A tool is only as good as your understanding of its capabilities -- and then having a strategy on how to use it. Show me an organization that has low user adoption of SharePoint, and I’ll show you an organization that either doesn’t know what it can do, has no strategy to use it effectively – or both. When you think about it, SharePoint really is just a tool for helping your organization improve communication and collaboration. The question is: do you 1) have a set of detailed requirements of what you want to accomplish (and don’t say “collaborate more” or else I just might smack you), 2) understand the capabilities and constraints of SharePoint against that list of requirements, and 3) a strategy to design and deliver a solution so that SharePoint is successful?
There are a few things that will help in delivering SharePoint's benefits across the enterprise and boost end user adoption, whether on-prem or in the cloud:
Start with the end in mind
Typically, SharePoint is being implemented to gain efficiencies in departmental/functional work, to streamline processes, and to reduce error through automation of tasks. The platform is ultimately meant to be in the hands of the end user for operational use. But all too often the end user is not accounted for when planning your SharePoint implementation.
Above and beyond the out-of-the-box experience, taking into account how the user will actually use the platform day to day can shed a lot of useful light on how to configure, test and roll out SharePoint. Adoption is jeopardized if the way the platform or specific features are deployed are not a good fit within departments. This does not mean that SharePoint should just seamlessly meld into current operations. The reality is that the introduction of any new tool or system brings change along with it. Allowing teams enough time to modify any pertinent processes and procedures to adapt to SharePoint will go a long way in the platform's final adoption.
Change is difficult. Teams need time to acclimate. Offer them a peek into the overall vision of the platform, and give them a voice in how SharePoint is implemented, and adoption rates will increase.
Have a plan
Quite a few SharePoint environments failed to grow because they suffered from a lackluster start. You need to plan for a new system deployment, with the end user experience at the top of your list of concerns. Get your end users involved early and often, and include both a testing phase (to ensure the solution functions as proposed) and a proof of concept phase. Starting with a proof of concept allows a small team (preferably "power user" influencers selected from across the organization) to kick the tires before rolling it out to the masses. This target team should already know that there will most likely be glitches, but they are helping to iron out the solution and streamline features and functionality. They should also be aware of (and, hopefully, participate in) some of the prioritization decisions made about what features and solutions are included in the initial rollout, as they'll be your best advocates to the rest of the organization to help people understand (and accept) those decisions. The end result of these phases will be a much stronger environment that will better meet expectations.
The solution should also match the organizational culture. A great way to ensure this is to take the time to develop a thorough governance plan. A lot of thought should go in to the policies and procedures of how the new solution will perform in operations. Will everyone get to create sites? What will the permission structure look like for users? What is the escalation process for issues? If permissions are limited, how will users be able to request what they need? These are just a few topics that should be discussed and planned before roll out. And keep in mind – it is much easier to add permissions down the road than take anything away. Psychologically, people do not like to have things taken away from them – even if they don’t use whatever is being limited.
Have appropriate training available
All too often, organizations get excited about implementing a new tool but fail to consider what it takes to get everyone productive. They take great care to make sure their admins are trained, but by the time configuration, testing ,and the pilot are wrapping up, enthusiasm has dwindled and the end user is left out of the training made available to the test and pilot teams -- forced to weave their way through online documentation or the occasional sack lunch presentation. The end user is just as deserving of training as anyone else. It is important to remember that there are many end users, not just the power user and admins who participate in the platform launch. If end users feel like they are not receiving adequate training, the group sentiment can fatally harm user adoption.
Have support in place, ready to go
Learning any new tool can have a steep learning curve, no matter how intuitive you might think it is. Beyond the basic actions, such as adding a list item or uploading content to a team site, users will run into issues applying SharePoint to their work. Frustrations can run high if they cannot get rapid assistance in resolving their issues. It is imperative to have trained support staff at the ready.
If your support staff are equally ill equipped for troubleshooting, users will grow weary of calling for support only to see them testing out multiple resolutions to see what might work. Users are adept at identifying when support staff is simply doing what the user would have done in troubleshooting. Support staff must be skilled to quickly resolve issues in a knowledgeable manner. This does not mean that all support staff must have deep knowledge of the tool, but a tiered support structure can be implemented. Remember that a defined escalation policy should be developed to ensure users are getting the quick assistance they need, and management can identify training opportunities if the support team is not exhibiting the necessary knowledge level for their tier.
Another option is to train a point person within each department -- an on-site champion among the teams that users can turn to for more immediate assistance. These champions will also have an understanding of how users are utilizing the tool for their particular job function. This layer of support staff will often prove efficient in resolving issues for users, especially basic issues that may be a training related issue for the user.
Prove the value
Organizations must work at resisting the urge to treat SharePoint as the latest shiny tool, thrust upon their teams. It is critical to clearly show users the platform’s value and how it will assist them in their jobs. Ignore this alignment with business value, and there is a high risk that the users will see it as yet another burden they will need to learn – on top of their already full workload.
Setting the tone for roll out can go a long, long way in improving adoption. Establishing excitement among teams and highlighting how the platform will help teams work more efficiently is a foundational concept for adoption. Illustrate through clear examples and use cases, and where possible, use real people and roles to walk through those examples to help people make the connection between training and implementation.
Adding tools to a your toolbox, no matter how small the tool, brings change to your current environment. Everyone in your organization, to some degree, will be resistant to change – so be prepared with your plan, your use cases, and a clear vision of what you are trying to achieve. If you’re prepared, you’ll convince others to join your cause and support your proposed solution. SharePoint's adoption rates will be directly affected by how well the platform is introduced, and how prepared you are to support your future end user needs. However, following these simple real-world suggestions will dramatically increase user adoption.