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Top 8 reasons why SharePoint Online implementation plans fail

Lessons learned from SharePoint Online implementation plan failures can help yours be a success.

In the enterprise world, IT executives are always concerned with the outcomes of projects and what they can do...

to ensure their successes. Yet the road to doom is paved with the best of intentions.

Failed IT initiatives are often the result of several different factors, but they often weaken the confidence of end users, customers and other leaders in IT's ability to perform. As a result, IT has every reason to do everything in their power to avoid taking shortcuts or steps that would push a project to fail.

One of the few projects that has high visibility in a company -- and whose failure can be a black eye -- is a botched SharePoint Online implementation plan. SharePoint is not immune to false starts and ultimate fails, but there are things that IT executives can avoid in order to ensure the project has a greater chance of succeeding.

Building an effective SharePoint site goes beyond just setting up an intranet portal for users to visit and to get access to commonly used enterprise content. The SharePoint platform has proven over the years to help companies automate business processes, centralize business-critical data and help provide a robust collaboration product for corporate users.

But, often, those eager to roll out an implementation miss the numerous stages involved in envisioning, planning and designing the product before a single logo or site is created in SharePoint. Those who are looking to see the enterprise content management (ECM) initiative through must ensure they avoid the following common mistakes that lead to failed SharePoint Online implementation plans.

Start small and assume it will grow: "Setting up the site was easy, and we were up and running in an hour," is an oft-spoken line by IT specialists that many SharePoint consultants dread to hear. This is an early sign of a SharePoint Online implementation plan that is likely to fail. This statement signals that the organization does not have SharePoint in place, and is likely skipping many of the most critical phases of the ECM project, including envisioning and planning.

There is no doubt that Microsoft has made the platform incredibly easy to customize and roll out, but it never intended for its customers to skip all the early planning stages and jump straight to coding and creating the sites. Setting up a quick SharePoint site and hoping for the best results can lead to poor adoption.

Take an Agile approach and build fast: When organizations are eager to roll out SharePoint to their end users, they often apply the Agile software development methodology to building out SharePoint sites for individual departments in silos. This, unfortunately, sets the SharePoint Online implementation plan on a path of guaranteed failure.

Because there are several components of SharePoint that are meant to be shared across all of the company's sites, taking this siloed approach means that users from different departments have completely different experiences as they navigate from site to site. This can result in poor adoption by end users, and it can ultimately leave some departments without a shared and common vision of what their intranet should have.

Leave the business out of it at first: A "build it and they will come" attitude for SharePoint or any end-user-facing product, will certainly result in a catastrophic failure. Users are the ones who use the intranet -- not SharePoint developers or IT. So for those eager to build the site and roll it out without upfront planning or without the front-line users and business leaders determining what requirements are necessary and what business challenges they're looking to solve, you are likely to end up having a colorful SharePoint site with users wondering how it is meant to help them with their jobs.

Making it a legal Dropbox: It is often the case that SharePoint Online implementation plans turn into a glorified web-based filing system: a place on the intranet where end users store their files and are able to retrieve those files using keyword searches.

These types of SharePoint implementations have proven to narrow the perceived value of the platform in the end-users mind, and have caused many users to seek other solutions to address some of their collaboration and enterprise content management needs. So SharePoint should never be sought as a replacement for network sharing sites.

Letting departments own and manage their own sites: The rule that each department is responsible for their own content and SharePoint site resulted in failed implementations for many organizations. The simple fact remains that when you provide departments with full autonomy and control over their sites -- given their different levels of understanding of SharePoint's capabilities and their variant technical skills -- the result is different end-user experiences and, in most cases, a lack of standardization.

Not keeping up with new releases: Assuming that what SharePoint was yesterday will remain the same tomorrow is a sure road to failure. This has caught many administrators off guard, as Microsoft has made it a point to continue to innovate and improve the platform by frequently introducing new features and capabilities.

As a result, the idea of creating and designing some of the SharePoint sites without monitoring the roadmap of the platform is likely to impact the success of the implementation when some desired features are ignored and heavy customization is done for something that may be replaced in upcoming releases.

Relying on SharePoint development gurus: Another area where SharePoint Online implementation plans fail is when there is more emphasis on the technical implementation and customization of the platform rather than the alignment of the platform for different business requirements.

Often, enterprises seek to acquire SharePoint development technical resources first instead of investing bandwidth in internal conversations or recruiting an experienced SharePoint business analyst that can assist with envisioning and planning for the platform prior to talking technical needs.

Lack of leadership buy-in: One final area that has been noted to influence the success of SharePoint projects is the push to implement without having the upfront buy-in of the C-suite. Pushing through the deployment of the solution without the support of business leaders often ends with poor adoption rates and a lack of enforced processes and procedures. Without that full commitment, the SharePoint project will simply fail.

All the above keys to failure must be kept in mind by IT decision-makers as they consider how they will roll out SharePoint Online implementation plans. As tempting as it is to implement the platform quickly, it is easy to take steps in the wrong direction and cause the project to falter. Adequate planning and understanding of the overall purpose of the platform will help ensure mistakes are not made and that the project succeeds.

Next Steps

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This was last published in July 2017

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