Beyond Deployment, Think About Adoption

adoption problems

In the younger days of SharePoint, while I was still working for Microsoft, I was happy when the sales organization finally began looking at not just the number of new licenses sold, but also at the number of active users. What happened was that after years of bundling SharePoint as part of an organization’s larger enterprise agreement (EA), as those customers began to come up for renewal, many were pushing back on paying for their SharePoint licenses because they just weren’t being used – or the value proposition for what was being used was sketchy, at best. Which is kind of crazy given that the rapid rise of SharePoint was largely attributed to the fact that as many companies began looking for ways to build out intranet and internet sites, someone from within IT usually pointed out “Hey, we already own this SharePoint thing, Let’s use it.”  SharePoint benefited greatly from this EA approach, and quickly became the dominant force in the intranet and team collaboration space. But when it came time for renewals, Microsoft saw that adoption was critical – and it eventually worked its way into the measurements of Microsoft sales.

Adoption should be a part of every SharePoint strategy – whether on prem or online. Here at GTconsult, we spend a great deal of time helping our customer with the on-boarding process as well as with strategies for long-term adoption. As you think about your own plans, ensure you have the right strategy, the rights tools, and the right measurements in place to ensure that SharePoint is successful. At the end of the day, even the most perfectly-deployed-and-architecturally-sound SharePoint deployment will be viewed as a failure if your end users don’t log in and use it, so make sure you are taking the necessary steps to promote adoption.

There are a few things that will help in delivering SharePoint’s benefits across the enterprise and boost end user adoption:

    1. Always start with a plan
      Your SharePoint deployment doesn’t need to be new to have an adoption plan. Start where you are today, with the end user experience at the top of your list of concerns. Get your end users involved early and often, and include both a testing phase (especially true for those new deployments — to ensure the solution functions as proposed) and a proof of concept phase. Starting with a proof of concept allows a small team (preferably "power user" influencers selected from across the organization) to kick the tires before rolling it out to the masses. This target team should already know that there will most likely be glitches, but they are helping to iron out the solution and streamline features and functionality. They should also be aware of (and, hopefully, participate in) some of the prioritization decisions made about what features and solutions are included in the initial rollout, as they’ll be your best advocates to the rest of the organization to help people understand (and accept) those decisions. The end result of these phases will be a much stronger environment that will better meet expectations.
    2. Align with your corporate culture
      Whatever system/solution you design should also match the organizational culture. A great way to ensure this is to take the time to develop a thorough
      governance plan.  A lot of thought should go in to the policies and procedures of how the new solution will perform in operation. Will everyone get to create sites? What will the permission structure look like for users? What is the escalation process for issues? If permissions are limited, how will users be able to request what they need? These are just a few topics that should be discussed and planned before roll out. And keep in mind – it is much easier to add permissions down the road than take anything away. Psychologically, people do not like to have things taken away from them – even if they don’t use whatever is being limited
    3. Always begin with the end in mind
      Typically, SharePoint is being implemented to gain efficiencies in departmental/functional work, to streamline processes, and to reduce error through automation of tasks. The platform is ultimately meant to be in the hands of the end user for operational use. But all too often the end user is not accounted for when planning your SharePoint implementation. Above and beyond the out-of-the-box experience, taking into account how the user will actually use the platform day to day can shed a lot of useful light on how to configure, test and roll out SharePoint. Adoption is jeopardized if the way the platform or specific features are deployed are not a good fit within departments. This does not mean that SharePoint should just seamlessly meld into current operations. The reality is that the introduction of any new tool or system brings change with it. Allowing teams enough time to modify any pertinent processes and procedures to adapt to SharePoint will go a long way in the platform’s final adoption. Change can be difficult. Teams need time to adjust. Offer them a peek into the overall vision of the platform, give them a voice in how SharePoint is implemented, and adoption rates will increase.
    4. Don’t skimp on training
      All too often, organizations get excited about implementing a new tool but fail to consider what it takes to get everyone productive. They take great care to make sure their admins are trained, but by the time configuration, testing ,and the pilot are wrapping up, enthusiasm has dwindled and the end user is left out of the training made available to the test and pilot teams — forced to weave their way through online documentation or the occasional sack lunch presentation. The end user is just as deserving of training as anyone else. It is important to remember that there are many end users, not just the power user and admins who participate in the platform launch. If end users feel like they are not receiving adequate training, the group sentiment can fatally harm user adoption
    5. Show them the value
      Organizations must work at resisting the urge to treat SharePoint as the latest shiny tool, thrust upon their teams. It is critical to clearly show users the platform’s value and how it will assist them in their jobs. Ignore this alignment with business value, and there is a high risk that the users will see it as yet another burden they will need to learn – on top of their already full workload. Setting the tone for roll out can go a long, long way in improving adoption. Establishing excitement among teams and highlighting how the platform will help teams work more efficiently is a foundational concept for adoption. Illustrate through clear examples and use cases, and where possible, use real people and roles to walk through those examples to help people make the connection between training and implementation.
    6. Be ready to support your end users
      Learning any new tool can have a steep learning curve, no matter how intuitive you might think it is. Beyond the basic actions, such as adding a list item or uploading content to a team site, users will run into issues applying SharePoint to their work. Frustrations can run high if they cannot get rapid assistance in resolving their issues. It is imperative to have trained support staff at the ready. If your support staff are equally ill equipped for troubleshooting, users will grow weary of calling for support only to see them testing out multiple resolutions to see what might work. Users are adept at identifying when support staff is simply doing what the user would have done in troubleshooting. Support staff must be skilled to quickly resolve issues in a knowledgeable manner. This does not mean that all support staff must have deep knowledge of the tool, but a tiered support structure can be implemented. Remember that a defined escalation policy should be developed to ensure users are getting the quick assistance they need, and management can identify training opportunities if the support team is not exhibiting the necessary knowledge level for their tier. Another option is to train a point person within each department — an on-site champion among the teams that users can turn to for more immediate assistance. These champions will also have an understanding of how users are utilizing the tool for their particular job function. This layer of support staff will often prove efficient in resolving issues for users, especially basic issues that may be a training related issue for the user.

SharePoint’s adoption rates will be directly affected by how well the platform is introduced, and how prepared you are to support your future end user needs. However, following these simple real-world suggestion can dramatically increase user adoption. Hopefully these suggestions will help you think about how to plan for your own organization. Of course, if you’d like some help, GTconsult can provide some expertise with your on-boarding and adoption strategies. Contact us for more information.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and M365 Apps & Services MVP, and an award-winning product marketer and technology evangelist, based in Silicon Slopes (Lehi), Utah. He is the Director of North American Partner Management for leading ISV Rencore (, leads content strategy for TekkiGurus, and is an advisor for both revealit.TV and WellnessWits. He hosts the monthly #CollabTalk TweetJam, the weekly #CollabTalk Podcast, and the Microsoft 365 Ask-Me-Anything (#M365AMA) series.