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.