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Monday, August 31, 2009

5 Rules to Guarantee Successful SharePoint Adoption

Why is it that a SharePoint project fails to be adopted by the end users? If you have worked with SharePoint extensively before, you might have observed that phenomenon. You rollout a new SharePoint farm, you create a number of sites for some departments with a couple of document libraries and announcements and you ask the users to begin using the site. The users then logon to the site upload a number of documents and put some announcements and not too long after they satisfy their curiosity they are back to their old bad habits and the sites are left unused indefinitely.

As a SharePoint consultant with deep knowledge of the product and extensive experience in many SharePoint projects, I can share a few invaluable thoughts with you to make your adoption work like you want it. The top reasons for a project with failed adoption are:
  1. Aim for small scope, high impact projects
  2. Solve real existing problems
  3. Know well you end customer
  4. End User Training (Don't leave your end user behind)
  5. Application Usability
Aim for a small scope, high impact project
When rolling out SharePoint, it is important to have a good idea of what problem you are trying to solve. But with just any new technology or even venture, it is a good idea to start small and expand/adjust your plan based on the success/challenges you faced during your initial scope.
Look for the low hanging fruits in your organization. Low hanging fruits are those that are easy to solve but have a high impact on your business. Completing a project like this makes you quickly shine in the eyes of management, which in turn means more money for bigger projects.
After all a project that is shallow and too broad will not solve a significant challenge and therefore will not appeal to the end user making it unlikely to be adopted.
Solve a real and existing problem
When you think about your vision or the solution you want to put in place, it's a good idea to start backwards, asking yourself what is a problem/challenge that exists today that SharePoint can solve easily? You do not want to:
  • Be disillusion with a problem that doesn't really exist. A good example is saying "we need to better collaborate amongst our team so we need a team site." You need to be much more specific with what the problem is? Are you losing files? Do you need to track versions? And exactly how is SharePoint going to help. Putting together a team site may not solve any of your problems if you don't know exactly what the problem is.
  • Solve a real existing problem with the wrong tool like SharePoint. Because just like any product, SharePoint is good at things while and not so good for others. For example SharePoint may not be the right tool to become your document management system (obviously depending on the requirements.)
As you can see from the Venn diagram below, you need to focus on intersection of what SharePoint is great at doing and what real challenges you are facing today at your organization. That magic spot is an excellent candidate for an affective SharePoint vision.

Know well your end customer
Knowing your end customer entails knowing who you are building the solutions for. It is critical that you understand why, what and who about this solution:
  1. Who are you providing a solution to?
  2. What is this solution exactly
  3. And why is there a challenge? Why does this customer need this solution?
I have seen over and over again, IT managers that have a vision of a product that is not in line with their internal customers. I have seen customers that "think" they know what their customer service department wants. I have seen customers that just want to rollout SharePoint and have no idea who the customers are, or why they rolled out SharePoint in the first place other than the fact that everybody around them is rolling it out.
It is critical that you engage your customer in those conversations to ensure you are on the same page as far what is delivered. You must constantly reengage them throughout the development period of what and how the solutions will act and document your communication. You must lead their thinking process in answering all questions about what they want.
A customer that receives something that doesn't quite matchup with how they work will ultimately not use the solution that was developed and leave the solution un-adopted.
End User training
Because the success of the project ultimately depends on the end user using the developed solution, you must take care of the end user. With just about anything new the end user will feel threatened, intimidated or confused by a new system and it is your duty as the solution visionary to ease up the transition for your users. An end user needs to be literally hand held into this transition.
End users are often neglected after project completion, where they are expected to know how to take it from there. That should not be assumed. The end user should be treated as people that don't know anything without any prior experience or exposure to SharePoint. The best way to tackle that is with training. You have a few options when training your users:
  • Training courses. This option is great but sometimes doesn't address a specific solution. However you just want to train your users on SharePoint end user functionality then that is a great choice to use. The down side is that it is expensive and often take too much of people's days. A great resource to link to is
  • In-house Training. This is a great option if you have somebody in-house that is well versed with the content you wish to train the users on. The benefits here are that the trainer will be able to follow-up with the users and add relate the training content to the company culture.
  • Train the trainer. This option refers to one person with knowledge having to train those around him/her usually at an individual level. This is a great option if the end user group is not too large. This also offers the trainees with dedicated attention as the setup is usually one-to-one with the trainer.
  • Computer Based Training. This is an excellent option if you have a broader user group that you wish to train and is often in the video format. Users can access the training material whenever they wish and can follow a self-paced approach to capturing the material they need to train on. This can be highly effective also if followed by a test to ensure the user did complete the content of the class. An excellent SharePoint CBT videos targeting end users can be found at:
Application Usability
You may have developed an application that solves a problem, but is it usable? Is it easy to understand? Is it fast enough to where people don't get frustrated. Is the interface pleasant to use and intuitive? Is it buggy where the user can't complete certain actions or is constantly bombarded with error messages?

A system that doesn't satisfy a certain standard of performance, interface and common sense will be unusable. This is generally the responsibility of your designers, developers and end users to come up with something that makes sense. Often times it is a great idea to mockup the end-user experience prior to development, this way there are no surprises. This means mocking up the UI, the fields on the forms, the individual steps to a process prior to the development effort. Usability of an application can make or break the adoption of your solution.
The bottom line is that there are a couple of things that you must make sure happen: ensure a good vision and take care of your end user. A good vision will guarantee you a project that will offer value to the business and the end users and end user care will ensure that everything in your power has been done to facilitate their transition to the new application. Following those golden rules will ensure that your project will be a success in the eyes of management, the end users and yourself.

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