Finding the RIGHT first project (aka solving the SharePoint “bad hair day”)

Bad hair dayIf your SharePoint implementation is the equivalent of a bad hair day, listen up. You are not a lost cause. It is not too late to make a (new) first impression.

You are going to have to make some changes, though. You may need stronger IT support or a new executive sponsor. You may need to start planning your SharePoint upgrade or shore up the performance of your existing farm. And if you don’t have end-users banging on doors wondering how they can learn more (and do more) with SharePoint, you need a better plan for driving user adoption.

Too many SharePoint owners ignore user adoption, bequeath it unicorn status (making adoption the stuff of urban myth) or decide that mandating adoption is the way to go. Here’s the bottom line: User adoption is not a decree. You cannot wish it into being, legislate its growth or assume that an investment in tools will provide a corresponding user adoption “lift.” User adoption is also not a byproduct of system health. Yes, building a pristine SharePoint farm with solid disaster recovery and well-rounded admin/migration tools can help your cause. But IT strategy alone will not spur your business users to engage/champion SharePoint.

The best way to jump-start some SharePoint enthusiasm is focusing on the delivery of one key project. Consider this project your inaugural step in building a new user adoption strategy. You need to deliver a solid solution that saves time and money and turns your first customer into your first follower.

Why is a first follower important? Because your first follower is the person who will teach others how to follow you. Your first follower validates your vision and shows others how to jump on the bandwagon. If you invest in this first follower—delivering a SharePoint solution that meets that customer’s needs perfectly—he or she will become your first champion. And a champion is what transforms you from a lone SharePoint nut into a SharePoint leader.

Here’s your key to selecting this all-important first project:


First, you need to find something that causes people pain. You’re not looking for something that is mildly annoying. You’re looking for the soul-crushing, spirit-destroying work that makes your users want to gnaw off their own arms. A two-hour, 104-step process for logging time sheets would be a great example.

You also need a succinct problem that hits a lot of people. Your purchasing system may be hellish, but if it doesn’t impact a large number of people and can’t be broken up into small logical chunks for optimization, it’s not the right first project.

To maximize your efforts, you want to look for repeatable processes (processes that have a daily or weekly business rhythm). Optimizing frequent processes greatly amplifies your return on investment (ROI).

This inaugural project will be a partnership between you and a business owner or business team. Since you are hoping this first customer will become your first follower and your first champion, it is crucial you select the right customer. You want to work with innovators and early adopters. These are the people who like the bleeding edge, the people who are always the first to adopt new technology. They will be willing to go out on a limb, to take a chance and see where it leads.

But it isn’t enough to just find the early adopters. You need your first customers to be key influencers and change agents as well. They need to inspire the masses to follow them onto the SharePoint bandwagon. How do you find these key influencers? Look around your organization for the people everyone goes to when they have a question. Key influencers tend to be the informal help desk for their department. They are the ones who have all the contacts and know where to go and find more information.

Once you find the right process with the right people, you need to make sure the solution can be built quickly and easily with out-of-the-box features. You don’t need a complex solution with brilliant customizations. You need a reliable solution that you can build within a couple of weeks for FREE. As you’re building out this solution, remember that it will serve as a demonstration of what you (and SharePoint) can do. Consider the first impression it will make.

And let’s not forget the all-important ROI. This first project will serve as a calling card—a testament to how SharePoint can help your business achieve its goals. You need to be able to quantify and qualify the benefits this solution offers. Build an executive abstract that summarizes the business need, the solution you built and the benefits (both hard and soft) the solution provides. And don’t be stingy–share this project summary with your customer and ensure they get kudos for partnering with you. If this ROI summary makes you AND your customer look good, others will notice.

Now it’s time to begin the cycle again and find another “first” project. While you’re focusing on building the next great solution, your first customer will be doing their day job. Other people may see them using SharePoint and ask “what’s that?” The customer will innocently say, “This is my new XXX solution. Sarah Haase built this for me.”

Congratulations! SharePoint just made a (new) first impression.


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