Dissecting a Decade of SharePoint Consulting Success - Article 2 of 4: Whiteboarding

By Errin O'Connor posted 08-29-2012 05:28


Whiteboarding Your SharePoint Road Map

In most any enterprise SharePoint implementation, SP 2010 or 2013, one of the single most valuable tools I find that most frequently provides that “Aha!” moment to both the business stakeholders and I.T. (Information Technology) management is the $99.00 to $199.00 OfficeMax (or your favorite office suppliers) whiteboard. This magical piece of bolt on the wall plastic has provided me and my team at EPC more progress with our clients in the initial envisioning and requirements gathering phases than any other tool. (It’s time to break out the red, green, and blue markers!)

SharePoint initiatives are in many cases described in the initial phases of an enterprise implementation in abstract which can sometimes cause the (business) project stakeholders to get off track as they think they are possibly hearing or understanding something different that the technical side of the table is explaining that may not mesh in detail with known business terms.

Your Overall SharePoint Hierarchy - Whiteboarding

There is always a challenge in describing the SharePoint front-end (the Sites and Hierarchy) with the back-end Site Collections and Content Databases. The business, understandably, just wants to store their content and are typically wondering why it is such a big deal for them to describe the exact type of content (size, type, content types \ metadata, etc.) to I.T. in this initial phase. I like to use the analogy when I whiteboard an enterprise or global SharePoint solution with EPC Group’s clients that the hierarchy (sites, landing pages, templates, etc.) are the front-end visual pieces but if “we were to remove this whiteboard from the wall” behind it we would find all of these “50 gallon drums or buckets” that represent our content databases.

The content databases are critical (as the technical team knows) to store the content in a governed manner for which the growth of these content databases is scaled and new content databases will be created once the other content database(s) reach a specific size limit.  

I like to then ask the business and technical teams to imagine strings connecting sites and site collections to these content databases which will then connect to other areas of SharePoint in the overall hierarchy which will affect areas such as search and even more importantly tie into security (Active Directory \ SharePoint Security Groups, etc.)

Why Can’t You Just Give Us Sites

I think many of us have heard countless stories of SharePoint 2007 and the comparison to HBO’s Deadwood or the “Wild Wild West”. I have experienced a lot of users detracting from SharePoint 2010 before they have even used it because of their “experience at their previous job where SharePoint was just not governed.” I think we can all give a bit of blame to Microsoft’s marketing or sales department (just a tad bit) for the “build it and they will come” Kevin Costner movie the “Field of Dreams” mentality.

Build it and they definitely will come but the SharePoint Golden Rule, storing content in one place or one version of the truth is key to SharePoint’s long-term success. There is no reason you have to call your SharePoint 2010 or SharePoint 2013 implementation “SharePoint”. Give it a name that is relevant to your company and think of it as a core ecosystem to your business rather than just a piece of Microsoft software. You will be amazed at the response you get from your user community when you tailor the name, logo, or implement a bit of branding to make SharePoint your own.

My (Insert Company Name) or some other clever name for this new “powerful and game changing platform” for which you are offering to your user base can be named anything you like and there is no reason to just stick to “its SharePoint”. Naming contests to name the new SharePoint deployment are always interesting but I swear the owner of the contest tends to stack the deck and ends up naming it something they like in the end but I guess they held the cards.

Whiteboarding and the Big Picture

The great thing about getting the key stakeholders in a room and Whiteboarding not only the SharePoint site hierarchy or site collections but the ability to get into detail about Active Directory Groups that exist within the organization that may manage the permissions to the sites or to be able to identify when these AD Groups are not sufficient to meet the needs and where SharePoint Security Groups may then be identified as a security solutions.

Another major element of the Whiteboarding process is the population of the Profile Service in relation to My Sites and how these fields are going to be published. There are always curve balls in this realm when dealing with Global organizations. For example, in Germany you are not allowed to publish the manager of an employee or specific other fields. This can become a bit of a governance challenge but can easily be overcome when the key stakeholders are talking through the entire technical process and workarounds for specific regions or datacenters.

Branding \ UI \ Mockups

When implementing a SharePoint 2010 or 2013 deployment, you will get the best user experience and user buy-in if you implement an organizational specific “master page” or look and feel. With mobile being more and more prevalent there are multiple ways to approach this but for this articles sake I would recommend at least some CSS and logo updates to your sites to bring people into the portal. The development of custom “master pages” can be a 4 or 5 week project so it’s key to determine your budget allowance and\or constraints around this type of tailoring of SharePoint.

EPC Group rolled out a deployment for several different NASA locations and the locations that did have the branding (custom look and feel) did have about a 20% increased usage over the “plain” SharePoint Out-of-the-Box (OOTB) templates. Branding is something that can be done in later Phases but it’s key to keep in mind your organization’s mobile device strategy when road mapping and planning your custom SharePoint branding initiative.


I will continue and complete this article series with parts 3 and 4 over the coming month and please look back at 3 important posts for which I believe will deeply benefit you going forward in your SharePoint enterprise implementation for which have led myself and my organization to well over 650 successful implementations:

  1. SharePoint 2013 Preview Summary - Managing Your Current SharePoint 2010 Initiative with 2013 in Mind
  2. 650 Successful SharePoint Implementations – Dissecting a Decade of EPC Group Enterprise SharePoint Success - Article 1 of 4
  3. SharePoint Consulting Best Practices for a SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Deployment

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