6 Tips For a Successful

SharePoint Change Management

6 Tips For a Successful SharePoint Change Management

Change routines currently dominate everyday routines in many companies, not least due to the popularity of the digital transformation. In this context, employees are frequently required to cope with project-related changes, as well as innovation in day-to-day operations. This article is intended to help everyone concerned to embrace effective alignment with new requirements and circumstances not only as a means of surviving change, rather of exploiting the transition as a positive opportunity! Whether it is internal marketing for a current SharePoint platform or improvements in usability: More often than not, the necessary adaptations resulting from properly managed change will yield clear benefits.

“Perhaps it is time for a change in mindset …”: Kicking off the change process

Until recently, changes meant significant interventions in normal operation procedures or project progress.  Now, though – certainly since the onset of the “digital revolution” and the boom of cloud-based IT – change has become a routine aspect in the everyday lives of administrators and end users as well.

Indeed, the latter group is frequently less than thrilled that they are suddenly required to cope with new user interfaces and a different set of functions from one day to the next. Often it will take a touch of positive motivation to convince users of the lasting improvements to the product that the changes will bring. Even then it is hardly surprising that it can sometimes take years for so-called power users to perceive the dynamic, inescapable upgrade cycles for the standard software they use on a daily basis with the same self-evidence as they do swyping their smartphones. From time to time the people tasked with announcing these ground-breaking changes are mocked as fruitcakes, although a world of transformation and innovation would be practically inconceivable without these visionaries.

“But I need SharePoint for my work; incessant changes are simply disruptive …”

Maybe therefore the key to exploiting the benefits of active change management lies in emphasizing the improvements that the process will bring. The so-called “evergreen approach” is already a practical reality in the Office 365 cloud, and it would remain inevitable even if a user attempted to avoid it. While it is possible to delay the new features for a certain period, taking the plunge and embracing the latest version that SharePoint Online has to offer will ultimately remain inescapable all the same. It is hardly necessary to mention that the appearance of the SharePoint areas is changing very frequently and sometimes radically at the moment. Driven by the fast, intense feedback loop, it is now possible to envisage what SharePoint will look like in its future iterations.
SharePoint On-Premises will experience a similar development in the near future, although it will take a little longer until all changes have been adapted to the cloud.

“So business as usual for the time being …?”

No, certainly not. Simply being aware of the more dynamic life cycle of SharePoint in Office 365 should be motivation enough to cast off obsolete perceptions and patterns of how changes and updated cycles need to be implemented. A better approach would be to adopt more sustainable procedures with integrated, modern change management techniques that help to overcome the turbulence induced by regular adaptation of the platform. What’s more, supportive change management proactively and presciently ensures improved usability that prevents even the nascent emergence of negativity in practical operations.

“We only use agile development processes …?”: The right way to support end users in the change process

What initially sounds like a contradiction is actually an opportunity if we take a closer look. For instance, continuous deployment (DevOps) could be used to connect change management processes so dynamically with SharePoint to enable seamless integration, even for new products and optimized versions of developed solutions. And while this means that users will have to adapt to working with features that change on short notice, it can also lead to an elimination of the classic maintenance windows in ongoing operations.

Providing users with precisely the assistance they need will only be possible with optimized communications channels to ensure that they are informed in good time and can get used to the changes in the user interface and operation. Ideally, this would mean including the users from day one, which would give them the opportunity to contribute their wishes and expectations. It is also the perfect opportunity to prepare users for the changes that are coming their way.

Employees in user support also need to engage in constant further training in order to provide adequate assistance immediately after the rollout of new features. But it will no longer be necessary to keep workarounds for rectified errors, as in most cases the legacy sites with obsolete functions will already have been weeded out.

“Ok, but what about the classic SharePoint projects?”  The actual depth of change

In this case, “changes” are usually based on sudden alterations of requirements during the project or on the realization that the implementations of specifications will be more complex – or indeed impossible – in the manner that was originally intended.

So in these cases, change management does indeed mean a significant intervention in the project. The risk management methods that are applied additionally and simultaneously are insufficient to guarantee success of the project. The necessary instruments will also require flexible handling.

If the situation boils down to the duration of the project as the principle aspect, it will be necessary during change to check whether the technical requirements (e.g. product version, support services) and other factors have become different as well. Doing so ensures that the preconditions defined in the original planning retain their validity.

While in practical settings there may certainly be circumstances that make change (specifically in ongoing projects) necessary (e.g. changes in case law or legislation), the majority of changes that are typically encountered can be prevented by prudent investments in the identification of requirements and in project planning. Meaningful “requirements engineering” (recording and analyzing requirements as an upstream process) and other processes can help to avoid this type of “changes”.

This statement retains its validity for the agile approach as well. After all, it is absolutely essential that any components of the solution that require smooth integration in the platform are clearly defined in the architecture and that their functions are implemented purposefully.

“You need a playing field for effective experiments.”:  The art of establishing only the change processes that count

It goes without saying that when planning and introducing new solutions, it is not unusual that a clear perception of the final product does not exist at the start of the project, and that it cannot even be defined unambiguously in the specifications of requirements themselves.

And while this may seem like the ideal scenario in which to work with agile methods, it would often be a fatal error to plan the broadest possible deployment from the word go. After all, the extremely high likelihood of necessary changes would merely cause confusion among users when the new solution is rolled out – not to mention significant added costs.

A suitable approach in the development of one or several candidates for a purposeful solution would be to implement prototypes for various options and to compare their suitability for the relevant case scenario. A targeted PoC (Proof of Concept) can then be implemented with the most auspicious candidates to check whether they do indeed tick all the boxes.

The following steps can then be planned with the usual degree of dynamism and agility as is ordinarily encountered and frequently necessary in our modern world of permanent transformation.

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  • Unified Communications, User Productivity
  • Office, SharePoint, Tips

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Bernhard Schmidt

Senior Consultant SharePoint and Office 365

Modern Workplace and Microsoft Products

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