Navigating the Content Management Mine Field: Avoiding Common Challenges in your SharePoint Initiatives

Over the past decade, the majority of organizations have made investments in SharePoint, either as a content management or business collaboration platform. This trend has continued with Microsoft’s latest release, SharePoint 2013, and the steady growth in Office 365 subscriptions. The continued popularity of the SharePoint platform is somewhat perplexing, given the rate at which SharePoint implementations fail to meet user expectations.

SharePoint appears simple from the outside, and to be fair, it is pretty easy to get up and running out-of-the-box. It is in this simplicity, however, where the danger lies, ready to ruin great ideas. Given the relatively low up-front cost and effort, organizations frequently underestimate the complexity and effort it requires to deliver a successful SharePoint solution. In fact, according to a recent AIIM survey[i], only 6% of respondents consider their SharePoint projects successful, while 61% have either failed, stalled or are struggling. The most common barriers to success mentioned were lack of expertise, lack of vision, poor user adoption, and lack of governance.

If you’re reading this thinking “wow, that sounds familiar”, you’re not alone. The first step in revitalizing your SharePoint project, or avoiding these common missteps in a new implementation that you’re planning, is getting a better understanding of what went wrong and why. While there is no single secret to turning around your project, we strongly believe that asking a few key questions around the most common barriers is a good way to start addressing these challenges.

What is your organization’s vision for SharePoint?

39% of respondents claimed their SharePoint projects were not succeeding due to lack of vision and strategy. ii

SharePoint can be just about anything you want it to be, but defining what it should be is the challenge. Often times organizations will implement SharePoint and assume all of their content management and collaboration issues will magically disappear. When organizations mix and match terms such as “Portal” and “Intranet” with SharePoint, it’s likely that the solution is being considered in too broad a context. The truth is that SharePoint by itself isn’t the answer many are looking for. SharePoint is the platform to build out solutions to address those issues, but understanding needs up front and having a plan to address them is critical. Define your high priority projects, build out a roadmap for their implementation, and spend the time to define how your vision for SharePoint aligns with the objectives of these projects. Rolling out SharePoint alone won’t do you any good if it fails to add value to your organization, so before you go and start a SharePoint project, make sure you have a vision for it.

Ensure you have a strong sponsor

The success of any SharePoint project is highly dependent on a strong sponsor. Before investing time and money into a SharePoint project, ensure you have a project sponsor that is willing to work with your team to set priorities and drive user adoption from the top down. Even better, encourage your sponsor to lead by example, and users will follow.

Let people drive your strategy, not technology

New technologies come into the marketplace all the time. The latest and greatest bring a variety of new features that tend to entice those that are more technologically savvy. When developing your SharePoint vision, make sure that the needs of the business and your users are at the forefront, not the features in the latest release. If something in place already works, it may be good enough. If not, ensure you involve key business stakeholders in the evaluation process.

Start small, build momentum

Provided the opportunity, identifying “low hanging fruit” to get a quick win is never a bad idea. It allows users to become comfortable with SharePoint and helps build confidence in the tool while making their job easier. If you’re successful, users will identify other opportunities to add to your SharePoint backlog. As your backlog grows, be sure to prioritize according to business needs as well as your ability to deliver. Consistently delivering focused solutions that meet the needs of your users help maintain your momentum and drive user adoption.

Do you have skills to be successful?

46% of respondents claimed their SharePoint projects were not succeeding due to lack of SharePoint expertise.[ii]

SharePoint is not a document management tool.  SharePoint is not a collaboration portal. SharePoint is a platform. The SharePoint platform is a great basis to develop a solution for your organization’s specific needs, but it must be developed. There are numerous features available, and with so many features comes complexity. IT generalists and administrators cannot, and should not, be expected to know the intricacies of SharePoint. While they may be sufficient for environment maintenance, designing a content management strategy, information architecture and taxonomy optimized for SharePoint, should be left to SharePoint architects. SharePoint developers should be involved when customizations are required to ensure a positive user experience, adherence to best practices and long term sustainability. There’s no substitute for the experience SharePoint architects and developers bring when implementing a solution to meet a critical business need. If you lack SharePoint specific resource in-house, take one of the following measures to help your project succeed.

Outsource to specialists

The easiest and quickest answer to obtaining SharePoint expertise is to procure the services of SharePoint consultant. SharePoint consultants come in a variety of flavors. Some are generalists, while others are extremely specialized with a deep knowledge of a given feature set. The best SharePoint consultants aren’t necessarily cheap, but they provide innovative solutions and get the most out of the platform before opting for custom solutions. They are experienced, and are able to draw on those past experiences to guide you to success.

Hire an expert

If outsourcing isn’t an option, consider hiring experienced SharePoint resources for your current and future SharePoint projects. This may not be the ideal solution for short-term needs, but if your organization is large enough, and you plan on continuing your investing in SharePoint, this could be a viable option.

Invest in SharePoint training for motivated staff

SharePoint training is readily available from many providers if you prefer to train your current staff. IT staff are obvious candidates for SharePoint administrative training, but many engaged business analysts make great SharePoint ‘power users’ as they already understand the business process, and can then apply SharePoint out-of-the-box features to complement the process. This option is not ideal for immediate needs, and there is no substitute for experience, but a possibility for non-critical projects and supplementing longer-term efforts.

What is your governance plan?

19% of respondents claimed their SharePoint projects were not succeeding due to lack of governance. ii

Governance is a must around any SharePoint project. Without a good governance plan in place, your SharePoint solution will likely revert back to file share with slightly better search capabilities. It will also be susceptible to “SharePoint Sprawl”, a term used to describe the speed at which SharePoint implementations can quickly get out of control by users creating unneeded sites and storing content in disparate locations with no way to efficiently locate and retrieve when needed. Once the sprawl starts, it is difficult to stop, so here are a few ways to start getting your hands around it.

Reevaluate your information architecture

Information architecture is critical to any SharePoint project, and hopefully was done as part of your governance planning. If so, great, now is a good time to evaluate how effective it is and how it’s being enforced. If not, its time to take a look at how your users have been using SharePoint thus far, and then meet with your users to understand how they’d like to use it in the future. Based on their feedback, rethink your solution, create new content types, and consolidate duplicate sites, libraries, and lists. The sooner you align your information architecture with the needs of your users, the better.

Inventory and monitor sites

Poor governance often leads to dormant sites. Users create sites when they really need a library or create sites in the wrong place accidentally. The number of sites in many organizations we’ve seen has been staggering. Understanding how these sites are being used is a must before starting the clean up effort. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to see how often sites are being accessed and how stale content is within a site. Unfortunately, knowing if that content is also duplicated somewhere else is not. Moving forward, limit who can create sites, develop usage reports, identify underused sites, and remove or consolidate as needed.

Utilize SharePoint’s document routing features

SharePoint has features that allow you to create rules that will move documents to a particular site or library based on the document’s characteristics. Enabling these features simplifies the process for users and improves compliance with the organization’s information policies. Simplifying any process for users is rarely a bad thing.

What tools are people using to get work done?

27% of respondents claimed their SharePoint projects were not succeeding due to poor user adoption. ii

If users are not using SharePoint, odds are, they sought out, and found alternatives to the existing solution. If the intent was for document management, most likely they’re using email or consumer grade tools like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Box. If you designed a fancy workflow solution, your users may have found it more complicated than sending an email or picking up the phone. Regardless of what it is, they have found an easier way, and you may have to go back to the drawing board to make them comfortable with your SharePoint project.

Engage users in the process

It is critical to understand your users and how they work before designing any SharePoint solution. Users need to feel a sense of ownership and that you are designing a system to help them do their work, not force them to change in how they work. Throughout the planning and design process, meet with a variety of users across the organization regularly to collect feedback, discuss ideas and review prototypes. Engage users early and often for improved user adoption.

Ensure users are properly trained

Deploying a solution without proper training will confuse users and give the impression that your solution is complicated. Take the time prior to the rollout to plan multiple sessions for each user roll. Develop help guide materials and FAQs and make them readily available, ideally, accessible from within the solution itself. During rollout, have extra support available to answer any questions that may arise, but don’t wait for users to ask. Wander the halls and check in with them to get initial feedback. The earlier you can identify any potential issues, the faster you can fix it, and the fewer users will be impacted.

Monitor and evolve

Once you deploy your solution, it’s only the beginning. As part of your vision and strategy, you should have set some sort of goals. In order to measure your success, you need to monitor usage and any other applicable statistics. Actively monitoring and analyzing usage metrics allow you to identify features users like and others that may need to be reevaluated. With each iteration or additional feature added, you will have a better understanding of what is successful, and be able to improve user adoption.

Conclusion

All SharePoint projects can be successful provided the proper planning is completed from the outset, to establish a SharePoint vision and governance model that makes sense for the organization. SharePoint experience and expertise is critical to designing and delivering solutions that users will embrace while making them more productive.  However, hindsight is 20/20, and when projects fail, starting over may not a viable option. If this has happened at your organization, all is not lost. Consider enlisting the help of a third party to assess your SharePoint program. They will be able to assist you in developing a focused vision and governance plan that is appropriate for your organization. Once the vision has been established, they will be able to provide you a SharePoint Roadmap, steering you clear of common barriers and guiding you to success.

Do you need help revitalizing your SharePoint project, or planning a new one? At IBC, we understand the vast array of issues and challenges organizations face when implementing SharePoint. When you engage IBC as your SharePoint partner you gain access to a team of SharePoint experts that includes SharePoint Architects, SharePoint Developers, SharePoint Mentors, and SharePoint Support and Maintenance Specialists. Our SharePoint services team using best practices, ensures that your SharePoint solution meets your company’s needs while allowing your IT resources to remain focused on your company’s core business.

[Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on the blog of Dominion Consulting. On November 1, 2017,Dominion Consulting merged with TeraThink and are now operating jointly as TeraThink. All blog posts migrated from the Dominion Consulting website have been updated to refer to ourselves as TeraThink.]


[i] Doug Miles, “AIIM Industry Watch SharePoint 2013 Clouding the issues”, 2013, aim.org/research

[ii] “How Successful is Your SharePoint Deployment”, 2013, aim.org/research