Governance in UG and SPUGs

If you haven’t been involved in a user group you’re missing out.  If you’re an MVP and you haven’t presented at a User Group you’re missing the boat. 

Mike Watson pointed me to an interesting twitter thread that appears to have started based on Adam’s wild blog post about a recent user group he presented at where they twisted his arm and worse to force him talking points.  If you know Adam, you know he wouldn’t put up with that, it was sure to backfire.  I’m actually surprised he didn’t name names.  That’s what blogs are good for.  Putting someone’s feet to the fire…  it was a bad experience for him, and it would have been for me too (based on the story.)

I’d have to compare notes with a few MVPs like Andrew Connell and Scott Hillier, but I bet I’ve presented at more SharePoint User Groups than anyone.  Not to brag, just to share my experiences.  One thing I’ve learned is there is a unique balance that has to happen even at user groups.  Some of the same mistakes made in SharePoint deployments happen in User Groups.  Not Anarchy as in the case of the SharePoint deployments but a Dictatorship.

I think Adam painted a pretty strong picture of what can happen when a User Group has gone wrong.  If your user group is going like this, step up and let them know how wrong this is.  I know it’s hard since you don’t have anything to compare it to.  In the 25 or so user groups I’ve presented at, I’ve never even shown them my decks ahead of time let alone rebranded or been given talking points. 

I hate to hear when a user group is destroyed where one or a handful of vendors or consulting groups take over a user group and strangle it for leads.  It starts out with food or sponsorship or even the driver being a vendor and the group feels compelled, or someone does anyway, feel like they either have the right or the duty to spend the meeting showing off their products and force feeding the members of the group?

What is a UG – User Group/SPUG – SharePoint User Group?  A user group is a group of like minded individuals who have decided to get together to talk about something they all like.  They invite people that think like they do to come and present on various topics.  Where things get fun is when you get the typical pizza and drinks, and people can socialize as well as be enlightened by some great speaker.  The agenda can be as rigid or as loose as those that run it and those apart of it desire.  Make some rules to keep it fun and exciting and stick with them.  Don’t make it rigid to keep out the good speakers, but to rule what kind of junk can rule your meetings.

I’ve been in user groups where the speakers were given topics and it is religiously on the same day of the month every month scheduled out 6 months, and despite the fact that instructors fly into town or various events like SharePoint Saturdays, Codecamps, etc… they aren’t flexible enough to fit them in.  In Toronto I was able to get lunch and meet with the user group at the same time.  It was the first time I’d been there, but in the short time I was there I was able to meet 3 MVPs I’d been working with in various capacities and meet others I’d met in the on the intertubes or twitterverse.

I recently heard about a User Group where those that run it and those that have the sessions are completely predatory.  They are simply using it as a means of getting people to join their company.  That is sad.

If you have a user group meeting where people come, they hear a presentation and go home.  You might figure out a way to get the people talking and sharing.  Is there a way to encourage people to get interactive?  What about drinks and socializing before or after?  Just because you move the time up and start the sessions at the same time doesn’t mean people will find value coming early.  People do need encouragement.  My friend Jim has an Atari user group that he was in from like 20 years ago and they still watch SCI FI movies together.  Now that is a serious user group.  Love it!  I was jealous.  Those bonds go deep.

In others I’ve found their flexibility welcoming, as it has allowed me to speak when I’m in town and to visit over lunch, or show up that night.

If you apply Governance to a user group you might come up with some rules to help with the predatory nature of ISVs and SIs.  Everyone can benefit from awareness, but it’s easy to overdue it.

Consider these:

  • Sponsoring vendors get 10 or 15 minutes – either for a demo, a quick presentation and Q/A etc…  There may an opt in for getting more information for follow up.
  • Recruiting organizations can’t act predatory (can’t be evil) – the group may need to have some way of an opt in policy to allow people to sign up for recruiter emails.  There may be 5 minutes in the beginning of a meeting where people can say “I’m looking for a SharePoint development job” or “We’re looking for a SharePoint Admin with 2 years of Experience.”
  • Presenters bring their own decks and get 30 minutes for typical presentations (where we try to fit 2 in one night) and 1 hour for special presentations like an MVP.
  • At least 15 minutes of every user group is setup for Q&A and can be either panel led or based on the topic of the experts, but not restricted to that topic.

It’s sad when an MVP has such a bad experience speaking at a user group that he doesn’t want to do it again.  Let me share some interesting ideas…

The Hawaii SharePoint user group was a lively group, they weren’t afraid to ask questions…  They also record their sessions.  I’ve seen that at a few places, like Baltimore where they bring in Chicken fingers and sandwiches not Pizza.

The Central Ohio SharePoint User Group meet for drinks afterward and have a good mix of roles across small business to enterprises and despite being deeply driven by an SI, you may quickly learn what their services are, but they work to bring in talent.  They had pretty worked out some rules of order, so people know what to expect.

The Jordan User Group in Amman is one of the coolest user groups, I’ve ever been to.  They had a very casual Q&A over a traditional meal.  It was a great setup and everyone felt really comfortable asking questions and sitting and eating hummus and this amazing red stuff.

The San Francisco SharePoint User Group has a running list of speakers they are looking for, and topics that the group has requested.

The So Cal user Group didn’t realize that there are 2 other So Cal SharePoint User Groups 🙂 and actually was scheduling meetings over the top of each other.

While at the Office system User group in Israel which meets at the Microsoft office, I changed my focus three times to try to meet the needs of the group.  I was there for them, not me.  Avi’s guitar playing really gave the group personality.  It was a fun and humorous relaxing experience for everyone.

I’ve found some cities end up having more than one user group, where one might be more business focused or more developer focused like the .NET User Groups than end up spinning off a SharePoint Developer user Group.  The User Group leader has a lot to do with the dynamics of the group.  I hope leaders realize it’s not just about getting people registered for their group, but in building the dynamics of the regulars.  Getting people that are contributing and keeping things interesting and active.

I’m looking forward to seeing the SharePoint User Groups in Cologne (Germany), Paris, Denver, Dallas, Chicago, Wisconsin, Egypt in the next 45 days!  Still trying to fit in Alabama, Nashville, San Antonio, Singapore, Lebanon, Tehran, San Fran and a tour across the user groups in NZ and AUS… (July?)

I like the idea of having the idea of a SharePint (look it up, now there’s even a facebook group) after a good user group meeting where you can simply just hang out and chat with the speaker that has flown in to speak to the group.  Personally I feel cheated if I can’t have that kind of time with the community.  That’s where I find the most valuable conversations about what’s really going on in the community.

There are over 100 SharePoint user groups across the globe and I plan to visit them all, well eventually. You should consider making it out to the user group and adding your personality into the mix and making it more interactive, don’t just suck out life, push in some life and make it fun.  Bob Fox and crew at ISPA have tried to focus on making it easy.  Here’s SharePointPros.org which is a site that has a map of the User Groups they are aware of.

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Joel Oleson

Traveling is my passion. My quest to visit every country in the world while fully employed, raising a family and keeping my marriage healthy. I'm not just country hopping, but looking for the most immersive cultural experiences and capturing them as photos and videos. When not traveling, I'm living in paradise in sunny southern California working at Blizzard Entertainment, the world's most successful video game company in the world.

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