Finding the Balance Between Tailoring and Thinking Inside the Box

September 14 2010 2 comments

This article describes why every tailoring decision is a choice involving price tag, risk, and usability.

SharePoint offers an astonishing set of functionality and features. We’re all familiar with the capabilities regarding to for example RSS viewing, calendars, surveys, discussion boards, and content management. Personally I find the out of the box set quite rich and able to cater the most usual intranet needs. Typically organizations do not have capacity to utilize even every workload, and only a handful of key features should be applied to keep the user experience unified.

The long list of features is also a twofold sword. Having Blogs, Enterprise Wikis, Document Management Functionality, and Approval Workflows straight out of the box means that the way they work has already been designed. It is the SharePoint way that the customer commits itself to with the product. Blog site model has been set, Enterprise Wikis are not Wikipedia but a SharePointish view to collaborate, Document Management features offer versioning but are not comparable to systems focused primarily on Document Management, and Approval Workflows support a certain approval process. If a customer is content with the way the product works, having SharePoint is typically a fairly good investment. If the look and feel is not sufficient and especially if the user interface needs to be heavily modified, we’re talking about tailoring.

Tailoring certain key elements and functionalities that streamline the user experience can be a good idea. Tailoring each and every piece of product is begging for trouble. The inherent challenge in tailoring products is related to updating the product and interoparability with the other components. Every decision the specification project makes about tailoring adds to the price tag and contributes towards the risk factor. The risk that needs to be managed is not related only to the implementation project. When the product gets updated, especially the tailored components need to be tested before updating the production environment. Making even small tweaks to the standard functionality also makes it harder to buy training and experienced users from the market.

One more and more popular approach to tailoring is to run the first project entirely on OOTB features and customized visual layout. The site models and page layouts will be defined in the WSP-packages so that the solution can be deployed identically in several farms and the further development is flexible. After having some experience from the OOTB SharePoint the customer is much more capable of understanding what is worth tailoring and what is good enough as it is. The vendor has also been through the first project and is more capable of understanding the business needs and maybe even able to suggest productish ways to solve specific needs.

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2 comments to “Finding the Balance Between Tailoring and Thinking Inside the Box”

  1. Perttu Tolvanen says:

    I agree with this approach. Sometimes it can be achieved just by calling that first version as a pilot. Traditionally pilots have been very limited, but when working with products the pilots can be complete products.

    Especially when redesigning an intranet it would be a very good approach to start by building a “shadow version” of the current intranet using OOTB features of SharePoint. This way also the time and effort to specify and design things in detail would be much smaller – and the client would really understand what we are designing!

    This approach would also increase the likeliness that client decides to employ a greater amount of features in their intranet – and not require so much tailoring – but this also the reason why this approach is not that popular within integrators. Especially large integrators (Im looking at you Tieto, Logica, Digia, Accenture and so on.) do not really have the motivation to push clients to using OOTB features since their business is highly depending on the amount of tailoring each project requires.

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