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Taking a fast food ordering approach when implementing SharePoint is not effective in meeting business needs. The key is to initially engage with the business, understand their pain points and identify how SharePoint can provide the solution to address these needs.

You do not want to throw a toolbox to the business and tell them to go look for a problem to solve.

While facilitating “Delivering SharePoint Success” mentoring workshop last week, it was evident that two organizational challenges exist if SharePoint is truly implemented to meet business needs:

  • The lack of proper skill sets to work with the business, identify their needs and map it to a SharePoint solution.
  • Not assessing and prioritizing the relative importance of various business needs to determine which needs to be delivered first based on available IT capacity.

Why is this important? The benefits of SharePoint can only be realized if it solves the pain points that the business struggles with day in, day out.

Here are three steps on how you can effectively prioritize business needs and deliver SharePoint-based solutions to meet them:

1. Gather business requirements by educating the business about SharePoint and collaboratively engineer a solution

Asking the business what they want in SharePoint does not work because they don’t know what they don’t know. An effective requirements gathering technique is to educate the business about SharePoint focusing on how it can address key business needs.

An HR Example

For example, when engaging with the Human Resources (HR) department, ask them how their processes are being executed. Poke around and ask them if these processes fall apart because of inefficient tools that they rely on like e-mail.

An HR group I worked with vented in frustration that there were several instances a new hire reported for work but wasn’t able to do anything for a week because a desk nor a corporate Windows login was provisioned. The on-boarding process was unreliable because the “New Employee Provisioning” form was stuck on someone’s email inbox. The process was not automated at all.

In this scenario, I explained how HR can automate this form in SharePoint through workflows. Even better, someone in HR can implement this WITHOUT programming. They don’t have to rely on IT to have an “On-boarding System” built. Voila! We’ve collaboratively engineered a SharePoint solution that addresses HR’s business pain point.

First You Need Defined Processes

On the flip side, one thing that I have discovered is that a lot of business units within an organization lack relevant business processes and rely too much on tools like SharePoint to be the silver bullet.

I remember a group of managers I engaged with who wanted a “Project Dashboard” in SharePoint. They wanted the dashboard to show the status of current active projects in their company. First, I asked them what their project management process is and standards they have in place.

I found out that they didn’t have one and they were adamant that it’s not important to define a process. They want a fancy dashboard NOW!

So I took a different tact, I asked them what they wanted in their dashboard. In unison, four executives shouted ”Red, Amber, Green” stoplight. Then I asked, “What does red mean?”. Again, everybody shouted “When projects are late!”.

Okay, my next question was “What does late mean?”. Executive 1 said “2 weeks”. Executive 2 said “1 month”. Another executive said “6 weeks”. I stepped aside as all hell broke loose and watched them bicker and argue what the dashboard should represent.

Finally, they recognized that it is important to have these standards in place PRIOR to deploying a tool. Whether you like it or not, part of helping the business to define a SharePoint-based solution may involve handholding the business in defining relevant processes first.

Learning Opportunities

A good friend told me that SharePoint is indeed the silver bullet. However, in order to use it effectively, we need a gun, which are the relevant business processes. You don’t want to use the silver bullet without a gun and just throw it with your bare hands -- it won’t work the way it’s intended to.

2. Map solution to SharePoint capabilities

After engaging with the business and identifying a solution at a high-level, map it to what SharePoint can provide. Identify if it’s out of the box, requires third party tools, or custom development with SharePoint Designer or Visual Studio.


Feature Mapping Spreadsheet

In our practice, we document these in a Feature Mapping spreadsheet. Feel free to download it.

3. Identify the relative priority, effort and organizational impact


Once these features are identified, define metrics to specify:

  • How important it is to the business?
  • How much effort is necessary to implement AND support it?
  • What the initial and incremental costs are?
  • What the impact is to the organization and IT?

Based on these three steps, you can then quantify the priority and present it to the customer or management asking the hard question "How much can we truly accomplish?". 

Taking this approach creates a much more realistic view of what is possible given all the constraints including an organizations’ SharePoint maturity and readiness.

Besides, who prefers to dine in a fast food rather than a nice restaurant where meals are prepared for your unique taste?