SharePoint and Why It Always Depends

If you ask a SharePoint consultant a question, chances are the response you get is “It Depends!”. For you as a customer, this can be greatly frustrating, so I thought it might make sense to clarify why it always depends with SharePoint.

And to be honest, it’s actually your fault, as the customer. I’m here to help you understand, though, but I’m sorry that you won’t hear the words “The customer is always right” here, at least not outside this sentence.

The truth is that if you do your job, we, as SharePoint professionals, can do ours. The only thing we need to do is align how we work together to understand what we need to help you.

What do we need? Well, it depends.

You’re Asking the Question Wrong

How you ask your question to a SharePoint professional determines whether we can give you straight answers or the all-mighty deflector “it depends”. Ask the wrong way and you’ll not get the answer you need.

You see, SharePoint is massively complex and there is an amazing array of factors that we need to take into consideration to determine a good answer. These factors depend on the question, so the more accurate your question is and the more details you give about your situation, the better your chances are at getting an answer that will get you more out of SharePoint.

I realize that to you, as the customer, may not know what factors affect the ability of someone to answer your question. That’s fine; even many SharePoint professionals won’t know exactly what factors affect your situation. That’s why, when you ask a question, a SharePoint professional will likely ask you several follow-up questions to help them understand what your desired outcome is.

This is a key point in understanding how to ask a question; when asking your question, it is generally a good idea to focus on what you want to accomplish rather than how to do something in a certain way. Let me give you an example.

“How do I do X in SharePoint?”

You may think that you’re asking a very specific question when you ask, for example, “How do I add users to a site collection in SharePoint”. Now, off the top of my head, I can think of three different ways to add users to a SharePoint site collection,  and the correct approach depends on your particular scenario. Are you adding them through the web interface or do you want to write code to do so through a web part or event receiver?

Most likely, if you are not a developer yourself, your desire will be to do so through the web interface. That’s fine, but there are still several ways to do so, depending on how your security is set up. You may, for example, have a solution or setup where users are granted access through Active Directory groups rather than directly in SharePoint.

Even assuming that you just want someone to get into your site, and screw any non-default setups, you still need to know what permissions you want users to get when you add them. This can range from being administrators of an entire site collection to just having read rights with no permissions to edit or contribute anything or even someone who just needs access to a single document or list on your site. The approach you take depends on the permissions and access level you want.

The situation is similar with other “How do I do X in SharePoint” questions, so as you can imagine, a question that you think is perfectly reasonable is virtually impossible to answer without knowing far more about your situation and desires.

A variety of this question, “what’s the best way to accomplish X in SharePoint” is much more difficult to answer and far more likely to get you an “it depends” response. The best, or even a good, or even a feasible way to accomplish anything in SharePoint depends on far too many factors to answer without a deeper investigation into your specific situation.

What Do You Want?

Instead of asking how to do something or what the best way to accomplish something, focus on what you want to accomplish. In the above example, this may be something along the lines of “I have an employee from accounting who needs to read several reports to my SharePoint site. We have an Active Directory group set up, but I only need to let them have access once and I don’t have direct access to modify Active Directory group memberships.  How can I make sure the accountant gets the reports?”

Even with this fairly detailed explanation, the answer may still be ‘it depends’. It may still be that the best option is for you to just download and email the reports to the accountant if, for example, you are concerned about the accountant getting access to other parts of your site. However, with the added information, it is much easier to give you good advice that focuses on what you want to accomplish. That, in turn, increases the chances that you get more out of SharePoint.

In fact, that’s general advice when it comes to SharePoint. Focus on what you want rather than how to get it; the latter is the responsibility of your SharePoint professionals, the former is your responsibility only.


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Second Chapter of Introducing SharePoint 2013 Now Available

I wanted to let you know that I’ve just uploaded the second chapter of the Introducing SharePoint 2013 series. If you have a subscription, you can download the chapter from the series page (and if you don’t have a subscription, you can get one on

You should have received an email earlier today with access information, but if you have not received it, you can still log on using the information you got when you purchased the subscription.

The second chapter focuses on exploring SharePoint 2013, as well as look at and understand new features of both SharePoint Foundation and SharePoint Server.

Topics covered:

  • Myths and Monsters
  • Exploring SharePoint Foundation 2013
  • Installing and Configuring Apps
  • Search Enchancements
  • Workflow Improvements
  • SharePoint Server 2013
  • Social Feature Improvements
  • Web Content Management

The chapter is far longer than I anticipated and is 60 pages long. In fact, with the first chapter, the issue now spans 114 pages, and we still have four chapters to go!

Oh, and if you don’t have a subscription, I have some goodies for you still. I’ve uploaded the first appendix chapter on installing and configuring Windows Azure Workflow (aka SharePoint 2013 style workflows). You can download that from the free section of the USP Journal site right now.

You need a subscription to the USP Journal newsletter, but that’s absolutely free as well. If you haven’t signed up for the newsletter yet, you can do so at

Combine the new bonus issue with the also free first chapter of Introducing SharePoint 2013 available from the same page, and you should be able to get an environment in which you can start exploring SharePoint 2013 style workflows on your own. The first chapter covers installing SharePoint 2013, including the non-SharePoint stuff like SQL Server and Active Directory Domain Services.

I hope you enjoy it!


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