Yesterday Microsoft unveiled the newest version of SharePoint. The SharePoint evangelist in me was super excited. My excitement was cut short by the murmur of office workers around the world. Another upgrade isn’t something they are embracing. When it comes to challenges that SharePoint has faced in the past I’d say adoption is right up there at the top. User adoption, when it comes to SharePoint as a collaboration and document storage solution, is one thing but what do you do when it’s more than that? How to you change a person’s whole work process and get them to embrace it?
I’ve been tasked to convert a paper process into a SharePoint solution utilizing InfoPath forms and SharePoint Designer workflows. This new solution is a complete reconstruction of a paper process. The office worker that is primarily responsible for that process will have no escape. It’ll be in their face all day every day. Nothing will feel the same about the process. Sure I can make the InfoPath forms resemble the paper version. We are talking about a different medium though so to try to duplicate the process identically will be like putting a square peg in a round hole. It won’t work.
As anyone should, I try to learn from my past mistakes. How can I make this experience less intimidating for the user? My excitement for SharePoint is usually contagious so I’ve got that going for me initially. That usually only lasts for a short time. Users often see the need for a change in the system. They’re easy to sell on a solution in the beginning. It’s about half way through the process, when you’ve picked apart everything they know to be real and true, that they start to get apprehensive. Consultants have a responsibility to question the processes that we’ve been charged with updating. The problem with that is that often the user doesn’t know why they do something a certain way. They don’t have answers for all of our questions. It can be very uncomfortable if you bring this up in a way that puts them on the spot. Their uneasiness begins to turn to anger. Now, I’m no psychology expert here but I know that people, like tigers, react aggressively when they feel cornered. The trick seems to be in asking in a non-threatening way but still glean enough information to understand their process.
I think this is where the client’s perception begins to change. Before, they were all on board with change. They’d been sold on the idea that new equals improved. They’re getting help, in the form of a consultant, with trimming the process down and making less work for them. Who doesn’t want less work?! Unfortunately, in all our probing the consultant has turned from friend to foe. We are there to question and challenge the very being of the office worker. Thoughts like, “it was working fine”, “I’ve been doing it that way for twenty years”, “You don’t work here I do” come into play. It’s not that the worker actually feels that way. Their fight or flight response is kicking in. The situation is beginning to get uncomfortable and they have changed their mind. An almost audible thought crosses their mind with “The process wasn’t broken to start with and the time has come for you to please take your ball and go home!”
This stage in the client relationship is complex. Buy in is still crucial to the process. Perceptions are going to change daily based on feelings, moods, interactions with co-workers and other responsibilities or deadlines that arise during the engagement.
I love SharePoint and often in my short sightedness wonder why users can’t see the beauty of how it’s going to solve all their work life problems. Ok, that’s probably an overstatement. The truth of the matter is their reservations have little to nothing to do with SharePoint. People resist change. As we age the learning curve is much steeper. There is often a lack of confidence with technology. You’re about to turn their life upside down. To put it simply, people get frightened. The client relationship needs to be fostered daily. I’m a SharePoint evangelist but because I love it doesn’t mean others will. It took a long time for me to understand SharePoint and what it can do. Presenting the benefits of SharePoint in a friendly, safe manner will go a long way toward user adoption but the real truth is that SharePoint adoption, being the responsibility of the SharePoint evangelist, is less about loving the software and more about structuring a solid client relationship built on trust and respect.
This isn’t another complaint blog about the validity of certifications. That’s a war that will wage on far longer than the lifetime of my career. With a little motivation, it’s simple enough to obtain a certification. If that’s something that interests you then you probably have a general understanding of the career path that you’d like to be pursuing and the tests that support that journey. Microsoft Learning has done a great job of laying out certification tracts to assist with that. All you need to do is log in and match up the goals with the exam. Or at least I thought until I began prepping for the 77-886 SharePoint 2010 exam recently. The obvious starting point was to check out the Skills Measured on the Microsoft Learning web site. The tasks all looked straight forward enough but something seemed off. These didn’t feel like “User” tasks. I double checked the description. There it was in black and white. The Audience Profile specifically stated “Users perform all site user tasks”. Compare the Audience Profile to the Skills Measured and it won’t take long to see that things don’t exactly align. In addition to site configuration and administration, testers are required to configure services. This test begins to feel like it should have a name more along the lines of “Site Collection Administrator”. Original, I know. SharePoint has a role called that very thing! The site collection administrator isn’t a role that’s taken lightly. There is a lot of room for error when you give an untrained individual administrator privileges. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t just any administrator role. It’s a pretty big deal when you have the ability to deploy sandboxed solutions and delete sites. IT departments are sometimes afraid of the consequences of allowing user to have that much power. Other times, they are just plain unwilling to give up any of their own control. Whatever the reason, the hesitation is real. Once trust has been earned and responsibilities shared, a site collection administrator can be a valuable asset to the IT department. With the right ground work laid it can be a win-win relationship easing IT burdens while providing users with independence and learning opportunities. One building block for the foundation of trust is for users to prove knowledge through certification. Microsoft did the right thing in finding a happy middle ground with the Site Collection Administrator. Now let’s see if we can help those users find their way to the 77-886 Exam that seems to be targeted to them. Maybe relabeling it would be a first step?
I, like most IT folks, started my career in the unloved helpdesk. I found that a large part of my time was spent supporting basic Office questions. Anyone with helpdesk experience knows that there are lots of other things to get done during the day. This forced me to look for ways to trim down the support load. Surely, there had to be some way to trend down the curve, because I was also the in-house IT trainer, getting my users skilled-up was the obvious first place to look. Validating my Office knowledge was going to be necessary to gain my users confidence. Microsoft Office Specialist 2003 entered my life. I obtained my certification and implemented an Office training program with the administrative assistants that decreased helpdesk tickets dramatically. They became Office Champions and began heading off tickets by helping their departmental folks. It was win-win for everyone. The MOS certification wasn’t cool among others in the industry but it met my needs and solved my helpdesk problems. What I didn’t know then was that MOS 2003 was to be the cornerstone of my career. Understanding the fundamentals of Office made me the obvious choice to support our new SharePoint installation when it came into play. This opened the larger door to the server environment as well. My career, and certification history, follows a natural progression from Office to Server to SharePoint. Today, I’m a consultant that supports Fortune 500 companies in finding creative solutions using SharePoint. Clients are able look over my resume and see that I started with Office basics. It’s the foundation of their workday and it’s the foundation of our relationship. It builds trust because they know that I, like them, had to start with the fundamentals. IT professionals are often eager to get behind the networking curtain to the more glamorous engineer positions. I found that embracing the less esteemed Office applications was my springboard to Microsoft’s most popular software, which has opened many doors for me. Office is the cornerstone that SharePoint is built on. The same is true of my career.