SharePoint architects, developers and administrators are in a unique position to have a measurable impact on business and people. We have been given a technology platform that allows us to increase efficiency, reduce waste, connect people and drive results. When we use our talents as business process engineers with the potent tool of the SharePoint platform our impact on business can be succinctly measured by these yardsticks.
As technologists we must embrace and expand our talents as business solution architects. This is beyond the bits and bytes of our platform’s toolkit. In fact, often it has nothing to do with technology at all. Often the best solution involves defining a new policy, educating the workforce or reorganizing job duties. To use First Lady of California, Maria Shriver’s expression, we are “architects of change” before we are architects of technology solutions.
And yet that is where we most often fail. Throughout this wonderful community there are many voices speaking directly to feature sets, custom development options and other pure technology plays. These are the necessary experts who help us turn our vision into reality. Fewer though are the voices that talk about the business management and people skills required to be the architect of an enterprise wide information delivery system. This topic is important because it can show us how to communicate with non-technical business leaders. These decision makers must be encouraged to understand our ability to help them and directly impact both the top and bottom lines.
Here are some key elements to embrace as you build a business case for SharePoint solutions or other enterprise wide technology. As an architect of change these principals are interchangeable and interdependent and therefore are listed in no particular order.
It seems obvious to say don’t promise what you do not personally know you can deliver however too often the details of project requirements and scope creep sandbag a perfectly simple project. Take time to familiarize yourself with the limitations of real world implementations. Reach out into the blogosphere and Twitter communities to understand the difficulties other firms have encountered. This will keep you from overpromising and under delivering which is a sure-fire way to lose your executive sponsor.
It’s is amazing to me how many people have lost the simple ability to be curious about their surroundings. This is an important component of the business solution architect’s personality. Whether you are manufacturing, service or technology related company you must learn from the people within your business. They are usually very well versed in what has made them successful to date. They will teach you what is important going forward. A 20 minute conversation with an Executive Assistant can often teach you more about a company than 30 days of formal requirements gathering. Stay curious even after you’ve met management and
Never underestimate a pleasant personality. Chronically rubbing people the wrong way won’t get your enterprise system adopted by users or funded by business leaders. While being true to your real nature find a method for working with people that leaves you and them feeling uplifted. You will find people will more often come to you with questions and projects. That will increase your influence in your own environment which is critical to architecting real change. Never is this charm more important than when dealing with an implementation problem or a failed project. Pay it forward.
I have never called myself an evangelist. That is because that term implies a single minded focus on a particular topic. I do not find that useful in today’s enterprise environment. Most organizations of any size have a combination of technologies implemented. Being flexible and allowing competing technologies to have a place in your world view is mature, professional and smart. You can not solve every problem with SharePoint even though you might want to. There is a seat for many people at the table – don’t try to crowd everyone out all the time.
In the course of an enterprise implementation you will run across some flavor of either virulent hostility, quiet resistance to change, nay-sayers and downright rude folks. Their fears are your greatest teachers. Listen closely to what they say. Invite your most powerful nay-sayer to your meetings. Make a special effort to brief them, even if it’s difficult and one on one. These people who vocally resist change always speak to an underlying current of the masses that some people will not clearly articulate. Make no mistake that other people feel the same and to ignore them is to invite disaster. Do not complain, gossip or generally kavetch about these people. They will hear about it and use it against you. Attempt to be pleasant, have great manners and be responsive to their feelings. That is, after all, true collaboration.
You must keep your word to business. It is essential that you earn and retain the trust of the stakeholders who will discuss you and your projects when you are not in the room. You cannot please all of them all of the time. Expectations are very hard to manage. However, if you keep your word and deliver what you can when you say you will you’ll be ahead of the game.
Professional skills such as the ones detailed above can aid you in transforming your relationship with the key influencers in your organization. They are the precursor to true strategic thinking and many successful executives mastered these skills for very different reasons. In the SharePoint community we are in a unique position to transform business process with the breadth of technology available to us. Take up the challenge, find your niche and start having a true impact on the people you work with. You can be an inspiration to others and you might not even know it. We are all architects of change and its time we continue to build the business landscape of the future today.