When I paired up with fellow SharePoint expert Geoff Varosky (@gvaro) last year for a presentation at SPTechCon Boston, we decided to create a fake company as part of our effort to create use cases and working examples without having to rely on the Microsoft-provided generic company Contoso. During our working sessions, somehow the conversation degraded (if you know Geoff and I, this is not surprising) into a wild and silly fake company, where our characters (yes, we created characters) were also in a band together. So we found ourselves in Boston, presenting several beginner scenarios on how someone new to SharePoint could quickly become a "rock star," with all of our examples based around the activities two fake employees in a fake rock band called Horse's End.

Why Horse's End? Our fake company was called Hoffman Ruler Supply of South-East North Dakota, with the acronym of HRSSEND. Hence, Horse's End was born. Check out our fake 'Behind the Music' video

All silliness aside, there was actually some good content that came out of that well-attended session, where we provided a quick walk through of some of the basic Information Worker activities in SharePoint that can make you more productive more quickly. However, a couple conversation threads came out of that event around end user adoption, and I thought I'd expand on that topic.

One of the difficulties for any organization in trying to get a solid return on investment in any collaboration platform is getting their employees to use the tools. Many IT organizations treat productivity issues as a technical issue -- they think that somehow more tools and more IT spending will solve many of the problems they face, but the problems organizations have are typically cultural issues, not technology issues. And the way to solve those issues is to change the culture around the platform by talking about it, sharing experiences and making change management (issues, feature requests, business alignment efforts) more transparent. 

At the core, however, it takes proactive end users who are seeking ways to improve their skills and overall productivity. In our SPTechCon session, Geoff and I outlined nine ways that end users could stay productive on SharePoint as follows: 

1. Use it

Sounds simple enough, but breaking the bad habits of managing documents through email, or sharing files with team members using web-based free tools, can take time. Make a concerted effort to move your content and activities into SharePoint, and get familiar with all of its capabilities.

2. Keep using it

Consistency is key, as it is very easy to slip back into those bad habits. Make an effort to use the full capability of the platform -- don't just use it as a glorified file share, but add your content, tag it with relevant keywords, share it with those within your project team or organization, and slowly expand your knowledge around forms, workflow and social so that you can get the most out of the platform.

3. Solve one problem at a time

One mistake many organizations make is trying to solve all of the business problems at once. Don't try it. Instead, outline the business processes you would like to improve, and then prioritize them, attacking them one by one. This will allow you to learn from your mistakes, and refine your plans as you go. You'll also learn what can be done out of the box, so you won't rely too heavily on customizations.

4. Learn from others, share your experiences

Whether through forums, at conferences or within your company halls, share details on what you are doing with the platform, and look for how other teams have deployed similar solutions so that you can share your best practices, and learn from theirs.

5. Get involved in your company user group

Make SharePoint a social activity. Attend your company's weekly or monthly SharePoint user groups, or start one up. It might be two people getting together over lunch once a month to talk SharePoint best practices, but you'll be amazed at how much you can improve what you are doing -- and learn about new functionality -- by talking with others who understand your business, your industry and your company culture.

6. Get involved in your local/regional user group

Most regions have some kind of community-led SharePoint user group (or SPUG), so find out where they meet and attend as often as you can. My local group meets monthly on the 3rd Thursday of each month, and it is a great place to learn about the latest advances in 3rd party solutions, what interested solutions other companies have built, and to meet others in the community. Careers have been launched by participating in the SharePoint community -- opportunity awaits you.

7. Find an expert or two who you like, and follow them

Most of the experts I know absolutely love hearing from people within the community. Everyone is busy, for sure, but we are always happy to hear from community members, so don't be shy. If you see someone speak at an event, take their card, drop them an email thanking them for presenting or to ask them some questions, or corner them in the back of the hall. Like I said, don't be shy.

8. Tweet your questions, follow the rock stars

And be sure to follow your favorite speakers and authors on Twitter (mine is @buckleyplanet). Another place to look for help in all things SharePoint is Yammer, and the new SPYam community.

9. Create a rival fake SharePoint band

This one may carry with it some political risk within your company, but Geoff and I would relish the thought of a fake battle of the bands. It may have very little (ok, nothing) to do with SharePoint, but it may give you a leg up on building out your community profile. Bring it.

Final Thoughts

If you find yourself the newly christened "SharePoint Admin" within your organization, or maybe through executive mandate the platform has been rolled out and you're scrambling to figure out how to take advantage of all of the features and capabilities within, then hopefully you'll find some guidance here. While SharePoint may seem daunting now, the learning curve is relatively short, so don't worry. Just keep using it and sharing your experiences, and you'll be a SharePoint rock star before you know it. 

Editor's Note: Check out Christian's perspective on The Path from Fileshare to SharePoint. And to learn more about SharePoint for the Information Worker, read Jennifer Mason's column.