I have failed. Have you?
Maybe not today, or even last week, but have you ever failed at anything? Be honest. We’ve all failed at something, yet as common as failure is, by-and-large we tend to avoid talking about failure like it’s the plague. But the truth is, I’ve learned a ton from failure. Haven’t you?
The Failure Trend is Alive and Well
Back in 2013, Gartner predicted that through 2015, 80% of social business efforts would fail to achieve their intended benefits; in other words, they would be a letdown. They were right, and we see it every day, even into 2016. In fact, today at C5 Insight, 2 out of 3 new clients (59%) that we work with is what we call CPR – a rescue and resuscitation project. We’ve written numerous articles on why social collaboration (SharePoint included) and relationship management (Dynamics CRM and Salesforce) projects fail, but suffice it to say that the cycle continues, and honestly, I don’t see it stopping any time soon.
There’s a very real probably that your greatest intentions and efforts toward defining and developing a digital business will fall short and could result in failure.
But the story doesn’t end there.
As an entrepreneur and business owner I’ve seen it time and time again – where there’s failure, there’s progress. But let’s face it, we don’t actually want to fail, am I right? (If you do, you can stop reading this post now).
This post is meant to provide not only direction, but hope. In our work, we have helped hundreds of organizations experience success – sometimes for the first time. Many of these organizations were badly struggling or failing and we helped turn them around. Throughout this journey, we have discovered a few nuggets of wisdom that can absolutely change the outcome of any project involving technology and people. Know any projects like that? I thought you might.
Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. – Henry Ford
Tip #1 – Define done
How many of you got in your car this morning and just started driving? No one does this, but it still amazes me that organizations will start a project with a statement such as, “We need an Intranet.” What does that mean? What is an Intranet to your company? News, document management, social communities, all of the above? I’ll be honest, I didn’t think we’d still be talking about this one causing failure, but it’s at the top of the list. In short, you need to answer this question with clarity: How will we know when we have reached our destination (i.e. what does done look like)?
Tip #2 – Eat an elephant
We all know how to eat an elephant, right? We also see success by taking a similar approach to SharePoint projects. Depending on the size of your initiative, it may seem very overwhelming when you look at everything that “needs to be done.” Relax – Rome wasn’t built in a day and I can promise you that “collaborating better” won’t happen in a day either. Start small, taking one bite at a time. In other words, once you have your roadmap defined (see Tip #1), start slowly chipping away at it, one component at a time. Small wins add up to big wins, so start with some small wins to build the momentum. Lastly, by doing this iteratively and in small chunks, you will fail faster – and yes, that’s a good thing. Would you rather a short, 6-week project fail or a longer, 6-month project fail? BONUS: Your users will thank you and adoption will improve.
Tip #3 – Put down the hammer
Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you grabbed a hammer from your toolbox and walked around your house looking for something to hit? Who does that?! The truth is, we (should) always start with a problem (leaky faucet, broken appliance, etc.)and thengrab the tool(s) that we need to solve that problem. This is one of the top 3 causes of failure that we have seen. So, put down the hammer, and keep reading for more tips.
Tip #4 – Look back to move forward
This may be one of the few times that you hear anyone tell you to dwell in the past. But it works. What I mean here is that in order to move forward with confidence, if often helps to look backward – at projects that have been both failures and successes – to understand what caused these to fail, or what led to their success. Practically speaking, every project in your organization should include a lessons learned meeting. At C5 Insight, we often do this after every sprint, but always at the end of every project. In fact, we think this is so important, that we have every lesson we’ve ever captured available in a searchable database (on SharePoint of course), categorized by industry, type of project, etc. So for example, when we start a new Intranet project for a manufacturing company, we can search all lessons learned to understand things we should think about or adjust,beforewe get started.
Tip #5 – Know thy neighbor
How well do you know all the people in the Legal department? Engineering? Marketing? Most would answer that theyreallydon’t know how everyone works; who can? So before you start your SharePoint project – that will almost certainly touch every user in your organization – create personas for every user in your organization. The truth is, how in the world can we design something that is supposed to increase productivity and streamline work if we don’t know things such as: how they actually want to work, how productive are they today, what makes them unproductive, what works best for them, what things have they done in the past that could impact their adoption (think resume), etc. Know your users and create formal personas for every user. You can then use these to ensure that you are developing processes that will actually help users and not hurt them. HINT 1: You’re going to find out very quickly that your people consume information and work inverydifferent ways. HINT 2: Roles are not personas. Many roles in your organization will most certainly have multiple personas. Trust me.
Tip #6 – Vocalize the vision
I often say that users won’t care how, if they don’t know why. In other words, it doesn’t matter that it’s pretty, slick, new, or shiny, if users don’t know why the heck they are now doing something different. Who likes change? In an informal customer survey that I conducted recently, I found that users were less irritated by having to do something new, and more irritated by not knowingwhythey were doing something new. Know your users (see Tip #5) and help them understand how this will help them do their jobs better. BONUS: By connecting your users with the vision for why this is being done, you will set expectations and this will help with adoption and engagement.
This one is interesting, because many times when people think of implementing SharePoint, they think of a new technology that could potentially replace many other tech. However, we have seen organizations miss opportunities because they threw-out existing technologies for something new and shiny. Now, on its own, this isn’t bad, but how do you know your old technologies didn’t work? Maybe it was the vision and plan for how these tools were to be used? Maybe they were ahead of their time and now you’re ready to use them? In addition, by evaluating your existing technology (and finding out that it will work just fine), adoption is increased because it is one less new tool that a user has to learn (this assumes people don’t hate the current tools). Sometimes, you do need new tools to achieve your goals, but before you throw it all out, spend some time evaluating how your existing tools fit into your goals and strategy.
Tip #8 – Stop wasting time with training
This may come as a surprise to you, but we humans now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish. Distractions abound, and it is actually changing how we focus and do our work. What does this mean to you? It means that extended training times are no longer effective. In addition, training is no longer a singular event that takes place at the end of the “deployment.” At C5 Insight, we have dramatically shifted how we do training, and now do what we call trickle-training. We start early and repeat often, with short, digestible chunks. Sometimes the training is 30-45 minutes, sometimes we create videos that are 3 minutes in length and very targeted. Lastly, it’s just as important to put in place a process that allows you to do on-going training (e.g. webinars, lunch-and-learns, etc.)
Tip #9 – Be lazy for a day
If you’ve made it this far, stick with me for 2 more minutes. This is actually very important for the long-term success and adoption of your SharePoint project. What I mean here is spend a day (or a half-day if that’s all you have), and think about all the things you’d automate if you were lazy. What do you hate doing? How much of your work is administrative in nature? If it helps, imagine that someone will charge you $100 every time you do one of these administrative tasks. Which ones do you quickly want to get rid of? My guess is that you’ll quickly come up with some pretty good ideas for automating your workflow, which gets you back to doing things you actually enjoy.
Tip #10 – Find a trusted partner
Now as a consultant, I know this sounds very self-serving, but hear me out. That’s not the spirit of this one. As I mentioned earlier, we have helped hundreds of organizations that have struggled with these type of projects. Many of them did not seek or did not find a trusted partner. Some had no partner helping and some had bad partners, so I know it sounds like it’s a crapshoot, but do your homework and find that trusted advisor who is both a competentand cultural match. But here’s the catch – and maybe why I put this as #10 – A partner who is a match in every way will only take you so far. I wish I could say that C5 Insight could guarantee your success, but we can’t. We can certainly help, but ultimately it comes down to your organization’s commitment and willingness to “put in the time” to do something great.
I hope you find these tips to be helpful within your organization. Good LUCK on your project, and if you’d like to know more about any of the tips above or other ways we enable our clients to be successful with SharePoint, feel free to shoot us an email. We’d love to hear from you.
About the Author
Curtis Hughes is a consultant, coach, speaker, and Co-founder and Managing Partner of Charlotte-based C5 Insight, a team of strategists, consultants and technology experts that help organizations work together better. Curtis has 20 years of experience consulting with businesses and government agencies across North America, Europe and Asia in the areas of collaboration, intranets, digital workplaces, employee engagement, user adoption, governance and productivity. He has been actively involved in the SharePoint community since 2000, and in addition to his professional roles, he has served in a leadership role for the Information Technology Advisory Council (ITAC) for the American Red Cross, is a current board member for the UNC Charlotte College of Computing and Informatics, and was named as one of Charlotte’s “40 Under 40” in recognition of his business accomplishments and commitment to the community.