What’s so special about out of the box (OOTB) SharePoint?

SharePoint as a collaboration and work platform has been around since 2001 and with 17 years under it’s proverbial belt it has gone through major changes, alterations, and expansions.  Part of that growth has been spurred by SharePoint’s ability to accept custom development of it’s platform. Changes through writing code beyond what can be configured by default have expanded the scope and reach of the platform and made it one of them most widely adopted collaboration platforms in the workplace today.  However, in many cases the instinct to customize overrides the ability to apply what SharePoint can do out of the box (OOTB) creating solutions that are harder to manage and migrate in the long term.

Configuring over building

SharePoint by it’s design is set up to allow for easy configuration by users and administrators.  Leveraging configurable web parts from a centralized collection, power users can create highly flexible and targeted content pages without requiring an understanding of web development. Data lists can be captured, shared, filtered, and manipulated all from within a browser without needing specialized tools or skill sets. Now I’m not downplaying the importance of custom development in many cases, but what I am suggesting is that custom development shouldn’t be the first thing we think of when it comes to SharePoint based solutions.

LEGOs in a box

To understand the SharePoint OOTB strategy approach better, let’s consider the world famous children’s (and many adults) toy…the venerable LEGO. When you have a set of LEGOs there is an unspoken understanding that there are just some things you can’t do with the LEGOs out of the box.

Making a circle, for example, will never be quite right because of the design of LEGOs. The benefit of using the LEGOs is that anyone of almost minimal experience can sit down and within a few minutes start to create something. With increasing skill and understanding of what LEGOs you have and how you can connect and repurpose them, your creations become more complex and ultimately more impressive.

Apply the same thinking to SharePoint.  When you deploy an instance of SharePoint there are certain collection of parts within the environment.  Some are for content, some for data, some for search, some for collaboration, and so on.

What is key in the beginning is to gather an in depth understanding of what’s “in the box” and how those parts can interact to create larger and more powerful solutions. When we think about doing custom development, we should look at it the same way as if someone handed us a block of plastic, a knife, and said “ok, go make your own LEGO bricks.” 

Blue Apron or Gordon Ramsey

Another analogy that helps understand the benefits of OOTB SharePoint is dinner.  Let’s say for argument’s sake you would like a nice, fancy dinner tonight.  You have a few options. Go out to dinner, cook it yourself, hire a chef, or use one of those meal box services like Blue Apron. 

Going out to dinner means you get what’s on the menu.  If it’s not on the menu it’s not an option.  Think about this as using a third-party solution on the web. You get what it offers and you have to find one that offers what you need.  Rarely do you find one that is willing to make you something completely custom.

Cooking it yourself is a viable option, assuming you have the prerequisite skills to make a quality meal, and the ingredients on hand to be successful. I’ll always encourage people to be self sufficient, but in many cases the resource and skill costs are just prohibitive.

Hiring a chef is an alternative to cooking it yourself or going out to eat, giving you exactly what you want and in the best possible way. Drawback here is you will get what you pay for and pay for what you get.  Completely custom has a high cost of entry in skill, experience, and expense.

This leaves us with Blue Apron / Hello Direct / and all the other various boxed meal prep companies out there. The objective for them is to give you all the materials and instructions necessary to make a successful meal. They’re giving you the LEGOs in your food box. It’s not as flexible as a chef, but it’s easier than requiring you to have the skills of a chef.  In essence, working with an “out of the box” solution in this case creates a much greater chance of success come dinner time.

OOTB SharePoint success steps

There’s some basic steps you can take to increase your chances of success when configuring OOTB SharePoint solutions:

  1. Learn as much as you can about what’s “in the box”
  2. Study how the box components interact and what they are and are not capable of
  3. Define your requirements with implementation using OOTB capabilities in mind

There is a great deal more to consider when developing OOTB strategies for solutions, but if you take the steps to learn about your tools, how they can be used, and refine a creative process for identifying solutions you can be successful with your OOTB SharePoint.