The Road to Awesome Adoption


A Successful SharePoint Rollout Starts with Understanding and Ends with Action

Heather NewmanSimeon Cathey

by Heather Newman, Simeon Cathey on 1/11/2016

My business partners—Simeon Cathey and Mike Thompson—and I have been involved with SharePoint since its birth, 17 years ago. We started our business, Content Panda, four years ago to provide an in-context help content solution that drives adoption of Office 365 and SharePoint. We have worked with many organizations to roll out new deployments of Office 365 and SharePoint, and have also helped enterprises correct unsuccessful deployments. We began to see patterns emerge as customers and colleagues struggled with deployment, training and adoption, and we developed strategies and recommendations based on this first-hand experience.

The best rollouts start with understanding a few key elements and then developing clear action plans. Implementations can be technology-driven, but must be led by executives with buy-in and vision. In order to carry out a successful deployment that delivers the business value an enterprise seeks from its investment, you need access to expert help and guidance.

I’d like to share with you the following resources and guidelines that can help your organization achieve a successful rollout of Office 365 or SharePoint and lead to maximum adoption and usage across your business.

The Journey Starts Here

To guide your journey on the road to awesome adoption, I have organized these recommendations based on a few guiding principles. Follow these principles as you plan your trip:

  • Understand the “human factor.”
  • Understand your why.
  • Use an adoption checklist to take action.
  • Develop your adoption toolbox.
  • Seek out new methodologies to drive faster adoption.

Understand the Human Factor: Driving Adoption Is About Human Beings, Not Technology

A great colleague of ours, Bryan Kramer of Pure Matter, wrote a terrific book called There Is No B2B or B2C. Human to Human: #H2H. I love what his approach represents for marketing, but I also think it applies to software and business. We talk about this concept a great deal at Content Panda, and this is the core of his message:

  • Businesses do not have emotion. People do.
  • People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. People want to feel something.
  • People want to be included. People want to understand.

Communication shouldn’t be complicated. It should just be genuine and simple, with the humility and understanding that we’re all multi-dimensional humans, every one of which has spent time in both the dark and delightful parts of life.

That’s human to human. That is #H2H

Human beings are innately complex yet strive for simplicity. Our challenge as humans is to find, understand and explain the complex in its most simplistic form.1

Bryan Kramer. There Is No B2B or B2C. Human to Human: #H2H

Technology should be simple, easy to use, and make your life less complicated, not more. Remember that people are the “social” in social technology. Make it easy, fun and rewarding for them to use.

The human factor is the essential element throughout your deployment plans. So as I share the other recommendations to drive adoption and a successful implementation, I will point out the human factor in each one as guideposts to aid you in your journey.

Understand Your Why: Define Your Vision First

The place to start in any implementation of technology is with your “why.” Determine your objectives before you begin, to make sure the project is one that everyone is excited about and ensure success.

Sometimes technology is brought in and imposed on an organization by someone without investigating why or if it’s the right solution. Sometimes it may even be implemented for the wrong reasons. Occasionally the technology has been sitting there unused and IT decides to turn it on simply because it’s already there.

If you are implementing a technology solution, stop and ask the questions, do the research, investigate. What are our business priorities? Who made the decision to bring in this technology? What are we going to use it for? What is our implementation time frame? How do we measure success? Determine the why. Then you can develop the vision of what a successful implementation looks like and the business value you hope to achieve.

Simon Sinek, in his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, has some very insightful things to say on the subject:

Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By WHY I mean your purpose, cause or belief — WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?

People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.

We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe. Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us.

Studies show that over 80 percent of Americans do not have their dream job. If more knew how to build organizations that inspire, we could live in a world in which that statistic was the reverse a world in which over 80 percent of people loved their jobs. People who love going to work are more productive and more creative. They go home happier and have happier families. They treat their colleagues and clients and customers better. Inspired employees make for stronger companies and stronger economies.2

Simon Sinek. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Human Factor: Visioning is often done as an afterthought. What if we lead with it? Defining our why, our vision, gets people on the same page. There is nothing worse than going down a path only to find misconceptions in play or expectations that were never defined. Start with vision. With this vision you can chart a course that people will follow.

Tick the Boxes of Your Adoption Checklist

According to the 2015 AIIM Industry Watch, a failure of senior management to endorse and enforce SharePoint was the biggest reason for lack of success, followed by inadequate user training and a general lack of planning. In their survey, 26 percent of respondents reported that their SharePoint project had stalled and 37 percent have struggled to meet their original expectations, meaning a total of 63 percent had suboptimum installations.3

Adoption checklists have been around for a long time and yet most organizations do not use them. Driving adoption takes time, energy, and appropriate methodologies and strategy choices. Here is a basic list of essential to-dos that we have used and seen in hundreds of variations in the marketplace. Use them to help draft your adoption checklist:

Secure Executive Buy-In

Your adoption plan should include an executive sponsor with an internal communications plan. All successful deployments have endorsement by the C-suite. This means that the leaders have bought off on the spend, understand the ROI, have agreed on metrics and will be spokespeople and power users of the technology. Then loop in your corporate communications person or team to create persuasive launch emails, develop blogs explaining the “why” and maintain a continued presence with check-ins, updates and tips that extend visibility and support way beyond the kickoff. A best practice is to set up an internal blog for your CEO or executive sponsor on SharePoint. Send the lead paragraph in email to the entire company, driving people to your corporate portal; then require them to go to the site for pertinent and critical information.

Human Factor: People follow their leaders. When endorsement comes from the top, it means the business has taken the time to listen and take part. Then everyone else can feel safe — and will be inspired — to join them.

Create a Pilot and Feedback Team

Start small with a group that will become the guinea pigs: marketing, human resources or the product documentation team. Roll out a divisional site, and provide an in-context training app that will bring training and help content directly into the software. There are many for you to choose from — and quite a few are free (enter shameless plug for Content Panda). Gather initial feedback; see what is working and what is not.

Human Factor: By gathering feedback you are listening to the business and starting to build supporters of the initiative.

Use the Pilot and Feedback to Identify Your Use Cases

What are the most important business scenarios for your organization’s success that you would like to see the new technology positively impact? Look to the experts for guidance and examples. Microsoft has put together a booklet and website identifying the top use cases and scenarios demonstrating the many ways SharePoint can help you work better together — on both the enterprise and divisional level.4 The key here is to roll out slowly while capturing feedback and homing in on what will ultimately drive productivity and revenue for your business.

Human Factor: Lean on best practices of those who have done this before and choose your use cases wisely.

Identify Your Champions

You have executive support and a small trusted group who helped you roll out the pilot and garner feedback. Now it’s time to identify the early adopters who can play key roles in the overall adoption of the software. You can institute a train-the-trainer or lunchtime learning program that becomes a part of your communication rollout and training and support plans. Have these folks own an internal knowledge base and reward them for their efforts. Give them a name, a logo — make it fun for them to be the leaders of your efforts.

Human Factor: Some people love to lead and be recognized for it. Empower these folks to empower the rest of the organization.

Create Your Pre-Launch Plans

Once you’ve initiated your pilot and identified your champions, now the fun begins: the creation of your launch plans. The following three types of plans are essential elements in this step:

  • Governance plan
  • Communication rollout
  • Training/support plan

In the Office 365 and SharePoint community there are many great resources, and knowledgeable people who have years and years of experience creating effective launch plans. Many of these experts are Microsoft Most Valued Professionals (MVPs), a group of non-Microsoft employees that are awarded the title of MVP and are highly sought-after advisers on various Microsoft products, technologies and services.

Don’t feel like you have to start from scratch, because you don’t. As you do your research, look to the blogs of these experts; read through their advice and see which methodology feels right to you. Do not skip this step. Here is a short list of MVPs and their specialties:

  • Governance: Christian Buckley, Sue Hanley, Dan Holme, Eric Riz
  • User adoption: Robert Bogue, Matthew McDermott, Jennifer Ann Mason, Asif Rehmani, Christina Wheeler, Richard Harbridge

What is a governance plan? Governance is the set of policies, roles, responsibilities and processes that control how an organization’s business divisions and IT teams work together to meet organizational goals.

What is a communications rollout? This is the plan that informs your business that you are implementing a new technology, and explains how it works, how it will roll out, what the timeframe is, who is on the team and how everyone is expected to participate.

What is a training/support plan? This is the plan of how you will roll out training and education of your teams. Identify who will own this effort. This plan should also include plans for long-term support. Refresh materials as new information comes out. Most people will not remember everything they learn from an initial look at the technology. Make available FAQs, wikis, and additional guides and resources to reinforce what has been learned and help with overall retention and effectiveness of training materials.

Human Factor: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” Our founding-father of business planning advice, Benjamin Franklin, was once again on the money (which is probably why he is on the money) with this quote. The more you do up front, the more successful you will be. This is hard work and takes time and dedication. Write those plans.

What’s in Your Adoption Toolbox?

Training is usually the basic foundation of an adoption toolbox. There are many types of training available today. They include live instructor remote training, on-demand instructor recorded training, self-guided training, peer-to-peer sharing, and technical support. What you choose will depend on what kind of budget you have and how you have created the training/ support plans described above.

Encouragement and gamification are other great ways to continue expanding the success of your deployment. There should be excitement and buzz now around the new system, and to keep the momentum going you need to reinforce it. Try assigning teams certain tasks or giving rewards to first timers. These tactics can help you gain insights into how people use the software and capture best practices for daily activities, and can build productivity and positivity in the business.

Human Factor: Initial training should be rolled out in small doses and then followed up by resources, encouragement and rewards. Make the adoption of Office 365/SharePoint something that the business is proud of and can brag about. Remember that people tend to forget how to do things and they often will struggle instead of asking for help. Provide ongoing support and guidance.

Integrate New Methodologies & Apps

In-context and just-in-time training app options, which bring help content inside the software, are valuable aids that are becoming more and more popular today. Context-sensitive, or just-in-time, help is a kind of online help that is obtained for a specific point or part of the software, providing help for situations associated with that feature. This context-sensitive help, as opposed to general online help or online manuals, doesn’t need to be accessible for reading as a whole. Each topic provides extensive descriptions and help for one state, situation or feature of the software.

Context-sensitive help can be implemented using tooltips, which provide a concise description of a GUI widget or display a complete topic from the help file. Other commonly used ways to access context-sensitive help are by clicking a button or a widget.

Content Panda, for example, provides a new and easy way for end users to access help content. Instead of users going outside the software to hunt and peck for “how do I…?” in a search engine, we bring curated content directly into Office 365. Targets light up giving end users the information they need at their fingertips. The help content that comes out of the box in Office 365/SharePoint is good. However, mapping content directly onto the GUI elements elevates the experience so that end users feel empowered and can self-serve most basic support questions and issues. Content Panda is available through the website for all Office 365 and SharePoint 2013 environments.

Content Panda

Human Factor: In-context apps give users an easy way to get the help content, or just that simple reminder they need to complete a basic task. Empower people to help themselves and they are instantly more productive.

Conclusion: The Road to Awesome Adoption

Driving adoption takes time, planning and buy-in. Whenever new technology is brought into an organization, remember it’s the people that make or break it, adopt it or ignore it. People are resistant to change. So pay attention to the human factors in social technology. Start with your why and formulate your vision. Develop and use an adoption checklist. Build your plan leveraging guidance from the abundance of highly successful Office 365/SharePoint MVP advisers available. Research what training is available within your budget. And implement one of the free productivity apps to empower your organization and help you get the most out of your software investment. Follow this road map and help steer your company to successful adoption. Happy travelling!


1 Bryan Kramer. There Is No B2B or B2C. Human to Human: #H2H. http://www.bryankramer. com/there-is-no-more-b2b-or-b2c-its-human-to-human-h2h/
2 Simon Sinek. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. http://www.
3 2015 AIIM Industry Watch Report. Connecting & Optimizing SharePoint Important Strategy Choices.
4 Discover SharePoint.


This article by Heather Newman and Simeon Cathey is one of many great chapters in the book, Improve It! A Collection of Essays on Using Analytics to Accomplish More With SharePoint. With multiple perspectives from Microsoft insiders (including IT Unity favorites Susan Hanley, Agnes Molnar, Naomi Moneypenny, Christian Buckley), leading SharePoint consulting firms and industry luminaries, find out how using analytics to measure SharePoint for social, collaborative and engagement enables improved ROI. And, if you’re interested getting started with better measurement of your SharePoint, you can learn more about SharePoint Analytics from Webtrends now.

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