Microsoft’s Eric Harlan Confesses Everything You Need to Know about Planning Your SharePoint Environment but Are Too Afraid to Ask

As a Premier Field Engineer (PFE) at Microsoft, Eric Harlan has seen just about every SharePoint issue you can imagine from the mundane user error to the “interesting.” In his presentation at SPLF 2013, Confessions of a PFE: Where There Was No Planning, There Was No Adoption, Eric discussed some of the most common issues he sees when customers do not appropriately plan their implementation of SharePoint.  From easy-to-fix to farm-crippling mistakes, according to Eric, the top 5 problems that plague SharePoint environments are:

  • Governance;
  • Permissions;
  • Architecture;
  • Best Practices; and
  • Documentation.

Ugh. The dreaded “G” word. As a guideline on how SharePoint will be used within your organization, Governance is a critical aspect of any SharePoint plan. By closely analyzing and having a firm grasp of where you came from, where you are now, and where you are hoping to go, you can avoid some of the common pitfalls that accompany implementing and deploying SharePoint within an organization. Additionally, one of the key things to take into account when drafting your SharePoint governance plan, according to Eric, is to keep in mind that governance is DYNAMIC. With how quickly needs and situations change and evolve, it’s important to develop a plan that is very fluid and flexible.

“When in doubt, it’s always going to be Permissions.” Based on Eric and his colleagues’ experiences, 90% of the time, THIS is the issue. Make sure your users are granted the appropriate permissions and you know who is allowed to do what. ‘Nuff said.

Architecture, on the other hand, isn’t always as simple as an issue to plan for and troubleshoot. First and foremost, there’s the 800 lb. gorilla we refer to as a budget to contend with. One of the largest problems organizations face when planning their SharePoint architecture is not investing enough, both in terms of cost AND resources, upfront. As Eric stated, “You’re going to pay now, or you’re going to pay later.”  The problem, he has found time and time again, is that when organizations fail to plan long-term and invest on the front-end to build the platform to gain adoption and engagement, the after-the-fact, reactive costs always tend to carry a much larger price tag and longer resolution period.

When it comes to defining Best Practices, I think that Eric said it best when he stated that “Best Practices are the agreed-upon best method to follow the crowd blindly and do something that may be detrimental to your career.” Sound all too familiar? If so, you’re not alone. The problem with best practices is that all too often they don’t take context into account; i.e., something that is a best practice for one organization may not work for someone else. Lucky for us, unlike back in the SharePoint 2003 and 2007 days, there are countless different options available and documentation that can show you how to solve problems in a number of different ways. In addition, thriving communities such as us here at Bamboo Nation, Nothing But SharePoint, The Collaboration Show, and others provide a wealth of resources to SharePoint users.

If you learned nothing else from his presentation, one of the key takeaways Eric wanted the audience to have is this: Do NOT keep your SharePoint Disaster Recovery Plan in SharePoint! Perhaps one of, if not the biggest issues Eric found with planning, implementing, and deploying SharePoint is a lack of proper Documentation. Critical to a successful plan, in his experience, has been to not only have everything properly documented but to make sure that there is a wider team to know where the information is documented. How many times has something gone wrong in your organization and when you went to troubleshoot you found that – oops! – there’s only one person who knows how to resolve the issue and he’s on vacation in Mexico and is unreachable. Making sure that your disaster recovery plan is both viable AND well-documented is sure to save you not only time and money but a ton of headaches as well.

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