The impressive Mr. Richard Harbridge of Allin Consulting presented his discussion, “The 7 Most Important SharePoint Online Success Factors” at Office 365 Saturday Redmond. It was a last-minute change to the agenda, but a welcome one. Few of us in the audience knew that he posts a number of resources here on the interwebz.

He opened his talk with the following SharePoint Online objectives:

  • to help the audience understand corporate business needs and to identify appropriate decisions in the SharePoint environment,
  • to fix problems and to develop the SharePoint environment further,
  • to implement successful governance, and
  • to foster growth.

Essentially the presentation addressed the importance of planning. Let’s focus on what’s important on the non-technical side and what you can do about it as the project manager, Mr. Harbridge said. “In this room, I want to create a sense of confidence, a level of enthusiasm, and a sense of ‘yes, I can do this.’”

Understanding the Why and Making a Decision

Mr. Harbridge presented a scenario:

Consider Joe, a project manager for company ABC. He observes his decision-makers struggling to make them. His CFO wants to lower costs. IT competes to provide services. Users can’t find information they need. Joe knows everyone in his office uses the Microsoft suite of products. He has a great idea: how can the company maximize SharePoint to support business process improvements? SharePoint Online could be a perfect fit, Joe says. To understand if that’s true, Joe needs to review all available products.

Joe knows that services are often implemented without guidance. For SharePoint to succeed, he needs to map business processes to the right technology. He’s prepared to perform in-depth product comparisons and evaluations. This is important because Microsoft alone has quite a few to offer. These products services change regularly. SharePoint 2010 alone is not a silver bullet.

Joe’s scenario is very common. Decision-makers approach their consultants with general needs all the time. For example, a decision-maker will approach their consultant with, “I need a list of customer contacts.” The consultant creates a basic list for the customer.

The next day the decision-maker is back. “Sometimes I need to see THIS list of customers for THIS situation. Other times I’ll need to see a different list. Sometimes it’s accounts, sometimes it’s leads, sometimes it’s opportunities.” “Ok,” the consultant responds, “Here’s what you need. I’m going to help you make this on your own.” The consultant shows the decision-maker how to build the solution herself.

Less than a day later, the decision-maker returns to the consultant. “Now I have all these interesting columns,” she says. “I’m trying to put all these views together.” Suddenly, she has more lists with lookup columns. What’s really happening? A content management solution is building in SharePoint, Mr. Harbridge said. Justification for rapid innovation forms. Our job is to know what and when technology is appropriate.

This applies especially to Office 365. What could be done in different applications or platforms depends on the needs of the organization. SharePoint doesn’t solve everything. It’s a sledgehammer. You wouldn’t use one to drive home a nail. You’ll break other stuff.

It’s very important to understand the environment’s dynamics. Your organization must find its own combination. SharePoint is a big ecosystem -- it’s not JUST about a feature by feature comparison. The reality is your organization faces process and people problems and IT struggles to keep up. In summary, we have to define our needs carefully if we want to pick the right technology.

Joe decides that SharePoint Online will be a part of his overall enterprise technology plan. He must understand that Office 365 is not the only enterprise technology solution to be used and it has to work with the other technologies. There is competition within the workplace for resources.

Achieving Buy-In and Setting Expectations

Perceptions impact motivation. The first rule of thumb: never use the word “SharePoint”! It distracts everyone. Use instead, “intranet governance” or similar. Because who will have the most buy-in and must have the right expectations? IT Services and decision makers.

  • IT services will be concerned with cost of ownership. SharePoint eventually allows Business Users to develop and maintain business solutions that don’t require IT’s direct involvement. Also, it’s easily extendible.
  • Decision makers want technology to add value to the business. SharePoint can help achieve business objectives by improving productivity, reducing waste and improving visibility to drive better decision making. But the reality is business objectives aren’t specific enough to be achievable and it takes time and investment to reach the solution that managers and executives want.

Therefore, a prioritization plan must be built. The solution features must be mapped to objectives. Information, collaboration, business process and business intelligence are serious drivers for communication, collaboration, workflow/auditing and reporting/dashboards, respectively.

So, Joe has achieved momentum and buy-in. Joe’s responsible for managing expectations and maintaining that buy-in.

Determining and Supporting ROI

Some very basic formulas include return on investment over multiple periods, real options analysis and Monte Carlo analysis. Of course, the simplest formula is very basic -- estimated value over estimated difficulty. For example:

Estimated Value: you, the PM, have a difficult requirement, so randomly you give it an 8 out of 10. You also have an easy requirement, so you assign it a 2 out of 10. The expected value of the difficult requirement is 4. The expected value of the easy requirement is 8. Using the formula, “estimated value / estimated difficulty,” the difficult requirements will only give a 50% ROI, while the easy requirement will yield 300% ROI.

To Improve Return: non-financial ROI is just as important. A SharePoint project manager can’t discount improved relationships, know-how, user complaints, improved morale, negative word-of-mouth, etc. Usage reports are examples of “soft” ROI.

The objective is to measure the right thing. Don’t lose perspective, Mr. Harbridge advised.

Joe is measuring effort effectively to better prioritize and or to improve return on investment. Vaguely right is better than precisely wrong.

Implementing Successful Governance

When Joe has SharePoint governance, organization, performance and capability costs are significantly reduced. Typically, three teams implement SharePoint governance:

  • Business Strategy
  • Initiatives/Technical Strategy Team
  • Tactical Teams
    • Tactical Operations
    • Tactical Development
    • Tactical Support

However, if the organization is small enough it could just have a strategy team (Business and Technical) and a technical team (Operations, Development and Support).

The strategy team should be comprised of users. These are the colleagues who will identify, plan and execute patterns. Fortunately, there’s no such thing as a single approach. Information can be correlated into a single site and a series of corporate objectives: what SharePoint will be and what it will not be.

Operations, development and support outcomes will be very different. Operations outcomes will include factors like storage and quota policies, service level agreements, security policies, and deployment processes.

Development outcomes include objectives/priorities, the branding guide, SharePoint designer policy, workflow standards, etc.

Support outcomes will be site classification, user expectations, roles and responsibilities, training and communication, taxonomy management, social policies, content standards, legal and compliance policies, and search management.

For Joe, everyone achieves a shared understanding of SharePoint-related processes.

Approaching and Supporting SharePoint

The iterative approach is the best approach. Thankfully, proof of concepts are easy to post. There must always be enough time to review, adjust, and communicate. Problems become solutions over time if the user gathers and analyzes data and formulates and implements a solution.

If you’re a designer, you understand it’s not a linear process. In actuality, implementing SharePoint is quite hectic. Multiple support layers guarantee immediate response for the user, which will then guarantee positive feedback to the community.

Joe knows that SharePoint is supported effectively.

Improved User Adoption

Users must understand the value of SharePoint. Successful user adoption requires high availability, mobility and accessibility: 

  • Create a brand
  • Reward Super Users
  • Construct a “SharePoint Showcase”, where best solutions can be seen by everyone
  • Make it easy to work with

“If you build it they will come” is not good enough.

Joe’s company successfully adopts SharePoint by a large enough group to be deemed successful.

Planning for New Growth and Work

Know your limits. Grow your team. What roles do you have? Cultivate with positivity!

Joe’s SharePoint implementation will continue to grow, to expand and to provide more value.

Mr. Harbridge concluded his presentation with an acknowledgment of debt and sincere thanks to his SharePoint colleagues.

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