning a fair amount of time to a specific project.
This means that we are not using Project Managers correctly, which means that the projects are NOT managed correctly, which ultimately means that chances of project success has just dropped significantly –

This means that the entire project is compromised.  This alone seems like a strong ROI reason for getting Project Managers for Project Management tasks – but it is still difficult to convince the Decision Makers, because even though I am saying that that project success is compromised, project success is still possible and that’s all the decision makers hear, and since PM are expensive, the Powers That Be are expecting them to perform miracles.

The Decision Makers that ultimately decide if a Project Manager should be hired needs to ensure that in order for the Project Manager to be successful, their roles and responsibilities needs to be limited to Project Management roles (“limited” is such a bad word here because the amount of work from this role alone is pretty high) – the number of projects assigned to a PM needs to needs to be low enough allow him/her to spend a fair amount of time on each. 

In other words, the Project Managers needs to be provided an environment that promotes success, this is often overlooked, especially since we are hiring Project Managers for the wrong reasons.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Top “non-technical” SharePoint related links

If you have a strong interest in SharePoint, you may have subscribed to SharePoint related groups and discussions via your favorite social network (FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) and blogs.  The problem with this approach is information overload. 

The problem goes beyond information overload, I am an IT Project Manager working with SharePoint projects, and when doing research on SharePoint, I notice that many articles are just too technical for the non-technical people involved in SharePoint projects.

If you enjoy reading my blog, it may be because I try to keep the focus on SharePoint but I also try to keep the topics non-technical – I haven’t found many blogs out there that has this focus, so I understand that my audience is specific, and I understand the difficulty you have in finding relevant SharePoint content.

So, I have decided to compile a list of SharePoint related links that I believe is very interesting for non-technical people interested in SharePoint or have a non-technical involvement in a SharePoint projects.
I am expecting this list to grow over time with your input, so if you know any links that fits within this list, please pass it over and I’ll add it in (Please note that the list is in no specific order)

White Paper: Trying to decide which BI tool is best?
“Trying to decide on which Business Intelligence application is best for your business?  With all the choices available, do you know what style of BI is right for you? The white paper "How to Choose the Right Business Intelligence Technology to Suit Your Style" will help you with those questions and more.”

Video: SharePoint 2010 - Content Management System-File Sharing-Intranet Collaboration-Benefits

“Content Management System-Intranet, Collaboration, File Sharing-Intranet Collaboration-Benefits of SharePoint 2010”

Video: SharePoint Intranet Overview
“Overview of the features that a sample corporate intranet site could have using Microsoft SharePoint”

PowerPoint:  SharePoint: Truth and Fiction

Video: Signing within Microsoft SharePoint 2010

Article: 5 Steps of a Successful SharePoint Site Transformation
“Migration is not just a technical activity – it is a metamorphosis. More and more companies are beginning to understand this as they hear stories from the field, and as they learn the lessons from early migrations to SharePoint 2010.”

Article: Content Migration Tools for SharePoint
“With the release of the new version almost a year ago, SharePoint is getting day by day more popular amongst organizations. It is just a matter of time until a decision is made to migrate from an older version of SharePoint or even from a different enterprise content management (EMC). The following third-party solutions will help SharePoint Administrators to migrate or consolidate content.”

Article: Top 10 mistakes made by SharePoint 2010 administrators
“Working mainly on the administration and architecture side of SharePoint, I don't get to do a lot of development. That's not necessarily a bad thing as it means that I can be more objective when it comes to deploying solutions to SharePoint farms and making changes to our infrastructure.
However, I do like to keep an eye on the development side to help ensure that we follow best practice, and frequently come across articles detailing common mistakes made during development. I figured that I have seen - and made - a fair few "common mistakes" over the years on the infrastructure side that might be helpful for those new (and perhaps not so new) to SharePoint administration.”

Article: SharePoint Online for Office 365: Developer Guide

“Use the SharePoint Online for Office 365 Developer Guide to gain knowledge and understanding of SharePoint Online within Microsoft Office 365, and the rich features available to developers and designers.”

Video: Coffee Talk Guest Segment Featuring Laura Rogers On InfoPath Form Building And SharePoint

“In this special guest segment of Coffee Talk we were joined by Microsoft MVP Laura Rogers. Laura takes us though creating Infopath forms that dynamically build as they go through a workflow. Great example how the combined power of InfoPath and SharePoint, combined with some out of the box thinking, can really supercharge your capability delivery in SharePoint with no code.”

If you found many of these links interesting, then subscribe to my twitter feed (nadirkamdar) all these links and many more are mentioned there and if you like this non-technical summary approach, let me know and I'll provide you with a list 3 or 4 times a year.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Best Practice in the IT world

I really don’t like the term “Best Practice”, because that implies that it can’t get any better, that’s not true as it’s the constant changing, modifying and improving of standards, methods, techniques and processes that makes best practice.  This is especially true in the IT world.

I would like to enter this topic with a non-IT related example.  A few months ago, I was sick; this illness caused some internal imbalance that eventually lead to a high build-up of wax in my one ear.  It was so bad, my ear was completely blocked, and it remained blocked for days.  I had to go to the doctor.

I was expecting the doctor to use some special ear-scope to find the wax build-up and then pluck it out with a tweezer or any other thin long medical device, it seems like the obvious solution, it would be quick and effective.
Instead, the doctor poured warm, soapy water into my ear, she poured and poured into the ear for about 1 and a half hours until the wax started to soften and eventually wash away.
I asked her why she used this approach, isn’t there faster methods available, she said that there was, but this is the way she was taught.

I left doctors office realising that doctors learn “best practices” right at the start of their careers, it’s part of their core training.  They also don’t compromise on their best practices, no matter how tight the deadline or what the client demands.  It’s either best practice or not all.
The IT world is not like that.  Firstly, we are ruled by deadlines and client demands, but apart from that, we start off our career without knowing any best practices.

Let’s take programmers for example, Programmers don’t learn best practices approaches when it comes to programing, most learn how to programme, they learn a technology like ASP.NET and SQL, and then apply what they know to achieve the desired objective.  For a junior programmer, it’s not about doing it right, it’s about getting it done.

Maybe it’s unfair for me to generalise and say that all programmers don’t learn best practices.  You do get those would be programmers that studied in a higher learning institution for a few years, giving them a good, all rounded skill set including good standards, understanding of methodologies (like waterfall) and approaches in programming.  But in IT, technology is constantly changing; the tools available are frequently updating, human behaviour is shifting.  This means that whatever approach you defined 6 months ago may already be out of date, and should be re-visited.
Also, in IT, there is no one size fit all when it comes to best practices.  Whatever you have learnt in your higher learning institute or previous job may not apply in your current working environment.

So how do we define best practices in the IT world?

Using IT focused methodologies is a great start.  The Rapid methodologies (replaces the waterfall approach) is a great way to start (but there may be something newer out there by the time you read this article), and this is a great starting point when defining good standards and approaches, but understand that this methodology will most likely need to be refined to fit into your environment, this is when the project managers needs to get involved.

Good Project Managers have received some sort of training (be it formal or informal) on how to do things right and have learnt approaches and techniques to drive project success, this includes communication strategies and risk management (amongst others).  Applying that knowledge into a project approach and combining it with a proven methodology with Rapid will result in you making a good strong move towards best practices.

After all that, come constant improvements.  Review sessions during a project require commitment that does not necessary lead to current project success (so is often ignored) but it can lead to future project success.  Documenting where the team has done right or wrong and planning approaches (for example: building check lists, implementing a governance strategy, form a QA team, provide training) to avoid the pitfalls identified is really the “best practice” approach for best practices.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Protection of Personal Information (PPI) and SharePoint – Part 2 of 2

Microsoft answer to PPI is proper Data Governance.

Data governance involves the management of personal information in a manner that supports an organization’s mission, complies with imposed regulations as well as its own policies and aligns with customer expectations.

Examining how information flows throughout an organization over time, and how it is being accessed by multiple applications and people for various purposes, will clarify the various areas where the organization should deploy technologies to protect private information. This information flow (AKA the Data Governance Life Cycle) comprises four key stages, within which an organization can construct many unique data governance scenarios to address specific considerations.  The four stages are:

Collection: Personal information is usually collected from multiple sources (in person, online, via other systems, 3rd party, etc.) and must establish appropriate controls that uniformly assure privacy policy compliance regardless of collection method.  This involves setting consistent standards and expectations in contracts with external partners that receive or manage the information, as well as addressing consumers’ desire for greater choice and control in how their personal information is collected. It also requires the organization to consider how these policies will be honoured throughout the lifespan of the data.

Storage: While protecting data stored only in a database is relatively straightforward, the task is far more complex as personal information scatters within and between organizations in unstructured forms such as e-mail, spreadsheets and text documents. As data in these forms is increasingly being stored on laptops and mobile devices, the risk of data breaches has risen sharply—which in turn may require organizations to implement more aggressive and sophisticated storage controls.

Usage: As information becomes increasingly fluid, it is also subject to access by multiple applications and people—including many that are outside the organization as a by-product of outsourcing agreements and partnerships. In this environment, ensuring that only the right people can gain access to this data and enforcing strict limits on their ability to take data outside the organization (such as on their laptops) are crucial considerations.
Usage also results in new data describing how the target data was used, when it was accessed, by whom and so on. This data represents a record of data use and is commonly called metadata. Importantly, all of the controls applied to the target data must also be applied to metadata.

Retention/destruction: Data storage is becoming cheaper every day, to the point where many organizations have found that the time involved in deciding which records to delete from their systems is more costly than simply retaining it all. However, this practice does not account for the liabilities associated with holding onto sensitive personal and confidential information after it has outlived its usefulness. Viewed from the standpoint of minimizing an organization’s exposure to risk from a data breach, the effort involved in setting a finite lifespan for sensitive data and enforcing policies for its automatic deletion or secure archival is a worthwhile investment.

A multifaceted approach to data governance involves a combination of policy, people, processes and technology.  While all components are essential for proper data governance, the technology component (like the use of SharePoint) will be the focus of this article.

Technology has a key role in enabling organizations to implement effective data governance processes, policies, and compliance with business practices and regulations.

An effective technology-based framework needs four essential elements to responsibly protect and manage personal information, mitigate risk, achieve compliance, and promote trust and accountability.  The four elements are:

More secure infrastructure: Safeguards that protect against malware, intrusions and unauthorized access to personal information and protect systems from evolving threats.

To help prevent unauthorized disclosure, organizations should build their IT infrastructure using software that is designed for maximum security (e.g. Microsoft Forefront and Microsoft Forefront for SharePoint*), and they should employ tools and services to continually protect against evolving threats.

* Forefront Security for SharePoint: Formerly called Antigen for SharePoint, this product helps organizations protect their SharePoint Portal Server and Windows SharePoint Services deployments against viruses, worms and inappropriate content. Using multiple anti-virus engines, it scans all documents as they are uploaded or retrieved from SharePoint document libraries. It also offers content-filtering capabilities that help prevent inadvertent or intentional posting of documents containing offensive language or other inappropriate content, as well as file types that potentially expose organizations to legal risk, such as MP3 audio files.

Identity and access control: Systems that help protect personal information from unauthorized access or use and provide management controls for identity access and provisioning.

To reduce the risk of a deliberate or accidental data breach, and to help organizations comply with regulatory requirements, Microsoft offers identity and access control technologies (e.g. Active Directory management via SharePoint) that protect personal information from unauthorized access while seamlessly facilitating its availability to legitimate users.

Information protection: Protecting sensitive personal information in structured databases and unstructured documents, messages and records by means such as encryption so that only authorized parties can view or change it throughout its life cycle.

Information rights management technology extends the capabilities of RMS into the Microsoft Office system and Internet Explorer.  The 2010 Microsoft Office system provides even broader RMS capabilities through new developments in Microsoft SharePoint. Administrators can set access policies for SharePoint document libraries on a per-user basis. For example, users who have “view-only” access to documents in a library—but cannot print, copy or paste—will have those policies enforced by RMS, even when the document has been removed from the SharePoint site.

Auditing and reporting: Monitoring to verify the integrity of systems and data in compliance with business policies.

SharePoint administrators can set auditing policies to log activities as reading, deletion and modification of documents, and monitor those policies through reports.  They can also implement document-retention policies, such as “expiring” unneeded content after a certain amount of time.

A major data spillage, security breach or failure to comply with government regulations can have significant long-term implications for an organization’s bottom line and for its brand. Managing and protecting sensitive personal information is not only the right thing to do for customers, it’s also the right thing to do from a business perspective.

In combination with the right policies, people and processes, technology like SharePoint can help lay a strong foundation for a successful data governance strategy.

Managing and Protecting Personal Information (excellent reference – most of the article is based on this document) - 

Protection of Personal Information (PPI) and SharePoint – Part 1 of 2

The Protection of Personal information bill (the bill) has been getting a lot of attention lately, currently it’s a bill that is not yet enforced, but that is set to happen this year.

Organisations are expected to take reasonable steps NOW to ensure that they are compliant when this bill becomes law. So lots of seminars and training sessions are now becoming available to educate you on what the bill is all about and what “reasonable” steps can be taken in order for you to be compliant.

So what is this bill all about?

The bill regulates the collection, storage and distribution of personal information by both private and public bodies. It is based on world standards and is regarded as leading practice baseline for effective data privacy regulation around the world. The bill aims to provide an acceptable balance between the right to privacy and the legitimate need to use personal information.

Personal information is regarded as any information related to a person from first name to sexual orientation. He bill has eight core principles which form the minimal conditions for the lawful processing of personal information. The eight principles are:

Accountability: The party holding the personal information is responsible for the information and must follow the principles defined in the bill

Processing Limitations: Personal information must be collected directly from the data subject, with the data subjects consent.

Purpose Specification: Personal information must be collected for a specific, well defined and legitimate purpose. The data subject should be aware of the purpose for which the information is collected, and who the likely recipients of the information will be.

Further processing limitations: Personal information may not be processed further in a way that is incompatible with the purpose for which the information was collected initially.

Information Quality: The person or party that determines the purpose and means for processing personal information should ensure that the information is complete, up to date and accurate.

Openness personal: Personal information may only be collected if the Information Protection Commission was notified. Also, where personal information of a data subject is collected, the person or institution responsible for such collection must ensure that the data subject is aware of:
  • The fact that the information is being collected;
  • The name and address of the person or institution collecting the information;
  • Whether or not the supply of the information by that data subject is voluntary or mandatory and the consequences of failure to reply ;and
  • Where the collection of information is authorised or required under any law, the particular law to which the collection is subject.
Data Subject Participation: A data subject is entitled to the particulars of his or her personal information held by any institution or person, as well as to the identity of any person that had access to his or her personal information. The data subject is also entitled to require the correction of any information held by another party.

Security Safeguards: The Bill requires the implementation of technical and organisational measures to secure the integrity of personal information, and to guard against the risk of loss, damage or destruction of personal information. Also, personal information should also be protected against any unauthorised or unlawful access or processing.

That’s the main overview, the bill also mentions the processing of “special personal information” (i.e. religious or philosophical beliefs, race or ethnic origin, trade union membership, political opinions, health, sexual life, or criminal behaviour) which is basically prohibited for collection, storage and distribution.

Now since you understand what PPI is all about, let’s look at how SharePoint can help (in Part 2).


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Keep up with changing human behaviour when building web solutions

You want a new Intranet, You now need to design a solution, the area you consider most important when designing a solution will probably be the following …
  • A strong Home Page with dynamic content for everyone in the organisation
  • A detailed sitemap so users can easily navigate to the content they are looking for
It makes sense, an entry point that is dynamic with content and contains a navigational menu that allows you to access additional information seem like the makings of a good intranet site.  Right?

Well, the answer to that question would be yes, if you were building an Intranet 3 years ago.  End user behavior has changed so much since then, that their expectations and interaction with the Intranet is now very different, meaning that your approach when designing a solution needs to adjust to match their new expectations.

You don’t believe me?  I don’t blame you.  But the signs are there, and we need to stop using that 10 year old approach when designing Intranet solutions (or Internet for that matter), and build an approach that is more in favor with the way users currently interact with intranets.

Confused?  Let me give some examples.  Many of you are familiar with Facebook, well, so are the majority of end users of your Intranet, what makes Facebook great is really the way Facebook presents information that is relevant to you.  It is available as soon as you enter the site, and it only displays information that you want to see. 

Now, let’s look at your home page design.  It will probably contain information that is not specific to an audience, but rather information that somebody determined as relevant to everyone in the organisation, these days, that type of information usually get ignored, because the information is just not relevant.

So what’s the new approach?  Don’t worry about creating a Home Page, they usually get special attention during design and development, meaning that it cost a bit to build, and they don’t work as well as they use to anyways.  Rather deploy mySites and make that the new home page, this way, the end user can configure their environment so it displays information that is relevant to them and also provides links to other areas of the intranet they would find relevant (like a salesman creating a shortcut link to the sales portal).  This will give you a stronger user adoption, a happier end user and whatever objective you were trying to achieve via the home page, you can still achieve via mySites (with the proper configurations).

Still not convinced?  OK, lets look at sitemaps.  Sitemaps really define the navigation of your site.  This usually gets a lot of design time because this was the primary way for your end-users to find content, that’s not the case anymore, sitemaps are flawed, as it is a structure that is defined by a small group of decision makers (typically one person) but this structure may not make sense to the rest of the organisation.  I explain this in detail with a previous post

End users are now used to finding content via searching tools, they are familiar with Google and other search engines, even the latest windows operating system provided a search feature to help you find the programme you want rather than being solely dependent on the menu.  End-users are now expecting content to be correctly classified (be it taxonomy or folksonomy) – so they can easily find it via the search feature (which must be easily accessible, anywhere in the intranet).  They also expect the first page of the search results to contain the information they are looking for.

So search is now the preferred approach in finding content.  Your solution design time should place more emphasis on correctly classifying content, so you can provide a better search experience.

Thankfully, Microsoft has identified this new human behaviour and have designed SharePoint 2010 to work accordingly (mySites, taxonomy, etc).  Unfortunately, the developers/architects of SharePoint solutions have not yet identified this new human behavior, and see no harm in deploying the solution in an approach that is pretty much 10 years old. 

We are currently at the age where people are calling email “the way old people communicate”.  If we are not going to adjust our approach to meet the current needs, we are building an obsolete system right from the start.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Retaining Staff

We have already established that there is a shortage of SharePoint skills; my post on that topic has been my most popular post to date. This problem becomes the root cause of other problems, and the problem I want to focus on today is the fact that the shortage of SharePoint skills places your existing SharePoint team in high demand and if proper steps are not taken to retain this staff, consider them lost.

It’s unfortunate but true, due to lack of training available, the number of new SharePoint players entering the market is low (and still needs a lot of work before they can add real value to projects), so in order for a company to deliver on a SharePoint need, they need to use existing SharePoint players, and in order to do that, they need to figure out who’s the competitors key players, and make them an offer they cannot refuse.

Sometimes these “offers they cannot refuse” are ridiculously high, meaning that a counter offer is out of the question, so the big question I’m placing out there is “if money cannot be used to retain staff, what else can you do?”.

The big secret in retaining staff, is identifying the staff’s key motivational factors and focusing on those needs. Easily said, but not so easily done, many staff members don’t even know what there motivational factors are, so just asking them what motivates them may send you down the wrong path, rather focus on what they do. Also, there are surveys available that will help you (and the staff member) identify there motivational factors.

Records from surveys and intensive studies have proven that if you are under the age of 30, your most significant motivating factor is money, so, sadly, it matters not (or at least very little) how great the work is and how happy you are, if someone offers you a significant bump in your salary, chances are, you going to take it, and there isn’t much that can be done about it.

Once over the age of 30, the motivational factors are more diverse, the top motivational factors are usually the following (not in any specific order):

  • Staff needs to feel that their job and the company is secured
  • Staff needs career advancements
  • Staff needs to feel that they are contributing to the company’s strategy for success
  • The work itself needs to be exciting and challenging
  • If you are not a senior, mentors should be available to help you grow and improve
  • Staff needs recognition for the work done
  • Staff wants financial rewards based on company performance (profit share)
  • Staff must enjoy the workplace culture
  • Staff wants to be managed well (management must be fair, honest and consistent)
After you have observed your staffs action, and identified there motivational factors, you need to do something about it. Here are some ideas (I would appreciate more ideas if you have any):
  • Get staff more involved with company’s strategy: get them passionate about the job, let them see the value they are adding – this will increase their commitment to the job, which helps with their loyalty.
  • Develop a training and mentorship programme: Provide a programme for the staff to improve their skills, and contribution to the company’s strategy. Fund there training, provide mentoring or coaching and even setting time aside for studying is an investment that can only improve your current skillset and delivery quality
  • Give team opportunities to socialise: team building outings and celebrating project success shows that your focus is not just on work, but also on team development which helps in with the loyalty development
  • Highlight achievements: Having a forum where staffs achievements are acknowledge is a great way in providing recognition of a job well done. Some people live for these moments, and will do what they can for the recognition. With a forum like this in place, offering rewards (like a weekend getaway or an additional leave day) for exceptional work is a well worth additional cost, a positive ROI for this cost is guaranteed.

When staff leave, try to identify where you went wrong, sometimes it’s just about the money so it may not be your fault, but in most cases something happened (or didn’t happen), that planted the seed of uncertainty, something that you could have done differently or is interpreted differently that makes a staff member decide that they will enter the market to see if something better is out there, after that point is crossed, it’s difficult to go back. So try to ensure that point is never reached, and good luck.