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Three experts weigh in on best practices for SharePoint 2010 training

Effective SharePoint 2010 training requires empowering employees to use the new collaboration tool and finding departments that are ripe for adoption, according to consultants.

In many companies, employees are often left to their own devices to learn a new software platform when it's first implemented. If there’s any training at all, it’s usually hurried and incomplete.

And when it comes to steadily evolving platforms with lots of collaborative functionality and multiple ways of managing information and projects like Microsoft’s SharePoint 2010, that’s exactly the wrong way to go about educating users and getting them to make the best use of the platform, according to experts.

It’s also a mistake to be heavy handed in training, said Richard Harbridge, senior SharePoint evangelist for Allin Corp., a Boston-based consulting and IT services firm. Imposing a new tool or imposing a new set of rules and expectations when rolling out a new enterprise-wide content management strategy, especially in a traditional classroom setting, can backfire. Instead, Harbridge said, you get much better buy-in by demonstrating how the software will make users' lives easier and their business practices more efficient.

The key in passing on an understanding of SharePoint’s capabilities is relating real stories about how the collaboration platform solves pain points and adds value to everyday business practices, Harbridge said.

He likes to introduce SharePoint by explaining its collaboration and data management capabilities. It's also a good idea to demonstrate the transaction-based scenarios of project management and portfolio management and how the deliverables from these activities would be organized, governed and improved through the use of SharePoint. This type of training can be highly structured and tightly tied to new or existing policies or procedures.

He did note, though, that when venturing into the social side of SharePoint 2010, (wikis, discussion boards, blogging, etc), enterprises should not dictate policies or procedures, but offer guidelines. In his opinion it’s important to approach both training and the management of this unstructured information in a different way than its transactional counterpart. All of this, said Harbridge, helps create empowerment.

A SharePoint initiative with an IT twist
Empowering employees is easier with SharePoint 2010 , in one respect, because “SharePoint is more user friendly than many of the more heavy-duty and sophisticated programs.” said Jennifer Baker, an expert in records and information management and discovery.

Focus on departments ripe for making the best use of SharePoint right away, said Baker, a consultant with Chicago-based Cohasset Associates Inc. The best way to achieve buy-in is to begin with “the workforce that will be involved in the rollout to help you train and help you deploy,” she said. While it might seem obvious to pick the IT department, IT has often been one of the last departments to deploy anything for itself.

“So this is a twist on that,” she said, explaining that rather than ask IT to immediately train other groups on the platform, the department should be encouraged to fully deploy SharePoint within the IT department first. Then, once IT realizes the value of full-on SharePoint adoption, it’ll be better able to communicate that value to others.

Go horizontally, then vertically
“If you train [pilot users] … and they are able to basically set up sites that are retention-enabled,” said Baker, “that will trickle down to the entire organization. That’s number one.”

Then it becomes a matter of picking other cross-enterprise departments, she said, indicating that the legal and human resources departments might be good options as early adopters “for a cascading kind of rollout.”

“Then you have to layer on to that the rollout to the records management staff,” she suggested. After that, training might be extended to other appropriate departments where records management, retention and information governance issues are key before designating experts to then train other employees in more vertical departments. 

Training vs. educating
“If the goal is to get me to use SharePoint, then we need to focus on educating, giving examples,” said Harbridge. It's important for SharePoint educators to be able to demonstrate how the platform improves the business functions that individuals concentrate on.

“There’s a difference between educating someone and training someone,” said Harbridge. “Educating is helping someone understand something…. Then there’s training, and training is an optimization tool. It’s meant to optimize a person’s ability so that they can accomplish things more quickly and efficiently.”

A combination approach is most effective, especially on a one-on-one basis. “But that, of course, has the highest cost,” Harbridge said. So while educating people in SharePoint works better in small groups, it can also work with larger groups if the group has common interests or common pain points, he said.

Initiate process change
Rather than simply tell employees it’s a collaboration program, ask them to begin doing proposals in SharePoint, said Rob Koplowitz, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. “Provide some guidance and when SharePoint becomes valuable, that will drive adoption,” he said.

“Now I know how to use the system,” he said, “it doesn’t necessarily mean I know when to use the system, or what the value proposition is…. There’s some really strong business value in identifying known scenarios that are better served by using something like SharePoint.”

A good approach, said Koplowitz, is asking users to change the way they work on projects. By doing that, by guiding them away from the typical process they are comfortable with to a new process, the platform’s business value is established quickly. “You lay out the high level of functionality it has,” he said, and then the challenge becomes working interactively among departments to establish adoption across the enterprise.


Getting buy-in to SharePoint 2010

“Deployment is key” when it comes to training employees on the use of SharePoint 2010. Jennifer Baker, a consultant with Chicago-based Cohasset Associates, said best training practices are closely tied to the way SharePoint is rolled out to the enterprise. That will determine whether there’s that across-the-board buy-in companies shoot for. Baker said there are a handful of key points to consider when approaching SharePoint deployment:

  • Keep in mind that SharePoint is an evolving software platform and that potential users need to understand the benefits. Users should be asked what their pain points are and then shown how SharePoint 2010 can solve them to improve productivity.
  • Review task and information ownership within departments with an eye toward management of the company’s information assets. “It’s their information,” said Baker, “and employees need to understand their roles in better managing company information.”
  • Review compliance with the company’s retention schedules.
  • Review compliance enforcement of the company’s legal hold policies and practices.
  • Finally, aim for consistency in managing information in all departments and “get that consistency to go across the company.”
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