shutterstock_80167489.jpgI recently wrote about how you can create a roadmap to ensure your SharePoint 2013 rollout doesn't end up as an epic fail. I have to be honest with you now and let you know that I haven't told you everything -- in fact, unless you do the vital actions below there is a very good chance that your rollout may still "crash and burn."

Before I get to the steps, here's a story to set the scene:

Joe, a senior manager in a large organization, decided that his organization needed SharePoint. He had some ideas for how the organization could leverage SharePoint and he worked closely with IT to develop a solution that they all thought looked and worked great. After months of development the big day of the launch arrived and emails were sent to all staff announcing the new tool and indicating that all staff were to begin using it immediately.

Can you guess what happened next? That's right -- pretty much nothing. Just limited user take up and gripes from those staff that actually used it. Talk about a career-limiting initiative!

What did Joe do wrong? He forgot about the key component of his implementation -- the people who would be using it! He never actually engaged or connected with the end users. He didn't get their buy-in. And you ignore the system's users at your peril. Not just that, but he violated every rule in the book about change management.

Now an in-depth exploration of change management is outside the scope of this article. Instead I am going to highlight some of the key actions you need to consider to ensure users do use and love your SharePoint implementation.

1. Provide the features that users tell you they want

Ok, I know this sounds kind of obvious, but the key thing here -- and the one thing often dropped out -- is making sure you actually find out from the users what they want. This is not the same as having "subject matter experts" decide what they think users want. Go out to the users. Talk to them. Find out what's troubling them and what they need. That's what you need to provide. It can be a hassle to get around a lot of users, but it's worth it. Conduct workshops, interviews, surveys. You will find gold.

2. Make the system usable (as you can afford)

IMHO SharePoint out of the box (OOB) is a reasonably intuitive tool to use. However, it rarely remains OOB for long, as designers configure an information architecture, site structure, page layouts, etc.  that meets the organizational needs for presenting and managing content.

That being the case, it is very important you spend time with real end users to ensure that your spanking new design is actually usable. Usability testing can take many forms, depending on your budget. At the very least, arrange for a couple of folks outside of the design team to look at your designs in the early stages. This applies to general site usage (page layouts, navigation aids, etc) but also to other activities like adding content -- if users decide that it's too hard to add content, you're going to have a hard time getting your new portal populated.

3. Make sure search works

I'm calling out this one especially as it's the one critical capability that will turn users away faster than you can say "Google Appliance." The standard search feature of SharePoint 2010 is generally adequate for organizations -- provided it has been set up correctly and that content is properly tagged -- both need to be happening for best results.

Organizations with very large amounts of content can also add SharePoint FAST search, which has a bunch of added features. FAST is an additional licence for SharePoint 2010, but is included with SharePoint 2013.

4. Communicate

Some of us love surprises and some users just love the variety that a new tool provides. However, most users are not like this and will resent the unexpected arrival of your SharePoint solution -- no matter how fantastic it is.

Instead of releasing by stealth, work out a communication plan, to build awareness, understanding and even anticipation. You can get really creative here -- you could use a communication themed around a current movie, for example. Use a variety of channels -- email, posters, noticeboard announcements, briefings, etc.

The vast majority of people will accept some change if they're informed about it. People are busy doing their BAU jobs and the last thing they need is something that is going to add complication or effort. Of course, you know your new release won't do either of these things. In fact, the new capabilities like version control, better findability, etc. -- will make their workaday lives easier -- so tell them that! One last thing on communication: Start your messaging early -- don't leave it until one week out from go-live.

5. Carrots and sticks

Sometimes you just need a little extra something to get people over the line. Maybe it's an incentive to use the new system, such as a particularly useful feature or perhaps a reward or recognition for using the system. On the other hand, you may choose to provide a disincentive for not using the system. For example, to encourage users to use SharePoint for storing documents, you might arrange for the existing storage options (usually network file shares) to be set as read-only. Important note: To avoid lynch mobs appearing at your desk, you will definitely need to give the users a heads-up well before you initiate this one.

6. Spread the load

A SharePoint implementation usually has a broad footprint across your organization and getting your message out widely is a hard ask for just one or two people. Instead, create a team of "SharePoint advocates" from around your organization. Fill your advocacy team with power users, enthusiasts and opinion leaders, who will help you drive adoption, by providing local, team-level assistance to users. This group will give you reach into the organization.

7. Training, training, training

If the CMSWire editorial staff decided to hit me with a new word limit and I had to reduce this article to just one section, it would be this one, on the importance of training. There many ways for a SharePoint implementation to go belly up, but the most common source of failure is the failure to adequately train users in how to use the system.

Yes, it's supposed to be intuitive and you've no doubt done amazing things with usability, but that is no substitute for actually taking users through the process of using the system. This is particularly important for content contributors -- if they don't know how to add or create content, you won't get any content. Use a mix of training methods and materials -- formal, informal, classroom-based, 'lunch and learn' sessions, videos, webinars, quick reference guides and cheat sheets, etc. There is simply no substitute for proper instruction in how to use the system.

There it is -- the seven vital actions to having a successful SharePoint implementation that has the users singing its praise (and maybe yours too) and, more importantly, has people using SharePoint for real --that is, productively and effectively! You've put in place a great foundation to build upon over time.

But how can you ensure that this foundational work carries through into the future? The answer lies in the critical topic of governance -- but that's a subject for another day.

Title image courtesy of Steve Lovegrove (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: No new word limits for Andrew, so take advantage and read his My Five Big New Year's Resolutions for SharePoint Managers