SharePoint Consultants – What You See May Not Be What You Get

I am not bigoted, nor am I jingoistic.

It seems important to say that right up front. (If anyone who knows me well thinks that statement isn’t true, then I’ve got some work to do. Momma didn’t raise me that way.) I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a long time now, and I think it’s a hard one to write without saying those two things. I don’t want this to come of as whining or anger. It’s just some stuff I’ve noticed and thought about that I think some other people ought to think about, too.

Over the last 6 to 9 months, I’ve noticed that more and more of the questions I’m getting about SharePoint are coming from overseas, whether it be through the contact form on my blog or in the forums I participate in. Many people probably may not realize it, but when you post a comment to a blog (at least a WordPress blog with moderated comments like mine) the owner can see the IP address you were using when you entered it. So I’m not just reacting to names I don’t usually hear at the local Wal-Mart. Refer to my first statement at the top.

Now this is somewhat to be expected, as SharePoint Developers are becoming a commodity just like everything does. Yes, that’s a sad thing, and I strongly feel that it’s a bad idea with this particular type of technology in most cases. To me, working on a technology platform which exists to facilitate collaboration requires a very hands-on, collaborative working style – one which is hard to create from thousands of miles away.

But there are some other problems in all this and it raises some further questions in my mind.

Should I be helping these folks?

Of course I do, and I probably won’t stop. As my ex-colleague Mauro Cardarelli used to tell me (paraphrased): "What’s good for SharePoint is good for me."

However, especially over the last year or two, as people I know have been looking for work with SharePoint (as have I), it has made me pause a little. If the overseas folks are busy but we aren’t, should I be spending more time helping the locals get good gigs or helping someone in another country do the basics? Many people feel this way about the forum stuff in general. If they know the answer, shouldn’t they guard that knowledge? That, to me, is an old school way of thinking and working that doesn’t hold up anymore. It’s more suited to the 1950s than it is to the twenty-first century.

So I’m not really averse to helping – in fact I really enjoy it – but there are some really difficult cultural differences to deal with. It really annoys me to get an email with a full business problem spelled out, followed by a statement like: "Give a solution for this as soon as possible." Maybe it’s OK somewhere to demand a solution for nothing, but at some point I have other things to do, just like everyone else. I also am a consultant who gets paid to do this stuff for my clients.  So it’s really important for those strangers out there to realize that I and many others help because we choose to, not because we have to. We don’t work for Microsoft just because we answer questions on the MSDN forums, we don’t have unlimited time and energy, we aren’t impervious to rudeness, etc. The vast majority of people who ask for help are quite pleasant and respectful, but that small percentage who aren’t can turn it sour.

What are the companies which are hiring these offshore folks really getting?

Now I’m not anti-outsourcing or offshoring. I’m a consultant, so I pretty much have to agree with at least the former.  To me there are two main reasons to hire outside help: economics and expertise. (Isn’t it kute that they both start with ‘e’?)

Clearly the offshoring idea is all about economics. I don’t care what anyone tells you about their motivations or how everyone at the overseas firm went to the best engineering university in their own country, it’s all about the money. You just can’t compare the rates that a good developer in the US makes versus a good developer in many other countries.

The other reason – expertise – is all about filling in a skill set for a defined period of time to accomplish something that you otherwise don’t have the skills to do. This is the type of consulting I like to do: go in, get something hard done, educate the client about how to do it themselves the next time, and move on.  (Sometimes I have to force the training thing a little more than my clients want me to. I really believe it’s a part of my job and I try to be a stickler about it.)  With offshoring where the folks on the other end don’t know what they are doing, this is certainly not the angle.

So, organizations that are trying to save money are hiring offshore help, but they may not be getting the expertise they need. Some of these questions I see are just basic: not even hard to answer. (Inside tip: Want to earn 17000 points on the MSDN forums like I have? You can just answer the easy ones, and there are lots of them.) So there’s a cost saving, but the people doing the work may not really know what they are doing. (I’m not saying that’s the case for everyone. There are very talented people all over the planet.)

So is the cost savings a sham, too? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone in and ripped out someone else’s code like so much poison ivy because it is really bad and doesn’t even work to meet the business requirements. This isn’t stylistic stuff, like Middle Tier versus managed code, this is just horribly badly done work. Sometimes it’s offshored and sometimes it’s companies right here in the Boston area who have done the work. so geography isn’t necessarily a predictor of quality.

So my point here is that you’d damn well better know what you are going to get when you hire an outside firm. Be *very* aware of the old bait and switch, and also remember that it’s almost unheard of for that nice sales person to be the one who’s going to actually do the work. Someone, somewhere is going to do it and you deserve to know who they are and what they know. If the people who actually end up working on your stuff are the ones asking some of these questions I get, then believe you me, you may save a little money this quarter but it’s going to be far harder to fix it while it’s up and running that it would have been to do it right in the first place.


So, first of all, I apologize to all of the talented people out there, anywhere, who may fell lumped into something here that they shouldn’t be. Also, I’m not writing this due to any particular interaction or individual’s action. It’s just a pattern of things I’ve seen which I’ve thought about for a long time.

What do *you* think?


  1. Marc,
    Excellent post. Yes there definately are talented sharepointer worldwide! I do agree that its very difficult to compete with offshore teams vs US in terms of the best economical decision. I also believe that companies and individuals need to understand the importance of knowing who you are working with. You don’t only want to make the decision to chose on cost alone, look at the experience and check their past projects.

  2. Marc,

    I have seen this trend as well and agree with you 100 percent. As I am just trying to switch over to 2010, I have been asking some questions and it sometimes feels that the questions get lost. It may be that either people do not know the answer, they know the answer but do not want to share it, or they feel that they should be compensated for their efforts. I would feel better if I knew which one it was! I am trying to learn as much as I can and I am taking the time to be sure that I know what I am doing before I agree to do anything. As I have been trying to find overflow work and failing miserably, I wonder how these others are getting the work!!!

  3. Hi Marc

    I do agree that you need to be careful which company you get into bed with in the UK we hear some nightmare stories we even recently had a conversation with a “SharePoint Consultant” that had never seen a publishing site!!

    And another Microsoft Gold Partner company that quoted for a 2 week job which turned into a 16 week nightmare.

    So i do agree that you need to be careful but we cannot all be tarred with the same brush look at track record and talk to previous customers and i mean TALK do not go on testimonials on their websites.


  4. Hi Marc,

    I felt a twinge of guilt when I read this post, as I am one of those who spelled out a business problem.
    Not sure if I mentioned it, I really did appreciate your help. (In fact, I had only asked because, I got the impression from one of your posts that you had come across a similar problem before).


    – Mark

    • Mark:

      I knew when I wrote this that some individuals would think I was talking about them. Trust me that I wasn’t, and your email was fine! Often the question without a description of the business problem is hard to answer effectively. I think giving the background is useful. What I was really talking about was the type of question that spells out the full business problem AND says “Send me the answer immediately”. In that case, the person seem to be actually expecting me to build the thing for them.

  5. Hi Marc,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

    I also do agree to be careful who to hire. A couple of weeks ago I talked to a ‘SharePoint Developer’ who wasn’t aware of disposing objects… need I say more.
    Dave has a good point too: talk to the people and not only believe the information available on the internet.


  6. Hi Mark,

    Interesting article and speaking as a customer of SharePoint Consultants, we learned this the hard way. The success to SharePoint is making sure that your partners know the business requirement as well as the technical, we are working with a brilliant team (Creative SharePoint) who get this and make sure we know the developers, and we see pushback on some of the requests because they understand our general strategy also.

    I also have to admit I shied away from becoming techy with SharePoint back when it was 2003 because I saw the technology stack as something which would become a commodity as it was so accessable and instead stayed in Business Analysis, eventually leading to IT Management. What I did not realise then is that the business case is the fundemental value add, and that in any development a business case is required.

    So a warning to all managers out there just looking to “buy” a quick fix, take the time to make sure you have the right people, just like Mark says, that understand the business and can come talk to the wider business. Otherwise the costs will just keep coming!

  7. Marc and others,

    I think you’re post tells two stories that can be linked, but are not necessarily.

    1a. ‘US and question from outside’ – you end up by saying that there are probably also talented people outside the US (more or less). I do understand your point and it is valid, but think that how you formulated it here does not reflect the real issue you are experiencing. What I think you are experiencing is the third wave of ‘ SharePointers’. If I look at the c.v.’s of the people behind the blogs I follow, they are all experienced IT people coming from development, system engineering, networking et cetera some of them working on SP from 2001. When I read some of the comments though I find many people who appearantly turned on there first computer two years ago. Not suprising, the IT services industry can be considered mature in the U.S. – while in other countries different levels of maturity excist. I find though that also nationality is not always a guarantee for asking smart questions. What does annoy me though is that there are many people who first ask and then look /read for themselves.

    1b Anglo-Saxon and other cultures – An aspect you also talk about is helping people out and getting respect or other help for that, this also involves approaching somebody respectfully when you want something from them. In other word reciprocity – every culture has different understanding of this. I also have examples where I was disappointed – I believe it si a mix of culture and education. In many cultures they consider this approach : if you have a lot (money or knowledge) and I have less then dont be surprised that I request (demand) that you share that with me because you were lucky and I was not.

    2. The second issue I see in your story : Succesful business opportunities attract unskilled people. Sadly they think that they can use free advice to cover up their own shortcomings. There is a little cultural aspect here as well : admitting you dont know (yet) or not able to do something. But apart from that : yes if you spend, let’s say >50K, on something you better do your homework – also when that 50K would have been 75K if you didn’t outsource that to FarAway-Istan. Problem : management says we need sharepoint, the IT manager realizes that SharePoint is a black box requiring more than 30 min to understand and decides on trusting some consultant to advice him. I have been in a similar situation – 2 months fresh in the business and advising a customer during a 1 day session (!). I did do my homework and believe I made a contribution. I though did not feel like I could turn down this – it was income for the company that employed me.

    I have no solution but feel that the problem is not the gold diggers. The problem is ill informed customers. Many are now learning the hard way. As with every gold rush it will die out.

    NB! I have learned a lot from blog posts (like yours) – to make the next step I joined USPJA. I would not feel obliged, if I were you, to help anybody for free – community sites with approval are though (I think) the way to go forward – Like SharePoint saturdays, some control over who can join in is needed.

  8. Marc, there are several points I don’t agree with in your post. But the most surprising for me is this one: “working on a technology platform which exists to facilitate collaboration requires a very hands-on, collaborative working style – one which is hard to create from thousands of miles away.”

    To me, that’s the whole point of having a collaborative platform: distances don’t count anymore. I live this everyday, distributed teams spread across 3 or 4 continents and working seamlessly, thanks to video conferencing and technologies like… SharePoint!

    • Christophe:

      My wording probably got in the way of my message. I was referring to the process of building out the solutions rather then the actual use of those solutions. Obviously, I’m a rabid fan of SharePoint and how it can enable distributed, asynchronous collaboration.

      Interesting observation: How often have you seen a SharePoint development team use SharePoint to collaborate on the development process? In my expereince, almost never.


      • Well, that’s what I understood, and yes, I use it to work with my customers (small SharePoint projects), and I see companies use it for much larger SharePoint deployments. Don’t tell me you have a better collaborative platform to recommend ;-)

        • Christophe:

          I think it all depends on who’s doing the collaborating. ;+) I would put the two of us in a different category than “SharePoint Developers”. We do full boat consulting around SharePoint, not just the code stuff. We also are two people who yearn to collaborate. (Look, we’re collaborating!) I haven’t seen offshore collaboration work particularly well, and I can’t think of an instance where SharePoint was used to do it. And, no, I don’t have a better platform to suggest. A lot of the developer types seem to think that using a code repository is collaborating, but I disagree.


  9. Marc, I recieved one of those e-mails this weekend, so I know exactly what you’re talking about. When someone doesn’t even write ‘please,’ and then writes “send the solution today,” I try to give him/her the benefit of the doubt that he/she isn’t trying to come across as pushy.

    It reminds me of a Swiss guy I used to work with in Microsoft Support. He used to get annoyed when French Canadians started with “tu” instead of “vous.” That may not seem like a big deal to someone who isn’t a native French speaker, but it bothered him and I understood why.

    When I get this sort of question, of course I will try to help, but I also make sure to point the person to the MSDN forums. With the new Community Contributor Award, it’s possible that there will be even more people in there helping out.

    – cawood


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