SharePoint empowerment includes instilling proper discipline. Being able to define a process and use SharePoint to support it allows users to reap the technology's promise of streamlining work, increasing productivity and improving business efficiency.

Teaching how to define business processes is equally as important as it is developing a SharePoint solution to support them. You wouldn’t want your organization to end up being the SharePoint cobblers’ children, would you?

On How Not to Make Custom Shoes

Once upon a time, there was a store that sold various goods to the townsfolk. Clothing, shoes, food, home appliances and anything any family would need. It employed a lot of people and business was doing very well.

One day, the owner noticed that there was a high demand for their custom made shoes. The store had a single custom shoemaker who would make these specialized shoes. Customers would wait all day just to have their measurements taken and have their shoes made exactly for them.  In some cases, customers would lose patience in waiting in line and just leave the store.

 

To address the problem, the owner decided to train all the other employees on making custom shoes. Abruptly, he asked the expert shoemaker to teach the other employees on how to use the shoe-making tools. The shoemaker initially hesitated but carried on his employers’ demands.

The next day, the owner was excited and confident that he could serve customers better now.  As soon as the store opened, customers came in wanting to have their custom shoes made. The newly trained shoemakers were ready to get started. After two hours, the owner noticed that lines were getting longer (though not as bad as before) in the custom shoes section.

He hovered over the shoemakers to see if there were any problems. “Do I measure the foot width or cut the leather first?” asked a rookie shoemaker to another. “How would I know which laces would work best for tap dancing shoes?” quipped another.“Does the customer have to pay for the shoes if they’re not happy?” asked the third amateur shoemaker.

It's Not Just About the Tools

“Disaster!” exclaimed the store owner. He rushed to see the senior shoemaker and asked him why he didn’t teach the others well. The expert shoemaker was defensive and replied: “I did what you told me to do! I taught everyone how to use a mallet, hatchet, plane, brace, caliper, scissors and a square.”

“Then why is this place a mess? Why aren’t the customers getting their custom shoes made as fast as I hoped they would?”  questioned the store owner.

“You see, it takes more than using these tools to make a custom shoe, Mr. Storeowner.” said the shoemaker, continuing: “Learning how to use shoemaking tools is important, however, learning the process of making a shoe is as critical. It takes asking the customer the right questions, drawing it out on a piece of paper, going through the decision making and validation process in deciding which tools should be used in the right order based on the customers’ needs. These steps are necessary to be successful in making the right shoe for the customer.”

As the shoemaker was about to storm out of the room, he asks the store owner: “Have you ever seen someone become a master shoemaker overnight?”

Is Business Process Analysis Part of Your SharePoint Training Plan?

In a lot of organizations, role-based (end user, power user, server administrator) SharePoint training is a key component of their adoption strategy. This is a great thing! However, as a result of technology-focused SharePoint training, individuals can spend too much time with the whiz-bang coolness of SharePoint tools and not be able to effectively deliver a solution to address their business needs because proper business process analysis didn’t happen.

What do I mean by ‘proper business process analysis’? For example, let’s say that your department needs an expense reimbursement form and wants to automate the process of submission and approval. If the actual expense reimbursement process exists, maybe it’s just a matter of creating a custom list in your SharePoint site and applying the necessary workflow steps and actions with SharePoint Designer.

However, in cases where the expense reimbursement process DOES NOT exist, a user might create the custom list and spend all day playing with the workflow designer in SharePoint Designer trying out different possibilities. “What if I make it send an email? Or maybe update a list item? I know, let me assign a task!”

Ideally, prior to utilizing SharePoint, the undefined expense reimbursement process has to be hashed out. Who should receive it? What happens if it’s approved? If it’s not approved? How will the finance department be notified?

Editor's Note: Read more about SharePoint from Dux Raymond Sy, including his two part series on 5 Reasons Why Executive SharePoint Ignorance is Not Bliss.

Train the Right People, Not all the People

Bless your heart, Dux. You made a great point, BUT, there’s no way we can and will train every user on how to define business processes. You shouldn’t.

At the very least, administrators and power users --  folks who would be responsible for creating and maintaining SharePoint sites, lists and libraries-- should be educated on how to define business processes.

I am not suggesting that you send them to intensive training, but it’s critical to educate them on the steps involved in defining a business process in your organization AND the tools needed. These tools can be as simple as a piece of paper or even Visio.

Here’s a recorded screencast of my SPTechCon presentation last June 2009 on “How to Build a Change Control System” with SharePoint. Notice how I step through the process of defining the change control process prior to developing the solution:
 

How to Build a Change Control System in SharePoint from Dux Raymond Sy on Vimeo.

SharePoint Empowerment is also About Processes

Realize that these wonderful tools SharePoint provides were once off limits to users due to technical complexity (12 years ago, could any user create a fully functioning collaborative web site without coding?) and were primarily developed by technologists who underwent the necessary education to properly analyze, plan and design systems PRIOR to developing them.

SharePoint empowerment includes instilling proper discipline. Being able to define a process and use SharePoint to support it allows users to reap the technology's promise of streamlining work, increasing productivity and improving business efficiency.

Teaching how to define business processes is equally as important as developing a SharePoint solution to support them. You wouldn’t want your organization to end up being the SharePoint cobblers’ children, would you?

By the way, if you’ve donated and supported the Haiti earthquake victims, any $50 donation to any charity gets you a FREE SharePoint book and software. More details at http://meetdux.com/sharelove.