The number one reason I see out in the trenches for failed implementations of SharePoint as a collaboration platform isn’t picking the wrong technology or architecting it poorly -- two things most organizations spend the lion’s share of their project time trying to avoid.

Rather, it’s adopting the if we build it, they will come approach to SharePoint, i.e., give people something, anything, to use, and they’ll use it. After all, they have no dedicated tool now to use for collaboration, so whatever we give them will be better than nothing, right? 

As anyone who has lived through such a misguided SharePoint implementation knows, the real truth is that users will avoid a solution that’s simply better than nothing and fall back on the ways they work today, turning your SharePoint collaboration environment into shelf-ware overnight.

Collaboration Is Not Spontaneous

We tend to think of collaboration as something organic and spontaneous. Whether because it’s become such a catch-all phrase (like process, it can mean just about anything to anyone) or because of widely-held misconceptions about how it actually works, collaboration is most often thought of as something that just happens -- particularly if we stay out of its way.

And while there’s some small grain of truth to this view of collaboration, in large part successful collaboration, particularly when enabled by SharePoint, requires a great deal of structure to function properly. More on this in a minute.

The Easy Way Out

Although you find the if we build it mentality throughout the technology world, in my experience, it's nowhere more prevalent than in the world of SharePoint.

The ease of deployment coupled with the overwhelmingly IT-centric way organizations approach SharePoint create the perfect environment for this approach to thrive, which makes

  • IT’s life easier -- less of those pesky requirements to gather from the business
  • The Business’ life easier -- no excruciating SDLC to participate in
  • Corporate’s life easier -- no cat herding to get all parties on board with a strategic vision for the platform

Basically, the if we build it approach allows us to just do it, to stop thinking and pull the trigger already…with all the headaches and problems this causes throughout the organization.

And the good news is that the blame game gets easier, too, with IT pointing a finger at the business, the business pointing one at IT and corporate pointing at them both.

If They Don’t Come, You Will Fail

The often overlooked flip side of the if we build it mentality is the fact that if they don’t come, you will fail. So although in the short term it’s easier to build it and hope they’ll come (and while that occasionally happens at some organizations), this is a very risky strategy.

It’s far better to take the time up front to structure your SharePoint environment to facilitate collaboration and entice users to come because the tool has been designed to help them get their jobs done better than they can do it now.

Easier said than done, but in the next post, I’ll walk through the steps you need to take in order to give yourself a better chance of meeting your end-users’ collaboration needs with your SharePoint implementation.

Editor's Note: Additional Articles on Enterprise Collaboration include: