My first day at EasySharePoint


It’s been eight years since I was the ‘new boy’ in class so today is an exciting day for me. After years working as a Solutions Architect in various guises today I become Chief Technical Officer at EasySharePoint. EasySharePoint are a Microsoft Partner based in London. They help clients realise immediate value from their Microsoft Office 365 investment by delivering a proven intranet and collaboration platform with their EasyShare Online product. The EasyShare product was also awarded Best Global Intranet 2014 by The Institute of Internal Communications.

Why EasySharePoint?

Forrester’s June 2014 report ‘New Development Platforms’ notes a change in trend from enhancing SharePoint with custom solutions to enhancing SharePoint with pre-built solutions. Forrester identifies low code platforms as gaining popularity for their speed in delivering value to the business in addition to the following benefits:

  • Slash the hand-coding needed to deliver applications: Low-code platforms minimize hand coding and speed up delivery by providing visual tools for quick definition and assembly of user experiences.
  • Address all customer channels, including mobile: These platforms support responsive design and mobile-ready functionality that makes it as easy as pushing a button to extend the app to work across other channels, including tablets and smartphones.
  • Provide a single control point for configuration, delivery, and maintenance of apps: Low code platforms provide a unified and centralized environment for configuration management, role-based access, authentication, and repository control of apps and configuration components.

Analysts for a long time have called out custom development for being lengthy and therefore expensive, not always delivering best practice and forcing a focus on code rather than business adoption and value. I wanted to join a product company because I recognised the challenges of on-premises would only be compounded as organisations move to Office 365 if they tried to replicate the old model by custom developing the platform.  The EasyShare Online app product, which quickly and intuitively stands up Office 365 sites, Yammer, Lync and extends Office is a great way for any organisation to enjoy the benefits of Office 365 – with the benefits of customisations – but without the hassle of custom development.

So why has it taken so long for the market to recognise products deliver better value than custom development? Simply put, organisations which make up the Microsoft eco-system are predominantly services businesses.

Where it is certainly the case that custom development is the right approach for applications that are unique to the way that as business operates the vast majority of custom work has delivered generic capabilities that could be met with an off the shelf product because this is how the IT community has long been set up. Moving from custom to product to a large degree requires one to cannibalise their own business.

This is a big step and one we have watched Microsoft themselves take with the push to move clients to Office 365 and away from on-premises technology. The reality is that this was a move which served the interests of organisations rather than Microsoft themselves. Office 365 and Azure deliver better (and evolving) productivity tools to clients, cheaper. The shift in Microsoft’s own focus towards organisational adoption and away from software sales has also benefited clients enormously and simultaneously created a new workload for Microsoft. In the world of Office 365 every individual user counts.

This has been a transformation that has ultimately led Microsoft to a moral victory; as Office 365 adoption increases organisations globally will be using cheaper, better technology.

EasySharePoint has been ahead of this step change, building their first SharePoint intranet product for SharePoint 2007, with later versions for 2010, 2013 and Online.

The EasySharePoint approach is distinctive. The EasyShare Online product delivers Office 365 in hours rather than months, thanks to EasyShare’s pre-built capabilities allowing a business to focus on content and adoption. The product includes:

  • New features that extend what is available Out Of The Box
  • Integration with Yammer, Lync and Office
  • An easy branding tool
  • A fully multi-lingual experience
  • A fully responsive mobile experience across all major devices and browsers

…and what will I be doing there?

EasyShare Online is the most widely used pre-built Office 365 app in the market. As the Chief Technical Officer my main responsibility will be designing the product roadmaps and supporting our clients and partners using EasyShare Online and Office 365. I’ll be working closely with our Technical Strategy Director and production team to design our new product capabilities.

Alongside all of this I’ll be getting more time for community activities such as speaking and blogging. I’m very excited about the new job at EasySharePoint and all the new ideas that will find their way into our products in the near future.

The importance of naming your Office 365 tenant

There is a frequently referenced part of Romeo and Juliet where Juliet seems to argue that it does not matter that Romeo is from her rival’s house of Montague, that is, that he is named ‘Montague’. The reference is often used to imply that the names of things do not affect what they really are. When it comes to choosing a tenant name…. They really do!

Within Office 365 the choice of the tenant name is something you really need to think about from day one. Failure to do so often leads to later headaches and unhappiness.

Here are some points to consider:

  • The tenant name always appears in the SharePoint url for example so you need to consider whether the url makes sense. Also you might be typing it a lot so choosing something short is great for users.
  • Has the right team in your organisation been involved? The name will be there an awful long time so make sure the right teams are involved in the choice, does your marketing or legal team need consulting. Does the name factor into the company growth?
  • Is the name already taken? If your desired name is in use Microsoft can contact the current owner and you may be eligible to regain that name. Often other elements of an organisation may well have already claimed the main name during a POC etc. This process can take a very long time upwards of 120 days.
  • If you choose the wrong name you will end up with a migration project entangled with rollout project.
  • You need to make sure you get the right licenses are assigned on the tenant. If the tenant gets created incorrectly it can sometimes lead to deletion and recreation which can take upwards of 60 days. This is due to the teardown process SLA for a tenant to release the name for reuse. Also Microsoft are the only ones who can perform this action.
  • The tenant name is used in cloud identities in the email address for example
  • The choice can be complicated if the company is split into groups or operating companies which have strong brand identity.

So when considering Office 365

The standard set of questions should be:

  • Do you have an Office 365 tenant?
  • What is the tenant name (i.e. <>)
  • Are you happy with this name to appear in the URL for (future) SharePoint Online? Has this been signed off by your comms / marketing team?

If you want to set up a new tenant for a client and want to know whether the name is free or not, use this awesome little Azure App:

European Best Practices SharePoint Conference 2011


For several years I’ve attended the European SharePoint conference and been super impressed by the whole event, from the speaker line-up, session content to the evening attendee events. Steve Smith and the Combined Knowledge crew always put on a massively impressive event.

The conference was held between 11th to 13th of April. This year saw the second running of the ‘Community Track’ focused on real life SharePoint projects and experiences. I was fortunate to secure a slot this year Smile. My session covered my current programme of work for Tesco. This project uses SharePoint 2010 to provide the Tesco group with a new intranet collaboration platform. The design is quite a radical departure from the traditional style of ‘news’ or ‘corporate communications’ focused homepage. The approach is focused on providing a custom homepage centred around the Activity Feed. If you missed my session be sure to watch the DVD.

Here are the slides from my presentation.

It was fantastic opportunity to finally meet so many friends I’ve been chatting to via Twitter and FaceBook for ages face to face. Special thanks go out to Steve Smith, Zoe Watson and all the CK crew for the event, Chris Johnson, Chris O’Brien for his advice and review of my presentation, Tobias Zimmergren, Rob Foster, Eric Shupps and everyone else who made me feel welcome throughout the event.

Speaking at the SharePoint Best Practices 2011


I’m lucky enough to be speaking at this years SharePoint Best Practices 2011 conference in London between 11th and 13th of April. Catch my session on Monday 11th April between 10 and 11 in the ‘Wesley’ room.


My session is part of the popular community track, see the full agenda for all the other top sessions planned.

My session is called ‘Putting you at the centre of Tesco’ and will be covering the SP2010 implementation for Tesco. This system is a new collaboration platform covering 16 countries, up to 50,000 end users by 2011. The design of this intranet is quite different from traditional business unit focussed implementations that represent the business hierarchy. For Tesco we have used the MySite as the default landing page for every user so that they get a fully personalised view of their Tesco role. Centred around the SP2010 activity feed system the home page displays activity from not only the OOB social and profile information but also extensions for ECM data. The activity feed has been extended to display activity within the team collaboration spaces giving the user a real flow of activity from their teams into one place.

If you haven’t yet signed up to attend the Best Practices Conference I’d go and read more on the conference site – European SharePoint Best Practices Conference 2011

Dialogue mapping one month on


Back at the beginning of December I was lucky enough to attend the SharePoint governance and information architecture master class. One of the key techniques I’ve been investing my time learning since is the IBIS dialogue mapping. Dialogue mapping is a technique which helps you facilitate a meeting and document the discussion. In an easy to follow notation you can record the questions, ideas and supporting/undermining arguments for an idea.

Getting started

So following Paul’s advice I began getting used to just mapping syntax and keyboard/mouse actions by mapping some of the SharePoint online event videos. There are four main notations to get your head around, Question, Idea, pro supporting the idea and finally con undermining the idea. The syntax is fairly straight forward, an idea responds to a question and an idea can have pros, cons or further questions.

As you become familiar with the interface you’ll find yourself being faster and faster at recording the major points and information into the map.

Get in front of a friendly audience

So after spending several weekends ‘geeking’ it up mapping videos I could pause and replay the next step was to try the technique out in the wild so to speak. Before trying to facilitate a design meeting I chose to map one of the development teams scrum retrospectives.

As a fairly well structured meeting type it was a nice introduction to live mapping. The team were understanding at my pauses as I attempted to capture the main points. What was really interesting was that following the meeting the map demonstrated where the focus of the meeting had been. As the notation doesn’t include who made comments it allows repeated information to be overlaid reducing the noise factor. The sprint under analysis had suffered from lack of communication and testing and this ‘feeling’ by the product owner had been supported by the team as the map became fuller. Large branches followed questions and ideas around improving the testing and communications around delivery.

After a couple of more attempts mapping internal team meetings it is becoming more and more valuable as a way to record discussions and be able to analyse outcomes post meeting.

Next challenges

Next up will be to get in front of some design and workshop based meetings where I can also begin to facilitate the meeting while mapping. As I can really see the value in the dialogue maps I’ve decided to attend the IBIS Dialogue mapping master class being run by Paul towards the end of February. The course outline looks to build on the information taught in the governance master class and provide more hands on and depth to the technique. For anyone thinking of attending the next Governance master class I would recommend considering also attending the IBIS master class.

SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture Master Class


The SharePoint project jigsaw


I’ve been working with SharePoint since early 2007 in mainly technically focused roles. Throughout this adventure I’ve delivered public websites, built an accessibility framework over MOSS, implemented Commerce Server for an internet shop. One thing that has always been the most challenging aspect is translating the user requirements and overlaying them onto the technical capability of the SharePoint platform.

To be honest as vast and deeply complicated as SharePoint can be, from a coding aspect it’s actually not that complex. I guess what I mean by that is that learning the API calls required to build a web part, provision a feature or enable something is well catered for by MSDN and the welcoming nature of the SharePoint community. Building projects on SharePoint becomes part muscle reflex, part learning curve and thus remains complicated but not really complex.

In late October 2009 I moved into a new role as a Solutions Architect. At Content and Code this role is more clearly focused on the solution big picture and the business side of project delivery. As such they provide some personal development training to help individuals identify and improve their own personal performance levels. This is extremely helpful but still leaves a hole in the big jigsaw of SharePoint projects.

The missing piece


I had the pleasure of working on a large programme of work for RNIB with Andrew Jolly. Andrew introduced me to Paul Culmsee’s blog and some of the techniques such as dialogue mapping. Witnessing first-hand the application of the techniques described on Paul’s comprehensive set of articles enticed me to learn more about this missing ‘solution governance’ jigsaw piece.

So when 21Apps announced the SharePoint 2010 Governance and Information Architecture Master Class featuring Paul I couldn’t get signed up fast enough! The course content was exactly what I’d been hunting for, something that tackles the human factor of SharePoint project success.

My current project is a a very complex multi-country collaboration deployment with a large amount of custom development. I had high hopes that the course would arm me with the techniques to make the project even more successful. Expectations set……

The course



You can see the full details about the course content from the event page. After all the attendees has settled  we went around the room and introduced ourselves and explained what we thought were the hardest parts of any SharePoint project. It was great to here so many non-developer roles in the room had some consistent challenges with SharePoint projects.

In general most people felt that navigating expectations, end user adoption and on-going use were by far the most complex elements of the projects they had been involved in. A big sigh of relief, I wasn’t alone Smile

Module 1: SharePoint Governance f-Laws

The first module covered the SharePoint f-Laws. An f-Law explains the less visible SharePoint governance factors. Each f-Law was actually quite amusing, if I’d been playing f-Law bingo I’d have been shouting full house. Rather than bring despair I actually found a great weight lifting as the realisation that the techniques about to be learnt were aimed at solving these problems.

Key take away for me were:

  • Governance is just a means to get from where you are to where you aspire to be.
  • Opportunity driven problem solving, people need to try a solution to understand a problem.
  • Platitude, those statements usually reserved for marketing types which don’t really say anything tangible. Collaboration being a great example of something that needs expanding to validate.
  • Shared understanding is key to success.
  • Current understanding of governance is mainly about service delivery and quality assurance.


Module 2: The Shared Understanding Toolkit part one

The second module introduced the tools you can employ to combat the f-Laws. This module focused us on the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of the solution. It introduced the IBIS dialogue mapping technique as an aid to eliciting requirements. I really enjoyed this particular module as it was interesting to hear how Paul had leveraged them on a wide variety of projects many not even IT related.

Module 3: The Shared Understanding Toolkit part two

Module three moved onto the ‘who’ and ‘how’ areas. We learnt how to apply the tools to the ‘who’ and ‘how’ factors, a key point was the Beer KPI. Can you test your explanation in a beer drinking time. Yes is good, no is bad. I’ve already tried this test, and it works a treat.

Module 4: Information Architecture trends, lessons learned and key SharePoint challenges

The fourth module discussed some of the problems propagating directly from the Microsoft governance information. The key point to this was the fact the MS material was almost exclusively aimed at the technical implementation and quality assurance aspects of SharePoint.

Module 5: Information organisation and facets of collaboration

The fifth module covered some of the Information Architecture. The module was a useful discussion about the common mistakes and identifying the warning signs that lead to failure.

Module 6: Information Seeking, Search and metadata

Module six was more directly related to SharePoint, refreshing that it was nearly 3/4 of the course before we had actually discussed any kind of SharePoint specific technicals. SP2010’s search was explored and the different competing views on its use highlighted.

Module 7: Shared understanding and visual representation – documenting your Information Architecture

The seventh and final module was about using the tools and techniques to visualise the information for the stakeholders. Another new Wireframe tool was introduced and we attempted to replicate the wireframe of the standard SP2010 team site.

I’m not sure I felt quite at ease using an electronic tool to wireframe. My personal preference would still be paper, going in prepared with some outline SP2010 pages which the content can be added to has in my experience been quicker. Then share those afterwards. But I guess I’ll still give it a go in the new year Smile

Final thoughts


I really enjoyed the course, Paul is a very engaging and enthusiastic presenter and brought some really humorous examples into the slides. The death star IBIS map being my particular favourite.

Did it meet my expectations? Well I’d have to say that it far exceeded them. There had obviously been a large amount of effort in preparing the courseware and modules. They covered the important missing links currently absent from the Microsoft and traditional training courses.

The tools presented give any solution designer a real advantage in getting requirements and being able to translate them into something meaningful. I’ve already been ‘dipping my toes in the pool’ on my current project and it has already shown benefits. In one session it became apparent that one technical solution had already been chosen without discussion of further options. With the dialog map in front of the group it was easy to highlight the need to open further discussion and unpack the problem more.

With so much material to absorb and apply I think it’ll take a few more months to fully utilise everything that was taught but I feel like the course left me in a really strong place. Being able to focus my enthusiasm and drive for project success and bring my client team along the journey is going to be fun.

So it just goes to say congratulations and many thanks again to Paul and Andrew, and to look forward to the next instalment.

This course has been the most insightful two days of my SharePoint career.