Microsoft SharePoint Implementations: Why They Fail and How to Avoid It

This blog is about SharePoint implementation experiences, lessons learned and thoughts about what it takes for a successful implementation. Specifically, it focuses on information overload, a common challenge most companies face when implementing SharePoint, and how to avoid it.

SharePoint is a robust and powerful tool that favors configuration over development. Most of the functionality that you need for your business is already built-in, but many organizations still fail to successfully implement SharePoint. You will find this blog helpful if you are in one of following situations:

  1. You have already implemented SharePoint, but need a re-design
  2. You are currently implementing SharePoint, but lost in the process
  3. You are new to SharePoint

The Detrimental Mindset: SharePoint is so Easy a Caveman Can Do It!

The mindset of most users who are new to SharePoint is, “that’s great I can install SharePoint and start sharing documents. I can apply security, create sites, add users and search.” Next, the word about the new SharePoint site is spreading throughout the organization, and other users start creating their own sites as well. Everyone quickly starts to upload documents, create folders, add nested folders and create sub-sites without any proper planning and foresight. Pretty soon, the SharePoint site becomes a web of confusion!

Information Overload

A typical result of using SharePoint without proper planning is that organizations end up suffering from information overload. Information is not categorized, and rather than boosting productivity and promoting collaboration, SharePoint ends up causing a great deal of frustration among its users. Frequently asked questions from the end users about document management include:

  1. How do I find my documents?
  2. Why is it hard to find documents in my document libraries?
  3. I upload a document and it says out of space!
  4. I have too many nested folders and it requires too many clicks to get to a document.
  5. I have too many nested folders and SharePoint limits URL length.
  6. Too much content is duplicated in different document libraries.
  7. How do I surface my documents in other sites?
  8. My documents aren’t showing up in search results!

These are just a few examples that illustrate what happens when SharePoint document management is implemented without well thought out planning.
(Please note that SharePoint has several other functionality besides document management).

What Did I Do Wrong?

Uploading documents and sharing them sound simple, but why does this cause so many issues? The same analogy applies to when you share 100 items with 10 different people and don’t keep track of who has access to what. Wouldn’t it help if you label your items and categorize them? And how about keeping a list of who they’re shared with? Document management works the same way.

The traditional way to manage documents is by using nested folders. The new way is to tag each document with metadata. There are many benefits of using metadata over folders, but most users don’t have time or don’t see the benefits in tagging documents. They tend to focus solely on uploading and sharing without any form of indexation. This common, rather short-term focus is one of the main reasons why training and user adoption are vital in any SharePoint implementation.

Where Do I Start Out?  

I recommend using the agile methodology when implementing SharePoint. That is, dividing your rollouts into phases so that every rollout is responsive to your business needs and at the same time ensuring user engagement throughout the entire implementation project.

First, you need to build a business wish list by interviewing stakeholders, power users and end users to ensure that all departmental needs are understood. Once you have the business wish list finalized, prioritize the ‘must-have’ functionalities to include in the first phase rollout. Any other functionalities that are ‘nice to have’ can be implemented in later phases.

Second, design your conceptual, physical and logical architectures based on your business wish list and SharePoint roadmap.

The conceptual architecture defines how users are going to interact with your SharePoint environment. For example, there are internal and external users accessing the same content which may or may not be inside a corporate network.

The physical architecture describes how to layout your hardware (if running SharePoint on-premises). For example, in a real world scenario, QA and production environments should have two front-end servers, two application servers and a database cluster in order to have high availability and minimize downtime.

The logical architecture defines the site structure. Typically, the structure is based on a company’s organizational structure in order to take advantage of permission inheritance. However, other factors such as content size and granular permissions should also be considered when designing your logical architecture.

Third, ensure your users are sufficiently trained. This stage is all about change management; making sure that all users understand ‘why’ you’re migrating to a new system and providing thorough training to ensure all users know ‘how’ to use the new system. As with any kind of system implementation, specific policies and procedures are vital in ensuring efficient use of your new SharePoint site.

In sum, having a solid implementation methodology and change management strategies in place is key to ensure a successful SharePoint project while avoiding information overload, user frustration and decreased productivity.

For more information on SharePoint implementation methodology see also:  The Importance of a Solid SharePoint Methodology - Avoid Living in a “SharePoint Shack”!

Feel free to contact me to discuss your SharePoint project and learn more about SharePoint Best Practices.

Written by:
Chanh Tran, Sr. SharePoint Consultant, FMT

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