I had a unique opportunity to participate in the Microsoft SharePoint conference this past week. I presented two sessions (on Measuring the Value of SharePoint Investments and a Practical Approach to SharePoint 2010 Governance) but, thanks to this blog, I was also invited to the conference as a representative of the press - which meant I got to go to a few extra events and participate in a few one-on-one meetings that were just as interesting as the sessions I went to as an attendee. Basically, I spent the past 4 days as a "Certs" - both a candy and a breath mint! What follows are some of the most interesting insights and experiences I had.
Press/Analyst Meetings with Microsoft: MS Project Made Easy
Each day of the conference, I had a one-on-one meeting with key people from Microsoft, including Arpan Shah, the Director of Product Management for Microsoft Project, Jared Spataro, the Director of Product Management for SharePoint, and Chris Johnson, Technical Product Manager for SharePoint who was also the content producer for the SharePoint conference.
I had really interesting discussions with each executive and I am so grateful for the opportunity I had, but the meeting with Arpan was particularly enlightening so I'll focus on that one for now. I know he probably wanted to talk more strategically about the direction of SharePoint 2010 and Project Server 2010, but what ended up happening was that Arpan gave me a private tutorial on Project 2010, showing me features and functionality that I had never really explored - even though I have used it before. He started by asking me what I thought was the number one tool used today for project management. I said I thought the answer was Excel. Turns out, the answer is paper and pencil; Excel is number 2. I'll admit it - I'm in the Excel camp, if only because most of my projects involve managing a small team. When I work on more complex engagements, my partners usually provide project management resources so I don't typically have to keep track of many complex tasks and resources except my own. But Arpan really opened my eyes to a new paradigm even for my teams of 1.
Here's what he did: he showed me the MS Project plan that he is using to plan the 12- week sabbatical that he just started today. Like many of us, his plan started in a spreadsheet that his wife was maintaining. As is the inevitable when you are planning a relatively complex trip, each time an element of his itinerary got changed, Arpan's wife was manually adjusting each planned date and moving around activities. After a few time-consuming revisions, Arpan imported the spreadsheet into Project to take advantage of the ability to both easily reorganize activities and show the trip in a visually appealing timeline (a feature of Project 2010 that I'd never seen). For his sabbatical planning, Arpan isn't tapping in to the ability to do resource planning or any of the other more complicated functionality that program and project managers can use to manage large scale initiatives with Project and Project Server; he was using the tool to solve a problem that is important for his family - a personal problem that Project can help solve. The light bulb that went off for me during the 30 minutes we had together was there are some very powerful benefits of using MS Project to plan activities - even if you are only using a small fraction of its full capability and even if you are using Project in a stand-alone environment without Project Server. Moreover, I was also reminded about the incredible power of both demonstrating and trying out a new technology in a context that your stakeholder (in this case, "reporter Sue") can relate to - and one that is low risk for the new user. There's a lesson here for all of us.
MS Project has a rich feature set that will support many of the most complex project and program management scenarios that your PMO can dream up - and cool integration with SharePoint. But, my advice to anyone trying to convince project leaders to give up their "comfort zone" tools for managing projects is to get them started thinking about using Project for a simpler collection of activities - like planning their next vacation. I don't think Arpan has time to train them all personally, but if you think like Arpan, I bet you can help your folks make the paradigm shift.
Press Experience: Microsoft Experience Center
One of the absolute coolest experiences I had as a "member of the press/analyst corps" was an hour in the "Microsoft Experience Center" set up for the conference. This is a fully integrated (think 100% of the Microsoft kool-aid) environment in which the participant can experience Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 the way a user would in a company that was using the suites to their fullest advantage. While I've seen and use pretty much all of the technologies every single day, the very excellent business scenarios and the ability for a user to see what Office and SharePoint 2010 "feel" like in action was extraordinarily well done and, from my perspective, the single best way for your executive team to "get" the power of these richly integrated products. For large customers, you can work with your Microsoft rep to have the "MEC" brought to you. For smaller customers, Microsoft takes the "MEC on the road" and you can get the same experience in a shared public setting in a city near you. There isn't yet a way to get the experience at your desk, but I'm pretty sure that will happen at some point.
The scenario was pretty realistic and everything was straight up "out of the box." If you are having difficulty convincing your executives about what a "day in the life" will be when Office and SharePoint 2010 are fully deployed in your organization, this provides a hands-on and awesome way to make it real. Very, very well done!
Speaker Experience: Unbelievable!
I'll admit it now, I had serious nightmares that people would either walk out of my sessions or that no one would attend. At the start of my talk on Measurement, I was sure the room was going to remain empty and slowly by surely, every seat filled up. When I saw the size of the room for my talk on Governance, which was about 3 times the size of the other room, I got just a little overwhelmed - and that room filled to capacity too. Turns out, my fears were unfounded because I got an incredible amount of wonderful reactions, lovely complements that made my head spin, and very positive feedback that made every one of the gazillion hours I spent preparing and revising my presentations worth the multiple weekends I gave up to make sure that I wouldn't let my track leaders Drashti Patel and Ryan Duguid down! If you don't have access to the presentations because you weren't at the conference, the Governance chapter of Essential SharePoint 2010 is available on my web site and we've also got a white paper on that topic available on the TechNet and of course more current posts here on this blog. My white paper on A Practical Framework for SharePoint Metrics is now up on my site as well. The metrics white paper includes way more content and examples than I was able to share in my 75 minute presentation and I'm definitely looking for feedback on that topic because I plan to continue the conversation about metrics in our upcoming book on the next release of SharePoint that we're already planning.
The SharePoint community is really a generous and it was incredibly kind of people to make a point of stopping me in the halls and at the parties and in the hotel elevator to tell me that they really enjoyed my presentations. Someone even told me that my presentation on Governance and the amazing Dan Holme's presentation on Governance were the two best presentations she saw. When I told this to Dan and let him know how flattered I was to be considered in his league, he shared with me that someone tweeted that he is the "Jesus of SharePoint!" Now that is positive feedback! What a great community!
Attendee Experience: Mostly Good, but so many conflicts!
As an attendee, I attended some very interesting presentations but also some where the content could have been interesting if the speakers had taken the time to prepare a more engaging presentation. As I mentioned in my pre-conference post, all speakers were offered 90 minutes of professional speaking coaching that Microsoft paid for. After my painful (and helpful) coaching session, I worked extremely hard revising both my slides and my talk to take advantage of what I learned. I also practiced - a lot more than I've ever done before. Unfortunately, it seemed to me that too many of the speakers I saw did not take Microsoft up on that generous offer - and I could definitely tell the speakers that had been trained - either by Microsoft or in their own organizations or maybe people who just have the "gift" like my friend Scott Jamison - because their presentations were just delightful.
One of my biggest disappointments was that there were several instances where the business/end-user oriented sessions were all at the same time, forcing me to make some painful choices about which session to attend. On Wednesday afternoon, there were three customer case studies at 5:00 pm, each one of which I was very anxious to attend. I ended up picking the session by the folks from Del Monte Foods and I was rewarded by a slide where they explicitly mentioned an article I wrote called Breaking the Folder Paradigm and had my name up on their slide for at least 5 minutes! I wanted to jump up from my seat in the back and say thank you, but I waited until the end to introduce myself to Scott Smith and Michael Bernot, my two new best friends! If you were at the conference and didn't catch their presentation, check it out online because they shared some incredibly creative and effective launch and training approaches. My favorite is actually very timely - a promotion for a training class on metadata that was offered around Halloween. The title of the course was: "CollaBOOration: A Ghoulish Guide to Metadata." They had another training offering called SharePointgiving: Give thanks to document workflow and approval. They also showed a very well done launch video for their new re-branded SharePoint 2010 intranet called The Cupboard, where, among other things, users can "snack on a variety of news and information." Del Monte Foods has been through 4 generations of SharePoint-based collaboration and intranet solutions and re-branded and re-named their solution with each generation. A fresh name and fresh look, when combined with more effective content, can definitely be an asset to encourage adoption and while the approach includes some risk, these guys definitely have a great story to share (and I'd say that even if they hadn't gave me the shout out!).
So there's my initial reaction as an attendee, speaker, and member of the press/analyst community. Like the person I overheard on the way to the Convention Center on Day 3, "I am going to crash when I get home!" When I shared this with Jared Spataro, his reaction was the same as mine - you and me and 7500 other people! Thanks to all the folks at Microsoft and the sponsors for creating what really has become like a SharePoint family reunion. I'm looking forward to next November in Las Vegas for the SharePoint 2012 Conference - but first I need to get some sleep!
Susan Hanley is an independent consultant and president of her own firm, Susan Hanley LLC, where she specializes in helping organizations build effective portal and collaboration solutions using SharePoint as the primary platform.
She is co-author of Essential SharePoint 2010: Overview, Governance, and Planning. Read a free chapter of the book.