Why SharePoint Projects Fail?

I was chatting with a colleague a few days ago and he asked a very simple question: “Why does SharePoint fail?”. Now, with him being in IT, the context of the question was aimed specifically at SharePoint; not at all the generic reasons why an IT project might fail. Well, as simple as that question is, the answer is surprisingly complex and not at all what you would expect.

In no particular order, here are the main reasons I have seen SharePoint fail.

Lack of Problem Definition
The first question that needs to be answered when somebody wants to use SharePoint is “What problem are you solving and how do you determine if it has been effectively solved?” All too often the stakeholder has heard of the wonderful features that SharePoint has and how those features solve all sorts of problems so they want SharePoint. However, when asked what specific problem they are trying to solve, they just don’t know. Usually you get a bunch of hand waving followed by an assertion that SharePoint is the answer.

It’s easy to recognize that “something” isn’t working quite right but without a precise problem definition the best technology in the world can’t fix things. To make things even more complicated, in some cases, implementing SharePoint without a problem definition may actually work – at least for some of the users. With all the functionality available in SharePoint, something is bound to work for someone. This is kind of like hunting mice with a shotgun; you’re quite likely to hit your target but what else are you hitting and what’s the collateral damage like?

Politics and Buy-in
Once somebody with sufficient influence in an organization does understand what SharePoint is capable of, the natural instinct is to get SharePoint implemented and show everyone how awesome it is (and by extension, how awesome they are). This leads to a situation where SharePoint is being “forced” on users without sufficient context causing a lack of buy-in. Even worse, it’s quite likely the sponsor doesn’t fully understand the problem at hand which leads us back to the previous factor.

On the political side, because SharePoint covers so many different areas of functionality, it often overlaps other areas of responsibility and inevitably, the owners of those areas feel threatened by SharePoint – especially if the implementation is going well. This problem is not unique to SharePoint and requires that the SharePoint sponsor develop strategies to deal with the political behaviour going on around them.

Lack of Information and Knowledge Management Skills
SharePoint is about three things; people, processes, and information. Of course you need experienced IT professionals to design, build, and maintain the technical solution, but you need an information and knowledge management professional to design the business solution first. If you don’t have someone who fits this description on your SharePoint project you’re likely to go astray in your efforts to maximize efficiency at the micro-level (as compared with not understanding the problem and going astray at the macro level).

This problem is particularly difficult to deal with as the practice of Information Management varies widely between practitioners despite the high-level concepts being fairly uniform. Even worse, the classification of information is very subjective. For example, what do you call the people who use your product/service? Customers? Clients? Users? If you can’t be consistent with something as fundamental as that, how much harder is it to classify your complex business processes and information?

On the bright side, engaging a competent Information Management specialist will create benefits beyond your SharePoint implementation. The efficiency that solid information management strategies bring across all the areas of your organization will save you time and money and may become the biggest benefit you realize with your SharePoint solution.

User Adoption and Governance
Achieving success with SharePoint requires long lasting changes in behaviour of workers. Weaning information workers off their addiction to email and file shares and away from long established ways of working with line of business applications and Excel is a long term war not a short term battle. The key to successful user adoption lies in emphasizing incremental change instead of transformational change. While it’s tempting to “fix everything” with a platform as powerful as SharePoint, going down this road will only alienate users. Using a phased approach to user adoption allows users to slowly adjust and accept the benefits of SharePoint without invoking the typical “fear response” to massive change. After a few phases, you may even begin to see a positive cultural shift within your organization.

If you’ve done any research into SharePoint success factors, you’ve no doubt been given the advice that governance is key. While a good governance plan definitely contributes to success, most organizations merely “go through the motions” of establishing a governance plan and then never look at it again. To reap the benefit of governance, the high-level advice outlined in your governance plan needs to be translated into useful processes that augment your user adoption work.

Technical Skills
SharePoint is a vast technology platform encompassing several enterprise class products, and it has the ability to integrate with an almost endless number of external systems and data stores. The skills required include infrastructure, database administration, data storage, security, software development and end user skills. When properly implemented it provides a high performance, scalable and reliable infrastructure. However, technical issues such as poor performance, system failure, or extensive down time will quickly impact upon user confidence and reduce adoption rates. To mitigate this, you must ensure your SharePoint Administrators have completed the appropriate training both at the Infrastructure level and the End User/Power User level. Make no mistake this is not easy and requires an above average level of commitment from your SharePoint Specialists. You need to ensure you have at least one full-time SharePoint person; no part-time dabblers allowed.

Why Bother?
With all the ways that SharePoint can fail, it’s quite tempting to just not go there. Sure, that’s a valid option, but doing so means you miss out on all the wonderful things SharePoint can do for you. A better solution is to find (or create) a SharePoint “superstar”. This isn’t as hard as it may seem. What you’re looking for is someone with at least three years full-time SharePoint experience that includes infrastructure work and a background in at least one other area (architecture, analysis, or development). Once you find this person, empower them to do what needs to be done and you’ll reap the benefits of all that SharePoint has to offer. So, what are you waiting for?

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