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The 3 Most Critical Pieces of a SharePoint User Adoption Plan

Aug 17, 2015 SharePoint User Adoption Dennis Junk

3 Most Important SharePoint User Adoption TacticsPeople are remarkably good at finding the easiest way to accomplish routine tasks at work. If you want them to take a different approach, two conditions have to be met: first, the new method has to be easier, and, second, they have to be walked through it a couple of times so they can fully appreciate how much easier it is.

What often happens with SharePoint, though, is that technical people set it up to give their coworkers access to all kinds of impressive tools and functions. But your average business user will seldom take the time to learn how to use any of those tools—they just want to know how to do their normal work tasks with the new system. If your business’s SharePoint solution doesn’t make those daily tasks easier, your employees will eventually stop signing in.

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to make sure your solution gets used—which is obviously something that has to happen before you can realize any return on your investment in the technology. The bad news is that if your SharePoint solution has already been implemented and deployed, you’ve missed out on most of the best opportunities for optimizing adoption.

Aptera’s Senior SharePoint Administrator Scott Walsh works closely with several client companies trying to make the most of their deployments. “SharePoint isn’t like email,” he says, “where you hook it up and let everybody figure out how to use it. It’s more like an ERP system. People should think of it as something you need to do in-depth planning for, something you need to customize for specific roles, and something you need to budget a lot of training time for.”  

Walsh has worked on comprehensive lists of what needs to go into planning, implementation, deployment, and training to ensure adoption. But he says it can mostly be distilled into three main areas:


The biggest hindrance to user adoption is overly complicated implementations. Workers need to find the functionality they use the most often right when they sign in. And the tools they need shouldn’t be hidden in a crowd of tools they seldom if ever use. If a task like sharing a document can be accomplished in three steps using email, you’re going to have a really hard time getting anyone to share documents in SharePoint when doing so takes five steps.

This is why it’s important to design the information architecture based on business use cases. And, to create those use cases, you’re going to want to get input from at least a couple people in the business roles where they’ll apply. Walsh makes it clear in every engagement that involving end users throughout the process, beginning with the earliest planning phases, is the key to successful implementations. Getting input from end users and keeping them informed not only increases buy-in; it’s what makes it possible for the finished design to reflect their priorities.


“If your boss needs to read the report,” Walsh says, “and you have to put the report in SharePoint to get it to your boss, then you’re going to find a way to get that report into SharePoint.” The takeaway here is that some businesses make their solutions more central to their operations than others. The process of signing in and uploading the report in this example has more value than it would if the worker was accustomed to using email and the boss had no preference between the two delivery methods. In some businesses, you simply have to use SharePoint.

But of course value doesn’t have to come from a lack of alternatives or from top-down policies. If the solution is planned and implemented with the specific goal of providing end users with valuable tools, ones that really make it easier for them to do their jobs, then the toolset in general is probably going to have enough value for the them to want to figure out how to use it.

A Responsive and Engaged Internal Steward 

Walsh does a lot of support work for a number of businesses, and he’s seen the whole gamut of approaches to SharePoint governance. He says that once you get past the layout and the functionality, the thing that really makes the difference when it comes to adoption is having someone on the client side who’s both really engaged with the users and really knowledgeable about the business’s specific implementation.   

“In one place, the guy I work with is in marketing,” Walsh says, “and he can barely manage to sign himself in. When people come to him for help, there’s not a whole lot he can do. We spend all our time together going over how to do basic stuff. At another place, the guy I work with is a tech guy. He knows all about how the system works, but he can’t manage to bridge the gap with the non-tech people. When I talk to him—which is almost never—he just wants to go over his list of functional issues.”

Walsh then describes the situation at a company that has a designated role for someone who was deeply involved in the original implementation and now regularly seeks feedback from the workers. “One big difference,” Walsh says, “is that this guy calls with questions more frequently.” Because this representative has taken ownership of the solution and is deeply invested in its success, he drives the communication with the workers in his company.

The users come to the steward, he hears them out and makes a note of their difficulties, and then he contacts an expert in SharePoint. Together the steward and the SharePoint guy work out a solution, and the steward takes it back to the users. “He’s in kind of that Goldie Locks range where he has enough technical knowledge to be useful but is close enough to the business side that he understands what they’re trying to do.”

The importance of assigning someone to such a role is important regardless of whether your business has some type of support contract with a company specializing in SharePoint. If you want to optimize user adoption and make your implementation as successful as possible, you’re probably going to need to appoint someone to be responsible for overseeing how it gets used. And you’re going to have to make a sufficient investment in supporting the person you designate for that role to make sure he or she will be able to devote all the time and attention it demands.

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