As with virtually any other significant IT implementation project, a SharePoint deployment is as dependent on people as it is on technology for its success. If your system end users are in fact not using the system, or are not using it correctly or to its full potential, you will never achieve that all ‑ important return on investment.
One hundred percent adoption by users who are proficient with SharePoint and are committed to gaining the greatest value from the software should be a key objective for all SharePoint project leaders. To bring this about it is crucial to develop and execute an effective change management strategy as a key component of your SharePoint implementation.
At Professional Advantage we have had great success with our SharePoint clients by informally following a change management process that was thought up by Dr John Kotter, an American professor whose 1966 book, Leading Change, is still highly influential in the world of change management theory.
In his book Dr Kotter puts forward an eight step process that change leaders can follow to avoid failure and adjust successfully to change. These steps, which can be usefully applied to a SharePoint deployment project, are:
1. Create a sense of urgency
No SharePoint project will get off the ground, let alone become successful, if there is no buy-in at the executive level. Here it is important to put a strong case forward as to why the move to SharePoint is very much in the organisation’s best interests. Begin by doing lots of research. Examine, for example, the competitive disadvantages that will be suffered if no change is made. Also highlight those business functions and processes within the organisation that could be significantly improved with SharePoint. Tie the benefits of SharePoint to the organisation’s broad business goals and ongoing strategic objectives. Explain as persuasively as possible why the current situation is unsustainable and why, when it comes to moving to SharePoint, it’s a case of ‘the sooner the better.’ The stronger your business case for a SharePoint implementation, the more likely it is that it will get the green light.
2. Create a guiding coalition
Once you’ve received the go-ahead for the SharePoint deployment the next step is to put together a coalition of people with the power and commitment to lead the change. This team will ideally be comprised of a wide variety of motivated individuals: department managers, technical experts and those at the coalface who will be using SharePoint on a day-to-day basis should all form part of the coalition. They should also be people who have grasped the urgency of the task ahead, who understand the business goals that will be achieved with a successful implementation and who recognise that 100% user adoption is a central goal of the project.
Crucial to the success of the coalition’s efforts is that its members all work well together. As the project evolves these change-drivers will be sharing ideas, making decisions and identifying and solving problems. Team members must be able to trust each other and collaborate effectively; if this does not occur the project will almost certainly stall.
3. Develop a change vision
By developing a clear vision for the project you give those involved a direction to follow and a goal to achieve. Ideally the vision will be easy to comprehend, achievable, flexible and something that all stakeholders can get enthusiastic about.
While the vision will by definition be broad, the strategies that underpin it will be specific. Priorities for the project should be defined and acted upon, with priority given to ‘low hanging fruit’, ie tasks that can be easily achieved and which will deliver visible, measurable and meaningful change within the organisation. This approach will add momentum to the project by enabling stakeholders to gain a real-world perspective on the changes that are in progress and why they’re good both for the organisation and for individual SharePoint users.
4. Communicate the vision for buy-in
Communicating your vision and promoting the behavioural changes that will drive it are critical for a successful SharePoint deployment. This step requires a top-down communications strategy that is consistent, creative, inspiring and ongoing.
At Professional Advantage our communication strategy forms part of our SharePoint adoption plan and includes a variety of tactics designed to get staff using SharePoint, and using it properly. In the past such tactics have included SharePoint launch parties, lunch sessions, system design competitions amongst staff, social media, blogs and the putting up of posters around the office promoting the use of SharePoint. The objective here is, of course, to get users educated and engaged. The more creative you are, the better. And always keep in mind that user adoption will likely be low unless you can answer the ‘What’s in it for me’ question.
5. Empower broad-based action
To achieve the highest possible level of SharePoint user adoption it’s best to remove any barriers that might impede that objective. This particularly applies to the laggards, ie those who are most resistant to change and least likely to make full use of the system.
Typically this will involve removing software and other technologies that make it easy for workers to continue doing things the old way. Too often organisations include this as an afterthought, resulting in smaller and slower user adoption. Here it is important to plan from the beginning, anticipate what systems will be made redundant (or scaled down) and schedule that in to the SharePoint implementation plan.
Also important here is encouragement from above. Supported by proper ongoing training, those who will be using SharePoint need to be encouraged to step out of their comfort zone and embrace the new system.
6. Celebrate short-term wins
Short-term wins are essential to the success of your SharePoint deployments, as are the active celebration of these wins when they occur. The transition to a SharePoint environment is a long-term process and momentum must be maintained every step of the way. Perhaps, as a result of SharePoint, a new level of intra-office collaboration has been achieved, or the organisation has experienced dramatic time savings with particular processes, or has achieved new standards of compliance. Whatever the win, the broadcasting of it should form part of the SharePoint communications plan. If people can see how and why SharePoint is working, they will be more likely to embrace the system and, in so doing, contribute to the achievement of the organisation’s business goals.
7. Consolidate gains and generate more change
You’ve scored some wins and people are now comfortable using SharePoint. While that is a wonderful thing, the danger at this stage is complacency. Rather than take your foot off the accelerator it’s important to build on what’s been achieved and pursue larger, more ambitious objectives. To fully ingrain SharePoint into your organisation’s culture (and to avoid regression) ramp things up with new projects and initiatives.
8. Making it stick
To fully embed SharePoint into your organisation’s culture and business practices everyone needs to be on board. Just as during a life-threatening cyclone there are always some residents who refuse to heed advice to leave town, with a SharePoint deployment there will always be some who are unwilling to move. Here it is important to reinforce, and continue to celebrate, the victories that have been achieved and communicate how important it is that everyone adopt the system.
As the SharePoint project continues to evolve so too will its vision and purpose. With the right planning and execution, and with the right leadership, people will, over time, forget the old ways of doing things and fully embrace the new.