Monday, December 21, 2015

Our approach to deliver aligned business solutions

In my role as Collaboration Solution Architect I align with our business stakeholders to deliver company internal collaboration solutions. In these solution alignments, the technology is of secondary nature. Its impact is both as enabler as well constraining. Our technology options are in line with the generic enterprise IT architecture: SAP and Microsoft unless. So we apply SAP platform for some dedicated collaboration scenarios, and Microsoft for almost all the rest. As most SharePoint customers came to realize, we also impose governance in the collaboration solution setups we are allowed to deliver to our business. The overarching principle is to deliver only future-proof solutions. This translates to apply standard / out-of-the-box platform capabilities where feasible, and restrain from building custom solutions just for the sake of building custom solutions. And in case custom solution is needed to deliver on the requested functionality, then comply with the Microsoft guideline to stay away from farm-based solutions and instead rely on the Add-In model.
So, how does this work in practice? Let me clarify by a true example. Few months ago I was invited for an alignment meeting with our internal finance department. The title of the meeting was ‘BI portal’. In the meeting, the business stakeholders told about their functional intent. And extended on all of their requirements. Being aware of the technology strategy, they upfront realized that the target platform would be SharePoint. And they already themselves build an image on how the solution should look like.
Next step was to map their functional vision, and detailed requirements to feasibility. Initial focus here is to discuss and challenge on the functional vision. Not that I’m the subject expert, they are, but still it makes sense to ‘walk through’ the functional vision to evaluate it on true added business value. Next is to map the vision, and the detailed requirements, to the technology. How will the generic setup be, what can be delivered out-of-the-box via SharePoint features, what can be delivered through customization, what would require custom solutions, and what is not allowed due our governance constraints? Helpful in both alignments – the functional and the technical – is to use examples of solutions delivered for others, to trigger and inspire. These example solutions can be your own’s, but also of course from anywhere. The SharePoint community is very generous in sharing knowledge and experiences.
As follow-up of the alignment meeting, I sketched a potential solution direction on high level. I deliberately use PowerPoint as format for this, as that by its nature limits you for over-extensive writings. Outline of the solution architecture is: a) Sketch of the context, b) Main requirements, c) UI impressions (mockups), d) Global Design utilizing SharePoint platform capabilities, e) the information architecture. a) and b) serve to verify whether my understanding of the request is valid, and c) is to agree on the user experience.
After fine-tuning on business aspects with the stakeholders, next step is to get technical consent: d) and e). At minimal, communicate the setup of the solution direction with technical peers and our SharePoint operations. In our company we have formalized this via ‘Templace Control Teams’ per technology platform.
If and after both functional and technical alignment, next is to ‘build’ it in agile manner. Deliver a first version, not feature-complete yet, but it must already have functional meaning and value. Demonstrate in a ‘sprint-demo’ to business, discuss on behaviour and new insights, and deliver these in next ‘sprint’.
If the solution setup is restricted to SharePoint standard only, and potential customization as 'SharePoint content' (html, CSS, javascript), it is possible to build up the application direct in the production collaboration space. Although I then typically choose to first build it in my own 'development/playground' site, and after business agreement deploy it to the target location by repeating the 'content-based' provisioning.

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