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