Every technology stands or falls with user adoption! No matter the high quality of the product. Remember Betamax? Or the MD player? I have seen SharePoint projects fail or SharePoint solutions not being used due to failed user adoption. During my years as functional SharePoint consultant, I gained new insights into SharePoint user adoption while working with business users. This experience taught me how important user adoption is for the success of any kind of SharePoint solution. In this article, I want to provide you with 10 tips to drive user adoption.
Tip 1: SharePoint champions
You, the SharePoint consultant, are an outsider. A person who “infiltrated” the business to sell another magical technology product. Believe me, that’s what most business users think. Can you blame them? Over the years they have seen many technology products offering the road to the Promised Land. Most times, promises weren’t kept and the products didn’t deliver.
I love SharePoint and think it’s a fantastic product, at least it can be, but I am also a realistic person and know that SharePoint isn’t a perfect product. This is why you need to include, from the start, enthusiastic business users who believe in the power and advantage of SharePoint within their business! You can call them SharePoint champions, advocates or whatever name fits your organization, so long as you include them in your SharePoint project.
The SharePoint champions are also the key users or administrators for your SharePoint solution. A SharePoint champion answers questions (relieves the IT department by doing so), promotes and fights for SharePoint. You should look for people who are interested in new technologies, so called “early adopters.” Early adoptors are willing to look past shortcomings or temporary limits of a new technology. This is hugely beneficial in the case of some SharePoint solutions (as I mentioned before, it’s not perfect). Be honest with your champions; talk about what doesn’t work in SharePoint; don’t make false promises. After you’ve left the project and moved on to the next one, the champion takes your place and continues to work very hard to turn SharePoint into a success within their business.
Tip 2: Knowledge sessions
The hardest thing to do, for a SharePoint expert, is approaching SharePoint from a business user’s perspective. I am still working on perfecting this skill and learning every day during my SharePoint adventures. You probably have a lot of SharePoint experience and knowledge of the platform. You dream every night of document management, search, metadata, Yammer and content types. Let me stop you here because the majority of business users have never heard of these features. They literally have no clue what you are talking about!
Please don’t implement SharePoint features because you can without showing the benefits to your business users. Organize knowledge sessions that show the power and advantages of these features. Did you build a SharePoint intranet portal and include OneDrive for Business? Start organizing OneDrive for Business knowledge sessions. Use a demo environment where you show all the features such as drag & drop of documents, sharing documents and connecting with Windows Explorer. Please make sure your demo content is related to your audience. Are you working for a financial institute? Use content related to a financial institute and not related to an insurance company. It’s a lot easier for people to connect and relate to your demo when they recognize the content.
You should keep organizing knowledge sessions for other important SharePoint features. Is SharePoint Search an important part of your portal? Or Yammer? Organize a knowledge session providing search tips or show how to use the Yammer mobile apps! Organize these sessions every quarter because not every business user will be able to join your session.
Try to keep the sessions around 45 minutes (or less) because the concentration of the attendees will drop rapidly after the 30 minutes. Consider that for most people you are presenting something new. It’s a lot to take in!
Tip 3: Real-world use
I already mentioned it a bit in my previous tip but I will say it again: You have to use relatable examples for your demos! I made this mistake trying to explain the advantage of metadata instead of using folders. One customer had a lot of documents on their file shares. To save money and use the advantage of SharePoint, the documents had to be moved to document libraries within SharePoint. I showed the site owners how to create a choice column and used three choices: Category A, Category B and Category C. Foolishly enough, I thought they would translate this concept in creating a new structure for their documents. You can guess the outcome right? Not a success. This was MY fault! Not the business users. My new approach is looking at the folder structure in the customer’s file share and creating an example document library based on the customer’s structure. The site owners recognize the advantages in a heartbeat and started work with metadata instead of folders.
Tip 4: Avoid the word SharePoint
“Have you gone mad Jasper?!” you are probably asking yourself. I have to admit, this sounds strange, right? You are really excited about SharePoint and can’t wait to show your business users the many benefits of SharePoint. Unfortunately, not every SharePoint implementation was a big success. A bad implementation can really hurt the name of our beloved platform. I have been at companies where some business users had a terrible experience with SharePoint at their previous employer. This really affected the adoption of the project because they talk about their terrible experience with other colleagues and even project members. This is a “SharePoint negativity virus” that spreads very fast. You should try to avoid the word SharePoint in the name of the solution and during demos. Believe me, it’s not the name that counts but the solution. Prove how SharePoint is beneficial and the negativity turns, slowly, into positivity.
Tip 5: Share success stories
Don’t keep a successful SharePoint implementation within your (project) team but share it with the entire business. Everyone needs to be aware and actually see how SharePoint is beneficial and solves business problems. I supported a team implementing SharePoint sites for the organizations departments. The main goal was working with document libraries instead of file shares. A lot of business users were skeptical about moving to SharePoint. You have to understand that most business users have been working with file shares for many years. File shares have a familiar interface and are really easy to use. SharePoint is a completely new territory and experience for them. We used previous successful implementations with other departments to convince the skeptical business users about the power of SharePoint and document libraries. This approach really worked because they become more open, interested and eager to use document libraries. Of course it’s impossible to get a 100% success rate, but it definitely helps to increase your success rate.
There are, of course, many methods to share success stories. The sharing method depends on the culture of your customer. A modern and technology-forward company responds well to interactive newsletters, videos and posters. Old fashioned businesses fair well on e-mail messages and live meetings. Find out what suits your business users and apply sharing your success stories.
Tip 6: Involve the Communication department
In all my years as SharePoint consultant, I have seen a powerful and prominent role of the Internal Communication (IC) department in SharePoint intranet portals. The IC department is often responsible for publishing news articles and maintaining the content on the home page. My advice? Work closely with IC to communicate about your portal’s SharePoint features and advantages. IC can be a great asset in your strategy for sharing success stories. They add news articles introducing new SharePoint features, announce upcoming knowledge sessions or create fun posters talking about advantages of the platform.
Tip 7: Start small and focus
Successfully implementing SharePoint isn’t an easy task due to the many features and possibilities of the platform. SharePoint has many, many, many possibilities. Most failed SharePoint implementations are related to the size of the implementation. Businesses are too eager to do as much as possible within a limited amount of time! They quickly lose focus of their initial business case. Please start out small; there is really no shame in this approach. Instead of building a complete and fully functional intranet portal with business intelligence, line-of-business integration, department sites, project sites and a news message solution, oh wait! Let’s also add Yammer into the mix. Just start with the department and project sites. This makes it so much easier for all the project members, stakeholders and the entire organization to focus on the original business case. By doing so, you are able to realize quick-wins and share these as success stories! Other departments and business users get interested in SharePoint, see the advantages and the success it can bring. Step by step, you keep expanding your SharePoint solution. Getting closer to the ultimate goal: Successful adoption of SharePoint solution.
Tip 8: Executive support
Don’t look at executive support as management giving employees an order to use SharePoint but let them lead the way for others. People get inspired by executives who use SharePoint, for example, to post blog posts about current business developments.
Executive support really does wonders for the adoption of social within your business such as using Yammer. I have heard of examples were CIOs have a question hour once a week on Yammer for all employees. I have heard of businesses were the manager of a department only responds to Yammer messages instead of e-mails. Be creative and use a willing executive for your adoption process. If everything else fails, use executive support to force people to use SharePoint and stop using old solutions. This really should be your last option; not my favorite by a long shot.
Tip 9: Training
How can you expect business users to fully adopt SharePoint without a proper training? Although SharePoint is a very intuitive platform, you really need to organize training sessions. Create a training program for every SharePoint role such as site owners, news editors or content contributors. I can write a separate article about SharePoint training sessions, so I won’t go into extensive detail within this article. But I would like to provide a couple of training best practices:
- Provide a printed and digital copy of the manual for the trainees.
- Create a Quick Reference Card for the visitors of your SharePoint solution that show how to use the five main features.
- Don’t only use Word and PowerPoint but create short instructional videos and share these on your SharePoint portal.
- Keep training sessions under two hours.
- Don’t invite 25 people to your training. Start with small groups.
Tip 10: Measure and analyze
I can truly say that none of the customers I worked with ever measured the use of their SharePoint solution. This is partly due to the limited analytics features of SharePoint, although it’s improved in SharePoint 2013. There are third-party suppliers that provide analytic tools. The biggest issue with third-party software is making another investment. Most companies aren’t willing to do this before the platform has launched. This is a shame because you use analytics to measure the use of your SharePoint solution. Do you notice a decrease of activity within your department sites? Talk with the owners and contributors, perhaps there are performance issues or functional issues? Monitor the use of Search; what are your business users looking for? Can they find content? No? Use the power of the SharePoint Search engine including query rules and promoted links to help your business users finding the content they are looking for. Analytics are a major part of the success of your SharePoint solution. Please don’t underestimate this!
A lot to take in, right? Where to start? What tools to use? I understand it’s a difficult and challenging journey to realize user adoption of your SharePoint solutions. Although true, you can’t afford to do nothing! So use 1 tip, 5 tips or all 10. Start your user adoption adventure today rather than tomorrow! You should definitely check out the official Microsoft Office 365 Customer Success Center, which has adoption plan information. You’ll need to have an Office 365 account.
I wrote this article for the DIWUG E-Magazine last year but in my opinion the tips still hold up and are very useful!