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Find this Podcast “Why Do SharePoint Initiatives Fail?” on the ThreeWill Soundcloud, Stitcher, and iTunes.


Danny:Hello, and welcome to the ThreeWill podcast. This is Danny Ryan. I’ve got Tommy Ryan here with me. Hey, Tommy.


Tommy:Good morning, Danny.


Danny:Erin go Bragh. It is Saint Patrick’s Day and Tommy has a beautiful green shirt with another green shirt under it, and green socks, polka-dotted socks.


Tommy:Green polka-dots.


Danny:I am impressed. You got some kickin’ socks. If your feet get too large or too small for those socks, you can [crosstalk].


Tommy:Sorry, I can’t hand those down.


Danny:Oh, come on. Half my wardrobe is from Tommy or from Bobby. Bobby is my other brother, so I guess I won’t get the socks for hand-me-downs. Oh well. Aww, shucks. We’ve got a great topic today, and it’s something that I know we get pulled into a lot of projects because essentially, the earlier SharePoint initiatives fail, so I wanted to spend some time with you talking about that.


The topic we were talking about as well, which is sort of why SharePoint … What are the benefits of SharePoint? When we talk through that, it sounded like you really need to apply it to individual’s needs, and it was a little bit more difficult to talk about. For this one, let’s talk about, what have we seen through the years? It’s been what, 15 years since we’ve done that? Of that 15 years at least, maybe 10 of it that has been SharePoint. We did some SharePoint stuff very early on, but for the majority of those years, we’ve been doing things with SharePoint. Can we sort of just talk through some of the things that we’ve seen as we’ve worked with clients, as far as, why do they fail? What happens when somebody tries to use SharePoint and it’s not successful?


Tommy:That question, I think you can put it in some general categories. One category is, they’re looking at SharePoint as just a document repository, so there’s a mental shift of: instead of stockpiling documents on my hard drive or network drive, I just stockpile them in SharePoint. You’re taking something that … It’s more convenient to work off of your local hard drive, to work with files, and then you put it up on the SharePoint and all you’re doing is … It’s a dumping ground for documents. It gets disorganized quickly. Imagine how, with your own local file system, that can get disorganized and you’re constantly trying to organize that. Amplify that by your whole organization just dumping files into SharePoint. That’s one area where people just don’t think about, “How am I going to organize my content across the organization?” and set that up and start with that in mind.


Another area, I think, is in the area of over-engineering SharePoint where organizations see a lot of shiny new stuff that comes with SharePoint, and for technology’s sake, they start using those things and not really have a business driver that says, “We need to do this, and this is important to our organization.” When that occurs, you end up seeing low adoption because it’s just over-complicated. Maybe there’s good intent about the value, but the organization is not bought in, the organization doesn’t understand, and it’s used by maybe the IT department and no one else. We saw things like My Sites. That was a feature within SharePoint that looked like a cool little feature, but everywhere we went, the only people using My Sites was the IT department. It was never rolled out past that. I think that’s one of the warning signs of implementing it just because it’s there, versus a business driver that says, “We need to use this part of SharePoint.”


Probably another classification is people don’t know what SharePoint is. I hear that a lot, “Well, what is SharePoint?” Certain people in the organization get it, but then you go up to the president or you go to people that are not normally using IT-type tools and they don’t get it. “Why do I need to use SharePoint? I can do the work I need to do today. Why over-complicate things and throw another tool into the mix?” Those organizations, they struggle with SharePoint because there’s just not awareness and knowledge about, how can we use SharePoint where we are today as an organization? Where’s our maturity level of how we collaborate together, the type of work flows and business process we have in our organization that we’d want to enforce in a tool like SharePoint?


Being able to take that and take the right baby steps along the way to say, “Okay, what’s really important now? What’s some of the low hanging fruit, pains that we have an an organization, that we can take that extra step in the effort to learn SharePoint, to evangelize it, to support it, and kind of point back to, “Let’s do it that way.” I think naturally, we tend to go back to the things that we know and that’s email and storing a file on our local file system, and a lot of things degrade away from SharePoint when there’s not that support of saying, “This is where we’re going to do it and we’re behind this as an organization from the top and the bottom of the organization.”


Danny:Is that support … I know folks can work with us to do things like training and help with communication in rollout. Is that a group with them? Is that an individual or a group, or how is it when things have worked … Let me put it that way. Has it been a group of folks who are promoting it and are really putting it out there as, “Hey guys, this is an enabler. This is something that you can use.” How has it worked? How have we seen it work? Or maybe we haven’t, because all of the clients we worked with, it hasn’t worked. Where have we seen it work?


Tommy:Well, I think where it’s challenged is in much smaller organizations. As the organization gets larger and can have specialization of someone taking charge of something, you see someone that’s like a Director of Collaboration, VP of Collaboration, or someone that is a leader as it relates to internal PR. I’ve seen that, also, as a title, kind of internal PR. That’s someone that needs SharePoint as a key tool to say, “How do we roll out information to our organization? How do we get together and work together as a team?” You need that type of champion.


In smaller organizations, it’s that one or two people that get it, that know, “For us to grow and for us to be more effective in the work that we do, we need something like a SharePoint. We need a platform like SharePoint to enable those repetitive things that we do, to be able to do it in a better way, to be able to do it in a way that we can retain the knowledge in the IP of our organization in an organized fashion that, as we bring new people into the company, it’s available to them. It’s not locked into inboxes in people’s email. It allows us to put some structure on how something gets accomplished as it relates to content and contracts and all those documents that we create that run our businesses.”


Danny:This reminds me of, with a lot of things, there’s a maturity continuum and you can’t cheat it. You sort of have to build up internal competencies, and competencies as an organization, and you move to the next step. You can’t jump two steps, and if you try to do that, you’ll fail if you try. There’s this natural sort of thing that’s built into this that you have to think about it as a continuum, as a sort of growing through this. When you and I were talking about analogies and some of those, “How can we compare this?” Now that I think about it, in some ways, it’s very much one of your favorite things, which is gardening. You can’t cheat in gardening. You have to nurture it. You can’t plant right before you sow, all these things. I think it might be, in some ways, be a very valid analogy in thinking of how are you growing yourself, maturity-wise, within your organization as far as collaboration? Where are you? Are you at the very early stages, or where are you with that continuum?


Tommy:I think that’s key, and I think as it relates to failure, some of the organizations that we come across … It’s not common – actually, it’s interesting to see it when we do see it – but it’s organizations that jump ahead and kind of use some advance features of SharePoint before they’ve really used the basic features. It speaks to that maturity continuum of … It takes time as an organization to grow in your ability to work together as a team using technologies that support team-based collaboration.


Danny:I think this often happens, which is, for some of these larger organizations that we work with, they’ll have people who have backgrounds in .NET development or in different technologies, and we’ve seen it where they try to take what you do in SharePoint … If they don’t know how to do it in SharePoint, they’ll sort of intermix this with something and you look at it and you go like, “Why were they trying …?” They could have leveraged something from SharePoint that would have done this, but instead, they did something else and they come up with this really kludgy solution. Part of it is because they didn’t take the time to invest and understand what the platform has.


Tommy:You can see where that comes from. I think SharePoint … There’s certain things that, out of the box, you just don’t like the way it works, but you have to realize that the more you can embrace the way SharePoint does it and come up to speed with that and get accustomed to that, the more you’re going to get out of the platform and the more kind of fringe benefits of … As the platform grows, you’re getting these features that come up for free, versus, “I have to go build this.” If I go and take a totally different direction on how to accomplish something that’s already in SharePoint, then when SharePoint matures and gets better in that area, then you can’t take advantage of that because you’ve kind of gone off on your own path.


I think the beauty of SharePoint is, it’s a platform that can be extended. If there are some rough edges that you have to address, you can do that, but you have to do it with caution because it has a cost of ownership to do that. Our philosophy is, how much can we use that’s out of the box, so you can get to business value very quickly and you’ve put the person in a situation that they can grow with the platform versus having to go build it yourself every time you want a new feature in your portal.


Danny:I know we have a lot of developers here at ThreeWill. I can remember when you made it a point that they not develop … Basically, that they use out of the box features and functionality when we were first picking up SharePoint because we didn’t want to miss what you could do with it through configuration through out of the box features, and then get to a point where we said, “Okay, we know the edge. We know what this is supposed to do. Now is the point where we can see where we can customize, or we can see …” Typically with that, with SharePoint, you might have a couple of different ways you can go after it and there are pros and cons to each way. To some folks, they may throw up their hands to a consultant. They’re like, “I love that. I love this.” I know for us, it’s also been a sort of maturity continuum, and we had to make a conscious choice to say, “Understand what’s in the platform before you start building things out.”


Tommy:That was key, and it was a painful period of time for, I think, some individuals to kind of put Visual Studio aside and really understand the platform. We want to embrace as much as possible and then only pull out the customization when it’s not there or it really isn’t something that you’d ever see in SharePoint, you have to extend it to get that type of capability. That’s come through a lot of areas that have to do with integration. At the end of the day, SharePoint doesn’t create this integrations, it’s up to either the company to do that or the software, the ISV, that provides the other solution to come up with that integration.


Danny:We’ve been talking a lot about migrating to Microsoft 365 and I don’t know if … Have we started to see some … How the SharePoint – maybe instead of saying SharePoint, Microsoft 365 initiatives are failing. Is that change at all when we start talking about things in the cloud? Any insights that we’ve seen so far, maybe over the last couple of years, where we’re looking at things changing versus on-premise versus the cloud. Have we seen anything that [crosstalk 00:14:58]?


Tommy:I think time will tell. Right now, we’re too early into the lifecycle to come up with what are the standard things that fail in a Microsoft 365 initiative. I think what you’re seeing is people are approaching it in a healthy way, where they look at, “Let’s get the commodity services that come with the platform of Microsoft 365 in place, and then let’s enhance and extend that.” For us, that can be a little frustrating because that’s … A lot of what we do is that enhancement, so that’s a big reason why we’ve beefed up our migration practice, is because that’s where we think our customer needs the most help and we can help them with that piece and have the patience to say, “Okay, now when you’re past that maturity of just embracing what’s out of the box, now you’re going to want those things that you wanted before like workflow and the customizations to integrate it with other platforms.”


Danny:Anything else you would point out, as far as somebody listening to this episode, any insights you would want to share with them, maybe about things to steer away from, failure-wise, or anything else you want to add to this?


Tommy:I think as it relates to failures with SharePoint and how do you approach that, be sure that there’s business value driving it and that there’s buy-in from the organization, there’s a certain amount of hunger from the organization to want to do this versus it’s something being forced upon me. On that same note of help the adoption through, plans around training and communications and that evangelization. It really is not going to happen naturally on its own, it’s going to need some work. It’s going to need people pointing out the use cases and why we’re using this and making sure that what you go after, you embrace and master and then build upon that.


Just looking at SharePoint and making sure you’re using it in a way to enable value versus, “It’s there, so let’s just use it.” That’s probably some high level advice on how to approach SharePoint and avoid failure. Make sure it’s not for technology’s sake, there’s a business driver for it, that people are there to support it, to make it successful, that requires a lot of communication and training and making sure you’re hearing the pains and addressing those pains as they come up, to make sure that there is that adoption you need to get the value at the end of the day.


If you put SharePoint out there and it’s not being used, of course there’s very little value, and it actually is a distractor. It ends up being, “Okay, I’ve got stuff in SharePoint and I’ve got stuff in Dropbox, I got stuff in my local file system.” It’s just another place where content is, so you have to have a very clear initiative of, “This is where the work gets done, and when people are doing it outside of here, let’s address that so we can have everybody on the same page and getting the benefit of being in one place.”


Danny:I’m going to brag on the delivery team a little bit here, which is, even though I pull them in to some opportunities where in the past, there has been failures and SharePoint failures … I’m having a problem right now thinking of a project that we came out of that we said, “It failed.” Maybe I have a bad memory, or maybe nobody wants to tell me about that, but I am amazed at how many times we end up taking something and sometimes it’s on fire. A lot of people, when they want to pull in an outside organization, it’s because it’s not working and there is something that could be inherently a problem with being successful with a project. I’m just amazed at how many times we go in, we settle things down, we get things moving on the right path, and we get them to a point of being successful with SharePoint.


Tommy:I think we have done a great job there and as with anything, we can always improve. I think what we’ve done in the past is using the Agile process to understand the need and being able to feed that back in a very quick cycle. That, in itself, I think has given us a lot of success. Where I think I’m seeing even better success is in the projects where we challenge the stakeholders for things that they want, and really saying, “That’s probably not the right thing to do, and this is why. We’ll do this for you, but here’s some things that we want you to know that could be things that are drawbacks and things that are going to make this not sustainable in terms of using it.”


I think we can get into a lot of projects where the customer’s happy, we’ve implemented everything they asked us to do, but there’s not the level of adoption that we would like to see. To address that adoption is giving that consultative advice of … Being brave enough to tell the customer, “That’s not probably a good idea and this is why,” and then having that conversation and trying to get to the same page where you can both have an understanding of, “Yes, this is the right thing to do,” or “No, this is something we should hold off on.”


Danny:I have seen us do a lot of … I don’t know if you would call this failing early, but the whole through the estimation process with Bruce, and going through and seeing what it takes where the project hasn’t made sense. On both sides, either what the expectations are around the effort, or the cost involved – investment, I should say – and it doesn’t make sense, so we don’t … Either side won’t take on the engagement. From my standpoint, I think that keeps us out of this situation where we’re failing on projects. I think very early on, I feel like what Bruce does for us is he gives us good estimates, and we’re able to use that to decide whether that company can make that investment or not, or are the expectations set up properly yet.


Tommy:Right. That’s where a lot of times we’ll fail early, which is, we’re bringing up what the costs are and not going in there where we … We don’t tell all the truth, because we want to get the project, and we want to get in there and start and then you can do change orders to get more. Change orders I think can be good, and sometimes they can be bad. I think a good change order is new ideas emerged that weren’t discussed, that we’re having good conversations that we’re coming up with better ideas. Where it’s bad is if you’re having change orders for things that you really knew about and didn’t disclose. We’re always challenging ourselves. That’s a fine balance, because you have to raise enough awareness to understand total cost of ownership, but you don’t want to overemphasize that where you’re kind of being a Debbie Downer for this initiative, but you want to give enough information so people don’t go in and get blindsided as they continue on with what they’ve invested in.


Danny:Well, thanks folks for taking the time to listen to this. Thank you, Tommy, for your insights. I think this was very helpful. I know I learned a couple of things. For folks, if you can’t tell, Tommy and I are very invested in our projects being successful. I think that’s a small aspect of it as well, is that there’s skin in the game from both sides. If you’re looking at this next project and aren’t sure about whether SharePoint’s the right platform or, “We’ve failed in the past and we’re not sure if this next initiative is going to fail again,” just reach out to us. If you go through the “contact us” page on our website, I will set up a meeting with you and … We’re not sales folks here, we’re just consultative, we want to make sure that the next thing that you go after is successful. Feel free to reach out to us, to leave a comment if there’s things that you’ve run into. Maybe you’ve seen sort of a pattern with failed SharePoint initiatives, and definitely interact with us through the website.


Thanks again, Tommy, for your time and thanks everybody for listening. Have a wonderful day. Bye-bye.





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