SPLF 2013: Mark Miller Gets His Heisenberg on with ‘Breaking Bad SharePoint’

Mark Miller as Heisenberg during "Breaking Bad SharePoint" at SPLF 2013

When Mark Miller first pitched the idea of a Breaking Bad-themed session for this year's SharePoint Leadership Forum to me, I must confess, I let my Breaking Bad fandom walk all over my editorial judgment, and enthusiastically agreed without a second thought.  I mention this for two reasons: first, because I was so anxious to see what Mark would come up with that I didn't consider the experience from the viewpoint of non-viewers of the show (Mark considered this, handled it gracefully, and all attendees appeared engaged); and second, what about potential spoilers for those who plan to watch, but haven't yet?  (Mark considered this as well, and handled it with a blanket "spoiler alert" at the top of the session.)

It's the second reason that I feel the need to dwell on for a few sentences before diving into my coverage of the session itself.  This may be due to the fact that I tend to be way more sensitive than the average bear when it comes to spoilers of a TV show/movie/book/comic, but Mark revealed the fate of so many characters during his session that I couldn't help but think how irritated (read: sputtering in disbelief) I'd have been if I hadn't finished (or hadn't started, but was of a mind to do so) watching the series yet.  I say this by way of saying I'll take the blame (and the heat) in the event that anyone at SPLF has as much of a hair-trigger regarding spoilers as do I, and was disappointed or upset over spoilers.  I hope everyone was as nonplussed as yesterday's audience in D.C. certainly appeared to be, however, and that this preamble is all much ado about nothing, but just in case, let's do this:

SPOILER ALERT: Read no further if you don't want to encounter Breaking Bad spoilers.

For his SPLF session modeled after characters from the critically acclaimed (and recently concluded) TV series Breaking Bad, Mark Miller took to the stage sporting a Heisenberg hat-and-goatee combo, and quoting dialogue from the show.  He explained that his goal was to "look at the anatomy of a SharePoint project and why it goes bad," through the lens of certain personality types.

After asking how many attendees watched the show (fewer than half), Mark said that this was no problem, because "There is a specific lifespan for Breaking Bad characters, and it aligns with 'characters' who are typically involved in a SharePoint project."  Walter White, a chemistry teacher, starts with good intentions, but breaks bad, building a meth empire under the nom du cook Heisenberg.  For the purposes of Mark's SharePoint project, Walt is the project itself, the central figure around which all others orbit.

Jesse.  At heart, "a good kid, who wants to do good.  This is your site manager," said Mark.  It's his involvement with the "project itself that makes Jesse turn bad."

Skyler.  Walt's wife, who is "completely unaware of what's going on, and ignores it until it directly affects her."  "I think of business development" on the SharePoint project.  "She helped run the business."

Gus.  A ruthless, calculating player of the angles.  "You see this guy on the project team, you know you're in trouble."

Mike.  "He knows the stuff, knows what needs to be done because he's seen it a hundred times before.  This is the guy on your team that keeps things running, knows the entire game."

Saul.  "He doesn't touch anything, but is the machine that makes everything work.  A sponsor of the project.  Knows somebody who can solve any problem.  An absolutely essential member of a project team.

Hank.  "He thinks he knows everything, but underneath is insecure," leading to his / the project's ultimate downfall.

Flynn.  "This is the guy who knows nothing, but is always there with a smile, ready to help.  "He adds no value to the team."

Marie.  "Oblivious halfway through the project, she doesn't know what she's aligned with.  She doesn't ever get sucked into Walt's world … your person who refuses to use SharePoint."

Lydia.  "Comes in late to the project, and exits almost as quickly once things turn bad."

Todd.  "At first, a milquetoast, but turns bad really fast.  It's the bad stuff that's going to bring the project down."

Gale.  "Comes in, knows his stuff; doesn't care about meth/SharePoint, but is about doing the best job he can."  And has a "short lifespan."  (I confess, I failed to capture the logic in my notes in this case.)

Jack.  "Comes in near beginning of the collapse, and is all-in … but only for himself."

Badger and Skinny Pete.  "Are these your ultimate end users?"  "They don't care about SharePoint/what you're using, just make my job simple/easy."  I love this one.

Throughout his descriptions, Mark would take spot polls, asking if members of the audience had someone like this at work.  Without fail, on those occasions he asked about, at least one person did.  His closing thoughts were that with "specific characters in every project, time and again," if you can learn to "recognize them, you'll know who you're dealing with, and how to deal with them."

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