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That “In-Between” Feeling; Observations on SharePoint Consulting

Sadly, phase one of my last project has come to a close and the client has opted to move ahead by themselves on phase two.  We did our job too well, as usual 🙂  I’m now between projects, a special time for staff consultants like myself (as opposed to independents who must normally live in perpetual fear of in-between time 🙂 ).  We staff consultants fill this time in various ways: Working with sales folk to write proposals; filling in for someone or backing up a person on this or that odd job;  studying;  Blogging :).  It’s hard to plan more than a few days in advance.  At times like this, while I have a bit of time on my hands, I like to reflect.  

I’m almost always sad to leave a client’s campus for the last time.  We consultants form a peculiar kind of relationship with our clients, unlike your typical co-worker relationship.   There’s the money angle — everyone knows the consultant’s rate is double/triple or even more than the client staff.  You’re a known temporary person.  As a consultant, you’re a permanent outsider with a more or less known departure date.  Yet, you eat lunch with the client, take them out to dinner and/or for drinks, buy cookies for the team, go on coffee runs, give/receive holiday cards — all the kinds of things that co-workers do.  On one hand, you’re the adult in the room.  You’re an expert in the technology which puts you in a superior position.  On the other hand, you’re a baby.  On day zero, consultants don’t know the names, the places or the client’s lingo.  Most times, consultants never learn it all.

When things go well, you become very well integrated with the client’s project team.  They treat you like a co-worker in one sense, and confidant in another.  Since we don’t have a manager-style reporting relationship with the client, the project team often feels a little free to air their dirty laundry.  They let their barriers down and can put the consultant into an awkward position, never realizing they are doing it.

Consultants often don’t get to implement phase two and that never gets easy for me.  I think this is especially hard with SharePoint.  Phase one of of your typical SharePoint project covers setup/configuration, governance, taxonomy, basic content types, etc. and in many respects, amounts to a lengthy, extremely detailed discovery.  That’s how I view my last project.  We did all the basic stuff as well as execute some nice mini-POC’s by extending CQWP, implementing BDC connections to PeopleSoft, introduced a fairly complex workflow with SharePoint Designer, touched on basic KPI’s and more.  A proper phase two would extend all of that with extensive, almost pervasive BDC, really nice workflow, fine tuned and better search, records center, excel services and probably most important, reaching out to other business units.  But, it’s not to be for me, and that’s sad.  

Based on this recent experience, I think it’s fair to say that a proper enterprise SharePoint implementation is a one year process.  It could probably legitimately run two years before reaching a point of diminishing returns.  Details matter, of course.

That’s the consultant’s life and all of these little complaints are even worse in a SharePoint engagement.  As I’ve written before, SharePoint’s horizontal nature brings you into contact with a wide array of people and business units.  When you’re working with so many people, you can see so many ways that SharePoint can help the company become more efficient, save time, do things better…  but you don’t always get to do them.  

I often look back to my first job out of college, before starting a consulting career 1995.   We did get to do a phase two and even a phase three.  Those were nice times.  On the downside, however,  that means that that would mean a lot of routine stuff too.  Managing site security.  Tweaking content types.  Creating views and changing views.  Dealing with IE security settings.  Restoring lost documents.  Blech! 🙂 

Despite my melancholy mood, I can’t imagine a place I’d rather be (except at a warm beach with a goodly supply of spirits).

I can’t wait to get started implemented the next enterprise SharePoint project.

(Apropos of nothing, I wrote most of this blog entry on an NJ Transit bus.  I don’t think I made any friends, but one CAN blog on the bus 🙂 )

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2 responses to “That “In-Between” Feeling; Observations on SharePoint Consulting

  1. Rich January 9, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Good post, Paul, and well written.
     
    I know the feeling, and it\’s never easy to get used to.  In being a sharepoint consultant, I find many similarities to that of the life of a child in a constantly relocating military familiy, as I was. 
     
    – You move around from place to place.  Most of the time, the places are pretty cool, but sometimes you find yourself saying \’how the heck did I get here?\’
    – You meet cool people and make good friends, but you are always \’the new guy\’, and \’the short-timer\’.
    – You settle in quick, and say goodbye even quicker.
     
    Could keep going, but you get the idea. 
     
    BTW – like the blog.  \’Jesus must die\’ was pretty good.
     
    -Rich
     

  2. Sean November 10, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    Good post. ahhh the consulting life.

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