User Adoption

VisualSP Webinar: When cookie-cutter user adoption doesn’t cut it

I’ll be presenting a free user adoption webinar for VisualSP on May 12, 2016. The webinar explains the science behind user adoption failures and offers practical tips for examining how your users, your culture and your Collaboration goals impact your success. You’ll leave the session with a framework you can use to build a custom user adoption framework for your organization.  Interested in attending? Click here to register.



Innovation Games: An Introduction

Let’s start with the obvious question–what are Innovation Games?

Innovation Games are a set of simple games you can play with your customers, your peers and your project teams to build shared understanding. There are a wide variety of Innovation Games; each game is designed to elicit a different outcome or data set. Some games can help you uncover unmet market needs. Other games are geared to driving product design, building/repairing relationships or creating strategic plans. The games themselves are just tools; a set of gaming principles and best practices you can leverage to gather qualitative information. The data gathered through Innovation Games can be used to shape strategies, gain momentum and build bridges with core constituent groups. Bottom line: Innovation Games are a fun way to engage your customers, your employees and your teams.

In September 2015, I led an introductory workshop on Innovation Games for MNSPUG (the Minnesota SharePoint User Group). The session introduced the concept of Innovation Games and highlighted how Innovation Games can help teams gather requirements, build consensus, drive strategic direction and recover broken work streams and projects. MNSPUG attendees were able to see Innovation Games at work firsthand. Don Donais, Liz Sundet, Matt Ruderman and I facilitated a live version of the Low-Tech Social Network and four separate iterations of the Speedboat game during the 3-hour workshop. Check out the pics of our completed games below.

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If you’re interested in learning more, check out the MNSPUG session recording below. (A big thanks to the folks at Avtex for providing the recording.) To help you navigate the lengthy session, track times are outlined below.

07:48 – Kickoff of the Innovation Games session
11:29 – What are Innovation Games?
15:45 – Why use Innovation Games?
26:45 – How do Innovation Games work?
34:08 – Introduction of the Low-Tech Social Network game
44:33 – Introduction of the Speedboat game
59:00 – Summarizing the results of your game
01:15:30 – What types of other Innovation Games are there?
01:32:07 – Resources/Recommended Follow-Up Reading
01:34:00 – Video of MNSPUG attendees playing the Low-Tech Social Network game
01:35:52 – Results of the Low-Tech Social Network game
01:39:00 – Video of Sarah teaching attendees how to facilitate a Speedboat innovation game

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.

SharePoint universal truths

I’ve worked with end users in many organizations. While companies (and their employees) vary wildly, there are underlying similarities in how they all work. I call these similarities universal truths. Understanding these truths can help you relate to your users, drive effective change management and (ultimately) increase SharePoint’s business value. So here is the starter pack of SharePoint universal truths:

1. Businesses shouldn’t be run via spreadsheets stored on shared drives. What would happen to your company’s bottom line if Microsoft Excel went off the grid tomorrow? Most employees would be at a complete loss. They use spreadsheets and e-mail every day to manage their work and move data around. Unfortunately, the labor costs of these “poor man’s workflow” solutions is high. The time spent creating, maintaining, organizing, and copying data between spreadsheets and e-mails is time lost.

If you are implementing SharePoint as a workflow automation tool, you can’t ignore the opportunity spreadsheets provide. Focus on converting large, unwieldy spreadsheets into structured SharePoint lists that include query-based list views and out-of-the-box or custom SharePoint Designer workflows and you’ll improve the lives of your end-users.

2. My job isn’t about giving users what they want. It’s about giving users what they really need. They may want massive Excel spreadsheets stored in a Documents library with unlimited versioning. But they may need a granular SharePoint list with workflows and automated email notifications. In the end, our challenge (and our journey) is to identify the “true business need” and raise awareness about SharePoint solutions that can change the way our business users work.

3. Users will be interested in functionality that can improve their lives. But most of the time they don’t have the time to investigate this functionality on their own. They need information architects and designers to paint the vision. Often I throw out 15 ideas for each individual idea my business users choose to implement. There’s nothing wrong with a 15:1 ratio. The key is to keep offering ideas. Even if they don’t implement your ideas right away, they will likely circle back to consider some of the ideas again later.

4. If information architecture is optional, most users will opt out. Many users are unfamiliar with information architects, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need them. The right information architect will take the time to understand the underlying business value SharePoint can provide. They’ll understand your content and use SharePoint’s feature set to build solutions that make a quantifiable difference in your organization. The trick is enticing, encouraging and (ultimately) requiring your users to engage in the information architecture process. If you can offer SharePoint planning services free of charge and leverage a solid reputation in your organization for delivering top-notch solutions, you’ll have the “carrot” you need to get people to buy into information architecture. If that’s not an option at your organization, you’ll need to identify other methodologies for engaging users in the information architecture process.

5. SharePoint markets itself…once you deliver your first couple of wins. I’ve managed several corporate knowledge bases, and they all have one thing in common. Regardless of the technology they’re built on, the amount we invested in them or the number of cool features they had, all these knowledge bases were giant, sucking holes of need. No matter how long I evangelized their use or offered incentives for people to submit content, they would never spawn a cult following. They would always require care, feeding, and emotional propping. SharePoint is just the opposite. If you build SharePoint solutions that automate business processes and save your end-users time and frustration, people will come—in droves.

6. Your SharePoint solution isn’t complete until you’ve measured its effectiveness. This is an astonishingly common “miss.” People build great SharePoint solutions—solutions that save their companies hundreds of thousands of dollars per year—and fail to quantify their success. Your job does not end when a new SharePoint site is launched. Your job ends when you have measured the site’s effectiveness.

These universal truths aren’t complex. They merely reflect the basic instincts of most business users. But understanding these universal truths gives you an edge—an edge your counterparts don’t have. These truths are the keys for obtaining buy-in, effecting real change management, and learning how to quantify your results. By incorporating these truths into your business process strategy, you will fundamentally shift how your business users view their tools.

Keynote video: Earning the right to seek executive SharePoint support

I’m starting a new blog post series to share some of my favorite keynote speeches from past conferences/events. First on the list is Michael Sampson’s session Success with SharePoint: Earning the right to seek executive support, which was presented at the 2012 SHARE conference held in Atlanta. Michael did a fantastic job on this presentation–he explains why pleas for executive SharePoint support fail and provides guidance on how to change your approach. Some of my favorite one-liners from the session are:

  • “Success is 90% people, 10% technology.”
  • You have to build credibility with your executives. Stop being the excited teenager.
  • You have to earn the right to talk to your executives about SharePoint.

The formal session abstract and speaker bio are included at the bottom of this post. Enjoy!

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Here’s the abstract for this session:

Many IT departments have installed SharePoint and are now wondering how to make the technology deliver business value. A quick answer is often to seek executive support, but before rushing to do so, there are a number of critical disciplines that need to be put in place to earn the right for making this approach.

The keynote will present the roadmap to success with SharePoint, and the role of executive support in transforming SharePoint into a place where great business gets done.

Lessons: – Having the technology available is a common place to start, but you can’t stay there forever – Success with SharePoint involves following a roadmap to success, including vision, governance, engagement, and user adoption – Executives have a role to play in the roadmap to success, but you have to earn the right to seek their support

And here is Michael’s speaker bio:

Michael Sampson is a collaboration strategist. His passion is helping organizations to make collaboration work, when their employees have to work together effectively and efficiency while separated by distance and time. Michael advises end-user organizations in New Zealand, Australia, the United States, and Europe.  He holds an MCom with first class honors in telecommunications-based IT, from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.  Michael is the author of four books on collaboration strategy—Collaboration Roadmap, User Adoption Strategies, SharePoint Roadmap for Collaboration, and Seamless Teamwork.  His blog can be found at and you can follow him on Twitter: @collabguy

Tuning out the SharePoint naysayers

Sooner or later, all SharePoint enthusiasts encounter the scariest of creatures…the intelligent, the opinionated and the immoveable naysayer. These naysayers exist at all levels of the organization and persist in deriding SharePoint without provocation or apology.

SharePoint enthusiasts fear naysayers for several reasons. First, we fear the naysayers will tarnish SharePoint’s image. Yes, we’re used to defending SharePoint against the typical anti-Microsoft rants. But these ideological rants rarely touch on or impact day-to-day operations. Naysayers present a more immediate threat. If the naysayers are vocal, sharing their anti-SharePoint mantras with project managers, executives and line-of-business folks, they can taint others’ view of SharePoint.

Naysayers can also block the use of SharePoint within key business units by simply refusing to adopt the platform. A few well-placed naysayers can cut off avenues for success, making user adoption a challenge.

But by far, the most insidious and debasing fear is that the naysayers are right. What if the naysayers see something we’ve missed–a fatal flaw in SharePoint’s design or a new Google Docs feature that will change the collaboration landscape? This fear can be crippling, and in that moment the naysayers can be like kryptonite for SharePoint enthusiasts. But remember, kryptonite only hurts if you’re Superman.

Here’s the reality: naysayers can’t really hurt SharePoint. Yes, they can be vocal in their opposition. And yes, they can make us work around them. But their greatest threat isn’t what they can do. Their greatest threat is the impact they have on us–the SharePoint enthusiasts. When we encounter a naysayer and start wringing our hands, we give away our power. And when we spend hours and hours of time trying to build out collaboration features to make the naysayers happy, we bear a huge opportunity cost.

I often talk with users that are struggling to “earn” the approval of their SharePoint naysayers. They work like trojans to try and build the perfect SharePoint site or solution for their naysayers, only to find the bar inextricably raised at every turn. No matter how far they come and how great a solution they build, it’s never quite enough to win the naysayers’ approval. They ask me what they can do to help turn the tide and win over their naysayers, and I always say the same thing–STOP!

Stop trying so hard. Stop contorting yourselves to try and become what others are looking for. And stop chasing after users that are not interested in what you (or your SharePoint platform) are offering. If you’re implementing SharePoint correctly, you should have a healthy pipeline of users requesting your SharePoint help and expertise. Why waste your time on the naysayers? Driving effective user adoption is about building tools and solutions that people want to use. Naysayers (by definition) don’t want what you’re selling. So stop trying to sell to them.

If you focus 100% of your time and energy on the customers that want to adopt SharePoint, you’ll be a success. And if you have a methodology that really works, SharePoint will start spreading like wildfire in your organization. So let the SharePoint wildfire run its course…sooner or later, those naysayers will sound pitiful deriding the virtues of a tool that has been embraced (and extolled) by the entire rest of the organization.

Kurt Vonnegut and the art of the fairy tale

This blog post goes to the heart of understanding people–how they think, how they react, etc. Understanding story arcs and their impact on people’s perceptions of life and work can make you a better SharePoint practitioner, wiki enabler and knowledge management evangelist.

Life is dramatic. But for most of us, the drama is short-lived, scattered among long periods of relative normalcy. We go through life fairly content, with blips of extreme happiness and sorrow.

Ever know anyone, though, that had an extra helping of drama? You know, the folks that have more hills to climb, more drawbacks to overcome, etc.? Kurt Vonnegut explains that this “flair for the dramatic” may be caused by those seemingly innocuous fairy tales we’re exposed to from infancy on. It’s the dark side of the Cinderella story arc.

Here’s an interesting recap of the Cinderella drama story –

And here’s a clip of Kurt explaining the 3 basic story arcs that underlie our expectations for life, love and happiness:

Understanding user adoption in 3 minutes or less…

Michael Sampson recently published the blog post: What’s the Key to Successful Adoption of “Social Business”? With a title like this, you’d expect to see a 10-page narrative outlining all the key reasons why social is critical to your business’ success. The narrative may include all the key decision factors for going social but wouldn’t provide details on how to get there.

Michael’s approach was shorter (and more effective). Rather than diving into the conceptual, he provided a video clip from the recent Unified Communications Expo. The video combines clips from six user adoption experts, providing a 3-minute summary of user adoption strategies. Some of the salient recommendations include:

  • Design your approach to meet and solve real business problems. Don’t build a platform just to build a platform.
  • Please your customers. Please your customers. Please your customers.
  • Embed social into your internal business processes. (aka align social to the way your users work)

Take a look:



Michael has an excellent book (referenced during the video clip) that summarizes collaboration user adoption strategies. An updated version of this book is due out in 2012. Stay tuned to Michael’s web site for more information.

The art of wishing for “Anything You Want”

I’m a tough sell. I’m not into self-help books, don’t watch Dr. Oz, and am generally not looking for unsolicited how-to advice on starting a business, getting on-the-job training or fixing my personal relationships. You can call me reticent or jaded, but I’m not easily moved by the average how-to guide. That’s what makes this blog post unusual. Rather than sharing a specific SharePoint solution or talking about how to calculate your Return On Investment (ROI), I’m dedicating this blog post to a truly inspirational book. So read this blog post. And then go pick up a copy of Anything You Want by Derek Sivers (ISBN 978-1-936719-11-2).

To be fair, I’ve been a Derek Sivers fan for a while. I referenced his “Obvious to you. Amazing to others” video in my Easy. Obvious, even. blog post last fall, and have been meaning to read Anything You Want since then.

Let me start off by saying that this is not a SharePoint book. It’s a compilation of thoughts, ideas and key learnings from the conception, launch, operation and eventual sale of CD Baby. (If you’re not familiar, CD Baby is the single largest web-based seller of independent music. Derek Sivers founded CD Baby as a hobby and grew it to become a $100 million business before selling it in 2008.) Sivers’ experiences with CD Baby are universal, though. In many ways, Anything You Want is the story of how a hobby reached the tipping point–the point when it gained its own momentum and became a product of its enthusiasts. Isn’t this, after all, what many SharePoint enthusiasts and coaches are after? Aren’t we trying to convince our business users of SharePoint’s inherent value and working to build momentum for this platform we all believe can make a critical difference in the way people work together?

So while Anything You Want may not have been written with a SharePoint bent, its message relates to struggles SharePoint coaches/evangelists face every day. Here are 3 key messages I took away from Sivers’ experiences with CD Baby:

  1. “Never forget that absolutely everything you do is for your customers” (page 15). This may sound obvious, but it’s amazing how often we fail to adhere to this basic tenet of customer service. And Sivers’ focus on customer service has a twist. He encourages focusing all your efforts on your current customers. If you thrill them, they’ll spread the word on your behalf, attracting more new customers than you ever could (page 15). Those of you that have seen my presentations know that I often contrast SharePoint with online knowledge bases. While I’m a librarian at heart, I recognize that online knowledge bases are, at their core, never-ending holes of need. No matter how much care and feeding you give them, they will always require emotional propping and vast amounts of evangelism and marketing. SharePoint is just the opposite. If you build compelling SharePoint sites that improve your users’ work lives, SharePoint will market itself. No emotional propping required.
  2. “You can’t please everyone, so proudly exclude people” (page 3). I’m a people-pleaser, so this message is completely foreign to me. But I find it intriguing… Sivers’ point is simple–by confidently stating who you are and who you’re not, you’ll attract the customers you’re looking for. Here’s his business case:

    “Have the confidence to know that when your target 1 percent hears you excluding the other 99 percent, the people in that 1 percent will come to you because you’ve shown how much you value them” (page 23).

    The point is clear–focus on the people who value your time and talent. Don’t stop the train for the nay-sayers, because ultimately they don’t matter.

  3. “Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently doing what’s not working” (page 11). This is the silver bullet. If you feel like you are expending a massive amount of energy to push a rock up the mountainside, please stop. Gravity is sending you a message and you are failing to get the point. If you have a vision and the world fails to recognize it and make it a hit, then it’s time to continue iterating and inventing. This doesn’t mean you should scrap your idea. But you shouldn’t keep on pushing it as-is. This video says it all:

Intrigued yet? I recommend going and picking up a copy of Anything You Want. It’s a quick (and valuable) read.