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The SharePoint Hillbilly Fewer Big Words... More Pretty Pictures...

I see the question posted fairly often asking what kind SharePoint team an organization should have. How many people do I need? What roles do I need to fill? What is best for my organization? Well, just like every other answer in SharePoint, the correct answer is “it depends”. Do you ever get sick of hearing that??? I know I do…

So, let me give you my thoughts and opinions based upon my experience and what I’ve seen and let you come to your own conclusions.

What are the possible SharePoint roles?

I guess the first thing you need to understand are the different roles that exist in SharePoint (and their are LOTS). Remember, SharePoint is a massive beast and you will NOT find one person who can do it all. If you are hoping to find that person you will be sorely disappointed. For the most part this is true in SharePoint 2007 and 2010. However, generally things are improved in 2010 and easier for junior individuals to grasp.

SharePoint Administrator

The absolutely positively only role that you should not be without no matter the size of your organization or SharePoint deployment is a SharePoint administrator. These guys are essential to keeping things running and figuring out what’s wrong when things aren’t running well. These unsung heroes do more before 10 am than I do all day. The bad thing is, when these guys are awesome, you don’t even know they exist because everything is running so smoothly.

You should definitely invest some time and money here to make sure you have some competent if not rockstar help. You need an admin who truly loves SharePoint and will go that extra mile when necessary. Let me give you a real world example of what I’m talking about:

We have a rockstar admin… and I’m sure she’s sick of my throwing her name around so she’ll just have to live with remaining anonymous in this post… sorry Lori… Anyway! A couple of weeks ago our Server teams came to us and said

Hi Lori,

I’m finalizing the MOSS servers and doing updates that require a restart; can I restart them?

Seems like a harmless request from your server team does it not? Sure, go ahead and apply the patches and reboot during our scheduled maintenance window. No problem? right? Sounded fair to me… but no…. not to our fearless SharePoint admin…

I need a complete list of patches that will be applied. There is an update that is out there that will break SharePoint… KB973917 is the patch that has been shown to cause issues.

What? You mean Microsoft released a patch that would actually adversely affect SharePoint? If we did NOT have a rockstar admin, our server team would have applied these patches and then when some problem occurred in SharePoint we’d have to go through the fun task of tracking down exactly what caused the issue and resolve it. How much time would that have taken? If you have a junior SharePoint admin or an admin who’s not out there staying on top of what’s going on you could have spent days tracking down something so simple as applying a patch you should not have applied.

I will even go as far to say the only SharePoint rockstar you NEED in your organization is a SharePoint admin. You can always outsource really complicated development projects or bring in a rockstar contractor every now and then to make sure you aren’t way off track in other areas. For your day-to-day sanity and to keep SharePoint running smoothly, you need an awesome Admin.

Some rockstars in this category are: Ben Curry, Mike Watson, Joel Oleson, Todd Klindt, Shane Young, John Ferringer, Sean McDonough, and of course Lori Gowin.

SharePoint Developer

Another essential role for your SharePoint deployment is a SharePoint developer. Things do start to get a little hazy here and there are many flavors of “developers”. Are you writing custom code? using SharePoint Designer? What about SharePoint Branding?  Are all of these considered developers? I would say yes. Are they interchangeable? I’d say no. Development in SharePoint is such a large beast in itself. I would say that it’s not so large that you can’t know it all well, but it is so large that there are many people who specialize in one particular category. If you are lucky enough to have someone on staff who knows it all well, you better make sure they are well taken care of because those guys are ready-made to move over to a consulting role and charge you 3 times what you are probably paying them. :)

Some of the all-around rockstars are Eric Shupps, Andrew Connell (go Razorbacks), Rob Foster, Paul Schaeflein, Todd Bleeker, and Christina Wheeler

SharePoint Power User/No-Code Solutions Developer

These SharePoint Swiss Army Knives are essential for quick wins in your organization. These people can twist the out-of-the-box functionality to make it do things you would not even imagine. Give these guys SharePoint Designer, jQuery, InfoPath, and a little time and they will create views, dashboards, and KPI’s that will blow your mind away and give your execs the “wow” they are looking for. Not only can they deliver that wow factor, but they can mashup, merge, and really help make your SharePoint application usable and deliver an overall better user experience.

Before you hand off a project to your SharePoint Custom Code developer, let one of these rockstars look at it and show you what they can do (in probably less time). I would say the second most important role you can fill in your organization is one of these guys.

Rockstars in this category are Laura Rogers, Jennifer Mason, and Mark Miller

SharePoint Developer – Custom Code

If you want to really integrate SharePoint into your legacy systems, or really twist it and make it bend to your will, you are going to have to open up Visual Studio and write some custom code.  Remember, SharePoint is essentially just a big, huge, ginormous .NET application, so you CAN write code to make it do ANYTHING, but do you really want to spend the time and effort to do so? At some point with every other form of SharePoint development you are going to run into SOME limitation (SPD Workflows is the big one that comes to mind). If you truly want to knock down all the walls then custom development is the way to go. PLEASE keep in mind when you are looking for a custom code developer that a .NET developer does NOT equal a SharePoint developer.

Just SOME of the things these guys write are:

  • Custom Workflows
  • Custom Web Parts
  • Web Service functionality
  • Import data from legacy systems
  • Export data to legacy systems
  • Custom Actions
  • Event Receivers
  • Service Applications (2010)

These guys are also the ones generally responsible for packaging everything up into solution packages (you are doing that, right?).

Rockstars in this category are Phil Wicklund, Geoff Varosky, and Brian Jackett.

SharePoint Branding

“But it LOOKS like SharePoint!” Somebody call the WAAAAAAAAAAAAHMbulance…   Themes, Master Pages, Page Layouts, Zones, and over 2000 styles in CSS.. these guys not only have to be comfortable with all of SharePoint’s quirks and pain points when branding, but they have to know it TWICE for publishing and non-publishing sites.  Not only that, but these guys really need to have an eye for graphic design and be able to translate the ramblings of business into something visually stunning. They also have to be comfortable with XSLT, XML, and be able to hand off what they do to your custom developers for them to package as solutions (which you are doing, right?).

These rockstars include Heather Waterman, Cathy Dew, and Marcy Kellar

SharePoint Architect

SharePoint Architects are generally SharePoint Admins or Developers who have moved into more of a BA role? Is that fair to say? These guys really have a grasp and understanding for what SharePoint IS and what it can do. These guys help you structure your farms to meet your needs and help you design your applications the correct way. It’s always a good idea to bring in a rockstar SharePoint Architect to do a sanity check and make sure you aren’t doing anything stupid.  Most organizations probably do not have a rockstar architect on staff. These guys are generally brought in at the deployment of a farm, upgrade of a farm, or for large development projects. I personally also find architects very useful for sitting down with the business to translate their needs into what SharePoint can do. A good architect will be able to pick out what can be done out-of-the-box and what has to be custom built and hand those requirements to the development Staff.

Architects can generally fill in as an admin or a developer when needed.

Some rockstar architects are Rick Taylor, Dan Usher, Bill English, Spence Harbar, Neil Hodgkins, Eric Harlan, and Bjørn Furuknap.

Other Roles / Specialties

On top of all these other roles you also get these people who specialize in things like Reporting, BDC (BCS in 2010), Search, Performance, Security, Project Management, etc... etc... etc... Again, most organizations will not have one of these gurus on staff, they’ll just pay out the nose for them when they need them. :)

SharePoint End User

Everyone else in your organization that touches SharePoint falls into this category. What they actually DO in SharePoint is determined by your governance and what permissions you give these guys. Hopefully you have these guys on a fairly short leash and are NOT giving them access to tools like SharePoint Designer. Sadly end users are the ones who truly make your deployment a success by using it, but are also your biggest enemy in breaking it.  :)  We love you guys… really!!!

Okay, all that’s fine and dandy, but what should MY SharePoint team look like?

It depends! Okay… Are you just doing out of the box team sites with no custom development? Then you are probably fine with a great Admin team and a great No-Code Solution Development team. How many people do you need? Depends on how busy you can keep them. Sorry, can’t answer the question about numbers without knowing your specific needs. I can just tell you who you MIGHT need and what they will do for you.

I’ll leave you with what my ideal SharePoint Team would look like for a particular scenario:

Farm / Organization Structure
  • Dev, QA, and 2 Production Farms.
  • 5000 – 10000 Users
  • Custom Development and Integration with legacy systems
  • Team Sites, My Sites, Intranet, Document libraries and overall company collaboration
  • Rockstar SharePoint Administrator
  • 2-3 junior SharePoint Administrators
  • SharePoint Architect / Lead Developer
  • 2 Power User / No-Code Solution Developers
  • 2-3 Custom Code developers
  • Branding expert

With a team of that size and skill set, they should be able to keep a substantial SharePoint deployment running smoothly and meet your business needs. This does NOT mean that you would not need to bring in contract help from time to time when you need an uber specialist in one area. Also, this team assumes there will be ongoing development for the life of your SharePoint farm. If you are just going to be doing sporadic custom development, it might make sense to partner with an awesome firm that specializes in that sort of work (I can give you the name of a couple if you are interested).  Again though, the size of your team depends on the number of requests you are receiving and how much active development you are doing. So, don’t bring in a team that looks like this and then yell at me because they are sitting around with nothing to do or are so overwhelmed that nothing is getting done.

I do URGE you to take the proper time to asses your needs and determine what team is BEST for your organization. Also, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not skimp on the talent. When it comes to SharePoint you really do get what you pay for when it comes to employees, contractors, and software.  SharePoint can become absolutely critical to your business and because you skimped on hiring a developer he created a web part that brings down the farm because he doesn’t know what he’s doing, or you hire an admin who thinks it’s fine to stick everything in the same Content Database and then can’t figure out why people are complaining. SharePoint can be an enormous blessing to an organization or it’s biggest curse. Spend the time and money to do it right, or be prepared to spend even more time and money later to fix it.

Posted on Tuesday, March 16, 2010 11:31 AM | Back to top

Comments on this post: Building The Right SharePoint Team For Your Organization

# re: Building The Right SharePoint Team For Your Organization
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Hi Mark-
My humble addition to your thoughtful post is to cite the masterful Joel Oleson's post from a few years ago about the optimal skill set for a SharePoint Architect, although I suspect his definition of architect is a bit of a mash-up of several roles that you discussed here. Check it out at:
Left by Mike Gilronan on Mar 16, 2010 12:54 PM

# re: Building The Right SharePoint Team For Your Organization
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Fantastic post! I have had this same question come up also. I keep telling them that there's no magic answer. You're absolutely correct on the talent, you get what you pay for!
Left by Andy McInturff on Mar 16, 2010 2:58 PM

# re: Building The Right SharePoint Team For Your Organization
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Yup, it really annoys me that people seem to thing that SharePoint specialists are interchangable. For example, that as a developer I should know lots about SharePoint Admin. Yes, I know a bit - but nothing like the guys who do that every day.
Left by Andy Burns on Mar 17, 2010 6:39 AM

# re: Building The Right SharePoint Team For Your Organization
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Also check out "Importance of Building a SharePoint Team". It is not just the techies you need.{F2F95DCA-5C3A-4A57-B247-D6E1EAD65C0A}&PageFirstRow=11
Left by Randy Perkins on Mar 17, 2010 9:03 AM

# re: Building The Right SharePoint Team For Your Organization
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SharePoint Architect - you pretty much said it but I would add the following. In a large enterprise Architects should be able to communicate with other groups working on the implementation - other groups who are handling AD, DNS, Firewalls, DB Clustering. In addition, Architects need to have enough domain knowledge so when they talk to these other groups he/she doesn't sound like a MORON!
Left by Ali Khan on Mar 17, 2010 11:10 AM

# re: Building The Right SharePoint Team For Your Organization
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Excellent, well written information. Nicely done Mark.

<Todd />
Left by Todd Bleeker on Mar 17, 2010 11:37 AM

# re: Building The Right SharePoint Team For Your Organization
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Randy, that's a great point. Its just as critical to have the right members of the business organization invovled as well, since after all they're the ones who care about the environment and its capabilities. If you don't have good site owners and don't give them the knowledge and power to get the most out of their sites, it doesn't matter if you've built the best SharePoint farm ever b/c it will never take off.

Mark, you are way too kind. Either you lost a bet or I have forgotten to send you a very large check.

Left by John Ferringer on Mar 18, 2010 11:29 AM

# re: Building The Right SharePoint Team For Your Organization
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Great post mate, completely agree!

I've collected plenty of posts on this over the time, check them out here:
Left by Jeremy Thake on Mar 19, 2010 9:10 AM

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