I was lucky to attend and present at last week’s SharePoint Best Practices conference. I’m still new to the whole speaking "thing" and, frankly, I was a bit nervous for the first half while I sweated out waiting to speak myself. That sort of nervous feeling made it a little hard for me to pay attention to the presenters (not that I ignored them). Instead, I focused a bit more on the attendees.
Conferences always set my mind racing and there was a lot take in at this one. This conference was excellent. I think it was unusual in several ways. It wasn’t a heavy developer conference. There were certainly dev parts to it, but I think it was at least 60% focused on non-dev issues, maybe as high as 80%. I think that speaks to the evolving nature of the SharePoint market. Companies are implementing SharePoint in a variety of ways and they are looking for guidance on how to do it right. And not just guidance on how to create features/solutions (which by now, has been very well established).
I believe the conference was tremendously valuable to most everyone that attended and I know that the organizers plan to do the conference again early next year.
Having said that, I believe there was a missed opportunity which I hope the next conference addresses. I say it’s a missed opportunity, but that’s not a bad thing. Discovering a community need is in and of itself a good thing. The conference discussed a number of best practices in a variety of areas such as governance, training, requirements gathering, search, development, information architecture, etc. I think that the missed opportunity has to do with the "green field" assumptions underlying many of the best practices.
When we talk about green field, we mean that SharePoint hasn’t gone into production and we’re starting with a clean slate. This is ideal because you can start straight away using best practices for defining and managing governance, information architecture, etc. However … what happens when you’re already in production with several thousand users (or 10’s of thousands) and you didn’t follow best practices at the beginning? I’ve seen companies with … ahem … a very odd information architecture baked into their environment. I don’t think that this conference provided much guidance for organizations with that kind of problem (and I don’t just mean IA, but governance, search, many other areas). Of course, knowing you have a problem is a big part of the solution and that’s very valuable.
I think that the online SharePoint community hasn’t done much to address this either. I know I have not. It’s a very hard problem to solve at many levels. Technically it’s hard. Budget-wise it’s hard. Culturally, it’s hard. However, it’s probably a bigger real world problem than most. Since the conference ended, I’ve been thinking about these kinds of problems and how one would solve them. There has to be a better answer than, "uninstall and reinstall" and the community needs to face it head on.
I think that this a great opportunity for the blogging community and experienced thought leaders to lay out some guidance on how to repair their environments. I think there’s a small but non-zero risk that SharePoint could end up with a bad and enduring reputation as a result of poorly architected implementations that fail due to poor governance, IA, etc.