Microsoft SharePoint is here to stay so let’s get used to it. Microsoft says that SharePoint has 190 million users across 200,000 customer organizations that use it for intranets, team sites, and content management. For enterprises looking to create a document/content management system and a collaboration workspace for their employees, SharePoint is the go-to solution. That’s how most people end up with it—it’s the best viable option that’s out there in an enterprise context where Microsoft is already in play.
SharePoint includes many useful features such as enterprise search, content management system (CMS), news, employee directory, personalization, team collaboration spaces, blogs, and wikis. It can be a very powerful tool for helping people find the information they need, for centrally organizing information, and for making all of that information available across the enterprise.
Why then do people let out a frustrated sigh—similar to the one you hear when waiting behind indecisive people in a long line at Starbucks—when they hear SharePoint?
Limina’s user research reveals that most ends users are not able to take advantage of SharePoint’s powerful features and capabilities because they just can’t get past the user interface, which is Microsoft-specific and SharePoint-specific. They say it isn’t intuitive, and they don’t understand it. Essentially, the poor user experience (UX) with SharePoint is a major contributor to low user adoption and user acceptance.
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Businesses typically license the product, set up security and governance, and declare victory. What they fail to understand is that they have just begun the process. SharePoint is not immediately ready to use as soon as it’s installed. The platform needs to be customized for your organization. The next step is to design the information architecture of the end solution—an intranet or content management system (CMS). This information architecture combined with an extension to the design of pages is the missing link—a link that comes from addressing user experience.
Enlist UX Specialists Who Know SharePoint
Typically SharePoint developers are not trained in UX design. UX specialists who have a strong grasp of SharePoint’s capabilities and experience working with the platform will offer creative solutions that harness SharePoint’s strengths while overcoming its weaknesses.
To begin transforming SharePoint into a useful and useable system UX experts kickoff the project with a discovery process. Discovery is your opportunity to uncover the crux of why your SharePoint implementation is experiencing user acceptance issues, usability problems, or a general decline in user satisfaction.
The discovery process starts with stakeholder workshops and user interviews, along with a SharePoint walk through and an overview of known UX and usability pain points. This upfront research provides a solid understanding of your organization’s internal processes and operations. It is what helps organizations understand why issues are occurring, and the key learnings are used to build a design plan to get the organization back on track.
UX specialists are trained to create a product with clear and easy-to-understand information structures and consistent navigation supporting browse and search interaction models. All these affordances and criteria are not naturally built into SharePoint in the way that you would expect them to be, making it difficult for users to find what they seek when SharePoint is deployed “out of the box.” It takes UX specialists who understand user needs and know how to harness the power of SharePoint to build effective, user friendly business solutions.
UX fixes for 3 common SharePoint implementation challenges
UX specialists are often called in to fix one of three different SharePoint challenges. Below we describe the circumstances an enterprise might find itself in and how UX experts can help turn SharePoint into a more effective and useful tool.
Scenario 1. A company knows that it has to use SharePoint. It has existed in its legacy form for long enough to get a bad rap, and the enterprise needs to figure out a way to roll their next generation of SharePoint out to employees without its negative perception. The fix involves taking advantage of SharePoint’s technical strengths while applying a new user experience on top of it. With a beautiful and visually appealing on-brand design, an intuitive and easy to use interface that serves up key information in the places users expect and need it most, and a new name—not called SharePoint—it’s now a useful tool for employees.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service experienced this challenge. They engaged our UX specialists to design their new intranet. During a recent road show launching their new intranet, which has been company branded so that it’s not called SharePoint, employees in multiple cities said, “Wow, that’s great. I am so glad it’s not SharePoint. I could totally use this.” Afterwards, when they learned that it was built on SharePoint, their reaction was, “Wow, I didn’t know SharePoint could do that. I would never have thought that was SharePoint.”
This is exactly the reaction that you should get with a great UX SharePoint design. SharePoint should just be the platform for delivery. If you think about it, no one says, “Wow, that website was built on Drupal. I didn’t know Drupal could do that.” Or, “That website was built on WordPress. I didn’t know WordPress could do that.” No. It’s just that SharePoint has a legacy issue of a bad interface, corrupted brand, and poor usability.
Scenario 2. An organization is trying to build bridges within and between groups across the company, and is harnessing SharePoint’s community capabilities to do so. The in-house IT department and business managers have done their best to leverage the out-of-the-box features, however, communities are not getting as much traction as expected. The fix is to bubble up community content outside of individual communities and make it easier for people to find. Build a portal page that serves as a place for surfacing key discussions from across communities. The portal can also serve as a directory letting people know what communities are out there for them to engage with. You can also leverage search to surface community content outside of the Community in other parts of the intranet. If you provide access to information and features in contextually meaningful ways people will find and use them.
Scenario 3. A firm is in the process of evaluating intranet or document / content management solutions, and SharePoint is one of the options on the table. The fix is for both IT and UX teams to vet, select, and integrate the chosen solution to meet both technical, business, and user requirements. Including user research in the requirements gathering process ensures the solution is rich with features that support both the business and provide real value to employees.
Getting the most value from SharePoint
Our research findings demonstrate that relationships between people are what drive organizational success. The more that can be done to support and improve the ways that people find and share information, and collaborate with each other, the greater the success.
To get the most value from SharePoint organizations first need to recognize how they behave from a communication standpoint. How do employees share information? Do they message each other? Do they pass a document back-and-forth to work on it? Once this knowledge is harnessed, a solution can be designed that supports what is working well and fills gaps where improvements are needed. It’s essential to have a strong understanding of organizational business process and workflows, user behavior, and information needs to design the SharePoint solution in the way the organization works.
I have a love-dislike relationship with SharePoint. The dislike primarily stems from its poor out-of-the-box user experience which makes it hard for users to learn and adopt.
If you have a poor SharePoint site, consider the scenarios included in this article and the UX fixes for the issues. This is where the love part of the relationship comes in. UX design can make a tremendous difference in success and adoption through the usefulness and usability of your SharePoint platform and solutions.
A UX professional’s goal should be to make people think of SharePoint no differently than they would the backbone of any other enterprise system. The platform itself should be transparent—companies should focus on the experience that they can build for their users.