“A Fool with a Tool is Still a Fool”

Credit the quote in the title to Grady Booch, developer of the Unified Modeling Language in conjunction with Ivar Jacobson and James Rumbaugh, and Chief Scientist in software engineering at IBM Research. Like all memorable quotes, its value is the pithy, clever way it communicates a basic truth.

Human beings believe in the power of tools to make work easier and solve problems. For centuries, until recent work of biologists and zoologists proved us incorrect, we believed that the use of tools distinguished humankind from lower animals. In previous posts, I have talked about tools I believe are essential to effective project management (Collaboration Tools  and How to create and use predictive project scheduling).

However, there is more to the story. Purchasing a tool for planning a project, tracking performance, or communicating with team members and stakeholders is the beginning not the end of your journey. I know that seems obvious, but you might be surprised how many times I have encountered managers who tell me, “I brought XYZ tool and required everyone to use it, but it did not help.” Only to find out on deeper questioning that they didn’t gather requirements and configure the tool, no one was trained to use the tool, no one was told how to apply the tool to get meaningful results, and no one asked for the output. Duh!

A Case in Point
A tool that we at ProSphere have found to be useful and highly effective in organizations is Microsoft’s SharePoint®. I applaud its flexibility, scalability and its support of collaboration among many teams and projects. However, we have learned when recommending SharePoint to others to remind them that it only works—it is only useful—when configured properly, designed to fit the needs of the users, and tailored to the types of content being stored.  Let me explain what SharePoint is designed to do.

Microsoft SharePoint is a collaboration and content management system offered from Microsoft in either the 2010 server version or a 2013 version. SharePoint supports integrated search in a web-based collaborative environment. SharePoint’s software elements include collaboration functions, process management and document-management. SharePoint can be used to host shared workspaces such as wikis and blogs.

Navigating the SharePoint options can be challenging. Therefore, Microsoft offers a guide to help figure out which SharePoint products and services you need.  The Microsoft SharePoint website provides resource to learn about SharePoint through books, whitepapers, and formal training courses. But how many organizations actually have or hire an expert to figure out how to implement this great tool for their needs?

Because SharePoint can be pricey for small organizations, Verónica Meza T offers a thoughtful comparison in the article, “The two main alternatives to SharePoint: Nuxeo and Alfresco”.   CMS Wire shares comments and insight in using SharePoint in “The Future of SharePoint Project Management”.

What do you need to do?
If you think that SharePoint (or any tool that you are considering) offers your organization a useful mix of tools for project management and collaboration, I recommend you do the following:

  1. Establish an internal expert. Designate someone to learn about SharePoint and/or hire an outside consultant to work with them. Give that person time and resources to attend training, work with the tool, work with the implementation consultant and purchase other educational resources.
  2. Gather requirements.  This doesn’t have to be an extensive project – just make sure you figure out which problem(s) you want to solve and how to solve them best with the tool.
  3. Pick a project or organization and field test SharePoint (or the tool you are implementing). Set up the tool correctly even if that means hiring a consultant to help. Collect data, comments, and observations. Use the data to create a presentation that educates and informs.
  4. Find a champion. To move an organization, you need a champion with influence. Someone whose opinion is respected across the organization especially by those who control the purse strings.  Utilize change management techniques and process to capitalize on your sponsor’s backing.
  5. Once a commitment is made to use SharePoint, prepare teams and project managers thoroughly. Your dollars will be wasted and you will lose “street credibility” if the implementation does not show results. So, hedge your bets by making sure that users know what they need to know to use the tool effectively.
  6. Value SharePoint expertise with both tangible and intangible rewards.

If your organization has worked with SharePoint or other tools that significantly improved productivity, please share your experience.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that all you have to do is buy a tool, install it, and all your problems will be solved!!

3 Responses to ““A Fool with a Tool is Still a Fool””

  1. Mark Says:

    I can’t agree more with you. Getting a PM tool is only the very beginning, the setup and configuration is where the real work is. Plan for lots of planning and configuring.

  2. Karen Says:

    I have seen this happen so many times! C-level folks go to a conference and see a presentation on a cool new tool. They decide that’s there next claim to fame. They fail to align it with their strategic goals, put metrics in place to measure the impact against their goals, or spend much of the project time analyzing or getting input from users. The result–yet another tool in place that no one uses–which without additional configuration and design will go to the boneyard of failed projects. Great post!

  3. Haleh Says:

    I don’t want to push SharePoint but I also used it for the last project I managed. It helped bring all the involved teams together and give them a common place where they felt free to post issues and comments, enter required and relevant information, review documents, sign up for scheduled events, view status of the project, etc… Keeping the stake holders engaged throughout the lengthy process of projects is very difficult, so I can’t stress the importance of a collaboration tool where stakeholders can become active members of the project ( not just at the beginning) and stay active throughout the full cycle of the project.

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