Top reasons why SharePoint Online implementation plans fail


In the enterprise world, IT executives are always concerned with the outcomes of projects and what they can do to ensure their successes. Yet the road to doom is paved with the best of intentions. One of the few projects that has high visibility in a company — and whose failure can be a black eye — is a botched SharePoint Online implementation plan. SharePoint is not immune to false starts and ultimate fails, but there are things that IT executives can avoid ensuring the project has a greater chance of succeeding.

The SharePoint platform has proven over the years to help companies automate business processes, centralize business-critical data and help provide a robust collaboration product for corporate users. But, often, those eager to roll out an implementation miss the numerous stages involved in envisioning, planning and designing the product before a single logo or site is created in SharePoint.


Here are a few common mistakes that lead to failed SharePoint Online implementation plans:


  1. Lack of Vision or Clear Plan

Failing to plan is a recipe for disaster. Many companies think of SharePoint as simply a product that you install on the server and then everyone will just start using it. That couldn’t be further from the truth. SharePoint is not a single product, it’s a platform that can do a number of different things. And while every company probably has a few similar processes and use cases, they also all have their own unique needs. If an organization thinks they can just install SharePoint without a plan, or they don’t attempt to tailor it at all for their needs, it’s not going to bring very much business value. And any system that doesn’t provide business value probably isn’t going to get used.


  1. Not Knowing What SharePoint is

Can you clearly describe to someone what SharePoint is? Forrester neatly summarize the problem: Like the ‘Shimmer’ product commercial in the old Saturday Night Live skit, SharePoint can be difficult to define… Without clear definition of SharePoint Enterprises struggle… Lacking appropriate guidance, organizations grapple with SharePoint…

Simply put, if you don’t know what something is, then you’re going to struggle to use it successfully; and if you can’t write down on a piece of paper what it is, then you don’t know.


  1. Lack of Information and Knowledge Management Skills

SharePoint is about three things: People, Processes and Information. Sure, you need experienced IT professionals to design, build and maintain the technical solution, but you need an information and knowledge management professional to design the business solution first. Have you got someone who fits this description on your SharePoint project? If you’re working with a Microsoft partner, then do they have the soft skills and experience as well as the technical skills?


  1. User Adoption

Achieving success with SharePoint requires long-lasting changes in behavior of workers. Weaning information workers off their addiction to email and file shares and away from long-established ways of working with line of business applications and Excel is a long-term war, not a short-term battle.

For example, an international insurance business invested £1.5m in developing and maintaining a SharePoint-based portal for underwriters that aggregated information from several line of business systems in to a single consolidated user interface. Two years after launch, the IT function estimated that of the 100 potential users of the system, only eight regularly used the new portal. The others preferred to continue working in the old ways.


  1. Defining Requirements

The real value of SharePoint lies not in improving what you are already doing, but in changing what you do because you have new capabilities. Simply asking the business what they want, or what their requirements are, doesn’t seem to work for SharePoint.


  1. Start small and assume it will grow

“Setting up the site was easy, and we were up and running in an hour,” is an oft-spoken line by IT specialists that many SharePoint consultants dread to hear. This is an early sign of a SharePoint Online implementation plan that is likely to fail. This statement signals that the organization does not have SharePoint in place, and is likely skipping many of the most critical phases of the ECM project, including envisioning and planning.

There is no doubt that Microsoft has made the platform incredibly easy to customize and roll out, but it never intended for its customers to skip all the early planning stages and jump straight to coding and creating the sites. Setting up a quick SharePoint site and hoping for the best results can lead to poor adoption.


  1. Making it an official Dropbox

It is often the case that SharePoint Online implementation plans turn into a glorified web-based filing system: a place on the intranet where end users store their files and are able to retrieve those files using keyword searches.

These types of SharePoint implementations have proven to narrow the perceived value of the platform in the end-user’s mind, and have caused many users to seek other solutions to address some of their collaboration and enterprise content management needs. So SharePoint should never be sought as a replacement for network sharing sites.


  1. Inadequate User Training

I think we’re starting to see a common theme here. You can’t just install SharePoint, walk away and expect that people will start using it. Even if you do have a plan, and have gotten your users on board with it, they still need to know how to use the new system. Building an effective user training program is essential to the successful rollout of SharePoint. Many of our engagements with clients that find themselves in this situation include evaluating their current system and tailoring a training program to help employees get on board and start using SharePoint. Typically, we find it’s best to provide live classroom training along with some kind of supplemental materials — such as written materials or videos — that users can refer back to later to reinforce what they learned in the live training.


By avoiding these issues, you can ensure that your SharePoint project has a better chance of being successful, without having to bring in a consultant later to fix the problems.

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