Monday, April 23, 2012

The one thing you need to do to spread an idea: Shut. Up.

I was a SharePoint devotee when it was called Web Parts/Office Server Extensions/SharePoint Team Services.  It had everything: integrated file permissions, web interface, group permissions and denials, sub-administrators. Searching.  And most of all, it wasn't and didn't require, in fact despised, Front Page Server Extensions. 

I flogged that horse, raised it from the dead, flogged again. Rinse, repeat.  I was the intranet administrator, complete with those [redacted] FPSE's.  A good 10% of my job was managing permissions, documents, accidental deletions, and just fixing whatever FPSE had decided to break that day.  Fun times. 

I forced our department into the SQL-backed WSS, and we went wild.  We made document libraries, folders, customized lists imported from spreadsheets, and some of the most painful color combinations known to man.  The most useful thing on there was the pizza list - we had a list of employees, a list of toppings, and folks would list their preferences so we could cover everyone: 0 was allergy, 3 was OMG must have.

I made a second site for the rest of the library, and it got moderate use, but it wasn't SQL backed, so it lacked search and a lot of other things.

Around this time Data Information Lifecycle became a thing, and I was tasked with managing that.  Mostly it involved establishing size quotas on shared drives and deleting really old stuff.  Also deleting or moving stuff when an employee left.  I kept flogging that horse, stating that with Sharepoint, we could get rid of shared drives altogether*. 

After a few years (yes, years. I'm not always quick on the draw) I got tired of people "not listening".  I stopped talking about how SharePoint would Make Everything Better and started listening to what folks needed to do.   Mostly what they wanted could be taken care of with Sharepoint, other times it couldn't.

Then I started hearing folks tell each other, "well, we can do that in Sharepoint".  They started helping each other, usually because they didn't have to stop to explain what they were doing in simple, small words to IT. 

After a time we finally moved our entire intranet to the campus MOSS server.  The move was OK, which for me was great, since I was shooting for Not Terrible.  In the process, the folks in the Project Management department became so skilled at setting up sites that they rarely needed my help at all.  Again, there's value in not having to try and explain your complex thing to someone who might or might not be able to help you.

When I was managing the Help Desk and Development, I'd get all kinds of odd questions.  One of the more stressful things for IT is a user coming up and asking about a pretty complex bit of technology as a solution to a really simple problem.  We like talking geek.  The stress comes from realizing what you're talking about isn't what you want.  Then we sound like we're patronizing you, when we'd really rather just help you out with what you're trying to do.

Eventually I got frustrated one day and wrote "What Problem Are You Trying To Solve?" on our whiteboard.  I'd jokingly point to it and ask how we could help whenever someone came in with a question.  Some folks took it well, others not as well.  What I didn't do was go around evangelizing the phrase.  I said it two or three times, and the idea started to spread.

Now I've learned to keep track of how often I express an idea or radical opinion.  I try not to say something more than three times, and always to different people.  Then I stop.  If it's going to take off, it will. If not, it won't. 

What needs to happen is this: other folks need to see the same or similar problem that I'm seeing, and see how it applies to them.  It's also known as marketing, but I prefer the Shut. Up. method to trying to think of new ways to say the same things.  I'm lazy, and it's much less work.

*No, you can't.  Between file type and size restrictions, life is just not that simple.  You can do it, but enforcing that type of thing will take more time than it's worth unless you're required to by law.

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