I’ve been an avid reader of the Sam Lawrence vs Lawrence Liu discussions on social software. Sam is the Chief Marketing Officer at my present employer, Jive Software. Lawrence is the Senior Technical Product Manager for SharePoint technologies at Microsoft. I thought I would take the time to post my thoughts after using SharePoint for several years to aid in the debate.
Getting users to understand and adopt social software can be hard in general, but SharePoint has so many options and options within options that users are literally scared of using it. I saw the glazed-over stare of users time and time again when they attempted to use SharePoint. Generally, users would have a specific idea in mind and would attempt to click around hoping the answer would appear. This resulted in one of two things: they would give up or the very persistent would ask IT to walk them through it.
For example, one of the managers at my previous employer wanted to “have a web page where sales folks could find and share information about partners”. He tried to implement some things on his own and by the time he called me for help, he had repeat a cycle of “I don’t get it” to “a ha!” to “wait, I don’t get it” several times. Should he use a blog, wiki, document library, web page widget, or perhaps a custom data sheet?
The good news is that he already understood how blogs, wikis and document libraries worked. The custom data sheet blew his head clean off with complexity however. He looked into the other options while I pointed out certain aspects of each to him. He was indecisive… which one of these best fit what he was trying to do? The answer was not clear has each option had merit, but all weren’t quite what he wanted and didn’t seem collaborative enough.
He was dead right. He had 50 choices about how to store the information, but they were all very similar to each other and none of them offered real collaboration. Sure, he could enable version control and edit partner information with sales that way, but what he really wanted was to collaborate about the partners and take the collected information and share it with everyone. The bottom line is that SharePoint just can’t do this in a seamless way.
All of the parts of SharePoint exist within their own bubbles so-to-speak. You can have a discussion, but it has nothing to do with your wiki. You can edit a document with 5 people, but you can’t really collaborate that way – who made the last edit? More importantly, why did they make the last edit?
The confusion around how to fit SharePoint into the many business needs became an epidemic. SharePoint literally became the highest source of helpdesk requests in the company. The majority of these requests where of the “how do I” nature. People weren’t getting it.
When we migrated from SharePoint 2003 to 2007, the primary reason was in the hopes that usability improvements would help users adopt it’s use. To ensure maximum success, we created many documents, send emails with tips, and moved all IT and HR information to SharePoint to “force” users to use it regularly, if only for that information. The hope was that if they could get used to using it for everyday stuff like benefits information, w-2′s, IT FAQs, etc., they would start to feel comfortable enough to use it for their own needs as well. I even started a regular blog with my IT peers that was regularly read by most of the company.
It didn’t work. People were reading stuff on SharePoint, but they weren’t collaborating at all. I resorted to the ultimate in trickery… pizza. I sent out a lunch meeting invite to the entire company. “Come and eat pizza and I will show you the magic of SharePoint!” was how the subject line read.
85 people showed up to watch my demonstration while they ate delicious Pizza Schmizza. I specifically presented real world uses of SharePoint that applied to the company. I had a very polite, attentive, and engaged audience. They asked many questions and most stayed an extra 30 minutes so they could get their questions answered. It was clear that they really wanted to use it! They were hungry to collaborate! My presentation ended in heartfelt thanks and applause.
I had a gathering of about 15 people (mostly department managers) that hung around to chat with me about their specific needs. I answered as many questions as I could and offered to personally give everyone 2 hours of my time to personally help them setup SharePoint to meet their needs. In other words, all they had to do was share their vision with me and I would do all of the setup for them!
The next month was very busy for me, needless to say. Things were looking up as I was setting up dozens of spaces and helping people leverage the system.
You know what we had in the end? A freakin’ glorified file server.
We had thousands of word and excel documents in many different SharePoint sites. We also had a few folks who converted their shared excel docs into custom data sets within SharePoint. Excel in a web browser. Cool, but not exactly the social storm I was hoping for.
- Discussions? Zero.
- Team blogs? One (just IT).
- Personal blogs? Zero.
- Personal sites setup? About a 12 out of 325+ employees, mostly IT.
After about a year after the migration to 2007, all we had was files stored inconveniently in a SQL database. Sure, they were easier to see, sort, and use in many ways. But damnit, people were supposed to be collaborating. Where were the team interactions? Where were the people working together within SharePoint?
I didn’t ever see collaborate happen with SharePoint and helpdesk requests kept coming… people just couldn’t get passed some sort of barrier with it.
When I came to Jive, my eyes were opened on what collaboration is. Employees were really working together and producing results all within Clearspace. Before the day was out, I had blogged, discussed several topics with many different departments, and created several documents… all before I had spent 8 hours at my new work-home.
How the hell was this possible? What’s the major driver of success here? It was easy to use. Unlike SharePoint, clicking around and experimenting for results yields success.
SharePoint is a Mack truck. Clearspace is a jet-powered party bus with leather seats. Sure, SharePoint will get your stuff there. Clearspace will get *you* there.
Sometime in the near future, I’ll post about the IT administration side of SharePoint in more detail. In fact, I’ve got a title already: “SharePoint: Not the IT Answer”