Top 10 Tips for Success with SharePoint: #5

Don’t Expect Miracles

This tip is short and sour: don’t transfer your existing problems from one environment to SharePoint and expect miracles – there is no silver bullet.

Try to use a SharePoint 2010 implementation or upgrade project as an opportunity to:

  • Challenge work practices or processes that clearly aren’t working for the business, and make adjustments or eliminate them
  • Introduce new ways of working better, faster, smarter – e.g. try moving time-consuming manual, paper-based processes online, reducing touch points and hard copies
  • Identify key limitations of any technologies being replaced, and figure out how SharePoint overcomes them (if it can’t, then manage expectations)

That list’s not particularly easy to achieve I grant you, but you should be embracing Change Management anyway when deploying SharePoint (particularly if you’re upgrading), so add the above to your strategy and tactics. More on that fun topic in an upcoming post.

The self-help books are right:  run away from yourself and you’ll just take the problems you’re trying to escape with you wherever you go.

In other words, if your business has issues today, you could spend time and money replacing the underlying technology only to find the same old problems simply manifest tomorrow, in the expensive new solution.

It’s not SharePoint, it’s you 🙂

Are You Really Fixing Things with SharePoint?

…YES

A while ago I worked on a project to replace an existing EDMS with SharePoint. Facilitated by the system, employees had developed a deeply ingrained practice of securing access to each and every document in the system individually.  Very few documents were viewable by all staff.  Item-level or fine-grained permission setting came up over and over again in requirements workshops as mandatory for the new SharePoint-based DM system.  Why? No-one could fully argue the case, beyond reiterating that it was “extremely important”.  Even as they also acknowledged the practice had become a maintenance headache and too many documents were effectively ‘lost’ due to over-enthusiastic application of permissions.

The clever clients recognized the chance that the SharePoint implementation provided and grabbed it with both hands.  Kudos to them for having the courage and foresight to challenge a mandatory business requirement.  They used the deployment of SharePoint – which, by the way, doesn’t particularly like fine-grained permissions, and if you pursue that too comprehensively you will pay the price in the long run – as a golden opportunity to change a habit that was not enabling the business.  With SharePoint’s introduction came a new enterprise policy, in which all documents were to be viewable by all staff by default, with further security applied if required by exception only (and in a manner more suited to SharePoint).  Yes, the transition was difficult and yes, there were complaints initially. But the sky didn’t fall in, the tide slowly turned and broad-based document access became accepted; and with it the potential for improved information exchange and knowledge-sharing across the company.

Very recently another business I assisted decided the time had come to move away from its near-complete dependency on Excel, PowerPoint, Word and email messages for communication and collaboration, due to quite extreme problems with duplication and version control, and very poorly informed employees. They worked hard to build user-centric web content management into their SharePoint deployment.  Out went a handful of old intranet pages that comprised little more than vast columns of hyperlinks to PDFs, and in came news feeds, publishing sites, lists (see post #4 in praise of lists), blogs and wikis.  Even their policy PDFs and their SharePoint governance framework were re-created as Enterprise Wikis.

…NO

Conversely, another client took a widely disliked, manual, multi-stage and confusing procurement and approval process, and insisted on recreating it as an online SharePoint workflow exactly as it had been offline.  In refusing to address the underlying issues staff had with the process, they missed the opportunity to re-work and improve it – and they didn’t assist user acceptance for SharePoint much along the way.

I’ve worked with many organisations that, in feeling the pain of a sprawling mess of a file server, with terabytes cryptically named files scattered around in thousands of folders, have decided SharePoint is the cure to what ails them.   Some of these workplaces have not previously seen the value of ‘overheads’ like naming conventions and modest filing / archiving guidelines, nor the need for sustained user education on acceptable practice.  And yet they continue to remain sceptical about the need for such things with the introduction of SharePoint.  Or perhaps it’s just deemed too expensive and therefore relegated to ‘nice to have’. But isn’t this skimming a little too close for comfort to Einstein’s definition of insanity?

Michael Sampson, a collaboration specialist, has been warning against ‘silver bullet’ thinking for a long time.  He shares his many valuable insights into making collaboration work, plus his research findings and lessons learned on a huge range of technologies, including SharePoint, at http://currents.michaelsampson.net/.   I’ve enjoyed robust discussions with Michael over the years, and have learned a great deal vicariously from his observations on the highs and lows of Lotus Notes in the enterprise.  If you’re working with SharePoint, I’d encourage you to look up his work.

Sorry about that, sunnier tips coming right up.

Summing up:

  • SharePoint is not and never will be the silver bullet that fixes poor business practices
  • So don’t do the same thing over again and expect different results

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