What is collaboration?

SharePoint is a great tool supporting collaboration!!

What exactly IS collaboration?

Go ahead- define it. I’ll wait.

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Does your response looks something like this?

“Activity leading to increased efficiency”

Or “People working together to achieve a common goal”

Or maybe even, “Improving team outcomes by participating in common tasks according to best practices.”

All good tries. But esteemed SharePoint expert Paul Culmsee (@PaulCulmsee) calls those types of phrases “platitudes.” He defines them as “Words or phrases that sound impressive and correct but ultimately do not contain a lot of substance… also defined as ‘a trite or meaningless statement made to sound profound.”

Hmm. This sounds like platitude-users are knowingly trying to put one over on their listeners. This is not usually the case. Most of the time, these types of statements are made with complete sincerity, and are perceived by those making them as being the right response to a given question or situation.

But there is a problem with platitudes as goals, mission statements, vision statements, purpose statements etc., especially in the case of SharePoint. To spend a lot of money on technology and the people using it requires (usually) that the “bang for the buck” can be at least articulated, if not captured and measured and shown to prove success. Platitude statements are too vague to suffice in those circumstances. 

If your definition/purpose statement for SharePoint is anything like this: “A tool to support increased collaboration and efficiency,” there may be cause for concern. How will you know if you have accomplished either of those things?

How will you measure the results? How will you recognize a state of affairs that is any different from how it was before SharePoint came into your life?

Some other common platitudes:

  • Quality (i.e., ‘increased quality,’ ‘improved quality,’ ‘better-quality widgets’)
  • Governance (see also, ‘a governance plan’)
  • Streamline business processes
  • Improve communication

So how do you get past the fuzzy phrases? (Culmsee calls this “busting a platitude“). You have to continually ask questions like, “What does [platitude] looks like?” or, “Can you describe how [platitude] would be recognizable in your company or in the course of your daily work?” or “What are some of the behaviors displayed by people in a workplace that have [platitude]?”

Paul’s presentation goes on to explain the benefits of asking questions like this. If you’re lucky, the answers tend to start with things like, “increased this…” or “decreased that…” If so- that’s good because these responses indicate items are often inherently measurable. This means you are on the right track.

BUT- sometimes you get answers that are just another platitude! Such as, “Increased efficiency would result in better-quality widgets.”

So you must ask again. “If you had increased efficiency, what would that look like? How would we recognize that efficiency had increased? And then, how would we know that widget quality was any better than it was before?”

Anyone considering use of a product like SharePoint must be able to articulate- WITHOUT resorting to platitudes– what SharePoint is supposed to be doing in whatever context it is being used. What is your “SharePoint purpose statement?”

All responses welcome! Leave a comment and share yours.

If you have not taken the time to read Paul’s articles, you are missing out! DO it now.

Required reading: What is SharePoint?

Brilliant article from WASBSIan McNeice. If you only have time to read one article about the role of SharePoint in the enterprise… make it this one.

What is SharePoint?

“SharePoint is increasingly an eclectic kit-bag of publication and collaborative tools, services and features that can be used somewhat like a Lego set to build technology solutions driven by business need. Receiving SharePoint for the uninitiated is rather like being given a toolkit as a gift. The first question would be: what do I do with this? Build something is the answer. Build what? Whatever you want or need to build. I’m not sure what I want, is there a blueprint or plan? No. Can we build what someone else has built? Sure. Can you help us build something the same as someone else has? Sure yes. How much will it cost? It depends what you want, we will need to discover what your specific needs are. Yes but how much will it cost as a ball-park figure? It depends on what you want. I want what everyone else has! Ah but everyone else is different so we cannot tell you how much it will cost and how long it will take until we have defined your exact requirements. And so it continues…

“In other words, the SharePoint toolkit is powerful but without a logical, progressive business plan, blueprint or roadmap alongside SharePoint is extremely difficult for a business audience to imagine in terms of a future, valuable whole. Business stakeholders have a requirement to describe SharePoint to their own internal audiences and this is frequently where initial problems occur. They call in a Partner to demonstrate the value of SharePoint in an hour. What is all too often described is a technical demonstration of a team site, or a workflow, or a form, or version control etc. SharePoint is being described both by some isolated features, and in isolation of a fuller business context.

“This issue regarding describing SharePoint is often anticipated by Partner Sales Managers prior to a client presentation by requesting some specific problems the business may be prioritizing and basing a pitch and demonstration regarding how SharePoint can solve these specific problems. Therefore SharePoint, as an enterprise platform, is all too often described in these situations primarily as a project-specific technological solution. What happens when that problem is solved – where does the client go then, what does the business do next, what else can they build? And so we come back to the same dialogue as before. What other problems do you have? What other priorities can we assist you with? How much budget do you have? It is because of this scenario, played out hundreds of thousands of times globally that a number of things have occurred that have assisted in defining SharePoint in a specific way. The first is the flexibility of solution design and delivery. This has led to SharePoint rather frequently being described as a ‘development platform’. ‘Tell us what you want and we will build it’. Ah, says the client, but we don’t know what we want. ‘It’s okay’ says the platform developer, SharePoint can be used to develop and provide you with anything and everything you want. Within a short space of time of the introduction of SharePoint solutions are being built without any form of business plan.”

See also: The Role of the SharePoint Business Strategist

SharePoint sites and solutions- set yourself up for success

Inspired by this blog post by consultant Gia Lyons which specifically targets launching a social media pilot program- it’s practically the same conversation with regard to SharePoint solutions. I recommend you read her article for context but I have used it as the foundation of this post.

Don’t pretend that throwing this rock won’t make any ripples- Acknowledge the impact that implementing SharePoint will have on your team.

  • Depending on user experience, SharePoint may present brand-new technology, ALONG WITH a brand-new learning curve.
  • It’s a challenge to establish both at the same time. Who will lead your users?
  • Manage your expectations- figure out how to prove usefulness in small ways before trying to make SharePoint “do it all.”

Survey the landscape

  • What is your team’s general contribution to the business?
  • How many people will use your site/solution?
  • How long will it be needed?
  • What is the lifecycle of the site’s content?
  • Where are team members/participants physically located?
  • What is their general attitude towards collaboration software? What concerns do they have?
  • Are there inconsistencies in technology? For example, multiple Office versions or IE versions in use) among participants?
  • Are most participants considered “technology-forward?”
  • Can you anticipate pushback from those less inclined to embrace a technology-based platform?
  • Are there cultural or language differences within your group that should be considered?

Find a purpose
How does the group want to use SharePoint? This is very important- mandating one person’s vision will not produce success. There must be a strong sense of “group-ness” permeating the reasons why SharePoint is the tool selected for this job.

  • How are participants getting what they want today, without SharePoint?
  • Fix on a few key “pain points” and go from there, then branch out.

Define roles and responsibilities
In the context of the functionality your site will be providing, classify all participants into the following broad categories:

  • Site owner/Business Process Owner (~1-2 persons)
    • Top “responsible party” for the site who would have to answer to upper management when/if anything about your site came on their radar
    • Person on the hook for budget dollars related to SharePoint costs
  • Site manager (~2-3 people)
    • Could be at the site or site collection level OR both
    • I consider this the most important role in SharePoint.
      • Person(s) established as site managers must spend a lot of time in the site; they are required them to know its ins and outs and troubleshoot most situations that arise for end users
      • They may also be responsible for on-boarding new users and/or hand-holding less confident users.
    • Facilitate use of SharePoint and help others incorporate its use into their work routine.
    • They are the go-to person for anyone who has questions about the site and should present a confident, knowledgeable, pro-SharePoint attitude.
    • They must know how to quickly and accurately escalate issues beyond their expertise.
  • Site contributors (as many as needed)
    • Persons whose normal role requires no stake in the site’s design, look & feel etc. but who need to be able to interface with content elements (lists/libraries) to do their jobs- upload, create/modify list items etc.
    • These people are the best resource for feedback on site functionality- site “mechanics” must work for them or overall success of the site will be threatened.
    • They need good training that lets them clearly step through the most common site-related functionality
  • Site visitors (as many as needed)
    • Persons whose normal role only requires them to view content to gain value from the site, but may occasionally be elevated to a more interactive role for specific situations.
    • They are a good feedback resource regarding site navigation- if an occasional user experiences frustration navigating the site, it needs to be re-thought.

Define success factors- How will you know if your group is using SharePoint successfully? What will the indicators of success look like? Define measurable success criteria BEFORE launching the site/solution. If your site/solution does not support the criteria you have listed, you have a problem!

  • For example:
    • Problem: Team members are constantly email-requesting current presentations from the team PowerPoint author.
    • Solution: Centralize presentation storage in a versioned document library. Train users on the new process.
    • Success indicator: Track email request levels before/after implementing the solution. Did they drop? Are users self-serving from the library? You’ve got a success metric.

Encourage feedback on site performance and user experience.

  • Have some early adopters create good-quality, substantive feedback early on, so that others have an example of what you’re looking for.
  • Periodically send out a simple user survey: “As a result of using SharePoint, I am better able to… ”
  • Share those responses to see if others can benefit from the gains. People support what they help to create!