Don’t Start With SharePoint

A question SharePoint administrators are often asked is: “Can we make a [time entry system/ inventory tracking/ other application] in SharePoint?”

The answer is usually: Yes. Absolutely. Maybe. Sorta. Hold on a second.

Why Are We Making This In SharePoint?

Usually the response to this is “We want to strategically leverage our existing investments in technology to maximize our ROI”, which is a fancy way of saying “We want to use SharePoint because we have it.” and absolutely that’s part of the answer. If you’ve invested the time and resources into deploying SharePoint, you should use it.

Most often, however, the real answer is “Because it’s easy to make stuff in SharePoint”, which is a dumb guy (that’s me!) way of saying “Deploying a solution in SharePoint would provide a value-added opportunity for minimal development investment”.

Users know that in 10 minutes, you can have a site up and running and be creating custom lists and workflows up the wazoo. No other platform affords that level of ease of use and development. It’s one of SharePoint’s greatest strengths, and also the reason why it so often gets abused (unless you have strong governance, in which case internet high five).

Requirements Schmequirements

Since SharePoint is both easy and available (hey, wait a second..) users will often forego the requirements gathering and project definition phase and jump straight into “I gotta box a’ Lego and I’m gonna build something!” phase. This is a huge problem, not only because it virtually guarantees scope creep and Rube Goldberg-ian solutions, but also because inevitably, you run into SharePoint’s famous out of the box limitations.

Cart before the horse SharePoint Development
Whoa there, Buttercup

Achtung, Baby

In SharePoint, the out of the box features usually get you 80-90% of the way to your goal. The other 10-20% forces you to make the tough decisions:

  1. Buy a third party solution (If it exists)
  2. Develop a custom solution (Open wallet wide. Wider.. wiiiiider, that’s it. This may sting a little.)
  3. Live without it (But I really, really wanted it, dad!)

If you don’t sit down and work out your Project Management 101 type stuff (background, objective, definition, requirements, budget, etc). You are going to run headfirst into that 80/20 wall at 100 km/h. After you’ve already invested dozens or hundreds of hours, spent much of your budget, and have a mostly-working solution, you may find that options 1-3 above leave a bitter taste in your mouth and cause you to utter the fated words..

“I Hate SharePoint.”

I hear you, and I’ll let you in on a trade secret: Just about every SharePoint Administrator I know hates SharePoint. But not really. SharePoint can be a tumultuous beast sometimes. You have to keep in mind that SharePoint is like a toolbox full of tools. It’s easy to pick up and start banging around making stuff, and that’s great. However if you need to dig the foundation for a house and all you’ve got is a hammer, you’re going to have a bad time, and maybe it’s time to look at buying a backhoe.

Use Your Thinking-Meat

(That means brains, for all you rocket surgeons our there)

I’ve never been a fan of falling into the trap of when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. I don’t believe that SharePoint is all things to all men, because frankly nothing is – if anyone tries to tell you differently, don’t believe them. It’s more important to figure out the best execution for a solution to a problem than it is to try and shoehorn the solution into the problem and hope for the best.

So sit down and work out who you are and what you’re trying to do. Write it down. Leave SharePoint out of it. Be a technology agnostic and just figure out the what the best possible solution for your project is. Once you’ve done that, you can look at how far SharePoint’s out of the box features will take you, and what it will take to get you the rest of the way.

Maybe that means deploying your time entry system in SharePoint; or maybe that means calling up SAP, I don’t know. The best thing you can do is figure this out before you’ve gone so deep down the road you’re on you’re forced to make some potentially very hard decision.

So don’t start with SharePoint. Start at the start, with requirements, and when you reach the end, stop.

By Nik

Nik is a project manager and web technologist that enjoys solving peoples' problems through web technologies. When he isn't doing those things, he's lifting heavy things up and down repeatedly, and cooking with his 3 children, who are actively trying to eat all the ingredients.