Transition is the umbrella term that I use to refer to the combination of change management and user adoption which are vital ingredients in the success of SharePoint. This week we’ll be taking a look at what 1940’s North American farmers can teach us about SharePoint adoption.

This is article 17 in the series The Art of SharePoint Success describing in excruciating detail a four part framework for ensuring measurable, long-term returns on your SharePoint investment. The four elements of the framework are:

  1. Governance
  2. Strategy
  3. Architecture
  4. Transition

The Diffusion of Innovations

The diffusion of innovations (Rogers 1962) is a theory explaining how, why and at what rate new ideas or technologies spread through social groups. Although the evidence for the theory came from a study of the seed technology amongst North American farmers in the 1940s, it provides a great starting point for understanding the SharePoint adoption problem!

There are four key lessons from the theory that should shape your SharePoint adoption planning:

  1. the adoption lifecycle
  2. the adoption process
  3. factors that affect adoption
  4. user adoption requirements.

The Adoption Lifecycle

In any social group there are five different categories of adopters:

Table 1: Categories of adopters

Figure 1 illustrates the adoption lifecycle. The bell curve shows the percentage of the population represented by each of the categories of adopters. The s-shaped curve shows the cumulative adoption rate of a technology as each group adopts.


Figure 1: The adoption lifecycle

The different stages of your adoption plan should target successive adoption by the different categories. Innovators are passionate about technology so focusing on the technical aspects of your solution will be important in winning them over.

Next, the early adopters are interested in the application of the technology so work with them to understand how a Teams service, for example, can be applied to specific business problems. The early adopters will be your pilot groups.

The early and late majority will typically only adopt a new idea when they see it first being adopted by people that they perceive to be like themselves. This is why piloting a SharePoint solution in the IT department first is not a good idea. The business is unlikely to adopt something just because IT thinks it is a good idea. Pilot it in the business and promote the success stories.

Finally, don’t even bother with the Laggards, the best strategy for winning them over is to surround them. Once they see everyone else adopting a new technology or innovation they will come round. Eventually.

Innovators and early adopters make up about 16 percent of the population and these groups are likely to readily adopt your SharePoint based innovation. The trick is to move beyond these groups into the early majority. You haven’t reached a critical mass of adoption until you get past the 16 percent mark.

Understanding the S-curve is key to understanding the value or return on investment from your innovation. Quite simply, as adoption increases so does the return on investment.

The Adoption Process

Individuals go through five stages when deciding whether to adopt or reject a new idea or technology. Table 2 describes each of the stages. A user adoption strategy should use specific techniques or tactics move people through these stages.


Table 2: Five Stages of the adoption process

Factors Affecting Adoption

There are five key factors that affect the adoption of innovation:

  1. the idea is perceived to have more value than existing methods
  2. the idea is not overly complex
  3. the idea results in visible, measurable, positive outcomes
  4. the idea is testable before implementation
  5. the idea is compatible with existing values, past experience and current needs.

Firstly, it’s important that you clearly communicate the value proposition of your SharePoint solution and that means that you know what it is! Why are we doing this? If you don’t know, then don’t start.

Secondly, keep it simple! Over time your SharePoint infrastructure may grow to become large and complex, but successful complex systems usually start out as successful simple systems. Not many start out as successful complex systems.

Thirdly, you need to be clear about your success measures, and how they will be measured and reported. This goes back to knowing how you will have achieved your goals. If your goal is simply "improving collaboration," then you are almost certainly going to fail!

The idea must be testable before implementation. In SharePoint this might mean beginning each SharePoint solution with prototypes and pilots. We’ll be discussing the role of user-centered design next time.

Finally the idea must be compatible with the existing values, experiences and needs. Implementing a SharePoint collaboration solution in an organization that has just wasted millions on a failed content management system implementation will be very difficult. Equally, implementing a collaboration solution in an environment where people typically work alone probably won’t get you very far either.

User Adoption Requirements

There are five key requirements for user adoption:

  1. corporate advantage
  2. personal advantage
  3. usability
  4. social culture
  5. operational support

Corporate advantage means that people need to understand why the organization is making the change. What’s the problem? And how does the change help?

Personal advantage answers the question, "What’s in it for me?" -- how the individual employee benefits from the change. The services model helps here because each service is designed to address a particular issue. The teams service is intended to improve team performance and address the issues associated with collaboration via email and file shares for example.

Usability relates to the user experience, interface design and styling, and the navigation and ease with which information can be found. The services model helps with the latter because the services become your top level information architecture. Dynamic, in progress information is in the teams service; static, published information is in the portals service; personal information is in MySite, and so on.

Social culture refers to how the new technologies and services are perceived, and the incentives for using them. For example at the European central bank I worked with they awarded business improvement bonuses for good ideas that improved the way the organization works and in one month  five of 15 awards were for the innovative use of the Teams service they implemented.

If you are implementing a Communities service, studies show that rewarding and encouraging people to participate in the community is vital. For example you could allow consultants to enter community activity onto their time sheets. Finally, visible executive leadership such as the CEO creating their own Mysite, or writing a blog can be powerful tools in changing culture.

Finally operational support includes initiatives such as a help desk, training courses or materials, and including an introduction to your solution or services as part of your staff induction process.

For Next Time…

Next time we’ll be taking a look at user-centered design, why some people are adamant that it’s the key to SharePoint user adoption, and explaining why it’s not. Oh, and whilst we’re at it we’ll explain that you don’t want users to adopt SharePoint anyway!

Title image courtesy of Pertusinas (Shutterstock).

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