pointing fingers, accusing
PHOTO: Adi Goldstein

I recently figured out what it was about SharePoint that always bothered me. A client was considering using SharePoint for their information governance needs so I decided to brush-up on the recent changes to the tool, particularly the enhancements made in Office 365. 

While reading up on the various updates it dawned on me: SharePoint was built by IT for IT.

This isn’t meant to denigrate the developers working hard to build SharePoint. They are amazing and great people. The issue is their requirements seem to come from IT staff more than business. Too often across organizations, IT picks solutions to meet a need without ensuring it was what the business really wanted. SharePoint seems to have been designed to meet IT-driven requirements without adequate consultation with actual users.

An Iterative Approach Better Meets User Requirements

It sounds strange, but implementing written requirements doesn’t lead to success. The logic behind this mirrors the reason why agile is supplanting waterfall for development and other projects.

  • Requirements change.
  • Requirements have nuance.
  • People often have trouble clearly stating what they need.

This is why we iterate when working with teams to build information systems. We capture what we learn and share what we captured. We build one or two features at a time, and then show it to the people who will use the system. They provide feedback and we adjust.

The result is a positive user experience during the system build-out and when people use it. The result isn’t perfect, but we don’t expect it to be. We expect it to be forward progress. We expect it to establish a firm foundation upon which to continue building the system.

Related Article: User Experience Design Shouldn't Happen in Isolation

Look at SharePoint Records Management as an Example

One common complaint against SharePoint was you could not perform effective in-place records management in it. It gave the appearance that you could, but there was no central visibility for records managers. Without that layer of governance, you couldn't really meet most of the reasons behind records management.

The SharePoint Records Center site appeared to close that gap. You could move or copy a record to the site. If you moved the record, you could leave behind a stub pointing to the record within the site. However, that stub wasn’t the actual document, so things could quickly fall apart.

What record managers needed was the opposite approach: the ability to see and manage all the records where they lived from within the records center. Simple enough. What Microsoft did instead was create a way to apply retentions that were centrally declared at site- and item-levels. Microsoft didn’t necessarily do this to fix the existing problem. It did it because items also needed to be governed in Office 365, Exchange and OneDrive in a central, unified way.

IT people liked the new solution. Records people look at it and wonder what happened. To learn what happened, all information governance professionals need to do is read the SharePoint blogs outlining the change and how great it is. Those articles read like they are out of a 500-page requirements document from 20 years ago.

Related Article: Updating Your Office 365 Governance Plan: Information Governance

Apologies to SharePoint

Part of me wants to say that I hate to pick on SharePoint, but I have a long track record of doing so over the years. I have, and will likely again, recommended my clients stick with SharePoint and tell them their knee-jerk reaction to replace it was premature.

I’ve also suggested burning it to the ground. (Kidding … maybe.)

The question you need to ask yourself about SharePoint, Office 365 or any system is, “Who is driving your requirements?” To whom is the vendor listening when they design and build enhancements? The answer is critical to choosing the right software.

And what is the right software?

The right software is a system that meets the needs of the people that use it in a way that doesn’t make software their number one job complaint.

Do the tools you use and deliver meet that definition? If not, maybe it's time to take a step back and remedy that.