Why Your Vendor Screwed Up Your SharePoint Project

There have been some excellent posts in various blogs over the last couple of months about reasons why SharePoint projects fail. Jeremy Thake has a thought provoking post titled The SharePoint Implementation Market needs to grow up!, Kristian Kalsing has one titled Do we need SharePoint functional consultants?, and Paul Culmsee has numerous posts on the subject over at Clever Workarounds. I even have an old one in my blog, How to Sabotage Your Projects.

I think the most common reason SharePoint projects fail is simple: the people hired to do the work were not qualified. In this post I will explain why, and hopefully help you make better buying decisions.

Before I started Elumenotion two years ago, I spent years working for a very good Microsoft Gold Partner, one of the largest in the country. I worked in several roles over the years including Senior Consultant, Practice Leader, General Manager, and Sales Executive. I’ve had to hire the right people, build and maintain different practice areas, and manage utilization.

The Microsoft partner model is basically the same today as it was ten years ago. Microsoft has multiple partner levels with different benefits. To qualify as a partner, you earn competencies in different areas of specialization and earn points based on different criteria including the number of certified professionals you have on staff. Ten years ago, there were a handful of competencies. Today there are sixteen separate competencies. Some are narrow like the SOA and Business Process (BizTalk), some are very broad like Custom Development Solutions, and some fall in the middle, like Information Worker Solutions.

If you are hire a certified partner to implement SharePoint, chances are they hold either the Custom Development Solutions or Information Worker Solutions competencies. Let’s take a look at the description of Information Worker Solutions.

Let that sink in for a minute. Let’s count the Microsoft products that a vendor with this competency should be able to implement.

1.    SQL Server
2.    Performance Point
3.    Office 2007
4.    InfoPath
5.    SharePoint Designer
6.    Visual Studio
7.    Project Server
8.    Project
9.    Windows SharePoint Services
10.    Microsoft Office SharePoint Server
11.    FAST Search
12.    Windows Server

You can explode many of these into many specializations, SQL Server is huge, Office consists of half a dozen core applications and several minor applications… you get the idea.

Of course Microsoft Office SharePoint Server has a long list of complicated features: Web Content Management, Office Business Applications, Workflow, Business Data Catalog, Search, and many, many more.

These are just the technologies. As Kristian Kalsing points out each addresses a wide range of functional areas.

Now, imagine you are the manager of a Microsoft Gold Partner that does custom application development. Your office has 40 consultants and $10 million in sales per year. At that size, you are a respectable player in the city where you live. Custom application development covers a big list of technologies too. Some of your people are best at Windows Forms, some do middle-tier and server-side work, you probably have to have a good DBA or two, and some are cracker jack web developers who do ASP.NET, CSS, AJAX, etc.

Now add SharePoint to the mix and divide the number of people by the number of technologies. How many of those 40 people are really good at more than 2-3 of the items on the list?

Every one of those 40 people collect salaries. You have to pay them even when they are on the bench. Your sales people are paid on commission, and when they sell an engagement they expect you to staff it so they can get paid.

Now imagine that you are the customer. What makes you think that on the day you sign the contract with that vendor that the 2-3 people they have on staff who really understand the technology you need are actually available? They might be, but the odds aren’t good. Did you check the vendor’s references? How do you know that you will get any of the people responsible for that awesome win the reference tells you about?

If the manager at the vendor wants to keep his or her job, they will do the best they can with the people they have available.

Ten years ago we lived in a simpler world. It was possible, and fairly common for the best Microsoft professionals to implement a wide swath of the Microsoft platform. The partner model that Microsoft has today was built for those days, but those days are over. You can’t give a crackerjack .NET developer a book and give them two weeks to ramp up on MOSS. Many have tried and many have failed. The same is true of SQL Server Analysis Services, BizTalk and of much of the rest of the Microsoft stack.

The Microsoft partner ecosystem is changing. The incumbents know that they can’t afford to keep all of these skills in house. A model that resembles general contractors and subcontractors is emerging. Some of Elumenotion’s best customers are other Microsoft Partners that recognize this fact. We think of ourselves as plumbers. Our larger consulting partners are builders. They have their own plumbers, but sometimes their people are busy and they call us. We have lots of other customers that are normal businesses. We only do SharePoint work for them even though we obviously could do more generalized ASP.NET work.

Elumenotion is not the least bit revolutionary in this regard. There are plenty of small vendors who only do SharePoint, just like there are many small specialty vendors in every other product offering from Microsoft.

Does this mean you shouldn’t use a medium sized or large consulting firm for SharePoint? Of course not! What it does mean is that you should focus on the individual consultants they want to assign to your projects. You should subject each of them to the same scrutiny that you would a full time hire. If you don’t have the skills in-house to make the decision, hire a plumber.

Author: Doug Ware

Atlanta based entrepreneur, author of many SharePoint books and videos, leader of Atlanta .NET user group, founder of InstantQuick, and SharePoint MVP.


  • Jeremy Thake

    February 20, 2009, 2:32 am

    Spot on man, glad there’s other people out there who can see the flaws in the model as it’s being run. This all really needs rethinking to make SharePoint as successful as it can be!

    It’s very much along the lines of this post too where I raise all the possible roles and development issues!

  • Ronan Lavelle - Dolphin Software

    February 20, 2009, 4:27 am

    This is an excellent article and right on the money. My company has developed a Contract Lifecycle Management application based on the SharePoint platform (see http://www.dolphin-software.com/dcm.htm) and had to experience the painful search for experienced SharePoint consultants who knew more than just .Net and building a corporate Intranet.

    SharePoint/MOSS 2007 is now an excellent Business Application development platform and should be exploited by organisations to provide more than just basic document management and collaborative teamspaces. A good example of how SharePoint can be used to manage contracts can be found at: http://dolphinsoftware.wordpress.com/2009/02/19/does-microsoft-sharepoint-offer-a-viable-solution-for-contract-lifecycle-management/

    My advice to those looking for deeply technical and experienced SharePoint consultants – steer away from companies who call themselves ‘gurus’ – they are invariably not.

    Always insist on your SharePoint consultants having the appropriate certifications and Competencies.

  • Anon

    February 20, 2009, 9:49 am

    Gold partners are overrated – nuff said

  • Doug Ware

    February 20, 2009, 11:35 am

    I don’t think Gold Partners are over rated at all. It takes a lot of effort to gain the certification and it requires references from actual customers.

    The Microsoft channel absolutely needs larger partners with a wide range of skills in house. Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying – it would be bad for everyone if companies had to go buy every service they need for a single project in an ala carte, piecemeal fashion from a dozen different vendors.

    To continue the builder analogy, we need general contractors and smaller specialty providers. The best Gold Partners know this. My criticism of the Microsoft Partner model is aimed at the model, not at the providers. It requires behaviors that make good implementation for any really complex, but niche, technology in the Microsoft stack difficult because it makes managing utilization difficult.

    There are far more successful projects delivered by Gold Partners than there are failures. As a buyer, you can help make sure that you fall into the successful category if you understand how the vendors operate and ask the right questions up front.

  • Paul Culmsee

    February 20, 2009, 5:52 pm

    Your comment on how the Microsoft partner ecosystem is changing and how the incumbents know that they can’t afford to keep all of these skills in house is a well observed one.

    I sub contract at times to bigger integrators but you always are on your guard in that you know that you are only there out of necessity.

    The question is how to balance the desire of an integrator to own the IP and a specialist to do a good job by essentially diluting IP?

  • Doug Ware

    February 21, 2009, 7:17 pm

    We don’t really have problems along those lines because our partners trust that we won’t steal their clients. My partner and I are both well known in Atlanta as honest and ethical people and we make sure our people know that when we are at a client on behalf of another partner that we have a responsibility to look out for their best interests.

    You might think that this is somehow at odds with looking out for the best interests of the client, but not really. Everyone wants a good solution. We know our partners. If we find ourselves in a position as a subcontractor where their is a conflict, we deal with it in a professional manner.

  • Anon

    March 13, 2009, 4:42 pm

    As a corporate client, we’ve seen firsthand how little is really known about SharePoint beyond the basics out in consultant land. We’ve even tried the offshore route and let me tell you, that is something you should avoid for SharePoint unless you want to get lied to and burned. The problem is that every .NET shop out there thinks they can cash in on the SharePoint bandwagon because it’s based on .NET. What they don’t realize is that SharePoint is an enterprise system and a run of the mill ASP.NET developer will quickly get lost trying to build a SharePoint solution. You need to focus on the core need and find a partner or contractor that specializes in that need. No single person can truly be a all inclusive SharePoint guru. It would take the mind of 10 consultants to qualify for that title.

  • Alfons

    April 23, 2009, 1:02 pm

    I don’t know what kind of certifications you are talking about that takes “a lot of effort”. So called “Gold Partners” consists mostly of MTCD, “Microsoft Testking Certified Developers”…

  • @SharePointWolfe

    August 24, 2009, 5:07 pm

    So true, so true…I’ve seen it from the other side. My employer (a consulting firm) has methodically built out a team to cover SharePoint from one end of the spectrum to the other – an absolute MUST in order to be competent. It takes a whole team of people with in-depth knowledge of specific niche areas within SharePoint, and a couple people who have a clear bird’s eye view of the whole thing. That includes having BAs, PMs, and managers who can speak intelligently about SharePoint. Anything less than that is a recipe for disaster.

    As for certifications, don’t hire anyone without them since anyone with any SP skills at all should be able to get certified without any trouble. Certifications should be a bare minimum requirement, then look at their experience and product knowledge – ask questions!!

  • Andreas

    May 4, 2011, 6:20 am

    You are so right… there a a lot of possibilities to screw up a project. First it comes to the vendor selling stuff they don’t know about in order to get money.
    Second these so called consultants aren’t mostly worth a penny. They tell you everything and yet even with SharePoint 2010 they know nothing. Throwing around with buzz words isn’t cool…
    Third there are a lot of developers coming from simple .NET being confronted with a big things called “SharePoint” which requires even for a developer some admin skills.
    Forth it’s so easy to get a certification without experience and learning.
    Fifth SharePoint is sometimes (often) required by business while IT has to implement and hell ya they don’t speak with each other.
    Sixth people don’t like SharePoint… authors push work towards admins, admins to developers: It’s your solution which doesn’t work. No it’s the SharePoint farm… at the end content wasn’t correctly edited.


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