Design a better SharePoint implementation

The other day I wrote about the growing complexity behind a SharePoint-centric enterprise information system (a clunky term I know, but ‘intranet’ doesn’t quite cut it IMHO). I hinted at the idea of applying design thinking to bridging the gap between the technology of SharePoint and business users and thought it might be worth exploring further what that means in practice.

I use the term design thinking as an umbrella concept around a number of distinct approaches we apply to our projects. All of these approaches are intended to help our clients better match the needs of their employees (or business partners and customers) with solutions that are feasible (both in a technology and commercial sense). That is,

  • They meet the business needs of people and the organisation.
  • The solutions work technically.
  • They are sustainable, either as a cost of doing business or add intrinsic value (lower costs, higher revenues, reduced risks, etc)

For example, as we have seen done, there is no point creating a plan for the perfect SharePoint intranet if the cost and risk of development out weigh any of the anticipated benefits. However, SharePoint is a flexible platform and there may be many different ways to satisfy these business goals if we design it appropriately and add in the right change management approach. Many of the difficulties of SharePoint of course relate to organisational context, not the technology itself.

Our design thinking approach is framed within an innovation-based change management model. This model tells us that we need to engage at both the organisational level and with each individual business unit, workgroup, team or employee:

  1. At an organisational level we need to establish a vision for SharePoint that everyone understands.
  2. At the individual level we need to ensure we apply SharePoint within the context of that specific business unit, workgroup, team or employee.

How well can you explain your vision for SharePoint?

As the champion or the person tasked with leading the implementation you may well have a clear idea in your head about the vision for applying SharePoint, but how well can you actually explain it to others?

Experience tells us that visual thinking is a fantastic design-centred method that we can use to simplify complex technical and organisational situations into stories that business stakeholders can understand. As a result we apply visual thinking techniques to our consulting process and partner with XPLANE to create incredibly effective communication tools that can be used to engage stakeholders at all levels of an organisation.

Source: XPLANE

Capturing this story is critical to getting initial alignment around the thorny issue of defining industry buzz phrases like “social”, “collaboration”, and “innovation”. However, this narrative must be specific to the organisation and informed by knowledge of how SharePoint and related technologies work. So you can’t just pick something off the shelf or throw a few boxes on a PowerPoint slide to explain it!

Are you deploying SharePoint for use in the real world?

Now you have alignment around the vision for the future state, built around SharePoint, how do you ensure it actually meets the needs of the different users and use cases in your organisation?

We draw on a social experience design approach that considers the situated nature of how SharePoint will be used – essentially:

  • Who is using it.
  • What are they using it for.
  • When are they using it.
  • Where are they using it.

The last two points are particularly important because designing a SharePoint-based solution is no longer about:

  • Designing for a single Web-based interface (i.e. Internet Explorer).
  • Designing for a single device (i.e. my desktop PC).
  • Designing for a single work context (i.e. at my desk).

Such an approach requires engagement with many different users, ideally in the places where there are working. This design approach can also be applied both prior to the deployment of SharePoint and once the solution is in place. This means that the design process continues even once the actual technology is in place so that we can help users to configure SharePoint and learn new work habits to suit their new information environment.

SharePoint is hard because organisations are complex, so use design thinking to help bridge that gap.