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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Bjørn Furuknap

I previously did SharePoint. These days, I try new things to see where I can find the passion. If you have great ideas, cool projects, or is in general an awesome person, get in touch and we might find out together.

13 thoughts on “SharePoint and Why It Always Depends”

  1. Nice post indeed 🙂
    If I may suggest one thing, I think we should emphasize a little more the part beginning by “However (…)”

    In my humble opinion, it may be too easy to say that the customer doesn’t explain enough his requirements so as to not being answered “it depends”. (sorry for my english)

    In other words, It’s our job also to offer explicitly different scenario (only the serious ones) in front of requirements, even if the requirements are not explicit enough and that we could say “it depends”.
    Then, as you said, depending on the pro/cons of each scenario, the client may be able to choose the right one for him.

  2. I begin to feel more and more that SharePoint need to be introduced during the induction week of the new employees and periodically to all employees of what are the common features that are useful in corporate environments – something like SharePoint feature of the week, or month!

    1. Good suggestion, Louis. Companies that invest in SharePoint need to invest is utilizing it too. Employees are the primary target for SharePoint usage and they’ll have great ideas on what to do once they understand what they can do better.

  3. One of my more popular blog entries could have been offered with just a title and no text. The title was “Remember, they have a day job!”

    I think that SharePoint practitioners often forget that some end-users (customers) simply don’t have the time, or the inclination, or the ability to understand their world in SharePoint’s terms. In our organization, they look to us (Information Services) to do that. While I would like all of my customers to know more about SharePoint so they could provide us with better requirements, they expect me to learn their business process and turn business requirements into the right SharePoint solution.

    We work very hard not to say “it depends” because the customers often roll their eyes and pass on the whole idea of using SharePoint as a solution. It might be different for a consultant, where there’s a simultaneous desire to not spend too much money, but for in-house staff, I think that’s the wrong answer. The answer my customers (end-users) want to hear starts with “I would recommend…”

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