For the first time, this year’s Microsoft SharePoint Conference had a dedicated “Business” track for non-technical, business decision makers and judging by the 600 plus people that packed in to this session there was a huge demand.

This session was presented by Andrew Woodward, a longstanding SharePoint MVP, the founder of UK based consultancy 21Apps, and this week named as one of the top 25 social influencers for SharePoint.

In his introduction Andrew explained that his background was in agile software development but that he had come to realize that it doesn’t matter how good the code was if the requirements were wrong, and that this had led him to move to this business orientated side of SharePoint.

His aim in this session, he told us, was to redefine the concept of a Center of Excellence (CoE), and that in his definition the CoE was non-technical. He explained that this was an ongoing process, and that there was room to develop the idea further.


Andrew described the challenge facing SharePoint projects, “Experience shows that without the right team in place to support the adoption, exploitation and promotion of new ways of working organizations struggle to achieve the expected return on investment.”

Andrew went on to introduce us to a number of models and approaches that he uses to help define organizational challenges relating to SharePoint. Firstly we were shown the Cynefin framework, which is used to describe problems, situations and systems.

Figure 1: A Cynefin framework diagram

Next Andrew explained the Montgomery Burns test for validating a SharePoint vision statement, and was surprised to find that around 90 percent of the audience didn’t seem to have an explicit vision for SharePoint anyway.

Andrew suggested that we use our stated aim for our SharePoint project to complete the statement, “The Montgomery Burns award for outstanding achievement for …” If your vision fits well into the statement then it probably needs further work. For example, “The Montgomery Burns award for outstanding achievement for improved collaboration,” or, “The Montgomery Burns award for outstanding achievement for excellence in collaboration.”

Finally Andrew showed us the Kapitola Pathway which he uses to align the use of SharePoint with organizational goals. Here’s an example he showed which illustrates why the empire might build the death star.

As the model shows, the basic idea is to map actions and rationale with left and right arrows. Andrew explained that the benefits of this approach are that it provides an end-to-end view of how SharePoint fits into broader organizational strategies, validates broader strategic plans by testing them against projects and initiatives, and that the technique allows the CoE to quickly validate and challenge the business requests.


Figure 2: Example Kapitola Pathway 

SharePoint Center of Excellence

Andrew opened his discussion on the SharePoint CoE by explaining that what they do is be the single point of contact for everything related to SharePoint in the organization. We were advised to brand the SharePoint Center of Excellence and to develop a mission statement.

Andrew gave us an example, “The SharePoint Center of Excellence will enable Big Corp to focus on their business goals, helping create solutions, that exploit SharePoint and building knowledge and experience with confidence and support of our team.”

“Diversity,” Andrew told us, “Is key to a successful SharePoint Centre of Excellence.” A typical team, according to Andrew, includes a technical authority, subject matter experts and change agents.

No stranger to controversy Andrew went against conventional wisdom claiming that automated site collection provisioning was a bad idea. His view was that when the business requests a site collection it’s your best chance to engage with them, and to inform, educate and guide them.


Next Andrew talked about the methods he uses to engage business users in Discovery workshops using Innovation Games. He claimed Innovation Games help teams to discover and build a shared understanding. He described two games that he uses in his Discovery workshops, Speed Boat and Cover Story.

Speed Boat is used to help teams identify problems or challenges with a current system, process or way of working. Andrew showed photographs of his workshops where he draws a speed boat on a white board representing the current system. He then asks the participants to write on post-it-notes things that are preventing the speed boat from going fast, these are the anchors. The Anchors are placed on the white board with the depth indicating the perceived seriousness of the challenge or problem. The deeper the anchor, the more it slows the boat.

Cover Story is a game that helps the team envision future success. Again using a whiteboard, Andrew asks participants to imagine a future magazine cover reporting the success of their project. He asks them to write quotes, a big headline, side bar text, and to draw images. You can read more about SharePoint and serious games here.

Andrew emphasised the need to promote success through the use of case studies. He also advised us to measure return on investment in quantitative terms such as time and money, and qualitative terms such as emotional and evolution of work.

Finally on the subject of engagement, Andrew talked about the importance of building a community of SharePoint champions, and advised us to hold a event to make people feel part of the community and to give something back. He give the Microsoft MVP program as an analogy, and commented that many of the potential champions will be working for you already!

Ways of Working

Andrew gave three examples of new ways of working on SharePoint projects. Firstly, he gave an overview of the Agile manifesto, borrowed from his days in software development. The manifesto emphasizes the value of individuals and interactions over process and tools, of working software over comprehensive documentation, and of customer collaboration of contract negotiation. Why not adopt a similar manifesto for your SharePoint projects? Andrew asked.

Secondly, Andrew described how he employs Kanban techniques using a whiteboard and post-it-notes to manage and prioritize SharePoint requirements. Finally, we were told that a SharePoint Center of Excellence is analogous to a Tummler, a person at a party who stays until the party is rocking, whose role it is to incite others into action.

Call to Action

The session wrapped up with a simple call to action, “Build your own SharePoint Center of Excellence and get measurable business benefit from your investment.” The feedback on Andrew’s session on Twitter was excellent, if you missed it but have access to the videos then I strongly recommend you watch this session.

Editor's Note: Read more of our coverage from the SharePoint conference.