SharePoint User Adoption Tips

Author by Pete Hurth

As an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) consultant I've recently been asked the same thing by multiple clients. To paraphrase the question: "SharePoint offers a wealth of wonderful features and I understand that it can dramatically enhance our organization's productivity *but* our users don't adapt rapidly to change. How do we get them on SharePoint and off file shares as quickly as possible?" Hearing something one time may be an anomaly but two or more times is a trend. One of the most important things we do as ECM consultants is to design systems of information and knowledge management that folks will actually use. Based on our experience, here are five tips you can use to help accelerate your adoption of SharePoint 2010:
  • Let users know change is coming
  • Create a relevant information architecture
  • Provide as many aids to data entry as possible
  • Assist users with the transfer of content to SharePoint
  • Provide access to training resources

Let Users Know Change is Coming

Don't let the implementation of SharePoint come as a surprise to your users. Keep them informed via a newsletter, e-mail, during meetings, or some other means of communication that a better way of working with content is coming. Create a communications plan or a mini-marketing plan for your roll-out. Normally change-averse users will bristle when confronted with unexpected change but are often much more open when change is perceived as planned or well-considered.

Create a Relevant Information Architecture

When planning SharePoint sites, content types, and metadata columns be sure to work with users to create structures which flow naturally from their functional needs. Don't over-engineer and create metadata columns for every conceivable use. Narrow your focus to a maximum of 3 to 4 columns of information for each content type - enough to support business requirements but not so many that users are overwhelmed with data entry when trying to upload content. Folders are the mortal enemy of good information architecture and should not be used except as needed to set unique security. Users will resist this but will quickly see the light once they have a large quantity of content (see below) and are able to slice and dice as they wish using views, sorting, filtering, and grouping. There's an art to information architecture. Don't be afraid to call in an expert (nudge nudge) to assist.

Provide as Many Aids to Data Entry as Possible

Use built-in SharePoint features such as default column values, choice columns, date pickers, and Managed Metadata (which will auto-suggest as users type). Consider using Enterprise Keywords in situations where some subjective judgment may be required for content tagging. Enterprise Keyword entries will be remembered by SharePoint and will be offered as future suggestions. For more information on the Managed Metadata and Enterprise Keywords features in SharePoint 2010 please refer to this Microsoft TechNet article. As mentioned above, limiting the number of required metadata columns will make getting started less intimidating to new users.

Assist Users with the Transfer of Content to SharePoint

It is critical to get content out of existing systems of storage and into SharePoint. This may seem self-evident but it's amazing how often this is left out of SharePoint projects or it is simply assumed that users will do this on their own. They won't - mostly because it's not terribly easy to do. There are tons of great content migration tools out there which can move bulk content from legacy systems or file shares into SharePoint. Some vendors to look at are: MetaVis, AvePoint, Metalogix, and Axceler. All of these tools can perform sophisticated migrations of content and context (metadata) by doing things like mapping folder structures in file shares to columns in SharePoint. However; unless you have a hefty budget and tons of content you may want to consider a different approach. We often use a free (!) end-user tool called Harmon.ie. Harmon.ie Screenshot   This tool has several advantages over the higher-end products out there:
  • Harmon.ie is an add-in sidebar for Outlook or Notes. Thus it allows users to use software with which they are probably already intimately familiar.
  • Uploaded content can be tagged using all the fancy features of SharePoint 2010 like Managed Metadata and Enterprise Keywords.
  • Content can be bulk tagged - this is huge since there's no way to do this in SharePoint's normal user interface.
  • Having users upload their own content gets them using SharePoint right away and also allows them to weed out irrelevant or duplicate content, thus decluttering as they go.
  • As a bonus, this tool allows users to e-mail multiple SharePoint documents as attachments or links in one fell swoop - also something not possible in the SharePoint user interface.
  • It's free! Actually there's also a paid version which adds some social features, but from a content management perspective everything you'd want is in the free version.
Achieving a critical mass of relevant content is the single most important thing you can do to increase user adoption of SharePoint. Once you're there you will reach a tipping point and SharePoint will become the go-to repository for information for users.

Provide Access to Training Resources

If achieving a critical mass of content is the most important thing for user adoption, training is a close second. In addition to the communications plan mentioned above, you should also have a training plan in place. This plan should specify which sorts of users should receive which type of training. Classroom training is seldom required for SharePoint users, but should be considered for your power users or champions. Identify these champions early - they will be instrumental to evangelizing your new solution to the rest of your user community. For the vast majority of users, web-based training should be sufficient. There are free options from Microsoft (available on the Office website). Another possibility is a subscription to a training service such as Lynda.com which offers great video training at a very reasonable price. Also remember that your champions can provide very targeted, job-specific training and assistance to end-users. Reward your champions, early adopters, and frequent contributors with either monetary or non-monetary incentives such as point programs, or certificates for achievements. Many organizations have such programs in place and your human resources department may be able to offer suggestions. Hopefully these tips help to accelerate your SharePoint user adoption!
Author

Pete Hurth

Social Collaboration Solution Lead