SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture Master Class Review

It has been a month since I attended Paul Culmsee’s SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture Master Class in Seattle.  I’ve done a lot of thinking during that time, and after reading Michal Pisarek’s review (Michal, who is a SharePoint MVP, was one of the 20 attendees), I felt compelled to blog my thoughts as well.

First of all, thanks to Paul, Erica Toelle and Ruven Gotz (another SharePoint MVP) for making the course happen and all of the content they contributed to the curriculum.  I think the most compelling thing that Paul Culmsee brings to the SharePoint Community is his ability to offer high quality ideas that make you think.  He always backs up his ideas with a lot of research and real-world experience. 

I’ve been following his blog for a couple of years and have read several of the books that he mentions on his blog, as well as in the class.  I’m sure everyone got something different from the class, because there was so much thrown at us in the two days.

I have a business background (marketing specifically), as opposed to an IT background, so my natural view tends to slant towards looking at the business as a whole first, then trying to marry the needs of the business with the available technologies.  Paul’s class opened my eyes to several techniques to make the planning process more efficient and effective in regards to undertaking a collaboration initiative.  For me the following were key takeaways.

1. In order to come up with a good solution to a problem, you need to understand the type of problem you are looking at.  This seems simple enough, but I don’t think I have ever worked with a client that truly understands what type of problem collaboration poses (which is one of the reasons SharePoint projects tend to be so high risk). 

Paul talks about wicked problems in his blog and in this class.  What was interesting to me was getting a better feel for the forces that cause teams to become fragmented, and then how to look at problems in an entirely different way – as spelled out in the Cynefin Framework.  Once you have an understanding of the problem domains the framework identifies, you can utilize the proper leadership approach to solving them – and that is an invaluable perspective.

Cynefin Framework Resources:

2. Because of social complexity, solving a wicked problem is fundamentally a social process.  You have to really think about this one, and understand to offer collaboration solutions that help a company meet their top level strategic goals, you must involve a cross-functional group to reach a shared understanding of what you are trying to accomplish.  Without a shared understanding, you will not gain a shared commitment to the solution.  Without a shared commitment, your project will eventually fail.

Paul went through several problem structuring methods, but Dialogue Mapping is the one that I have gravitated too since first reading his blog on this topic.  I had already purchased the book by Jeff Conklin, and had created a MindMap template for facilitating sessions with clients.  It takes a litte while to feel comfortable running a session, but you really do see the difference it makes in the interactivity of the meetings.  In addition, you gain a written record of the conversation, so anyone can look at the map and see the rationale behind decisions.  It is great for quickly bringing people up to speed on the topic, or remembering why you are doing what you are doing when you are knee-deep in the project.

As far as business training classes go, this is the best one I have ever attended.  Yes, the topics are tied to making your SharePoint projects more effective, but the course is much more than that.  SharePoint just happens to be the tool that the attendees and the presenters work with on a daily basis, but the topics covered in this class will help you become a better business person.  You will be better equipped to help solve complex problems.  You will have insight into the approaches that are needed based on the type of problem you are facing – and the tools/techniques to utilize to come to a shared understanding.